the muslims in makkah felt that they could not allow the quraysh to continue their persecution campaign without asserting their own presence.
they started to be more open with their challenge to the unbelievers. some of them even prayed in congregation a the kabah. moreover, with umar and hamzah in the ranks of the muslims, more and more people were joining the new religion.
by now the unbelievers realized that there could be no meeting ground between them and the muslims. they were also aware that the tactics they employed to check the tide of islam were of no great use. a conference was therefore called early in the seventh year of muhammad's prophet hood to find some more effective methods for achieving the ungodly objectives.
the hardliners held sway in that conference. they advocated a total boycott of the muslims and their supporters. keen to see their plan implemented, they persuaded the other participants to make their resolutions binding on everyone in makkah.
hence, they wrote down their resolutions on a scroll and posted it inside the kabah. this added an air of solemnity to those resolutions which made it much harder for anyone who cared for the muslims or wished them well to contravene them.
the terms of the boycott were so strict as to rule out any intermarriages or trade transactions between the hashimite clan as a whole and the rest of the quraysh. the hashimites were defiant; they joined ranks.
the muslims and the unbelievers among them were unanimous in their support of their leader, abu talib, who in turn did not waver in his wholehearted support of his nephew. one exception however was abu talib's own brother, abu lahab.
turning against his own nephew
abu lahab was hostile to islam right from the beginning. he could not bring his tribal loyalties in line with the rest of the hashimite clan. he therefore broke off relations with his own clan and joined the boycott.
although his action was so obviously out of line with the traditions of makkah society, the quraysh were very happy with his decision to join them, since it showed that opposition to muhammad was so widespread that even his own kinsfolk wanted to get rid of him.
perhaps one should add here that the terms of the boycott spelled out the conditions for its termination: that the hashimites must give up muhammad to the quraysh, whereupon he would be killed.
all the hashimites clan, including the non muslims among them, along with muslims of other tribes suffered a great deal as a result of the boycott. if a tradesman or a farmer brought some goods or provisions to sell in makkah, he was offered much more than his asking price on condition that he would not sell anything to the hashimites, who were confined to their quarters.
starvation left no child intact
the situation became very grave indeed as month after month went by with no flicker of hope for a quick end to this harsh boycott.
starvation was the order of the day for the muslims and the hashimites. their children cried themselves to sleep every night.
occasionally there was some relief as some kind hearted person moved by the cries of hungry children, would smuggle relief supplies through to the hashimite quarters under cover of darkness.
such very welcome relief was bound to be temporary. the hardship continued for nearly three years. while the non muslims among the hashimites suffered from the boycott, the muslims in general were subjected to much more persecution.
that, however, did not weaken their resolve to hold fast to their new religion and to try to propagate it to their fellow citizens. they continued to do so patiently and tirelessly, under the supervision of the prophet, the perfect example of a man of perseverance and confidence that his cause was true to triumph.
in practical terms, the boycott imposed by the quraysh meant a great deal of hardship which was equally endured by men, women and children.
for three years, the hashimites were practically prevented from buying anything on the open market, even food for their families.
the following report by saad ibn waqqas provides a glimpse of the suffering of the muslims in this period: "i went out one night to relieve myself. (the arabs did not have toilets in their homes at that time). the urine fell over something which crackled. i picked it up. it was a piece of camel skin which had dried. i washed it well before burning it and mixing it thoroughly with water. it was my only food for three days."
humanitarian feelings aroused
this moved some kind people to act to relieve the hardship of the boycotted people a little. a man called hisham ibn amr did more than anybody else to help the hashimites. hisham enjoyed a position of respect among his people.
his help started by smuggling food and clothes to the hshimites in their quarter. he would load a camel with provisions or material and take it, under cover of darkness to the entrance of the hashimite quarter, where he would release it so that it went in.
meanwhile, god caused the writing which spelled out the covenant of boycott to disappear. he informed the prophet of what had happened to that scroll posted inside the kabah.
moths had eaten all the writing which contributed to the injustice suffered by the hashemite. whenever god's name was mentioned, it remained as it was. the prophet informed his uncle abu talib, who in turn informed his brothers.
they went out together to the kabah where abu talib said to the chiefs of makkah:
my nephew, who has never told a lie to me, has informed me that god has caused moths to eat up everything that contained injustice or boycott of kinsfolk in your covenant. the only thing that has remained is god's name. let us go together and find out whether my nephew has told the truth. if what he says is true, then you give in and stop your injustice. if he has told a lie, i will give him up to you, and you may kill or spare him.
they agreed to this suggestion and said that it was fair. they sent someone to look at the covenant and it was exactly as the prophet had described.
they were at a loss and regretted their agreeing to abu talib's suggestion. they made it clear that they would continue with their boycott. abu talib asked them: "what have we done to deserve this state of siege imposed on us, when everything has been made clear?" he and his companions went straight to the kabah and entered between its robes and its walls.
they pleaded :"our lord, give us victory over those who have dealt unjustly with us, severed our ties and done away with what they had no title to take from us."
abu talib and his brothers then went back to their quarters. the scene was witnessed by many people in the quraysh who were unhappy with the boycott. they felt that they could not just sit idle while their kinsfolk, with their women and children, suffered deprivation and hunger.
hisham ibn amr was the first to recognize that whatever help he could give by smuggling supplies in to the quarters of the hashimite clan could do very little to help them. he felt that he could not do much on his own. he needed to work out a plan which could foil any attempt by abu jahl to continue with the boycott.
so he went to zuhayr ibn abi umayyah who belonged to the makhzum clan, to which abu jahl also belonged. zuhayr's mother was the prophet's aunt. hisham's approach was to arouse zuhayr's feelings of loyalty. he said:
are you happy to sit back, enjoying your food, wearing whatever clothes you fancy, able to marry as you wish, while your uncles are confined in their quarters: no one buys from them or sells anything to them, and non one accepts any marriage contracts with them. i swear by god that had they been the uncles of abu al hakam ibn hisham, abu jahl's original name, and you made an approach to him to boycott them in the same way as he asked you to boycott your own uncles, he would never have consented to join in.
zuhayr was overwhelmed by the strength of the argument, but said: " what can i do on my own, hisham? if i have one man to support me, i would do all i can until i see that covenant of boycott abrogated." hisham assured him of his own support but zuhayr suggested that they should first try to get another man to support them.
hisham then went to al-mutim ibn adiy who belonged to the clan of abd manaf from which the hashimite branched out. al-mutim was a man who enjoyed a position of honor and respect among the quraysh. hisham appealed to his values of justice and integrity: "are you happy to see two clans, hashim and abd al-muttalib, of abd manaf starve to death before your own eyes? do you not realize that if you remain quiet, the rest of the quraysh will press on and get away with it?"
al-mutim also protested his inability to do much on his own. hisham told him of the support he could offer along with zuhayr. al-mutim suggested that yet more support was required. hisham then secured the support of two others, abu al bakhtari ibn hisham and zamah ibn al aswad.
justice reins over predjudice
the five met and agreed their plan of action. the following morning, at the appointed time, zuhayr came to the kabah wearing one of his best garments. he walked around the kabah seven times, performing the tawaf, before addressing the people there in these words:
" fellow makkans, are we to go on enjoying our food, and wearing the best clothes, while the hashimites are starving; no one dare buy from them or sell to them? by god, i shall not sit until this oppressive covenant of boycott is torn to pieces."
abu jahl, who was sitting in a corner, said :" you are a liar. by god, no one will touch it." zamah then said to abu jahl: "you are a worse liar. we did not approve of it when it was written." abu al bakhtari then came to his support, saying: "zamah is right. we do not sanction its terms."
futher support came from al mutim who said" you are right and whoever disputes what you say is a liar. we disclaim it in front of god." hisham, who engineered the whole plan, also declares his support.
abu jahl was confounded. he simply said: " this has been planned somewhere else. it could not have come on the spur of the moment."
al mutim then rose and went to the kabah to pull the covenant out and tear it. he found that nothing of its writing remained, with the exception of the expression: "in your name, our lord."
thus ended a period of excessive hardship which the prophet and his companions endured with patience, confident that their cause would come out of it much stronger.
by now muhammad had been preaching the message of islam for close on ten years, but the overall situation could not be described as promising. the quraysh were successful in the attempt to confine islam to makkah itself.
even in makkah, muslims were still a minority. apart from the distant base in abyssinia, islam was virtually unknown outside makkah. there seemed to be no great prospect for the final diving message. but god accomplished his purposes through a variety of methods some of which may be totally unexpected by human beings.