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Conflict with Makkans

As the number of converts grew, it was inevitable that the message of the Prophet (peace be upon him) would bring him into conflict with the Qurayshi establishment. It seemed to many of the wealthy Makkan merchants that revulsion of Muhammad (peace be upon him) at idolatry undermined one of the factors that made Makkah a place of pilgrimage for so many pagans who could pick which god to worship from amongst the pantheon of idols in the House of God (the Kaaba). The reaction of the Qurayshi, Muhammad's own tribe, was particularly hostile since, at the time, they were the guardians of the Kaaba and all the idols therein. These same merchants felt that Muhammad's (peace be upon him) uncompromising message that they should acknowledge that their prosperity ensued from the beneficence of God and that they should show more generosity to those less fortunate than themselves was an overt criticism of their way of life and their values.

An essential part of the message that Muhammad (peace be upon him) brought was a call for social justice. Muslims were enjoined, as a first duty, to form a community (ummah) based on social justice, compassion and, through regular acts of charity, a fair distribution of wealth. In this respect, Islam endorsed all earlier prophets (peace be upon them all) who had based their exhortations on the same principles (belief in and the worship of the one supreme God and social justice on earth), acknowledging that their revelations came from the same source. The Holy Qur'an makes it clear that there should be respect for other monotheistic heavenly religions and that there should be no coercion in matters of faith.

While Islam respected all those who sought social justice, there was no room for compromise with idolators who were driven by selfishness and greed. By 616 CE, the disquiet of the Makkan establishment had turned to anger against Muhammad (peace be upon him). They were particularly incensed by his insistence that, on the Day of Judgement, all would be judged on merit, not on the status, wealth and power they had acquired in life.

Despite Muhammad's (peace be upon him) denial that he had political ambitions, many members of the merchant class saw Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a threat to their power and prosperity. There was talk of offering Muhammad (peace be upon him) trade incentives to persuade him to moderate his criticisms but these were emphatically rejected by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Conflict became inevitable.

Abu Jahl, a leading figure in Qurayshi society, attempted to quarantine the band of Muslims, forbidding the Qurayshi tribe to marry or trade with any of the clan of Hashem, on the grounds that the clan had failed to rein in Muhammad (peace be upon him) and suppress his teachings. This boycott, which was sustained for two or three years, extended to the sale of food and undoubtedly caused the Muslims severe hardship. In 616 CE, on the advice of Muhammad (peace be upon him), a small group of Muslims left Makkah for Abyssinia where they were well-received despite the efforts of a Qurayshi delegation to persuade the Abyssinian ruler to hand them over to the Makkan authorities.

In 619 CE, Khadijah, Muhammad's (peace be upon him) wife of 25 years, and Abu Talib, the uncle who had protected him for some 40 years after the death of Abdul Muttalib, Muhammad's (peace be upon him) grandfather, died. Abu Talib was succeeded as head of the Hashem clan by Abu Lahab, another uncle. Abu Lahab was persuaded by other members of the Qurayshi to withdraw his protection from Muhammad (peace be upon him). Both of Muhammad's (peace be upon him) parents were dead and, without the support of a clan chieftain, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was unprotected and vulnerable. It had become impossible for the Prophet (peace be upon him) to preach and for the ummah to live securely in Makkah.

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