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The Unlettered Prophet (19)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)

The Year of Sorrows


The tenth year of prophethood was one of continuous pain and sorrow for the Prophet (sws). This is why the year is called the “Year of Sorrows” for him. During the year, his uncle, Abu Talib, who was the leader of the Banu Hashim tribe, passed away. Soon afterwards, his beloved confidante and wife also died. This was a most tragic event for him. Later, when he made an attempt to develop relations with the leaders of Ta’if, it was unsuccessful and he had to return without having made headway.


Abu Talib’s Death

During his leadership of the Banu Hashim, Abu Talib took care of the Prophet (sws) with full attention and gave him the protection that was his right as a member of the tribe. However, his teachings could not impress him and he remained a follower of the religion of his predecessors. When he was on his death bed, the Prophet (sws) went to ask after his health and saw that both Abu Jahal and ‘Abdullah ibn Abi Umayyah were also present. The Prophet (sws) asked his uncle to pronounce la ilaha illallah so that he could vouch for his faith when they met their God. Both Abu Jahal and ‘Abdullah tried to deter Abu Talib, taunting him: would he turn away from ‘Abd al- Muttalib’s religion? The Prophet (sws) continued to call him to Islam, but he refused, saying that he would stay committed to ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s religion. He died in this condition.1

After Abu Talib’s death, the headship of the tribe came to Abu Jahal, who was a diehard enemy of Islam. According to narratives, at first he reassured that the Prophet (sws) could continue his mission, but soon he developed an alliance with the opponents of Islam within the Quraysh and the Prophet (sws) could no longer enjoy the same protection of his tribe as before.  The oppression of opponents increased manifold and he was continuously harassed. When he preached, Abu Jahal would follow him and create trouble, then as the leader of the tribe, whereas before he had done this as an individual.


Khadijah’s (rta) Death

Biographers agree that Abu Talib and  Khadijah (rta) died the same year, but there are differences in the dates, and the period between the two tragedies for the Prophet (sws). Some narratives say that they died within a few days of each other, while others put the period at one and a half to two months.

Khadijah’s passing away held great problems for the Prophet (sws). She was his supporter and confidante, and perceptive to his nature. They had six children of whom four were daughters: Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah. When she died, two daughters were already married: Zaynab was married to Khadijah’s nephew Abu al-‘As ibn al-Rabi‘, and Ruqayyah to ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, who was, at that time, an emigrant in Abyssinia. Thus, two daughters, 15 and 10-11 years old respectively, remained to take care of the house.

Khadijah (rta) had made major contributions to the cause of Islam. She used to reassure the Prophet (sws) during the various stages of his prophethood, witnessed his message and encouraged him to continue his preaching diligently. Apart from this, she also spent generously of her own wealth in the cause of Islam, thus relieving the Prophet (sws) from having to earn his own living. She was his companion throughout the troubles the Prophet (sws) faced as a result of his preaching, and remained Islam’s fervent servant until the end. She fulfilled her obligations as the Prophet’s companion and partner to such an extent that he did not even think of contracting a second marriage throughout this period. The Prophet (sws) continued to remember and speak of her qualities and sacrifices for a long time.

When it became difficult to run the house after her death, Uthman ibn Maz‘un (rta)’s wife, Khawlah bint Hakim advised him to remarry and suggested two possibilities. One was Sawdah bint Zam‘ah, who was the widow of Sakran bint ‘Amr (rta) and had returned from Abyssinia. The other was that of ‘A’ishah bint Abi Bakr (rta), who was single, but was promised to Jabir, son of Mutam bin A’adi. The Prophet (sws) liked both, but since ‘A’ishah (rta) was already affianced, he married Sawdah (rta). Abu Bakr (rta) was keen to take this opportunity of gaining blessings through this relationship, and approached Mut‘am ibn ‘Adi’s on his opinion regarding the engagement to his son. His wife raised her concern that he would turn their son away from their religion if he was to marry his daughter. Mut‘am bin ‘Adi supported his wife. Abu Bakr (rta) realized that it was useless to continue this relationship and broke off the promise. Then he told Khawlah bint Hakim that he was ready for ‘A’ishah’s marriage to the Prophet (sws). Thus they were married, but ‘A’ishah’s move to the Prophet’s house was deferred according to the Arab custom.


Journey to Ta’if

When the Prophet (sws) did not get the support that was his right as a member of the tribe from the Banu Hashim under the leadership of Abu Jahal, the Quraysh increased their harassment and opposing leaders became even more aggressive in their abusive attitudes towards him. They left no opportunity to hurt him and Abu Jahal placed no restraint on this abuse. When the Prophet (sws) spoke about Islam, they would hurl sand upon him and would tell his listeners not to pay him any heed, because he wanted to snatch them away from Lat and Manat. It was during the course of this situation when he once reached home with his hair full of dirt and sand, that his daughter cried as she washed his hair and he consoled her. 

 Once, when he was offering his prayer standing next to the Ka‘bah, Abu Jahal and his friends were sitting close by, as usual. One of them asked if there was any person in the gathering who would go and bring the intestines of an animal and when Muhammad (sws) was prostrating, place it on his back. The most accursed person among them got up and brought the lump of intestines, waiting for the Prophet (sws) to prostate. As soon as he did so, he placed the intestines on the Prophet’s back. The Prophet (sws) remained in the same position and did not lift his head. His daughter, Fatima, hearing of the incident, ran to the Ka‘bah to remove the intestines. When the Prophet (sws) returned to a sitting position, he prayed to God thus: “O God, please deal with these leaders of the Quraysh; Abu Jahal, ‘Utbah ibn Rabi‘ah, Shaybah ibn Rabi‘ah, Walid ibn ‘Utbah, Umayyah ibn Khalaf and ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu‘it.” At this, the group was very rattled, because they knew that prayers in that city were always accepted. Narrator Ibn Mas‘ud (rta) says that he saw all those who were thus cursed by the Prophet (sws), lying dead in a pit after the Battle of Badr.2

This harassment was not limited to the Haram only. The accursed people would throw filth inside the Prophet’s house as well. He would ask his neighbours if this torture was in keeping with the etiquette of neighbourliness, but his appeals could not create any impact on people who were unaware of the rights of God and human kind.

When the Prophet (sws) saw that he had been excluded from the protection of his tribe altogether, he thought of an alternate source of protection. Makkah and Ta’if were twin cities in that the leaders of both were known and respected throughout the country. The Quraysh owned property in Ta’if. Similarly, the Ta’if tribes of Thaqif had residences in Makkah. Thus, people from both cities travelled across and also married into each other’s families. It was usual among Arabs to obtain protection of any reputable person and the elite did not decline any such request. The Prophet (sws), therefore, decided to try his luck in Ta’if. 3

The Prophet (sws) took his adopted son, Zayd ibn Harithah (rta) with him and arrived in Ta’if. ‘Amr ibn ‘Umayr’s sons, viz. ‘Abdiyyalayl, Mas‘ud and Habib were influential lords. The Prophet (sws) invited them to accept Islam and also requested protection. Very unexpectedly, not only did they refuse to side with him and stand against the Quraysh, they also ridiculed his teachings. All three brothers held the same views. The Prophet (sws) did not think it wise to remain there any longer and started on his return journey. However, the three brothers instructed their slaves and other youth to follow and harass him. This they did, wounding both the Prophet (sws) and Zayd (rta). On his way, he found a vineyard and entered it to take some rest. This vineyard belonged to the Makkan leaders, ‘Utbah and Shaybah. When they saw him, they sent some grapes in a plate, in consideration of familial connections. Their Christian slave, ‘Adas, brought the grapes to him. When the prophet (sws) recited the bismillah…before eating, the slave was taken aback and said that people from that area did not use these words before eating. The Prophet (sws) was intrigued and asked him to introduce himself. He was a Christian from Neneveh. The Prophet (sws) told him that his origin was also that of a pious man called Yunus ibn Mata (sws) who was a prophet, the same as himself. Hearing this, ‘Adas kissed the Prophet’s hand and head.

When leaving Ta’if, the Prophet (sws) prayed to God very sorrowfully; “O’ God, I am feeble, my resources are limited and my efforts are weak. You are the Master of the weak. I have no trust on anyone but You. You will give victory.” It is narrated that an angel appeared and asked him if he wished to have Ta’if crushed between two mountains. The Prophet (sws) restrained him and said that he hoped that God would create people from within the progeny of these cruel individuals, who would worship only one God and would not include any others with Him.

On the way to Makkah, he stayed at Nakhlah, and sent a message to the Quraysh leader, Suhayl ibn ‘Amr, asking for his protection. He replied, saying that the Banu ‘Amir ibn Luyi (his family) could not provide protection to Banu Ka‘b ibn Luyi (the Prophet’s family). After this, the Prophet (sws) asked for protection from Mut‘am ibn ‘Adi, who was from the tribe of the Banu ‘Abd Munaf. This request was accepted and the Prophet (sws) was asked to come to them. The Prophet (sws) spent the night at Mut‘am’s house, and in the morning, the latter took him to the Ka‘bah with his sons, where he declared publicly that Muhammad (sws) was now under his protection and no one should dare hurt him.4 

This narrative tells us that Abu Jahal did not meet his obligations towards the Prophet (sws) as a member of his tribe and supported his enemies, merely because of his prejudice and enmity. Otherwise, it was not possible that despite his connections with the Banu Hashim, the Prophet (sws) was able to obtain protection of a leader from another family and entered Makkah.

The Prophet’s journey to Ta’if is often considered as his leaving the people of Makkah to join the Thaqif of Ta’if and to begin preaching to the three leaders; ‘Abdiyyalayl, Mas‘ud and Habib. This view is incorrect. If this were true, it would mean that the Prophet (sws) left his real addressees, i.e the Quraysh and changed his place of mission himself. The reality is that a messenger of God does not leave his first addressees, among whom he obtains his prophethood, without God’s instructions. He is not allowed to leave those who have put their faith in him and expose them to the evil intentions of others. Just like a captain of a ship, he ensures that the passengers are guided safely to anchor, and only at the end, he leaves the sinking ship to save his own life. Because the tribe of Thaqif, like that of the Quraysh was strong, the Prophet’s departure to find protection there where he could continue with his mission in Makkah was a comprehensible action.


Arrangement of Divine Satisfaction for the Prophet (sws)

When the Prophet (sws) would get upset by the trying conditions and the frustrating attitude of the disbelievers, he was given instructions to bring peace and solace to his heart. On return from Ta’if, the story of the jinn being influenced by the recitation of the Qur’an was related to him. This incident took place during his stay at Nakhlah, while returning from Ta’if. The Prophet (sws) was reciting the Qur’an in a loud voice during the night prayer, when a group of jinn happened to pass that way. They heard the recitation, and stopped in their tracks. When it ended, they resumed their journey and, reaching their community, told them about how they had heard a great and lofty message which told of accepting the oneness of a Creator and condemning the involvement of others with God, whereas their leaders were disrespectful to God and tried to lead them astray. This message had been revealed to the earth with great care and barriers had been placed to stop devils intercepting it during its revelation. This is why before the jinn could listen in and hear bits and pieces of what was happening, but now they were pelted with meteorites when they attempted to do so. This reaction of the jinn was related to the Prophet (sws) to reassure him that there was nothing wrong in either the content of the revelation, or the manner in which he recited it. If there was anything wrong, it was with the hard heartedness of those who were listening, due to which the message did not influence them. If the inner self wished for guidance, then a non related community such as the jinn too, was so affected that it was ready to correct the ways of its members.

This story of the effect on jinn was related to the Prophet (sws) through a revelation.5 It is clear that he neither met them nor did he speak with them. These jinn were already believers. When they heard the Qur’an, their faith in the Oneness of God was reinforced and they accepted the message and preached the same to their community.


Orders for the Late Night Prayer (Tahajjud)

Although the Prophet (sws) had been advised to be patient and steadfast in the prayer to handle the difficulties he was facing, and was implementing these instructions, under the new circumstances, when not only the Quraysh but the Banu Hashim, too, began to harden their stance, he was asked to begin a sixth prayer, tahajjud, and to increase the recitation of the Qur’an during the fajr prayer. This is the time when one is fresh in mind and soul and whatever is spoken through the tongue finds its way to the heart. Although this instruction was for the Prophet only, all believers started to follow it, because they were all living their lives under similar conditions and their problems were the same.





(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)




1. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol.1, 31.

2. Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, Kitab al-wudu.

3. Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, 419.

4. Ibn Hisham, Al-Sirah al-nabawiyyah, 381.

5. Details are found in Surah al-Jinn. The story is mentioned briefly in Surah al-Ahqaf also.

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