Persecution and Bitterness
With the growth of faith the persecution grew every day, but the intolerance and bitterness of the Quraish toward Muhammad led Hamza, the son of Abd'ul Muttalib, to conversion to the new faith - a brave warrior with a generous and pure heart, the strength of whose sword the people dreaded, and who in the end laid down his life in the cause of Islam. Muhammad never stopped for one moment throughout all persecutions however hard they had been on him and his followers who saw at every move they made an open mouth of danger. Muhammad knew nothing of what would become of him or of the body of his followers; he was constantly absorbed in receiving the divine command from within and delivering the same with love and devotion to his people, who constantly stood in opposition to it. He preached to people in burning words which kindled the light of wisdom in the hearts of some, and set ablaze with hellfire the hearts of others. He spoke of the rewards and punishments of the hereafter, describing to his materialistic people the pleasures of heaven, the tortures of hell with a suitable imagery which could easily give their minds an idea of the comforts of the heavens and the tortures of hell, as his saying is wellknown : "Speak to them in their own language". He told them the characteristics and the fate of the unbelievers and the characteristics and the bliss of the believers. He pointed out the conditions of the people during the time of 'Ad and Thamud, and of Noah, and how the wrath of Heaven had been their fate. He showed them the signs in nature with which to recognize and praise the living God, the God of Intelligence. This startled some and consoled some, attracted some and distracted some. The Quraish, seeing in Muhammad's preaching the spirit of a serious revolution, were greatly terrified. Their custody of the idols, their great power and prestige were threatened by Muhammad's preaching, for they were the ministers of idol-worship; their very existence depended upon their maintaining the old religion of blind faith. Impressed by the living words of Muhammad they saw, in the mirror of presumption, themselves fallen into the same degraded condition to which the prominent nationalities of Arabia fell under the wrath of heavens. Moreover the tone of Muhammad was intensely democratic; In the sight of his God all human beings were equal, which was so different from their traditions and threatened their privileges.
So the Quraish sought for the means of stifling the movement at its outstart. They made a project with one accord to torture Muhammad and his disciples in every possible way, that every one of them, wherever and at whatever time, might find himself amidst torments. Except the few, such as Abu Talib and Abu Bakr, who had some power and influence, the others were kept in prison, starved and treated with great violence. The women, whom they suspected of being followers of Muhammad, they exposed to the burning heat of the desert in the scorching sand, until they offered them the alternative of worshipping the idols or death. Some owing to these torments gave up the open profession of Islam, but the majority of the disciples stood firm in the same profession against all torments which they had to undergo. Among them Bilal, the first muezzin of Islam, whom they exposed bareheaded with his face to the burning sun. They placed on his chest an enormous block of stone and said, "There shalt thou remain until thou art dead or hast abjured Islam". He, on the verge of death, continued answering, "One God, One alone". They killed many disciples and tortured many, and Muhammad was the eyewitness of all the sufferings, borne with patience and firm belief in God and in His apostle, as martyrs in the cause of truth. The devotion of some of these disciples was rare among its like. It is said of a disciple who was being killed that, when in the midst of his torture he was asked whether he would wish Muhammad to be tortured in his place, he answered, "I would not wish to be with my family, my substance, and my children on the condition that Muhammad should only be pricked with a thorn".
With all this the Quraish left no stone unturned. Seeing that he was very much tortured and assuming the likelihood of his yielding to their wishes, they came to tempt Muhammad - if by tempting him with honour and wealth they could induce him to withdraw himself from his life's mission. They sent one from the antagonistic party of Arab chiefs as delegate with a proposal of coming to some understanding. He said to Muhammad, "Thou art distinguished by thy qualities and thy descent. Now thou hast sown division among our people and cast dissensions in our families. Thou denouncest our gods and goddesses, thou dost tax our ancestors with impiety. We have a proposition to make to thee, think well if it will not suit thee to accept it. If thou wishest to acquire riches by this affair, we will collect a fortune larger than is possessed by any of us. If thou desirest honours and dignity, we shall make thee our chief. If thou desirest dominion, we shall make thee our king. But if the spirit which has obsessed thee cannot be overpowered, we will bring thee doctors and give them riches so as to cure thee". Muhammad answered, "In the name of the most merciful God, this is the revelation from the Most Merciful : a book the verses whereof are distinctly explained, an Arabic Qur'an for the instruction of people who understand, bearing good tidings and denouncing threats. But the greater part of them turns aside and hearkens not thereto. They say, 'Our hearts are veiled off from the doctrine to which thou invitest us; a curtain is between us and thee - wherefore act thou as thou shalt think fit, for we shall act according to our own sentiments'. Say, verily I am only a man like you ! It is revealed unto me that your God is One God - wherefore direct your way straight unto Him and ask pardon of Him for what is past. And war be to the idolators who give not the appointed alms and believe not in the life to come. But as to those who believe and work righteousness, they shall receive an everlasting reward. This thou hast heard. Now take the course which seemeth best to thee".
Seeing the position of his suffering disciples becoming every day worse and worse, Muhammad advised them to seek refuge in the neighbouring Christian kingdom of Abyssinia, of whose hospitality and tolerance he had known. Some of them immediately followed his advice. The Quraish - jealous of their religion and their gods out of a spirit of patriotism - were furious at their escape and sent their deputies to the Abyssinian king asking him to send back these refugees whom, on the charge of abandoning their old religion and adopting the new faith, they had decided to put to the sword. On hearing this from the deputies the king inquired whether the statement of the Quraish was true. "What is this religion for which you have abandoned your former faith ?", asked he. Jaffr, the leader in the circle of refugees, spoke. "O king, we were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism, we adored idols, we lived in unchastity, we ate dead bodies, and we spoke abominations; we disregarded every feeling of humanity and the duties of hospitality and neighbourhood, we knew no law but that of the strong. One, of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty and purity we are aware, called us to the unity of God, and taught us not to associate anything with Him. He does not claim to be more than an ordinary man, but he preaches and he teaches. The religion that he teaches - he says - is the same as the religion of Adam, the same as the religion of Abraham, the same as the religion of Christ. The same book was started from the time of Adam, was continued by Abraham, by Moses and by all the prophets , and is being finished by Muhammad. He forbade us the worship of idols and enjoined upon us to speak the truth, to be merciful and to regard the rights of our neighbours. He forbade us to speak evil of women, and to eat the substance of orphans. He ordered us to flee from vice and to abstain from evil, to offer prayers, to render alms, to observe the fast. We have believed in him, we have accepted his teachings and his injunctions to worship God and not to associate anything with Him. For this reason our people has risen against us, has persecuted us in order to make us forego the worship of God and return to the worship of idols of wood and stone and to other abominations. They have tortured us and injured us until, finding no safety among them, we have come to thy country, hoping that thou wilt protect us from their oppression". On hearing this, the king refused to give the refugees up to the Quraish.
Although the circle of disciples who always, at the risk of their lives, stood as shields for Muhammad, had been sent away, yet Muhammad himself stayed most bravely, carrying on his life's holy mission amidst many insults and outrages. Now seeing him separated from his circle of disciples, the Quraish came again to tempt him with promises of honour and riches, but the answer from the sincere-hearted was, "I am neither desirous of riches, nor ambitious of dignity, nor of dominion. I am sent by God who has ordained me to announce glad tidings unto you. I give you the words of my Lord. If you accept the message I bring you, God will be favourable to you, both in this world and in the next. If you reject my admonitions, I shall be patient and leave to God to judge between you and me". They mocked and scoffed at his words, and made fun of his teachings, but his simple trust and confidence in the living God and in the divine injunction he had could hardly be shaken. They began to ask him to perform miracles to prove his prophetship. They asked him to produce wells and rivers by command, to bring down heaven on earth, to remove mountains, to erect a house of gold, to ascend to heavens by a ladder. This great pioneer of rationalism replied, "God has not sent me to work wonders. He has sent me to preach to you. My Lord be praised. Am I more than a man sent as an apostle ? Angels do not commonly walk the earth, or God would have despatched an angel to preach His truth to you. I never said that Allah's treasures are in my hand, that I know the hidden things or that I am an angel - I who cannot even help or trust myself unless it pleaseth God".
Without any extraordinary pretensions, without indulgence in hyperbolical language, without intention of casting a glamour around his character or personality, he continued to say, "I am only a preacher of God's words, the bringer of God's message to mankind". From first to last no expression escaped him which could be construed into a request for human worship - every word spoken with clearness of mind and expression, proving perfect sobriety, which was so marvellous in him considering the age and surroundings. From first to last there was the sense of meekness and humility before God, which remained all his life.
But how could the ears of the Quraish hear the divine words coming out of the lips of Muhammad, and how could their eyes see the immanence of God in nature, when their faces were turned from God to their hideous idols ? "Know this, O Muhammad", they said, "we shall never cease to stop thee from preaching till either thou be perished or we". What does the fool understand of what the wise say ? What can the rock perceive of what the heart can feel ?
In the original manuscript of this chapter the following deleted passage is still to be found. In spite of its having been deleted it may be considered interesting to conserve this interpretation of the so-called Satanic verses :
The Intelligence then guided Muhammad to be reconciled with them. And when one is one, and two is two to the simpleton - to the wise one is one, and two means one twice repeated. To reconcile them for a time he said, "What think ye of Al-Lat, Al-Azza and Man'at, the third besides them?" These were the names they had idealized and worshipped for ages. An evil possessed idolator who was present on the occasion called out, "They are exalted damsels and their intercession with God may be hoped for !" These words were supposed to form part of the Prophet's revelation. On hearing this the Quraish were quite reconciled, for the devil's words for the moment veiled the words of truth, when Muhammad spoke and was interrupted after half a sentence.