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The Story of the Prophetic mission of Muhammad (pbuh) from the Qu’ran (part 1): The early opposition


By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

25 March, 2015

The first verses revealed,are from Surah 96 Al –Alaq. The complete Surah was not revealed in one go but over a period of several years.  The first few verses revealed were:

Surah1 (chronology) Surah 96 Al –Alaq

(1) Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created-

(2) Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood:

(3) Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,-

(4) He Who taught (the use of) the pen,-

(5) Taught man that which he knew not.

The revelation announces the unfolding of knowledge to the Arabs that they were unaware of. The pen signifies that this teaching was to be committed to writing and preserved for all time and also the fact, that it is the pen or the ability to record that enables man to learn cumulatively and build on his knowledge from generation to generation – an ability that is distinctly human. Muhammad (pbuh) was the last of the Prophets and the Quran is the last among the revealed scriptures. The Quran narrates the stories of several of the important Messengers individually and the story of the rest collectively in the form of parables. The last Message or the Quran is also cumulative in that it confirms what came before and is built on the previous experience of the Messengers and the People.

The next part of the Surah, which may have been revealed several years later after the Prophet had begun preaching in public (three years after the first revelation), shows that the opposition to the prophetic mission had begun very early.

Tradition records that the reference in this Surah is to Abu Jahl who physically tried to assault the Muslims who bowed in prayer and the Surah is referring to his behavior and the warning is also to him and people who follow his example. Abu Jahl,was an inveterate enemy ofIslam, who used to insult and persecute the Prophet and thosewho followed him. He forbid anyone whocame under his influence, from offering prayers or performing devotions. He was killed in the battle of Badr.

(6) Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds,

(7) In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient.

(8) Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all).

(9) Seest thou one who forbids-

(10) A votary when he (turns) to pray?

(11) Seest thou if he is on (the road of) Guidance?-

(12) Or enjoins Righteousness?

(13) Seestthou if he denies (Truth) and turns away?

(14) Knoweth he not that Allah doth see?

(15) Let him beware! If he desist not, We will drag him by the forelock,-

(16) A lying, sinful forelock!

(17) Then, let him call (for help) to his council (of comrades):

(18) We will call on the angels of punishment (to deal with him)!

(19) Nay, heed him not: But bow down in adoration, and bring thyself the closer (to Allah)!

Surah2 (chronology) Surah 68 Al –Qalam or the Pen

The second surah revealed in chronological order was Surah 68 Al-Qalam or The Pen. This surah, describes mounting opposition to the Prophet and his mission. The Prophet is taunted by his detractors of being either mad or possessed. The revelation assures the Prophet that he is neither mad nor possessed but a person of an exalted standard of character. The Surah also describes the opposition from which the Prophet and the people of Mecca could easily identify the people who are referred to. They are violent and cruel who hinder all good besides slandering with calumny and invoking false oaths:

(1) Nun. By the Pen and the (Record) which (men) write,-

(2) Thou art not, by the Grace of thy Lord, mad or possessed.

(3) Nay, verily for thee is a Reward unfailing:

(4) And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character.

(5) Soon wilt thou see, and they will see,

(6) Which of you is afflicted with madness.

(7) Verily it is thy Lord that knoweth best, which (among men) hath strayed from His Path: and He knoweth best those who receive (true) Guidance.

(8) So hearken not to those who deny (l-mukadhibīna)

(9) Their desire is that thou shouldst be pliant: so would they be pliant.

(10) Heed not the type of despicable men,- ready with oaths,

(11) A slanderer, going about with calumnies,

(12) (Habitually) hindering (all) good, transgressing beyond bounds, deep in sin,

(13) Violent (and cruel),- with all that, base-born,-

(14) Because he possesses wealth and (numerous) sons.

(15) When to him are rehearsed Our Signs, "Tales of the ancients", he cries!

(16) Soon shall We brand (the beast) on the snout!

The type of each of these hateful qualities is not uncommon, though the combination of all in one man makes him peculiarly despicable, as was WalidibnMughiyrah, who was a ringleader in calumniating the Prophet and who came to an evil end not long after the battle of Badr, in which he received injuries.WalidibnMughayrah was a wealthy Sybarite, and an inveterate enemy to the Prophet. He and Abu Jahl did all they could, from the beginning of the preaching of Islam, to abuse and persecute the Prophet, to run down his doctrine, and to injure those who believed in it.

The Surah also challenges the polytheistic faith of the Meccans and asks for the authority for their beliefs and makes a clear distinction between “people of the Faith” and the “people of the Sin” whose behavior is described in the verses quoted above.

(35) Shall We then treat the People of Faith like the People of Sin (mujrimin)?

(36) What is the matter with you? How judge ye?

(37) Or have ye a book through which ye learn-

(38) That ye shall have, through it whatever ye choose?

(39) Or have ye Covenants with Us to oath, reaching to the Day of Judgment, (providing) that ye shall have whatever ye shall demand?

(40) Ask thou of them, which of them will stand surety for that!

(41) Or have they some "Partners" (in Godhead)? Then let them produce their "partners", if they are truthful!

(42) The Day that the shin shall be laid bare, and they shall be summoned to bow in adoration, but they shall not be able,-

(43) Their eyes will be cast down,- ignominy will cover them; seeing that they had been summoned aforetime to bow in adoration, while they were whole, (and had refused).

The Surah also contains a clear warning of the punishment in this world to those engaged in active opposition and rejection of the Message. The Prophet is also informed that the respite granted to those who reject the message would be long but Allah’s plan to punish them is powerful. The manner in which such punishment will come will surprise them.

(44) Then leave Me alone with such as reject (yukadhibu) this Message: by degrees shall We punish them from directions they perceive not.

(45) A (long) respite will I grant them: truly powerful is My Plan.

(46) Or is it that thou dost ask them for a reward, so that they are burdened with a load of debt?-

(47) Or that the Unseen is in their hands, so that they can write it down?

The following verses enjoin on the Prophet to be patient in the face of opposition and not to be in haste like Prophet Yunus(pbuh) and the previous verses give assurance that Allah’s plan is truly powerful.At this stage of the mission, the Prophet had only a handful of followers. While the Surah was a source of strength and assurance to the “believers”, considering their insignificance both in number and worldly wealth and influence, the warning was lost on the detractors who only mocked at the Prophet with their eyes saying “Surely he is mad”.

(48) So wait with patience for the Command of thy Lord, and be not like the Companion of the Fish,- when he cried out in agony.

(49) Had not Grace from his Lord reached him, he would indeed have been cast off on the naked shore, in disgrace.

(50) Thus did his Lord choose him and make him of the Company of the Righteous.

(51) And the Unbelievers (kafaru) would almost trip thee up with their eyes when they hear the Message; and they say: "Surely he is mad!"

(52) But it is nothing less than a Message to all the worlds (dhik'runlil'ʿālamīna).

The Surah makes a clear distinction between “those who stray from His path and those who receive guidance”. It is the opposite nature of these two people that makes the same message have the opposite effect.

The last verse also makes it clear that this Message is not only for the Arabs, but for all the worlds.

Surah 3 in chronological order Surah 73 Al –Muzammil

This Surah stresses the importance of the remembrance (worship, contemplation) of Allah, the best time for it, and the most suitable manner. It reassures the Prophet and the believers about the mighty revelations yet to come and asks them not to bother about the active opposition of the rejecters of the faith and to let God take care of them the way he took care of Pharaoh and his followers. It ends with “….read ye, therefore, as much of the Qur´an as may be easy (for you); and establish regular Prayer and give regular Charity; and loan to Allah a Beautiful Loan. And whatever good ye send forth for your souls ye shall find it in Allah´s Presence,- yea, better and greater, in Reward and seek ye the Grace of Allah: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Surah 6 in chronological order Surah111 Al –Masad

(1) Perish the hands of the Father of Flame! Perish he!

(2) No profit to him from all his wealth, and all his gains!

(3) Burnt soon will he be in a Fire of Blazing Flame!

(4) His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood - As fuel!-

(5) A twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck!

Abu Lahab: "Father of Flame", was the nickname of an uncle of the Prophet, from his fiery hot temper. He was an inveterate enemy of Islam. When the Prophet called together the people of Mecca to come and listen to his preaching and his warning against the sins of his people, the "Father of Flame" flared up and cursed the Prophet, saying "Perdition to thee!" Many of the leaders of persecution perished at Badr, and Abu Lahab himself perished a week after Badr from a deep wound to his head caused by his sister-in-law which turned septic. Verse 3 refers to his fate in the Hereafter.

Abu Lahab's wife was a woman full of spite and cruelty. She would tie bundles of thorns with ropes of twisted palm-leaf fibre and strew them about on dark nights in the paths which the Prophet was expected to take in order to cause him bodily injury.

Abu Lahab is the only person of the Prophet’s times who is referred to by his name in the Quran. The Quran predicts his fate in the hereafter some ten years before he died in one of the earliest MeccanSurahs. This is remarkable because two of the Prophet’s daughters were engaged to the sons of Abu Lahab. The engagements of course broke off after the revelation of this Surah. All that the detractors of Islam had to do to falsify the Prophet, the Quran and Islam was to make Abu Lahab and his wife make an outward show of accepting Islam which would then have made it look as if they were now entitled to Allah’s forgiveness falsifying the prediction that the Surah makes. This did not happen! As the Quran says in different ways:

Those who believe and those who reject belief

68:7) Verily it is thy Lord that knoweth best, which (among men) hath strayed from His Path: and He knoweth best those who receive (true) Guidance.

Abu Lahaband his wife were not one to receive guidance because they had strayed so far that they wereforever going to be repulsed by all that is good and attracted by what was evil and the Quran makes the prediction of their fate in the hereafter ten years before Abu Lahabdied.

(74:54) Nay, this surely is an admonition:(55) Let any who will, keep it in remembrance!(56) But none will keep it in remembrance except as Allah wills: He is the Lord of Righteousness, and the Lord of Forgiveness.

(76:29) This is an admonition: Whosoever will, let him take a (straight) Path to his Lord.(30) But ye will not, except as Allah wills; for Allah is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.(31) He will admit to His Mercy whom He will; But the wrong-doers,- for them has He prepared a grievous Penalty.

(81:27) Verily this is no less than a Message to (all) the Worlds:(28) (With profit) to whoever among you wills to go straight:(29) But ye shall not will except as Allah wills,- the Cherisher of the Worlds.

In the verses cited above and elsewhere, the will of Allah is not a whim but a law, which in its complexity and entirety, is beyond human understanding, and is best simply accepted as the will of Allah, although the verses do provide a glimpse into how the law operates.

The Quran makes a clear division between “those who stray from His path and those who receive guidance”. It is the opposite nature of these two people that makes the same message have the opposite effect.

The contrasting nature of Prophet Muhammad and his detractors

It is noteworthy that the active opponents of the Prophet had distinct characteristics that the Quran draws attention to such as:

1.         Those who swore oaths to support what they said but slandered and uttered calumnies

2.         Those who were rich and powerful with numerous sons and felt that they were self-sufficient and beyond being asked to account for their deeds.

3.         Those who were violent and cruel.

4.         Those who did not enjoin righteousness or the feeding of the indigent. Were among those who habitually hindered anything that is good,

5.         Those who accused the Prophet of relating "Tales of the ancients". This is what the detractors of all the earlier prophets accused their prophets of.

The Meccans could not point out to active opponents of the new faith among:

1.         Those who were known to be truthful

2.         Those who were not haughty and proud but generous and forgiving

3.         Those who encouraged the feeding of the poor and indigent

4.         Those who habitually supported all that is good

And contrast that with the character of Muhammad (pbuh) that the Same Surah 2 in chronological order points attention to:

(68:4) And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character.

For more on the character of the Prophet as mentioned in the Quran, read the article by Muhammad Yunus:

The Noble Persona of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) As Mirrored In the Qur’an

And for the ethical and moral precepts in the Quran, read:

Qur'anic Guidance for Day To Day Living: A Quick, Crash Course to Proper Behaviour

The mission as it unfolds through the verses of the Quran, is a lesson in practical psychology of how the “believers” were guided through every adversity and trial and the active opponents allowed to stray further and further, until they met their fate in total justice by secular standards.  The active opponents were only a few thousand and the number of people killed in the battles and as part of the judgment after the war on both sides are also a few thousand. The rest of the people, who were mere followers of “The Chiefs of Unfaith” or undecided, had ample opportunity to reflect and make their choice of associating with either of these two groups of people over the next two decades. “Once the “The Chiefs of Unfaith” died or were killed in battle or voluntarily accepted Islam or were executed, the rest of the people readily accepted Islam”

For Moses also, the opposition came only from a few powerful people as is clear from the following verse:

(10:83) But none believed in Moses except some children of his people, because of the fear of Pharaoh and his chiefs, lest they should persecute them; and certainly Pharaoh was mighty on the earth and one who transgressed all bounds.

The new faith progressed relentlessly against unbelievable odds as predicted inspiring great awe. The earlier Messengers awed their audience with miracles. Muhammad (pbuh) awed them with the Quran and the events as they unfolded.

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to The author initially used a pseudonym "Observer" for this article.