The Boycott: How the Prophet and Early Muslims Responded to the Oppression

When some of the earliest Muslims faced a devastating boycott, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) turned not to violence, but to faith and brotherhood.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and early Muslims responded to the tyranny of the pagans with the utmost resolve and patience. They continued to practice their faith, and the Prophet continued his mission of prophethood. They used all the outward means they could to alleviate their difficulties. Yet, their ultimate reliance was on God, and they tapped into the power of faith.

The boycott took place between 616-619 AD.[1] There were several events that led to boycott of the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib tribes, to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged. One was the acceptance of Islam by Sayyidina Hamza RA[2] and Umar RA.[3] Their conversions were a source of great strength for the Muslims. When Umar, who would later become the third Caliph, embraced Islam, some Muslims would even go to the Ka‘ba to pray openly along with him.[4] Another reason was that some Muslims had migrated to Abyssinia, and this enraged the pagans, as they felt those Muslims had managed to escape and were now living in peace and security.[5] The pagans even sent an envoy to the king of Abyssinia requesting that the Muslims be returned. His refusal was a big blow.[6] They thus intensified their persecution of the Muslims still in Mecca. Furthermore, the number of Muslims was slowly rising and this greatly perturbed the polytheists.[7] They tried various strategies in an attempt to deter the Prophet from openly preaching Islam in public. In their last attempt, they went to Abu Talib, the uncle of the Prophet and asked him to offer the Prophet anything in return if he agreed to cease preaching Islam. However, the Prophet rejected this offer.[8] This further disappointed the pagans. Abu Talib and his tribe also vowed to continue their support of the Prophet.[9]

After all the failed efforts, the Quraysh decided that it was time for them to take a definitive step that would end the efforts of the Prophet and the Muslims once and for all. Murdering the Prophet was not an option, as the Quraysh well-understood that this would mean the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib seeking revenge, which would lead to tribal war and bloodshed.[10] Abu Jahl thus proposed boycotting the clans that were protecting the Prophet in such a way that they would be absolutely helpless.[11] The rationale of the pagans was straightforward: “since the Muslims have boycotted our religion and social customs, we will boycott them economically and socially.” Due to their support, the non-Muslims of the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib tribes were also boycotted. A boycott document was written, which stated that no business or trade of any sort would be done with these two tribes, nor would any food be allowed to reach them.[12] Furthermore, no one would marry anyone from those tribes or have social interactions with them.[13] A document was written with these details by Ikrima bin Amir[14] and signed by around forty leaders of the Quraysh, which for that time was a significant number.[15] In order to further increase the sanctity of the pact, they hung it inside the Ka‘ba.[16] This also served the purpose of informing any visitors that came to Mecca about the boycott so that all form of external help could also be blocked.

Banu Muttalib and Banu Hashim along with their children and women were thus forced out of Mecca, to a nearby place called Shib-e Abu Talib.[17] The prediction of Waraqah ibn Naufal came true: he had warned the Prophet that a time would come when his tribesmen would oppose him and compel him to leave.[18] The intention of the pagans was to leave the Muslims to starve to death in the loneliness of the desert, at the mercy of the scorching heat with no expectation of external help from any quarter.[19]

The physical conditions of the Shib-e Abu Talib seemed to be completely in favor of the pagans achieving their aims. There was hardly any food; the people were forced to eat leaves to survive. The hungry cries of the children could be heard all the way to Mecca.[20] When any traders would arrive at Mecca, Abu Jahl would offer to buy all the items for a much higher price in case they reached the Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib.[21] Sayyidina Saad ibn Waqas RA narrates that, for three days, he could not stand properly due to the intensity of his hunger. He then found a piece of leather which he cleaned, put in a fire, and ate, and he thanked God for this provision.[22] Others reported eating tree bark just for their survival. When the Prophet would be praying, he could hear the cries of the children and women, which would shatter his heart.[23] Yet despite the horrendous torture, and all odds being against the Muslims, they did not only survive these years. They came out much stronger and with a clear message that nothing could deter the Prophet or the Muslims from their faith. This was due to how they reacted during these difficult times, which will now be explored.

Though the means were meager, the Muslims still tried all that was possible to thrive. Especially, Khadija, the Prophet’s noble wife, supported the tribe through her contacts who were not part of the boycott.[24]

Muslims who were not part of the boycott were also persistent in trying to do as much as they could with limited resources. The best examples are Abu Bakr and Umar. Since they did not belong to the Banu Muttalib or Banu Hashim tribes, they were not a part of the boycott.[25] However, they did not distance themselves from the situation, satisfied at being safe, nor did they let themselves be overcome by despair. They channeled their love and worry for the Prophet and the other Muslims by trying to provide all the support they could.

It is narrated that Abu Bakr RA, since he belonged to a noble and rich family, possessed much wealth before the boycott. During the three years of boycott however, he spent so much money in buying food for those in the boycott and getting it to them that by the end, he was a poor man.[26] It is also reported that other Muslims, whenever they could, would load their camels with provisions and leave them on the boundaries of the Shib-e Abu Talib, so the boycotted Muslims could retrieve the resources. Thus, in face of the persecution of the pagans, the Muslims that were not a part of the boycott did not use violence nor leave Mecca, and neither did they leave the Prophet and his Companions. Rather, they used wisdom and tried to provide all the relief they could. They displayed the practical example of the saying of the Prophet in which he said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”[27]

However, much more significant than their outward reactions were the inward reactions of the Prophet and his companions in the face of these tortures. The Prophet led his followers and helped them react to persecution with non-violence, patience, perseverance, and firmness to their religious duties. They turned to God for help, focused on the Hereafter, and had absolute tawakkul (trust in God).  Zakaria Basharia states, “The Makkan period was characterized by passive, peaceful resistance on part of the Muslims. They bore the abuse and persecution of the Quraysh with patience and forbearance. They never ventured to fight back.”[28]

The Prophet and the Muslims thus reacted during the boycott by turning to God with heartfelt dua (supplication). Not only did the Prophet pray a lot while in confinement, he also went to the Ka‘ba whenever he could during the months when fighting was not allowed and the Muslims would be allowed more freedom in their movement.[29] Regarding Khadija during the boycott, it is narrated, “She prayed to God and invoked His mercy upon the besieged. Prayer was her ‘strategy’ for handling adversity. It was, she found, a simple but effective strategy.”[30] Outwardly, it may seem passive to not retaliate, and to turn in supplication. But in reality, the Muslims realized that greater than the strength of the pagans was that of God, and though they were physically unable to relieve their suffering, God has the ability to completely remove difficulties. Thus, they tapped into the greatest means of help: their faith in God.

They also had the certainty that God would eventually relieve them of this situation. Though outwardly the Prophet seemed to be in a weaker situation, he would often say, “Is it not wondrous how God turns away from me the injuries of the Quraysh?”[31] This reflects that he had complete trust that the pagans could not ever truly harm the Muslims. Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Kathir reported various verses of the Qur’an that were revealed around this time period, especially against those that were opposing the Prophet. These verses centered around the oppositions that the previous Prophets faced – and highlighted that the Prophets were ultimately saved. Thus the more persecution the Prophet suffered, the more revelations he received from God.

This can be metaphorically extended to his followers, too. In times of the greatest difficulties, believers receive the greatest spiritual elevation and nearness to God. This is exactly what was happening to the Muslims during the boycott. They were spiritually being strengthened; their belief and trust in God was increasing. They were being tested by almost everything in the world: their lives, their children, their wives, their wealth, and their social interactions. When they emerged from the boycott, they no longer feared losing anything of this world. Their focus turned entirely to God and the Hereafter.

Lastly, despite the pagans’ atrocities, the Prophet’s reaction was to continue his work of inviting people to faith. Ibn Kathir stated, “The Messenger of God continued as before, calling upon his people by day and night, secretly and openly, calling out the commands of God Almighty, fearing no man.”[32] It was reported that whenever he could, the Prophet would go to the Ka‘ba and he would invite the visitors that had come for business or pilgrimage to Islam.[33] This reflects that he viewed his work as the Prophet of Islam as the most important, and no outward situation would ever change that. This is a lesson for believers to not let their practice of religion be impaired by difficult situations.

As the three years passed, some of the relatives of the besieged finally took a stand against the boycott, and it finally came to an end.[34] However, it did not end on the same note as it started. The news of the boycott had spread across Arabia, and Islam became much more well-known and thus attracted more converts. The Qurayshis had tried to quash Islam, and after their failure, they knew such a step could not be taken again. After the boycott, they even suggested combining the practice of their pagan traditions with Islam, in hopes of creating peace[35].

It can be concluded that the Muslims reacted to the boycott by trying to use any worldly means that were within their reach. Despite the difficult circumstances, they continued to strive. Those that were not a part of the boycott also helped, to the best of their capacity, increasing the brotherhood between all Muslims. The Prophet and the Muslims reacted with non-violence and turned to God in dua and tawakkul. The Prophet also successfully continued his work of dawah despite the opposition. 

References

  • Al-Mubarkpuri, Safi-ur-Rahman. The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet. London: Darusselam, 2010.
  • Anon. “Social Boycott And Life In Sha'ib Abi Talib”. Universal Sunnah Foundation. http://www.usf.edu.pk/wyw-12.html (accessed August 22, 2017).
  • Bashier, Zakaria. Sunshine at Madinah. UK: The Islamic Foundation, 1990.
  • Bhat, Parvaze Ahmad. “The Makkan Phase of Sīrah: A Study from the Standpoint of Pluralism”. Islam and Muslim Societies: A Social Science Journal. 6.2 (2013): 69-90.
  • Gilani, S N Sadi. “Fatimah Bint Muhammad (PBUH)”. Defence Journal. 15.12 (2012): 1-9.
  • Haylamaz, Resit. The Sultan of  Hearts. New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2013.
  • Ibn Kathir. Al-Sira Al-Nabawwiya: The Life of the Prophet Muhammad. Translated by Trevor Le Gassick. Lebanon: Garnet Publishing Limited, 1998.
  • Ibn Isḥāq, Muhammad & Guillaume, Alfred. The life of Muhammad: A translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah. London: Oxford University Press, 1955.
  • Kandhelwi, Idris. Siratul Mustafa SWS. Karachi: Kutb Khana Mazhari.
  • Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983.
  • Miyanwalawi, Muhammad. “Accusation of Abū Bakr and Umar not being present during the boycott”. Mahajjah. (2015): 1-14.
  • Razwy, Ali Asghar. “The Economic and Social Boycott of the Banu Hashim”. Al-Islam.org. https://www.al-islam.org/restatement-history-islam-and-muslims-sayyid-ali-ashgar-razwy/economic-and-social-boycott-banu (accessed July 18, 2017).

[1] Anon, “Social Boycott and Life in Sha'ib Abi Talib”, Universal Sunnah Foundation, http://www.usf.edu.pk/wyw-12.html (accessed August 22, 2017).

[2] Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarkpuri, The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet. London: Darusselam, 2010, 55.

[3] Sayyidina is an honorific title written by Muslims before the name of a companion of the Prophet (pbuh). Similarly, RA refers to “May God be pleased with him” and is often used by Muslims after mentioning the name of a companion of the Prophet out of respect.

[4] Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983), 88.

[5] Muhammad Ibn Isḥāq & Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), 159.

[6] Idris Kandhelwi, Siratul Mustafa SWS, (Karachi: Kutb Khana Mazhari), 257.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Mubarkpuri, The Sealed Nectar, 55.

[9] Resit Haylamaz, The Sultan of  Hearts, (New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2013), 266.

[10] Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarkpuri, The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet. London: Darusselam, 2010, 55.

[11] Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983), 88.

[12] Muhammad Ibn Isḥāq & Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), 159.

[13] Ibn Kathir, Al-Sira Al-Nabawwiya: The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, Trans. Trevor Le Gassick, (Lebanon: Garnet Publishing Limited, 1998), 27.

[14] Muhammad Ibn Isḥaq & Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), 159.

[15] Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983), 88.

[16] Anon, “Social Boycott And Life In Sha'ib Abi Talib”, Universal Sunnah Foundation, http://www.usf.edu.pk/wyw-12.html (accessed August 22, 2017).

[17] Ali Asghar Razwy, “The Economic and Social Boycott of the Banu Hashim”, Al-Islam.org, https://www.al-islam.org/restatement-history-islam-and-muslims-sayyid-ali-ashgar-razwy/economic-and-social-boycott-banu (accessed July 18, 2017).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Resit Haylamaz, The Sultan of  Hearts, (New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2013), 266.

[20] Idris Kandhelwi, Siratul Mustafa SWS, (Karachi: Kutb Khana Mazhari), 257.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Resit Haylamaz, The Sultan of Hearts, (New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2013), 267.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983), 89.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5665, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2586

[28] Zakaria Bashier, Sunshine at Madinah, (UK: The Islamic Foundation, 1990), 87.

[29] Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarkpuri, The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet. London: Darusselam, 2010, 55.

[30] Ali Asghar Razwy, “The Economic and Social Boycott of the Banu Hashim”, Al-Islam.org, https://www.al-islam.org/restatement-history-islam-and-muslims-sayyid-ali-ashgar-razwy/economic-and-social-boycott-banu (accessed July 18, 2017).

[31] Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983), 90.

[32] Ibn Kathir, Al-Sira Al-Nabawwiya: The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, Trans. Trevor Le Gassick, (Lebanon: Garnet Publishing Limited, 1998), 32.

[33] Safi-ur-Rahman Al-Mubarkpuri, The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet. London: Darusselam, 2010, 55.

[34] Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983), 88.

 

[35] Ibid, 91.

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