Persecution of Muhammad
Muhammad was born and raised in seventh-century Mecca, a city of the Arabian Peninsula. At the time, the majority of Meccans, led by the powerful Quraysh, were polytheistic in religion. Then, in 610 A.D., when he was around forty years old, Muhammad declared his prophet hood and called his people to a new, monotheistic religion.
Initially, Muhammad preached in private, and his early followers congregated in secret. When Muhammad eventually declared his message publicly, he and his early followers were met with increasing hostility. The Quraysh leaders instigated a sustained campaign of violence against what they saw as a rival faith. Consequently, the early Muslims suffered persecution; they endured beatings, torture, and even imprisonment. The extent of the persecution can be gauged by the fact that some of the early Muslims were forced to flee with their lives from the Arabian Peninsula altogether, an event known as the First Flight to Abyssinia. Under the cover of night, these Muslims fled Mecca and boarded ships headed for the African country of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). There was a second such emigration, known as the Second Flight to Abyssinia. The Quraysh leaders dispatched envoys to the Abyssinian king, requesting that these Muslim refugees be returned to Mecca. This request for extradition was rejected and these Muslim refugees stayed in Abyssinia for the remainder of what is known as the Meccan Period of Muhammad’s prophet hood.
The Quraysh leaders harassed Muhammad himself, who endured both verbal and physical abuse. Initially, however, his tormentors stopped short of killing Muhammad because he was still under the tribal protection granted to him by his aging uncle, Abu Talib. Islam’s early enemies earnestly beseeched Abu Talib to permit the killing of Muhammad, but Abu Talib adamantly refused.
To pressure Abu Talib’s clan, the Banu Mutalib, to rescind their protection of Muhammad, the Quraysh leaders signed a pact resulting in the complete social and economic boycott of the early Muslims along with the two clans associated with them, the Banu Mutalib and the Banu Hashim, the latter of which was the tribe Muhammad was born to. The early Muslims and members of the two clans were forced by circumstance to leave their homes and resettle in the outskirts of Mecca. Confined to the harsh and barren desert valley, they struggled to survive for three years, with even food and medicine being barred to them by the Quraysh leaders, who intended to starve them into submission. During what is known as the Year of Grief, both Muhammad’s wife Khadija and uncle Abu Talib passed away. Abu Lahab, early Islam’s arch-enemy and Muhammad’s bitterest foe, replaced Abu Talib as the chief of the clan. Muhammad thus lost his tribal protection and was forced to flee with his life to the neighboring city of Taif. He preached his message to the leaders of Taif, who rejected him and refused to give him asylum for fear of earning Mecca’s wrath. Muhammad was stoned by the street urchins of Taif and told to never return. Bloody and battered, Muhammad had no place to go but to return to Mecca.
The persecution of the early Muslim community in Mecca intensified to the point that there was a very real fear that the religion of Islam would be snuffed out entirely. It was at this precarious moment in history that a group of influential men from the nearby city of Yathrib accepted Islam and promised to grant Muhammad refuge. Thus began The Flight Al-Hijra, as the Muslim community in Mecca migrated in waves to Medina. The Quraysh authorities, fearful that Islam would spread to other parts of the Arabian Peninsula, tried to prevent this exodus.
By this time, the Quraysh leaders had already formulated a plot to assassinate Muhammad in his sleep. They delegated this task to eleven men, chosen from all different tribes so as to make retaliation against any