17. Eating Leaves

“Have I not been a good King to you?” he asked. “Yes, you have,” they answered. “Have I not treated you fairly?” “Yes, you have,” they answered, “but you have left our religion. You say what these strangers say about Isa.” The King looked at his people and the Cardinals surrounding him, “What do you believe?” he asked. “We believe that he is the son of God.” “Indeed,” he said, placing his hand over his right shoulder where the words he had written were, “Indeed, this is what I believe!”

The people thought he meant what they had said. But of course, when the King said “this” he meant what he had written on the paper placed beneath his robes. The people were satisfied now; and they turned away pleased. And the Muslims, who had been praying for him, left the ships and came back to live in Abyssinia.

But there were still many Muslims in Mecca; and Quraish had now thought of a new plan. Seven men got together, and they wrote up a document saying that they would not buy from or sell to, marry from or get married to, help or be helped by ANY person from Muhammad’s (s) clan of Bani Hashim.

Does that include the idol-worshipers of Bani Hashim, you may wonder. Yes, it even included those who were not Muslim. The plan was to make those people’s lives so difficult and unpleasant that they would turn in Muhammad (s) and that would be the end of Islam. They hung the document in the Kaba and all of Bani Hashim withdrew into the area of Abu Talib – an area close to the Kaba and rising upwards in the mountain. Every member of the clan was now crowded into this place; everyone – that is – except for Abu Lahab, who turned his back on them and remained with the rest of Quraish.

Abu Talib knew that his beloved nephew Muhammad’s life was in danger. And so he would announce where his nephew was going to sleep each night, and then as soon as everyone was asleep, he would wake Prophet Muhammad (s) up and change his place. He did this in case someone told the people who wanted to kill him of his whereabouts. 

Pretty soon, the food that these people had ran out. No matter how much money they had, no one would sell them anything. The people grew hungry and thin and many of them fell ill. Yes, there were times when kind people would try to smuggle food to them, but those people would get caught and punished. And no matter how much food they got, there were too many of them for it to make a real difference. A year passed, and then another, and another. People grew so hungry, they would eat the leaves off the trees and their tongues would bleed; they grew so thirsty that there were times when some of them drank the urine of their skinny animals. One day a man stepped on something damp, and he popped it into his mouth and swallowed it, he was so hungry. He didn’t even bother to see what it was. 

The Prophet (s) and his family suffered like everyone of Bani Hashim was suffering, but Khadija couldn’t take the harsh days at her age. It affected her health and she grew weak and sick.

One day one of the men of Quraish said, “How long will this go on? Are we going to simply watch our fellow Meccans suffer and die? This is unacceptable!” He went to a friend of his and asked him to help him to cancel the document. His friend said, “We need another person with us.”  So, they found a third; and each time the new person would say “another is needed” until they were five. The next morning the five got dressed up and went to the Kaba. When many people had gathered around the Kaba as was their habit, one of those men said out loud, “How long will we treat Bani Hashim this way?” Then each of the other five agreed with him aloud, as though they had just heard of the idea. Abu Jahl was infuriated. He said, “This is not something that has just come up. This was planned at night.” Abu Talib rose and said, “My nephew tells me that Allah has sent an insect to eat all the words off the document.” They said, “If that is so, then let us check.” When they opened the Kaba, they found it so. All the words had been eaten except for the opening words, In Your Name Oh God. 

And so, the document of boycott was canceled, the Muslims went back to their homes, and their money could buy food again. There was relief and happiness. But this boycott had done much harm to the Muslims’ health; especially the elderly amongst them. Soon, two sad incidents were to happen, one after the other; and then a day would come that our beloved Prophet (s) would call the worst day of his life! Will there be no end to the hardships he has to bear? What were these sad happenings and what was this worst day of his life? And who are these forty men coming from a strange land, dressed in strange robes? Why are they coming to Mecca?