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From Divine Appointment to the Hijrah

The first signs of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) divine calling at the age of 40 are said to have been veridical dreams. However, according to the traditions about the sirah (biography) of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), the angel of revelation first appeared to him on a night in the month of Ramadhan or Rajab, while he was in seclusion at Harra Cave, during which he received the verses of the Surah of `Alaq. Based on some hadiths, he then rushed home and asked to be covered with a blanket. It appears that the second instance of revelation was delayed for some time, a fact that caused him a great deal of distress. But soon he was once again visited by the angel of revelation and given the mission to heal the social and moral ills of his people, and to purge the House of God from idols and the hearts of people from false deities. 

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) began his mission by calling to Islam the members of his own family. The first woman to believe in his prophecy was his wife Khadijah and the first man his cousin `Ali b. Abi Talib (PBUH), for whose guardianship he was responsible at the time. Divergent accounts exist as to the identity of the first male Muslim, some of which assert Abu Bakr or Zayd b. Harithah to have been the first men to heed Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) calling. It should, however, be borne in mind that this issue has been a source of pride for various sects of Islam and one that became the subject of heated theological disputes. At first, the number of Muslims was rather limited but soon they multiplied and became numerous enough to accompany the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to the outskirts of Mecca in order to perform ritual prayers. 

Three years after his appointment, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was commanded by God to gather all the members of the Quraysh tribe and, thus, to announce his mission to a broader group in his community. However, the move failed to result in any tangible number of new recruits among the Quraysh tribe. In spite of the fact that the affluent classes in Mecca turned a deaf ear to the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) call to the worship of the single God and message of human equality, the poor, on the other hand, joined the new religion in droves; some of whom, such as `Ammar Yasir and Bilal the Ethiopian, went on to be ranked among the foremost of the Prophet’s (PBUH) Companions. At first, the reaction of the Quraysh, and that of the polytheists in general, was one of apathy and non-confrontation. But as the attacks on the idolatrous creed and traditional customs of the Meccans were stepped up more pressure was brought to bear on the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his followers. The Prophet’s (PBUH) uncle Abu Talib was especially picked on owing to his unflinching support of his nephew. On the one hand, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers were becoming the target of mounting aggression by the Quraysh and other Arab tribes and, on the other hand, a rift was opening up among the ranks of the Quraysh, some of whom were eager to side with the Muslims. 

The situation became so acute that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) ordered some of his followers to immigrate to Ethiopia. It appears that a group of them continued to shuttle between there and Hijaz. In the 6th year after the hijrah, the Quraysh made a pact not to merry or conduct any trade with the members of `Abd al-Muttalib family. They inscribed the terms of their covenant and hung it up on the wall of the Ka`bah. Soon, Abu Talib and his family accompanied the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his wife Khadijah to a famous valley known as the Shi`b of Abu Talib. There, they remained in relative isolation. Eventually, after the destruction, by termites, of the tablet containing the text of the covenant the Quraysh agreed to put an end to their embargo (the 10th year of the Appointment). Khadijah and Abu Talib passed away a short while after the Prophet (PBUH) and his family and followers left the valley of Shi`b. 

With the death of Abu Talib the Holy Prophet (PBUH) lost one of his key supporters and thus came under renewed pressure on the part of the polytheists. In addition, his efforts to recruit the tribal people living outside of the Meccan sphere, such as those of Tayif, made little headway and thus he returned to Mecca with a heavy heart. Finally, his attention was turned to the city of Yathrib which appeared susceptible to his message. Yathrib was dominated by two clans of Aws and Khazraj which were locked in a perpetual cycle of conflict and were eager to embrace any offers of mediation. During a hajj season, the Holy Prophet happened to come across six members of the Khazraj tribe who converted to Islam and, upon their return to Yathrib, embarked on a mission to spread the new religion. The following year (the 11th year of the Appointment) a group of men from the tribes of Aws and Khazraj met with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in a valley in the vicinity Mecca called `Aqabah. There, they took an oath of allegiance to the Holy Prophet (PBUH), who dispatched his representative to return along with them to Yathrib. This oath of allegiance (bay`ah) became the foundation of the government later established by the Prophet (PBUH) in that city. A large number of Yathribites followed suit in the coming year, and there remained a small minority of Yathrib’s population who were yet to accept the new religion. Though the negotiations were held in secret the leaders of Quraysh got wind of the affair and decided to assassinate the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The task was to be carried out by a group made up of all the branches of Quraysh tribe, so that the responsibility would fell upon them as a whole. However, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received the news of the conspiracy and asked his cousin `Ali (PBUH) to sleep in his bed, while he, along with Abu Bakr, set out for Yathrib.

* source: Gorji , Abolghasem "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.397 - 398

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