When the chiefs of the Quraish felt that they had failed to suppress the Islamic movement by ridicule, sarcasm, and by holding out promises and threats and by making false accusations, they resorted to persecution, violence and economic pressure. They would catch hold of the new Muslims of their clans, persecute them, starve them and would even inflict physical torture on them in order to coerce them to give up Islam. The most pitiful victims of their persecution were the poor people, the slaves and the proteges of the Quraish. They were beaten black and blue, were imprisoned, kept thirsty and hungry and were dragged on the burning sands of Makkah. The people would get work from the professional laborers but would not pay them their wages. As an instance we give below the story of Khabbab bin Arat, which is given in Bukhari and Muslim:
“I used to work as a blacksmith in Makkah. Once I did some work for As bin Wa’il. When I went to ask for my wages, he said, ‘I will not pay your wages unless you disown Muhammad’.”
In the same connection Khabbab says, “One day the Holy Prophet was sitting in the shadow of the Ka’abah. I went to him and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, now persecution has gone to its extreme; why do you not pray to Allah (for relief)?’ At this the Holy Prophet was greatly moved. He said, ‘The believers before you were persecuted much more than you. Their bones were scraped with combs of iron and their heads were cut with saws, but still they did not give up their Faith. I assure you that Allah will fulfill this Mission, and there will come a period of such peace that one would travel from Sanna to Hadramaut, and he will have no fear from anyone, save Allah. But you people have already become impatient’.” (Bukhari)
When the conditions became unbearable, the Holy Prophet, in the month of Rajab of the fifth year of Prophethood, gave advice to his companions to this effect: “You may well migrate to Habash, for there is a king, who does not allow any kind of injustice to anyone, and there is good in his land. You should remain there until the time that Allah provides a remedy for your affliction”.
Accordingly, at first, eleven men and four women left for Habash. The Quraish pursued them up to the coast but fortunately they got a timely boat for Habash at the sea-port of Shu’aibah, and they escaped arrest. Then after a few months, other people migrated to Habash and their number rose to eighty-three men and eleven women of the Quraish and seven non-Quraish. After this, only forty persons were left with the Holy Prophet at Makkah.
There was a great hue and cry in Makkah after this Migration, for every family of the Quraish was adversely affected by this. There was hardly a family of the Quraish which did not lose a son, a son-in-law, a daughter, a brother or a sister. For instance, there were among the Migrants the near relatives of Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan and other chief of the Quraish who were notorious for their persecution of the Muslims. As a result of this, some of them became even more bitter in their enmity of Islam, while there were others who were so moved by this that they embraced Islam. Such as Umar. One of his relatives, Laila, daughter of Hathmah, says, “I was packing my luggage for Migration, while my husband, Amr bin Rabiy’ah, had gone out. In the meantime Umar came there and began to watch me, while I was engaged in preparation for the journey. Then he said, ‘Are you also going to migrate?’ I answered, ‘Yes by God, you people have persecuted us much. But the wide earth of Allah is open for us. Now we are going to a place where Allah will grant us peace’. At this, I noticed such signs of emotion on the face of Umar as I had never seen before. He simply said, ‘May God be with you’ and went away.”
What happened when the companions reached Habash? Find out in the next part!