although the period of boycott, which lasted for three years, meant that a large section of the makkan population endured great hardship, it was not without some benefit to islam.
for one thing, it ensured that newcomers would belong only to that breed of people who support the truth regardless of what they may have to endure as a result. despite the boycott, new recruits to islam continued to trickle through, albeit on a very limited scale. they were, however, of the caliber no ideology can do without.
another benefit of the boycott could be seen in the way it was ended. the suffering of the hashemite moved the kind hearted among the unbelievers to take action in defiance of the hard liners like abu jahl. this caused disarray i the ranks of the unbelievers. moreover, the hard liners appeared in a bad light, since they opposed an act of kindness to their kinsfolk.
furthermore, the boycott was a period of relative lull in the conflict between the muslims and the unbelievers. there was little contact between the two parties. therefore, many of the quraysh personalities had time to reflect on islam, the message of the prophet contained in the quran.
to them, the quran was something wonderful. it spoke so powerfully that they could not turn away when it was recited. the hardliners who continued to hold sway felt that they must do something to stop the general public listening to the quran.
everyone was told that they should not listen to the quran when they heard it. instead they should raise their voices so as not to hear it.
this is not much different from dictatorial regimes jamming other nation's radio stations to keep their populations ignorant of what is taking place elsewhere, or indeed of oppression in their own countries. but the quran had its attraction even to the most outspoken enemies of islam.
they realized that muhammad spent sometimes every night in worship reading the quran in prayer. therefore, protected by the cover of darkness, some of them sat just outside his house, listening to the quran being recited inside.
every one of them was on his own, thinking that no one would know about his action. one can only assume that the motivation was earlier to try to judge the message of muhammad objectively, or to learn the truth about it, or to listen to he superb literary style of the quran. as they day began to break, each one of them went back so that no one could find out about his action.
soon the three of them: abu jahl himself, abu sufyan and al-akhnas ibn shariq met. there was no need to ask each other what they were doing. there was only one reason for their presence there at that particular time. therefore, they counseled each other against such action: "should some of your followers see you" one of the said "you would stir doubts in their minds."
the following night they did the same, and once again they met at the break of day. again they counseled each other against their irresponsible action. nevertheless, the third night each of them went to sit outside the prophet's home and listen to the quran. when they met in the morning, they felt ashamed of themselves. one of them suggested that they should give each other their word of honour not to come again. they did so before going home.
later that morning al-akhnas ibn shariq went to see abu sufyan in his home. he asked him what he thought about what he heard muhammad reciting. abu sufyan said: "i heard things which i know and recognize to be true, but i also heard things whose nature i cannot undersand." al-akhnas said that he felt the same. he then left and went to abu jahl's home to put the same question to him. abu jahl's answer was totally different. for once, he was candid and honest with himself and his interlocutor:
"i will tell you about what i heard! we have competed with the clan of abd manaf for honors: they fed the poor and we did the same; they provided generous support to those who needed it and we did the same. when we were together on the same level, like two racehorses running neck and neck, they said that one of their number was a prophet receiving revelations from on high! when can we attain such an honor? by god, we shall never believe in him."
last minute negotiations
shortly after that, abu talib, the prophet's protector, was taken ill. he was an old man, over 70 years of age. it was clear that his illness would be terminal. they quraysh leaders conferred among themselves on what the death of abu talib might signify in their relations with his nephew, muhamamd, the prophet of islam.
they said to each other: "ever since hamzah and umar became muslims, the strength of islam has continued to grow. now muhammad's followers come from all clans of the quraysh. let us go to abu talib so that he may work out some sort of accommodation between us and his nephew. who could guarantee that they would not try to take power in this city of ours?"
a strong delegation, including the most distinguished among them went to abu talib enquiring after his health. they then said to him: "you know how distinguished your position is among us and how much we respect you.
in your present condition we candidly say that we fear the worst for you. you are aware of the strained relations between your nephew and ourselves. we suggest that you call him and let both him and us give you some form of pledges so that each party will the other alone and we establish a peaceful relationship between him and us."
superficially, this was a very innocent approach. the quraysh seemed to offer a fair deal which guaranteed freedom for both sides. the fact was that they wanted nothing less than a complete cessation of the new message. the prophet should no longer speak about god's oneness. this is clear in the ensuing dialogue between the two sides.
abu talib called the prophet and said to him: "these are the leaders of your people. they have asked to see you for an arrangement of give and take." addressing the delegation, the prophet said: "i ask of you only one word. should you give that, your authority over all the arabs will be strengthened. the non-arabs will also submit to you."
thinking that this signified a shift in the prophet's position, abu jahl said: "yes, indeed. we will give you that ,a nd ten words like it. what is it you ask of us?"
was this a blank cheque abu jahl was offering to the prophet? it seemed so, but abu jahl was not of the compromising type.
god's messenger, the advocate of truth and the herald of every good thing, put his request clearly: " you declare that you believe in the oneness of god and renounce the worship of any deity beside him" he wanted nothing for himself: no wealth, position, honour or authority. he wanted everything for his message. he required them to abandon all deities other than god, be they made of stone or of flesh and blood.
the quraysh delegation understood clearly what muhammad wanted. they clapped in disapproval.
on them said: "do you, muhammad, want to have only one god instead of all those deities? that is very strange indeed!"
recognizing that there was no possibility of a compromise, the delegation left in disappointment.
whey they had gone, abu talib said to the prophet: "my nephew, i do not think you asked them too much." encouraged by this remark, the prophet said: "then you, uncle, say that word. it will benefit you on the day of judgment." abu talib said: "if it was not for fear that you and your clan would be abused after i had gone, and for fear that the quraysh would think i said it because i was afraid of death, i would have certainly said it to please you."
one report suggest that al-abbas, abu talib's brother, noticed his lips moving just before he died. he stooped to listen, then he raised his head and confirmed to the prophet that abu talib made that declaration which would have included him among the muslims. in reply, the prophet said: "i have heard nothing." it is simply not known whether abu talib was a muslim when he died.
the prophet was very sad to lose his uncle. abu talib was the man how brought up muhammad, the orphan who had lost both his parents and his grandfather by the time he was eight years old. he took him in to his family and treated him like his own son, giving him extra kindness out o sympathy for the bereaved child. when muhammad grew up, abu talib recognized that he had a nephew of great standing, combining strength of character with high moral standards and refined manners.
moreover, abu talib was the protector of muhammad, the prophet of islam, when he needed protection. his help meant a great deal to the prophet. after abu talib's death, the irresponsible characters of the quraysh started abusing the prophet with word and deed.
tragedy strikes again
within five weeks of abu talib's death, the prophet suffered another great loss: his loving wife khadijah died. reports are not very clear who of the two died first, but their deaths came in quick succession. to muhammad, khadijah was a kind, loving wife who cared deeply for her husband and for his mission.
with her, he found all the comfort a man expects of an understanding wife. she shared with him all his feelings and worries. she had known his worth ever since she had proposed marriage to him. when he received his message, she was the first to believe in it.
from that day on she was his main supporter. no matter what problems he met outside, he was certain of finding comfort in his home. he departure meant that he could no longer find the compassion with which she comforted him after the many disappointments he received form the quraysh.
in other words, the prophet lost his internal and external support within a very brief period of time. he was now more vulnerable or not the quraysh's attack. in later years, recalling memories of this period, the prophet said: "the quraysh could not cause me much harm until abu talib died."
once abu talib departed from the scene, the prophet had to bear an increasing degree of the quraysh's persecution. one day an idiot stopped the prophet and threw dust over his head.
some of the quraysh leaders were delighted to see the prophet being publicly humiliated. he went home with dust on his head. one of his daughters went up to him to clean his head, tears pouring down her cheeks. he comforted her saying: "do not cry, young daughter, god will protect your father."