The First Revelation
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) began to see pleasant dreams that were individually coming true. Feeling and increasing need for solitude and contemplation, he would seek seclusion in the rocky hills that surrounded Mecca (Makkah). At times he would retreat for days, returning to his family only to gather more provisions.
One night while in seclusion in the cave on Mount Hira, the Angel of Revelation, Gabriel, the same angel that went to Mary to give her good tidings of Jesus, startled and grasped him in close embrace. After the embrace, Gabriel gave one word of command ‘iqra’ or read. Prophet Muhammad said: ‘I am not able to read’ but Gabriel repeated the command twice more. When Gabriel released him from the third grasp, the first recitation of the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad:
“Read in and with the Name of your Lord, Who has created – Created human from a clot clinging (to the wall of the womb). Read, and your Lord is the All-Munificent, Who has taught (human) by the pen taught human what he did not know.” (96: 1-5)
Persecution in Mecca
For the first few years of his messengership, Prophet Muhammad preached to his family and close friends. The first person to convert to Islam was his wife, Khadija. It was not until the command came from God-Almighty that he began preaching openly against idolatry. At first, the leaders of the Quraysh (a local tribe) did not pay much attention looking upon Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims as being misguided and self-deceived. Many times they stated that they are only attracting the poor and destitute.
As Prophet Muhammad’s message began to spread and more and more people were accepting Islam, undermining the hegemony of the elders of the Quraysh, bringing division into their families, they began to form a group of opposition. This group did not become actively hostile, however until the end of the third year of Prophet Muhammad’s messengership. At this time, Prophet Muhammad began preaching in public the Oneness of God-Almighty and openly speaks out against their gods. This is when they began persecuting Muslims, especially the poor and weak, and mocking and insulting Muhammad.
Fleeing to Abyssinia (Ethiopia)
The early Muslims were unable to defend themselves against the horrible persecution brought upon them by the Quraysh. In fact, the persecution was so cruel, Prophet Muhammad advised them temporarily emigrate to Abyssinia where they would be treated well by the Christian Negus, an ‘upright king.’ It was upon this request that about eighty Muslims fled to Ethiopia.
The alliance with a foreign power angered the Meccans and they sent envoys demanding the extradition of the Muslims. However King Negus granted the Muslims refuge after hearing what the Qur’an had to say about Mary, the mother of Jesus. He said, “Truly this has come from the same source as that which Jesus brought.”
Even under persecution, the number of Muslims continued to rise. The Quraysh attempted to offer a compromise stating that they would accept the religion if Prophet Muhammad agreed to make room for their gods and idols then they would make him king, but only if he stopped speaking out against idolatry. Prophet Muhammad refusal of such negotiations further angered the Meccans.
Once the religion began to spread even more, in an effort to impose a further degree of oppression, the Quraysh drew a decree that nobody should marry the women from the tribes of the Banu Hashim (the tribe Prophet Muhammad belonged to) and their allies the Banu Mutallib, nor should they buy or sell from them, nor should they have any social ties with them. The Banu Hashim was a famous tribe, held in high esteem among the Arabs. For this reason, this boycott did not go unnoticed by all the other tribes.
The Pacts of Aqaba
Prophet Muhammad began preaching to communities living in the outskirts of Mecca. Once, he overheard a group of men just outside of a city called Aqaba and he asked to sit with them. As he told them about God-Almighty, the men from a tribe by the name of Khazraj from Madina recognized him as the prophet the Jews described to them and they accepted Islam. They also hoped the message that Prophet Muhammad had would serve as a means to heal the relationship between them and a brother tribe, the Aws, also in Madina. They shard the same ancestry, but have been torn apart by years of war and animosity. The Khazraj decided to return to Madina and spread the message of the Prophet. As a result, the message spread and in the year of 621, a group of 12 men came from Madina to meet with Prophet Muhammad.
The First Pact of Aqaba
This group of 12 men, five of which were present in the initial meeting the year before, and two members of the brother tribe of Aws, met with Prophet Muhammad and pledged in their names and in those of their wives to associate no other creation to God-Almighty. They also agreed to abstain from stealing, committing adultery, killing their infants, even in dire poverty, and to obey in all things just. This is known as the First Pledge of Aqaba.
Prophet Muhammad sent Mus’ab ibn Umair, as an ambassador to teach the new converts the basics of the faith and to further spread the good message.
The Second Pact of Aqaba
In 622, 75 Muslims came to Mecca to perform the Hajj. One night, a group of them arranged to meet Prophet Muhammad and invite him to stay in their city. Prophet Muhammad’s uncle Abbas was present and expressed his love and care for his nephew by telling them if they are confident in their ability to protect him and not allow harm to come to him, then let him go with them back to Madina. However, if they felt they would have difficulty in defending him, they should let him stay there amongst his kinsmen. You see, Muhammad was known as the most dignified person and many kinsmen felt the need to protect him, regardless of religion.
Those present during the pact all pledged their loyalty and to protect the Messenger with all they had. This was a turning point for the Muslims. For almost thirteen years in Mecca, Prophet Muhammad and his followers suffered violent persecution, threats, boycotts, and insult. Now, it was time for them to migrate to Madina. And so, in small groups, the Muslims began to slip out of Mecca and make their way to Madina.