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The Unlettered Prophet (12)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)

Reasons for Fearing the Qur’an by the Quraysh

The Quraysh were afraid of the message of the Prophet (sws) because the religion that they had established in Makkah on account of their trusteeship of the Ka‘bah was not the same that had been taught by Abraham (sws) The teachings of Islam criticized this self constructed religion, thus challenging the basis of the control of the Quraysh over the House of God. The Quraysh thought that if this message gained roots, it might become popular, in which case the system of their religious supremacy would be destroyed and their prominence in the country would be lost forever.

The benefit that the Quraysh obtained by replacing the Abrahamic concept of the Oneness of God with idol worship was that they could give a place to the idols of all the Arab tribes in the Ka‘bah, and thus ensure their loyalty to them. This was the same strategy that was used by the Hindus in India for followers of Buddha. They had allowed the statues of Buddha to be placed in their temples, and thus eliminated the chance for the Buddhist religion to develop independently. With all their idols finding a place in the Ka‘bah, Arabia viewed the Quraysh as keepers of the system of polytheism, and in exchange, allowed them extensive trade and travelling facilities en route to other destinations. If they were to adopt monotheism, these benefits could be endangered. The message given by the Prophet (sws) highlighted each and every deviation and religious aberration of the Quraysh, due to which they had become thoroughly disgruntled. We examine here briefly the elements inherent in the Prophet’s message, which were critical of the views held by the Quraysh.


Opposition to Polytheism and Idol Worship  

Since the Quraysh related their religious ideals and practices to those of Abraham (sws), the Qur’an emphasised at several places the deep hatred Abraham (sws) held for polytheism and idols, and related how he fought his people because of their idol worship, and left his country when they refused to listen to him.


And mention in the Book [the story of] Abraham. Indeed, he was a man of truth and a prophet. [Mention] when he said to his father: “O my father, why do you worship that which does not hear and does not see and will not benefit you at all? O my father, indeed there has come to me of knowledge that which has not come to you, so follow me; I will guide you to an even path. O my father, do not worship Satan. Indeed Satan has ever been, to the Most Merciful, disobedient. O my father, indeed I fear that a punishment shall touch you from the Most Merciful so you would be to Satan a companion [in Hell].” [His father] said: “Have you no desire for my gods, O Abraham? If you do not desist, I will surely stone you, so get away from me forever.” (19:41-46)


These verses declare idol worship to be useless, and the same as worshipping Satan. By so doing, man is liable to be punished severely by God. The true path is attained only by following the message of the prophet.


And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said: “My Lord, make this city [Makkah] secure and keep me and my sons away from worshipping idols. My Lord, indeed they have led astray many among the people. So whoever follows me - then he is of me; and whoever disobeys me - indeed, You are [yet] Forgiving and Merciful. Our Lord, I have settled some of my descendants in an uncultivated valley near Your sacred House, our Lord, that they may establish prayer. So make hearts among the people incline towards them and provide for them from the fruits that they might be grateful. Our Lord, indeed You know what we conceal and what we declare, and nothing is hidden from Allah on the earth or in the heaven.” (14:35-38)


Abraham’s (sws) aversion to idolatry is evident from every word he spoke in these verses. He also reminded his sons of their responsibilities towards the Ka‘bah, which the Quraysh had not only forgotten, but had introduced bizarre additions to, as traditional practice. How could then the Qur’anic verses be accepted easily by the Quraysh? When the Prophet (sws) explained these verses, the Quraysh must have felt deeply threatened.


The Reality of Monotheism

The Qur’an also clarified that the only Being to Whom thanks should be given is Allah because mankind is reaping the benefits of blessings bestowed by God. The Qur’an gave several examples of the gifts of God and asked if there was anything in which a partner could be ascribed to God, or on the basis of which some other being could be thought worthy of worship: 


Say, [O Muhammad]: “Praise be to Allah, and peace upon His servants whom He has chosen. Is Allah better or what they associate with Him?” [More precisely], is He [not best] who created the heavens and the earth and sent down for you rain from the sky, causing to grow thereby gardens of joyful beauty which you could not [otherwise] have grown the trees thereof? Is there a deity with Allah? [No], but they are a people who ascribe equals [to Him]. Is He [not best] who made the earth a stable ground and placed within it rivers and made for it firmly set mountains and placed between the two seas a barrier? [No], but most of them do not know. Is He [not best] who responds to the desperate one when he calls upon Him and removes evil and makes you inheritors of the earth? Is there a deity with Allah? Little do you remember. Is He [not best] who guides you through the darkness of the land and sea and who sends the winds as good tidings before His mercy? Is there a deity with Allah? High is Allah above whatever they associate with Him. Is He [not best] who begins creation and then repeats it and who provides for you from the heaven and earth? Is there a deity with Allah? Say: “Produce your proof, if you should be truthful.” Is He [not best] who begins creation and then repeats it and who provides for you from the heaven and earth? Say: “None in the heavens and earth knows the unseen except Allah, and they do not perceive when they will be resurrected.” (27:59-65)


When traditional beliefs of polytheism were challenged by the Qur’an in such clear terms, and were declared baseless, it is obvious that the Quraysh must have been seething with rage. 


The Status of Angels and the Jinn

The people of Arabia considered angels and jinn to be either a part of deity, to be worshipped as God, or gave them attributes that were God’s alone. They related them with the power to be beneficial or hurtful to mankind, and made great efforts to appease them, thus expecting them to grant their prayers and wishes. Angels were considered God’s daughters, while a direct connection was believed to exist between the jinn and God. The Qur’an destroyed the entire fabric of these superstitions, making it very clear that both angels and jinn were well aware of their status in God’s universe. They would not ever dream of being partners with God. They were as dependent on God, and could gain His mercy only by submitting to His will, as mankind:


So inquire of them, [O Muhammad]: “Does your Lord have daughters while they have sons? Or did We create the angels as females while they were witnesses?” Unquestionably, it is out of their [invented] falsehood that they say: “Allah has begotten,” and indeed, they are liars. Has He chosen daughters over sons? What is [wrong] with you? How do you make judgement? Then will you not be reminded? Or do you have a clear authority? Then produce your scripture, if you should be truthful. And they have claimed between Him and the jinn a lineage, but the jinn have already known that they [who made such claims] will be brought to [punishment]. Exalted is Allah above what they describe. Except the chosen servants of Allah [who do not share in that sin]. So indeed, you [disbelievers] and whatever you worship, You cannot tempt [anyone] away from Him, Except he who is to [enter and] burn in Hell. [The angels say]: “There is not among us any except that he has a known position. And indeed, we are those who line up [for prayer].” (37:149-165)


The Concept of the Day of Judgement

The people of Arabia were dismissive of the Day of Judgement, and believed that it was very unlikely to occur. The Qur’an gave appealing arguments and also described the fate that would befall those who disbelieved prophets and refuted the fact that a day of reckoning would come: 


Allah begins creation; then He will repeat it; then to Him you will be returned. And the Day the Hour appears the criminals will be in despair. And there will not be for them among their [alleged] partners any intercessors, and they will [then] be disbelievers in their partners. And the Day the Hour appears - that Day they will become separated. And as for those who had believed and done righteous deeds, they will be in a garden [of Paradise], delighted. But as for those who disbelieved and denied Our verses and the meeting of the Hereafter, those will be brought into the punishment [to remain]. (30:11-16)

And the disbeliever says: “When I have died, am I going to be brought forth alive?” Does man not remember that We created him before, while he was nothing? So, by your Lord, We will surely gather them and the devils; then We will bring them to be present around Hell upon their knees. Then We will surely extract from every sect those of them who were worst against the Most Merciful in insolence. Then, surely it is We who are most knowing of those most worthy of burning therein. And there is none of you except he will come to it. This is upon your Lord inevitability decreed. (19:66-71)


The noblemen of the Quraysh who would not consider anyone else worthy enough of their attention, on hearing that they would be presented before God as criminals and would be punished for their sins were overcome with fear and outrage. Every word of this message must have been intolerable for them.


Instructions for Hajj

The Quraysh were responsible for all arrangements of the mosque and for the pilgrimage of the hajj and ‘umrah. They discharged these with full commitment, but their deviation from the original prayer rituals caused them to stray from God’s instructions. The Qur’an warned them to be careful in being careless in such matters. New instructions were given that rekindled the path that had been darkened for centuries:


And [mention, O Muhammad], when We designated for Abraham the site of the House, [saying]: “Do not associate anything with Me and purify My House for those who offer tawaf and those who stand [in prayer] and those who bow and prostrate. And proclaim to the people the hajj [pilgrimage]; they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every distant pass - That they may witness benefits for themselves and mention the name of Allah on known days over what He has provided for them of [sacrificial] animals. So, eat of them and feed the miserable and poor. Then let them end their untidiness and fulfill their vows and perform tawaf around the ancient House.” That [has been commanded], and whoever honours the sacred ordinances of Allah - it is best for him in the sight of his Lord. And permitted to you are the grazing livestock, except what is recited to you. So avoid the uncleanliness of idols and avoid false statements, Inclining [only] to Allah, not associating [anything] with Him. And he who associates with Allah - it is as though he had fallen from the sky and was snatched by the birds or the wind carried him down into a remote place. That [is so]. And whoever honours the symbols of Allah - indeed, it is from the piety of hearts. (22:26-32)


The Qur’an says that the purpose for which Abraham (sws) had constructed this House had been defeated by the polytheists. They were to get rid of the filth that they had heaped upon themselves due to these idols, and refrain from declaring things halal or haram on the basis of their own whims. The rites of the pilgrimage were to be purified of all aspects of polytheism. The customs of the House of God were not to be respected merely superficially; they required piety of heart.

The Qur’an declared nudity during circumambulation a satanic addition, and called it an immoral act. It instructed pilgrims to come fully dressed to mosques.


And when they commit an immorality, they say: “We found our fathers doing it, and Allah has ordered us to do it.” Say: “Indeed, Allah does not order immorality. Do you say about Allah that which you do not know?”

O children of Adam, take your adornment at every mosque, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess. Say: “Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision?” Say: “They are for those who believe during the worldly life [but] exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection.” Thus do We detail the verses for a people who know. (7:28, 31-32) 


We must remember that these comments relate to the rituals that had been instituted by the Quraysh which included nude circling of the Ka‘bah. The Quraysh claimed that this religion was a legacy that had been handed down to them through several generations from Abraham (sws). The Qur’an clarified that this was a false allegation and that God never demands immorality and obscenity. Any such reference to Him would be a complete breach of respect.


The Halal-Haram Differentiation of Animals and other Goods

The polytheists had adopted several innovations regarding what was acceptable or not for them in terms of edibles, and considered these to be also religious edicts. The Qur’an stated that such restrictions were totally baseless. They were allowed to consume all meat that had been produced through animals slaughtered in the name of Allah, but those that were killed as sacrifice in the name of any other deity were haram. 


And why should you not eat of that upon which the name of Allah has been mentioned while He has explained in detail to you what He has forbidden you, excepting that to which you are compelled. And indeed do many lead [others] astray through their [own] inclinations without knowledge. Indeed, your Lord - He is most knowing of the transgressors. And leave what is apparent of sin and what is concealed thereof. Indeed, those who earn [blame for] sin will be recompensed for that which they used to commit. And do not eat of that upon which the name of Allah has not been mentioned, for indeed, it is grave disobedience. And indeed do the devils inspire their allies [among men] to dispute with you. And if you were to obey them, indeed, you would be associators [of others with Him]. And is one who was dead and We gave him life and made for him light by which to walk among the people like one who is in darkness, never to emerge there from? Thus it has been made pleasing to the disbelievers that which they were doing. (6:119-122)


Addressing the polytheists, the Qur’an says that they had developed a vast net of innovations according to which they do not take Allah’s name when slaughtering animals, and instead name fake deities to whom they assign a partnership with Allah. Obviously Abraham (sws) had never taught them to do so. And there were many animals that were to be revered, but because they were haram according to the beliefs of the polytheists, even if Allah’s name was taken and they were slaughtered, they refused to eat their meat. All this was just the result of a man made religion and a blatant disobedience of God’s instructions.


And they say: “These animals and crops are forbidden; no one may eat from them except whom we will,” by their claim. And there are those [camels] whose backs are forbidden [by them] and those upon which the name of Allah is not mentioned - [all of this] an invention of untruth about Him. He will punish them for what they were inventing. (6:138)

The views that the Prophet (sws) held in all such matters were so widely different from those of the Quraysh that there was no point where the two could meet. The Quraysh were incensed with this. They thought that the message of Islam was not only negating their ancestral beliefs, but was also striking at the roots of the religious system that formed the basis of their leadership in Arabia. If this message was successful they would lose their priesthood and trusteeship of the House of God. Similarly, their worldly benefits would suffer a terrible blow. These thoughts would create further severity in their efforts to curtail the activities of the Prophet (sws) and his followers, but to no avail. In such situations, the Qur’an referred to previous nations that had faced similar oppressions. The Prophet (sws) would talk about prophecies of future victories that were to be gained by the Muslims, and helped them develop courage and fortitude in meeting the increasing resistance from the Quraysh. The promise of God’s mercy and kindness and the exalted status to be awarded to people of strong faith gave the Muslims so much strength that they seemed to be impervious to the pains inflicted upon them.  


(Translated from Hayat-i Rasul-i Ummi by Nikhat Sattar)






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