The Prophet of Mercy (1) – Forgiving Foes

Who was Prophet Muhammad? How did he embody the Islamic message of mercy, compassion and forgiveness? What was so incredible about this man that he is loved dearly by almost two billion Muslims around the world, despite the fact that he passed away fourteen hundred years ago?

Islam is based on the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. The Qur’an describes the Prophet Muhammad as a “mercy to all creation”. Muslims around the world believe that the Prophet Muhammad was a man who preached peace, justice, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness to one’s foes. For instance, the Prophet Muhammad said, “’Whoever suffers an injury done to him and forgives (the person responsible), Allah will raise his status to a higher degree and remove one of his sins” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi). There are countless Muslim traditions about the life of Prophet Muhammad which clearly illustrate his forgiveness to others, some of which are listed below. First, however, a review of the Muslim experience in Makkah is necessary.

 

The torture suffered by the Muslims in Makkah

When Prophet Muhammad began to preach the message of Islam in Makkah, the Quraysh responded with extreme hostility and persecution of the small group of Muslims. In 613CE, the Quraysh resorted to outright torture [1].

Bilal ibn Rabah was made to lie down in the burning heat while a boulder was placed on chest, all the while the Quraysh demanded that he recant his faith [2]. Sumayyah bint Khayat, an innocent Muslim woman, was murdered with a spear thrust through her pelvis, making her the first to be killed for accepting Islam [3]. Her son Ammar ibn Yasir was burnt with fire until he verbally recanted his faith [4].

Khabbab ibn al-Arat was forced to lie down on burning coal

Khabbab ibn al-Arat was forced to lie down on burning coal [5]. Uthman ibn Affan was tied up by his uncle and burnt with palm leaves [6], and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam suffered the same form of torture [7]. Mus’ab ibn Umayr was starved [8], Salamah ibn Hisham was imprisoned without food [9], meanwhile Abdullah ibn Mas’ood, Abu Bakr and Uthman ibn Madh’oon were physically beaten for professing their faith in public [10]. And the list goes on.

The Prophet Muhammad himself was targeted numerous times, especially after his uncle Abu Talib died [11]. Once while the Prophet was in prayer, Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt went up and began to strangle him with his cloak, until Abu Bakr came running to help calling out, “Will you kill a man for saying that Allah is his Lord?!” (Sahih Bukhari). On another occasion, Abu Jahl instructed Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’ayt to throw camel intestines over the Prophet while he was in prostration (Sahih Muslim). On another occasion, Utaybah ibn Abi Lahab physically assaulted the Prophet and spat in his face (though he missed) [12]. On another occasion, it is reported that he was beaten until he went blank [13].

The Prophet Muhammad escaped his house on the night that they had surrounded it, aiming to assassinate him. He joined his companions who had abandoned their homes and properties and sought refuge in Madinah.

 

Embodying forgiveness

1. Suraqah ibn Malik

When the Prophet fled Makkah in 622CE, the Quraysh responded by announcing a bounty of 100 camels for anyone who apprehended the Prophet Muhammad, dead or alive. A bedouin by the name of Suraqah ibn Malik from the tribe Bani Mudlij was an experienced tracker and quickly pursued them. However, when he began to catch up to them, he found his horse continually stumbled, sinking into sand. He found himself unable to raise his bow towards the Prophet. He called out to the Prophet asking for protection. The Prophet Muhammad agreed, had a written protection given to him, and let him go unharmed (Sahih Bukhari).

 

2. Ghawrath bin al-Harith

When the Prophet received word that some of the tribes of Ghatafan were mobilizing an attack on Madinah, so he undertook a small expedition toward their territory but they fled before the Muslims arrival.

However, while the Prophet was resting under a tree, an enemy warrior by the name of Ghawrath ibn al-Harith, who had pledged to assassinate the Prophet, quietly took the Prophet’s sword as he slept and suddenly declared, “O Muhammad, who will save you from me?” The Prophet awoke and simply replied, “Allah.” Ghawrath inexplicably dropped the sword and the Prophet picked it up and asked, “Now, who will save you from me?”

Ghawrath was astonished and pleaded, “Be the better victor!”

The Prophet Muhammad forgave him. He asked Ghawrath whether he believed in the truth of Islam and Ghawrath replied, “No, but I promise not to fight you or aid those who fight you.” The Prophet let Ghawrath return to his tribe, whereupon Ghawrath said, “Verily, I have come from the best of people.” (Mustadarak al-Hakim, Sunan al-Bayhaqi, and Ibn Kathir in al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah). Other narrations mention that he later on chose to accept Islam (al-Waqidi).

 

3. Umayr ibn Wahb  

The Makkan Quraysh lost the Battle of Badr despite outnumbering the Muslims by three-fold. In the aftermath, the Quraysh nobleman Safwan ibn Umayyah commissioned his friend Umayr ibn Wahb to travel to Madinah to assassinate the Prophet Muhammad. The two kept their plot a secret and Umayr travelled to Madinah with a poisoned blade but was apprehended before reaching Prophet Muhammad. Umayr denied any plot initially, until the Prophet Muhammad narrated to Umayr word-for-word the conversation that took place between Umayr and Safwan. Astonished by this, Umayr realized the Prophet Muhammad was receiving Divine revelation and he willingly embraced the faith. The Prophet Muhammad let this would-be assassin return unharmed to Makkah, forgiving him completely (Seerah Ibn Hisham, and al-Bayhaqi in Dala’il al-Nubuwwah).

 

4. Safwan ibn Umayyah

Safwan had a long history of aggression and hostility towards the Muslims. He supported his father, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, in torturing Bilal ibn Rabah, and he participated in the battle of Badr, Uhud and Khandaq against the Muslims. Safwan sent Umayr ibn Wahb to try to kill the Prophet Muhammad. Safwan also supplied weaponry to the tribe of Banu Bakr to assist them in attacking the Muslim allies of Banu Khuza’ah [14]. When the Prophet Muhammad returned to Makkah, the very city that he had been forced to flee 8 years earlier, the Quraysh surrendered to the Muslim army without fighting, with the exception of a few bitter opponents who fought and then fled – Safwan being one of them. Safwan’s old friend Umayr ibn Wahb, now a Muslim, asked the Prophet to grant pardon to Safwan for his crimes and allow him to return to Makkah. The Prophet agreed and even gave his own turban to Umayr to give to Safwan as a guarantee of protection. When Safwan returned to Makkah he remained a pagan for several months, and yet the Prophet Muhammad showed him unparalleled generosity in giving him gifts. It was this spirit of generosity, magnanimity, benevolence and forgiveness that won over Safwan’s heart in the end. He said, “By God, the Prophet gave me gifts when he was the most hated of people to me. But he kept on giving to me until he became the most beloved of people to me” (Sahih Muslim).

 

5. Uthman ibn Talhah

Uthman ibn Talhah was from Bani ‘Abd al-Dar, the clan of the Quraysh that kept the keys to the Ka’ba. He was also of those who were very hostile to the message of Islam. He ridiculed and insulted the Prophet Muhammad, and once when the Prophet sought to pray in the Ka’ba, Uthman ibn Talha denied him. The Prophet replied calmly that one day those keys would be in the Prophet’s hands. Despite the battles the Quraysh fought against the Prophet, they were unable to exterminate the message of Islam and it grew in influence until the Prophet returned to Makkah. On that day, when the keys of the Ka’ba were given to Prophet Muhammad, he showed exemplary forgiveness and returned them Uthman ibn Talhah, the very man who had responded abusively to the Prophet before [15].

 

6. Fadalah ibn Umayr

After the conquest of Makkah, there were some whose hearts were not won over easily. Fadalah ibn Umayr was one of those seething with hatred and desperate for revenge. He vowed to kill Prophet Muhammad. When the Prophet was circling the Ka’ba, Fadalah followed him closely, gradually coming within attacking range, thinking to himself about the dastardly deed he was about to commit. Suddenly, the Prophet turned around and found himself face to face with Fadalah. “What is it you were saying to yourself,” the Prophet asked. “Nothing – I was just praising God,” Fadalah said.

The Prophet simply smiled and said, “Ask God to forgive you”

The Prophet simply smiled and said, “Ask God to forgive you,” placing his hand on Fadalah’s chest.

Fadalah would say, “No sooner had the Prophet lifted his hand from my chest than he became the most beloved person to me on the face of this earth.” [16]

 

7. Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl

Ikrimah was one of those who lead the persecution of Muslims in Makkah, his father Abu Jahl being the most ardent enemy of Islam. Ikrimah lead the left flank of the Quraysh army against the Muslims in the Battle of Uhud, and he lead an attack against the Muslims in the Battle of the trench. When the Quraysh finally surrendered and the Prophet Muhammad conquered Makkah in 630CE, Ikrimah was one the few who fought trying to prevent the Muslims from entering Makkah, before fleeing. His wife Umm Hakeem, however had embraced Islam and obtained a pardon from the Prophet Muhammad so that Ikrimah could return. She persuaded Ikrimah saying, “I have come to you from the most gracious of men, the most affectionate and forgiving, the best of men; he has granted you protection so accept it.” Ikrimah agreed.

The manner in which the Prophet went out of his way to welcome his former persecutor is truly remarkable. The Prophet Muhammad told his followers before Ikrimah’s arrival, “Verily Ikrimah is coming to you as a faithful migrant, so be sure not to insult his father, because insulting the dead only causes grievance to the living and does not reach the dead.” When Ikrimah arrived, the Prophet Muhammad stood up, rejoiced and welcomed him lovingly. (Mustadrak al-Hakim) [17]

Ikrimah went on to become one of the most passionate defenders of Islam.

 

8. Wahshi ibn Harb

Wahshi was one of those who offence against the Prophet was deeply personal, for he had killed the Prophet’s uncle and close companion, Hamzah ibn Abdul-Muttalib, who was a leading figure amongst the new Muslim community. Wahshi was an Abyssinian slave in Makkah who was one of the most skilled spear throwers. Wahshi was appointed to kill Hamzah in revenge for those Quraysh chieftains who had died at Hamzah’s hand during the Battle of Badr. In exchange, Wahshi was promised his freedom. The death of Hamzah at the hands of Wahshi was deeply grieved by the whole Muslim community, and Hamzah’s body had been mutilated by the Quraysh. When the Prophet conquered Makkah, Wahshi fled to Taa’if knowing that killing the family member of a chieftain or ruler would certainly warrant a death sentence. But the Prophet was unlike any ruler. Wahshi said, “I heard that no matter how grave a person’s crime against him, the Prophet Muhammad always chose forgiveness.” Wahshi eventually returned to Makkah, embraced Islam, and indeed the Prophet Muhammad forgave him. (Sahih Bukhari, Musnad Ahmad, Sunan al-Bayhaqi).

 

9.  Hind bint Utbah

Hind was the wife of Abu Sufyan, and the daughter of Utbah ibn Rabee’ah, both of whom were leading Quraysh chieftains. Hind’s own involvement in the campaign against Islam was deeply personal and fuelled with intense hatred. She incited Wahshi to kill Hamzah in revenge for the death of her father Utbah, promising Wahshi great rewards in jewellery. Early seerah chroniclers including Ibn Ishaq cite that she gouged out the liver of Hamzah and attempted to eat it, before spitting it out, while his ears and nose were cut off and used for a necklace. [18]. After the battle, the Prophet stood before the mutilated body of his beloved uncle, Hamzah. The Prophet said, “God have mercy on you my uncle. Indeed, you maintained the ties of kinship, and always rushed to do good” (Musnad Ahmad). Abdullah ibn Mas’ud said, “We never saw the Prophet weep so much as he did for Hamzah.”

At the time of the conquest of Makkah, Hind protested against the Quraysh surrender to the Muslims  and accused her husband Abu Sufyan of cowardice. But the once persecuted community had outgrown their Qurayshi persecutors in numbers, power and influence, and Abu Sufyan knew that it would be futile to continue fighting. Hind was forced to confront the reality she had so vehemently opposed. So Hind came with the women before the Prophet Muhammad and took the pledge of allegiance while veiled. When she announced her identity, the Prophet replied calmly, “Welcome, O Hind.” Touched by the magnanimity of the Messenger, she proclaimed, “By God, there was no household that I wished to destroy moreso than yours, but now there is no household that I wish to honour more than yours.” (Sahih Bukhari).

 

10. Habbar ibn al-Aswad

When the Prophet’s daughter Zaynab attempted to migrate to Madinah, a crowd from the Quraysh surrounded her camel and prevented her from leaving. One of them was a man by the name of Habbar ibn al-Aswad who hurled a spear at her, which struck the camel causing her to fall from its back. She was pregnant at the time and she suffered a miscarriage, along with other serious injuries [19]. Her health deteriorated further as a result of those injuries until she died a few years later [20]. The entire Muslim community was grieved at her loss, the pain of which was felt most intensely by the Prophet Muhammad pbuh. Habbar had caused the death of his daughter and had killed the Prophet’s unborn granchild. And yet, when Habbar came on the Day of the Conquest of Makkah and begged forgiveness, the Prophet of Mercy forgave him despite having every means to exact whatever revenge he desired [21].

 

Continue reading more examples in The Prophet of Mercy (2) – Love conquers Hate (forthcoming)

 


  1. Ibn Ishaq, al-Seerah al-Nabawiyyah 
  2. Musnad Ahmad, no. 3832. Ibn Asakir, Tarikh al-Dimashq no. 8769 
  3. Musnad Ahmad, vol.1, p.404. Ibn al-Atheer. Usd al-Ghaba fi Ma’rifat al-Sahabah, no. 1702 
  4. Ibn Hisham, Seerah al-Nabawiyyah vol. 1, p.395. al-Wahidi. Asbab al-Nuzul (16:106), p. 212, Dar Alam al-Kutub, Beirut. 
  5. Hilya of Abu Nu’aym, vol 1, p. 144 
  6. Al-Maliqi, al-Tamheed wal-Bayan fi maqtal al-Shaheed Uthman, p22. 
  7. Al-Mustadarak al-Hakim, vol. 3, p. 360. 
  8. Ibn Ishaq, Seerah al-Nabawiyyah, p. 193 
  9. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat vol 4, p. 130 
  10. Ibn Hisham, Seerah al-Nabawiyyah, vol.2, p. 10-15 
  11. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, vol 3, p.148 
  12. al-Bayhaqi, Dala’il al-Nubuwwah, vol. 2, p.338 
  13. Musnad Abu Ya’la (3691), and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani said it is an authentic chain (Fath al-Bari, vol. 15, p.11, no. 3856).  
  14. Ibn Kathir. al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, vol. 4, p313 
  15. Tafsir al-Tha’labi 4:58 
  16. Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr (d.463H), al-Durar fi Ikhtisar al-Maghazi wal-Siyar. Cairo. 1966. p.235. 
  17. al-Haakim al-Naysaburi. al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn. vol. 4, p. 264 
  18. Also cited by Ibn Kathir in al-Bidaayah wal-Nihayah vol. 4, p.43 
  19. al-Haythami. Majma’ al-Zawa’id, vol. 9, p. 216. Other reports suggest she was struck directly by his weapon (Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani. Al-Isabah fi Tamyiz al-Sahabah, vol. 3, p. 597).  
  20. Shawkani. Darr al-sihabah fi manaqib al-qarabah wa-l-Sahabah, no. 219 
  21. Abu Nu’aym al-Asbahani. Ma’rifah al-Sahabah. Dar al-Watan. vol. 5, p.2768 
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