18. A Year of Sadness

The men in long robes were Christians who had come to Mecca to meet Muhammad (s). They sat with the Prophet (s) and asked him about Islam. When the Prophet (s) read Quran to them, tears flowed from their eyes and they accepted Islam. The unbelievers of Quraish were very upset. They called them fools for leaving their religion for Islam. But the group of men refused to answer them, and they went back to their people happily.

Then the Prophet’s friend and beloved wife Khadija, who had been weakened by the boycott, got sick and died. Prophet Muhammad (s) stayed home in sadness, leaving seldom, and only for what was important. Khadija was his companion and the first person he shared the earliest happenings of his Prophethood with. She was his support and comfort and the mother of his children. They had shared so much together, happy times, sad times, times of difficulty and ease. Many years after her death, she was never forgotten by him. Her relatives and friends were always remembered by him, and he would send them gifts and honor them greatly if they visited him.

But that was not all. Another sadness was coming. Abu Talib was seriously ill, and everyone became anxious. The idol-worshipers wanted Abu Talib to help them against Muhammad (s). The Messenger (s) wanted to make sure Abu Talib accepted Islam before he died. The chiefs of Quraish gathered in the small room where Abu Talib lay in bed.

Prophet Muhammad (s) arrived and asked them for a few moments of privacy with his uncle, but they refused. Abu Jahl said, “If you are his relative, well, so are we!” The Messenger (s) wanted to speak to his beloved uncle in private, to make sure he said the shahada to formally accept Islam. He stood by his uncle’s bed and spoke gentle words to him. He thanked him for all he had done for him since he was a child and begged him to accept Islam. “I would say shahada to please you, my son,” said Abu Talib, “but I fear Quraish will think I said it because I was afraid of death.” Too many people were listening to this conversation. “Will you abandon the religion of Abd al-Muttalib?” they cried! “No, no, I stay upon the religion of my forefathers,” he said. Prophet Muhammad (s) left sadly. Not long after, the death of his uncle was announced.

The Muslims, seeing the state Prophet Muhammad (s) was in, sent Khowla to suggest marriage to him. She mentioned Sawdah who was an older woman who was the only Muslim in her family. Her Muslim husband had died, and now she was alone. The Prophet (s) agreed.  

The situation now in Mecca was worse than ever. The idol worshipers not only harmed and hurt the Muslims, they attacked the Messenger (s) as well. They were no longer afraid of upsetting Abu Talib, and so they became bolder day by day. Prophet Muhammad (s) began to think of new ways to protect the Muslims. He wondered if the neighboring tribe of Thaqeef would accept Islam, so decided to travel there.

The tribe of Thaqeef lived in Tai’f, a green area at the top of a mountain where the weather was always pleasant. They were the next most important tribe in the area, after Quraish. Prophet Muhammad (s) only took with him his adopted son Zaid, and he left on foot, so that Quraish would not grow suspicious and try to stop him.

Prophet Muhammad (s) started early on his trip. It was a hot day and a very long distance that he had to cross. From the valley, he began to climb the steep mountain to Ta’if. There was a path that perhaps shepherds and their sheep had made, and the higher he reached, the cooler the air and more beautiful the scenery. There was hope if Thaqeef accepted Islam, that Quraish would feel outnumbered. 

Finally, the Messenger (s) was able to sit with the three leaders of Thaqeef in their lovely city of Ta’if. He explained to them that Allah had sent him with the message of Islam. Each of the three men gave a worse answer than the other. “Didn’t Allah find a better person than you to choose for His message?” said one. “If you are a prophet, I will tear the Kaba’s cover into pieces,” said another mockingly. “If you are a prophet then you are too important for me to talk to, and if you are not- then I am too important to listen to you,” said the third. Prophet Muhammad (s) listened to their rude and sarcastic answers patiently, then he said, “If this is your answer, then please do not tell Quraish of our meeting and what has passed between us.” They refused and said, “We will send someone to tell Quraish right away!”

Later, Prophet Muhammad (s) would describe this day as the worst day he ever experienced from the non-believers. The Prophet (s) left their home but stayed on in Taif calling people to Islam for ten days. Finally, the chiefs of Thaqeef ordered him to leave. They encouraged the children and fools of the city to throw stones at him and make fun of him. Zaid tried to protect his beloved adoptive father (s) from harm with his own body. Zaid’s head was cut and bleeding, and the Messenger’s (s) feet were soaked with blood. The Prophet (s) had reached an orchard that belonged to Utba and Shayba of Quraish, and he stopped here to catch his breath. There was no Khadija to go home to; there was no Abu Talib to prevent people from harming him anymore.

At this point our beloved Prophet (s) turned to Allah in prayer, he felt helpless and needed reassurance that this was not a sign that Allah was displeased with him. The two owners of the orchard saw him from a distance and felt sorry for him. They sent their Christian servant Addas with a plate of grapes, and when the Prophet (s) reached for them, he said “Bismillah”. Addas asked about that word and when he found out that he was speaking to a prophet, he began to kiss his head, his hands, and his feet.

On their return to Mecca, Angel Jibreel said to Prophet Muhammad (s) that the Angel of the mountains would close the mountains upon Thaqeef, if he wished, for how they had treated him. But Prophet Muhammad said, “No, I hope that Allah will send of their children people who will accept Islam.”

What happened in Ta’if was a big disappointment, but Prophet Muhammad (s) never stopped doing what Allah had chosen him to do. As soon as he arrived in Mecca, he went back to visiting the camps of pilgrims that had come for Haj. Camp by camp, he would go to and talk to its people about Islam.

At home, with Zainab married and Um Kulthoom in Abyssinia, Ruqayah and Fatima did their best to make things easy for their father. All who loved him tried to offer comfort in different ways, but Allah SWT had in store for him something more wondrous than anything any human being had experienced or would ever experience. Allah was about to take Prophet Muhammad (s) on the most fantastic trip anyone could ever imagine!

One night, Angel Jibreel awakened him and led him to the masjid where a strange animal stood waiting.