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By Rameez Abid
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) preached his message at a time when the people of Mecca were enjoying an easy going life with an abundance of affluence. The Quraysh were fearful for the loss of income from the pagan pilgrims, who would travel throughout the year to the city for religious purposes, because they relied heavily on the wealth they gathered through the pilgrims’ constant visitation to the sacred house. They thought it would cut them off financially and they would become poor. Therefore, they tried to resist the message of Islam in order to secure their wealthy and economic status. Montgomery Watt writes, “as the ranks of Muhammad’s followers swelled, he became a threat to the local tribes and the rulers of the city, whose wealth rested upon the Ka’aba, the focal point of Makkan religious life, which Muhammad threatened to overthrow.”1
Another reason for the opposition of Islam by the Quraysh was pride. The Quraysh enjoyed the high status of their forefathers who were very well known and respected throughout the Arabian Peninsula. And they hated to become different from them or to attribute flaws towards them. As Allah Says in the Quran:
And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that upon which we found our fathers.” Even if Satan was inviting them to the punishment of the Blaze? (Quran 31:21)
This is also de facto reason Abu Talib, the Prophet’s paternal uncle, did not accept Islam as narrated in al-Bukhari:
“When the time of death for Abu Talib approached, Allah’s Messenger went to him and found Abu Jahl bin Hisham and ‘Abdullah bin Abi Umaiya bin Al-Mughira by his side. Allah’s Messenger said to Abu Talib, “O uncle! Say: None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, a sentence with which I shall be a witness (i.e. argue) for you before Allah.” Abu Jahl and ‘Abdullah bin Abi Umaiya said, “O Abu Talib! Are you going to denounce the religion of Abdul Muttalib (Abu Talib’s father)?” Allah’s Messenger kept on inviting Abu Talib to say it (i.e. ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah’) while they (Abu Jahl and ‘Abdullah) kept on repeating their statement till Abu Talib said as his last statement that he was on the religion of Abdul Muttalib.” (al-Bukhari Book #23, Hadith #442)
Another reason was due to the fact that various sub-tribes of the Quraysh use to compete with each other and did not wish for the other sub-tribes to be dominant and/or superior to their own sub-tribe. Hence, some of the Qurayshi tribes did not appreciate that a prophet be chosen from among the Banu Hashim, one of the sub-tribes of the Quraysh and to which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) belonged. They felt that someone from among their own tribe should be more deserving of prophethood than Muhammad (pbuh). And Allah addressed this criticism of theirs in the Quran when He Said:
And they said, “Why was this Qur’an not sent down upon a great man from [one of] the two cities?” (Quran 43:31)
Ibn Kathir, author of one of the most famous interpretations of the Quran in the Muslim world, said regarding this verse,
“meaning, why was this Quran not revealed to some man who was great and prominent in their eyes, from the two towns, i.e., Mecca and At-Ta’if…Several scholars of Tafsir (interpretation) stated that by this, the Quraysh meant Al-Walid bin Al-Mughirah and `Urwah bin Mas`ud Ath-Thaqafi. The apparent meaning is that what they meant was a great man from either of the two towns.”2
Therefore, here envy played a role in their rejection of the message.
Another example under this category is that of Umayyah ibn Abi Al-Salt who was a contemporary of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and a poet. He produced beautiful poetry on the concept of Tawheed (Oneness of Allah) but when the Prophet (pbuh) started to preach Tawheed under the shade of prophethood, Umayyah rejected him out of envy. Even the Prophet (pbuh) enjoyed his poetry as reported in a hadith:
“One day when I rode behind Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), he said (to me): Do you remember any poetry of Umayyah bin Abi Al-Salt. I said: Yes. He said: Then go on. I recited a couplet, and he said: Go on. Then I again recited a couplet and he said: Go on. I recited one hundred couplets (of his poetry).” (Sahih Muslim Book #028, Hadith #5602).
However, he felt he was more deserving of prophethood than Muhammad (pbuh), hence, refused to follow him. But Allah chooses whomever He Wills to preach His message.
Similarly Abu Jahl, the archenemy of Islam during the Prophet’s (pbuh) life, made the following comment when asked about his opinion regarding the Quran:
“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 Allah, we shall never believe in him.”3
Opposition to the Status Quo
Another issue that bothered the Quraysh, particularly the wealthy leaders among them, was that the new message preached equality, tolerance, mercy, generosity and companionship between the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, those of a high social class and those not so much, etc. This was a great concern for the Quraysh leaders because they thought of themselves as superior in comparison to such people. This is why the early converts of Islam in Mecca were mostly either the poor or “people who had fallen out of the first rank in their tribe or failed to attain it; and the weak, mostly unprotected foreigners.”4
There was also a fear of the break up of the Meccan society. The Quraysh felt this new faith would break up the structure of their tribal society and would cause the Quraysh to turn on each other. The control of Mecca, the largest and most sacred city in Arabia, depended largely on the unity of the Quraysh, the largest tribe in Arabia. In order to avoid losing control over Mecca, the tribe of Quraysh would try to evade situations that could possibly lead to disunity between the Quraysh sub-tribes. Disunity would leave the Quraysh vulnerable to the possibility of other tribes of Arabia taking Mecca by force. This fear is quite apparent in their own words when they went to Abu Talib to complain about his nephew’s teachings and how it has had a negative impact on their society. As noted by the historian Ibn Hisham that one of the delegations, consisting of high level notables of Mecca, sent to Abu Talib requested of him that, “you give us your nephew who has rebelled against the religion you and your forefathers have followed, and has sown the seeds of discord among your people and ridiculed their practices. We would take him and kill him.”5
The above are some of the reasons why Quraysh refused to accept Islam at the time of Muhammad (pbuh). Although they tried to attack his character and authenticity, they could not successfully do so as he was already very well known in Mecca as one of the most trustworthy people. He was titled by these same pagans before revelation started to descend upon him as al-amin, the trustworthy. They use to entrust to him their most valuable treasures, however, when he started to preach his message from Allah, they could not control their envy, desire and greed. Their pride and the love of this world blinded them from seeing the reality of this world and the importance of the afterlife and it led them to reject the message sent to them from Allah by the most noble, pious and righteous human being ever to walk on the face of the planet.
3Salahi, Adil. Muhammad: Man and Prophet. The Islamic Foundation 2002. P. 174.
5Salahi, Adil. Muhammad: Man and Prophet. The Islamic Foundation 2002. P. 107.