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The Mushrikin1 of Makkh considered it beneath them to declare belief in Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and submit like the rest of the people. They placed themselves in the position of gods and gave their followers laws to follow and obey. Arrogance and authority inhibited them from accepting Islam for fear of becoming servants of Allah like the rest of ordinary people.
They wanted special personal prerogatives that would secure the continuity of their spiritual and authoritative leadership. They stipulated for themselves a share of the Divine Revelations as a condition for accepting to be worshippers of Allah alone2, as the Qur’an relates:
When a sign comes to them (proving the prophethood of Muhammad), they say, “Never will we believe until we receive the like of that which the Messengers of Allah have received.” Allah knows best with whom to place His Message
(Al-An‘am 6: 124)
Ibn Ishaq reported on the authority of Az-Zuhri that one night Abu Sufyan bin Harb, Abu Jahl bin Hisham, and Al-Akhnas bin Shurayq went out to listen to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) when he(pbuh) was praying in his house. Each of them took up a position for listening, and none of them knew that the others were also there listening.
They kept listening to him all night until dawn came. When they left, and on their way home, they met one another on the road and reprimanded one another, saying, “Do not come back again, lest some of their fools see you and you give a wrong impression (i.e. that you like what you hear).”
They went away, and when the second night came, each of them returned to his place. Again, they spent the whole night listening to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). They departed when dawn broke, but again the road brought them face to face with one another. So each of them reprimanded the others, saying the same as they had said the previous night.
They went away, and when the third night came, each of them returned to his place. They spent the whole night listening to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and departed with the coming of the dawn. But the road brought them together, so they said to one another, “Let us not leave until we vow not to come back.” They swore a vow to that effect and went their separate ways.
In the morning, Al-Akhnas bin Shurayq took his staff and went to the house of Abu Sufyan bin Harb. He said to him, “Tell me, O Abu Hanzalah (i.e. Abu Sufyan), what do you think of what you have heard from Muhammad?” Abu Sufyan said, “O Abu Tha‘labah (i.e. Al-Akhnas), by Allah, I have heard things (from the Qur'an) that I understand and know what is meant by them, and other things that I neither understand nor know what is meant by them.” Al-Akhnas said, “Me too, by the One by Whom you swore.”
He left him and went to Abu Jahl. He entered his house and said, “O Abu Al-Hakam (i.e. Abu Jahl), what do you think of what you have heard from Muhammad?” He said, “What you have heard. We and Banu ‘Abd Manaf competed for honor and position. They fed people, so we fed people. They engaged in battle, so we engaged in battle. They gave away (charity), so we gave away (charity), until we were neck and neck with them like two racehorses. Then they said, ‘We have a prophet among us who receives revelations from heaven.’ How can we compete with this? By Allah we will never believe in him.”3 According to the narrative on the authority of Muqatil, he said, “By Allah we will never believe in him and shall never follow him until we receive revelations as he receives.”4
The chiefs of Quraish did not doubt the truthfulness of Muhammad (pbuh) whom they had never heard tell a lie, or the truthfulness of the Message, or the fact that the Qur’an was not the words of a human. In spite of all this, they preferred Shirk, knowingly denied the truth, and hid their belief to protect their authority and social standing.
(We (Allah) indeed know that it grieves you (O Muhammad) what they say. It is not you that they belie, but it is the Ayat (the Qur’an) of Allah that the wrongdoers deny.)
(Al-An‘am 6: 33)
Ibn Jarir reported that on the day of the Battle of Badr, Al-Akhnas met Abu Jahl and withdrew to talk privately with him. Al-Akhnas said, “O Abu Al-Hakam, tell me about Muhammad. Is he truthful or a liar? There is no one here of the Quraish other than the two of us listening to our conversation.”
Abu Jahl said, “Woe to you! By Allah, Muhammad is truthful. Muhammad has never told a lie in his life. But if the Family of Qusai enjoyed alone the privileges of leadership, guardianship of the Sacred House, the honor of providing pilgrims with water and the honor of prophethood, what would be left for the rest of the Quraish?”5
- Plural of Mushrik: One who associates others with Allah in His Divinity or worship.
- Adapted from Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, interpretation of Surat Al-An‘am [6: 124], thirty-sixth edition, Dar Al-Shorouk.
- Ibn Hisham, As-Sirah An-Nabawiyyah: The Quraish Stealthily Hearing the Recitation of the Prophet r, vol. 1; reported also in Tafsir Ibn Kathir, interpretation of Surat Al-An‘am [6: 33], vol. 2.
- Tafsir Al-Baghawy, Ma‘alim At-Tanzil, interpretation of Surat Al-An‘am [6: 124].
- Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Tafsir Al-Baghawy, interpretation of Surat Al-An‘am [6: 33].