Episode 37: The Torture & Suffering of the Early Muslims in Makkah
Welcome to Seerah Pearls, which aims to highlight some tantalising learning points from each episode of the Seerah- Life of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).
This episode covers how the Quraysh reacted to the new, growing Muslim community in Makkah. They decided to unleash terror and torture on the early converts, in an attempt to scare people away from the message of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). A key orchestrator of this tactic was Abu Jahl.
His real name was Amr ibn Hisham and he belonged to the Makhzum tribe. Also known as Abu al-Hakam, he was a leader in Quraysh. As he denied and refused the preaching of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), he became known as ‘Abu Jahl’- the father of ignorance.
Bilal ibn Rabah
Abu Jahl started to torture the slaves in the community. Bilal was an African slave owned by Ummayah ibn Khalaf, who was best friends with Abu Jahl. Abu Jahl asked permission to deal with Bilal and his acceptance of Islam, which was granted. Abu Jahl would whip Bilal all night until he would become exhausted. When the heat would reach its peak, he would lay Bilal down upon the scorching sand and put a rock onto of him to pin him down. Bilal would be tied to horses made to run. Bilal’s faith would not be shaken: he became known by the calls of ‘Ahad, Ahad!’- ‘One God, One God!’ Abu Bakr bought Bilal for an inflated price and set him free. Bilal was made the muezzin of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).
Amr bin Fuhairah
Amr bin Fuhairah was as a slave who was tortured. Abu Bakr purchased his freedom and he continued to work for him as a shepherd. Amr was skilled as a tracker.
This female slave belonged to the Makhzum clan. She was handed over to Abu Jahl to be tortured. Deprived of sleep, food and water, she became blind as a result of the malnourishment. Abu Jahl taunted her that that the idols Al-Lat and Al-Uzza had taken her sight away. She responded that her Lord Allah had decided this and that he could return her eyesight. Miraculously the next day, her eyesight was restored. Abu Bakr also purchased her freedom.
This lady and her daughter were slaves and tortured by their mistress. She brought them flour to grind and make bread. Abu Bakr secured their freedom and advised them to return the flour to their mistress. However, the mother and daughter finished the job they were given before moving on.
Khabbab ibn al-Aratt
Khabbab was kidnapped as young boy and sold into slavery. He accepted Islam in the early days. The Quraysh experimented torture upon him. He gained freedom and joined the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). He would be an inspirational figure: Umar ibn al-Khattab would sit with him and when he felt overwhelmed, Umar would ask to see Khabbab’s back and the scars of his torture. Umar said he had never seen anything like it in his life.
Ammar ibn Yasir
Ammar was the son of Yasir and Sumayyah. Ammar accepted Islam and he would sneak at night to sit and worship with the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). His parents were worried about the consequences of this, but after hearing about Islam, they both accepted. Abu Jahl found out and he inflicted torture upon the family. He tied the family up and would leave them there for days. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would walk by in tears saying, ‘Patience oh family of Yasir! Congratulations, you will be reunited in Paradise!’ Abu Bakr offered to purchase them but this was declined. Sumayyah shouted at Abu Jahl that no matter what he did, they would not renounce their Islam. Abu Jahl became infuriated and killed her with a spear in front of her husband and son. She became the first martyr in Islam. Yasir was beside himself and Abu Jahl kicked him to death.
Ammar watched both his parents being murdered. The Quraysh intensified the torture. Eventually, he conceded to their demands to say that he believed in Al-Lat and Al-Uzza and that he did not believe in Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Thus, they cut him loose and walked off. Ammar crawled to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) crying that he had agreed to say what they wanted to hear. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) asked what was in his heart and Ammar explained he had never believed in Allah and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) more, but he overwhelmed. Allah revealed ayat to support Ammar in his situation, reassuring that iman is not invalidated under torture, so long as it remains in your heart. Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) told the sahabah to say whatever torturers wanted to hear, so that they could escape.
The elite were even persecuted. Uthman ibn Affan was tied up, but managed to escape. Sa’d ibn Abi-Waqqas as emotionally blackmailed by his mother. Abu Bakr was nearly beaten to death.
Mus’ab ibn Umair was a celebrity of that time: young, handsome and wealthy. After accepting Islam, his mother tied him up and tortured him. She eventually stripped him of his clothing and threw him on the street. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) came and covered him. He was one of the first ambassadors of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to Madina as a teacher. He converted half the city of Madina to Islam, as he managed give effective dawah to Sa’d ibn Muadh, who was a leader of his tribe.
Abu Talib’s Concerns
Abu Talib gathered the elders of the family to secure protection of Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). He reached out to their tribal emotions, saying that an attack on the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would be an attack on the dignity of the tribe and their forefathers. They all agreed, except Abu Lahab who stormed out of the meeting.
As they could not harm the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Quraysh tried to bargain with Abu Talib: they offered an exchange of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) for a brilliant young man called Imarah bin Waleed, who Abu Talib could train as a future leader. Abu Talib was distraught by this suggestion, finding it extremely insulting.
The Help of Allah
Some sahabah came and asked the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) when the help of Allah would come. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) commented that the people are hasty: there were people before who would be put in a ditch and chopped in half, or they would be strapped down and skinned alive with an iron comb. He motivated them to have patience: the help of Allah would come.