Three years passed and one day the Archangel Gabriel came to the Prophet (pbuh) and ordered him to start preaching openly to everyone. So the Prophet (pbuh) told the people of Mecca that he had something very important to tell them. He stood on a hillside in Mecca, called Safa, and they gathered around to hear what he had to say. He started by asking them if they would believe him were he to say that an army was about to attack them. They answered that indeed they would, because he never lied. He then told them that he was the Messenger of Allah, sent to show them the right way, and to warn them of terrible punishments if they did not follow him in worshipping only Allah and none other. Abu Lahab, one of the Prophet’s uncles who was among the listeners, suddenly stood up and said, ‘May you perish! Did you call us here just to tell us this?’ At this, Allah sent to the Prophet (pbuh) the following Surah:
In the Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
“The Power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish. His wealth and gains will not save him. He shall roast at a flaming fire, And his wife, the carrier of firewood Will have upon her neck a rope of palm-fibre”. (Qur’an 111.1-5)
Then the crowd dispersed and the Prophet (pbuh) was left alone. A few days later the Prophet (pbuh) tried again. A feast was prepared in his house for all of his uncles. After the meal he spoke to them and said, ‘O sons of ‘Abd al-Muttalib! I know of no Arab who has come to his people with a better message than mine. I have brought you the best news for this life and the next. Allah has ordered me to call you to Him. So which of you will help me?’ All the men kept silent. Then ‘Ali, his cousin, jumped up and said: ‘O Prophet of Allah! I will help you.’ Then the men all got up and left, laughing as they went because only one young boy had agreed to help the Prophet (pbuh).
His message ignored by most of the people and his uncles, the Prophet (pbuh) continued to meet his friends secretly in a house near the hill of Safa. There they prayed together and he taught them about the religion of Islam. But even though they kept to themselves, they were sometimes abused by those who would not believe. From one such incident, however, an unexpected conversion to Islam took place. One day, when the Prophet (pbuh) was returning home, speaking with his followers, he met Abu Jahl, a leader of Quraysh, who hated the Prophet (pbuh) and his teachings. Abu Jahl started to insult him and to speak spitefully of Islam, but the Prophet (pbuh) made no reply and went on his way.
Later, Hamzah, one of the Prophet’s uncles, who was a strong and brave warrior of whom people were quite afraid, heard how his nephew had been insulted. Filled with rage, he ran straight to the Ka’bah where Abu Jahl was sitting among the people and struck him a violent blow in the face with his bow. Hamzah then shouted, ‘Will you insult him when I follow his religion, and I say what he says? Hit me back if you can!’ Some people got up to help Abu Jahl but he stopped them saying, ‘Leave Hamzah alone, for by Allah, I have insulted his nephew badly. ‘From that moment on Hamzah followed the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) and with his conversion to Islam Quraysh realized that the Prophet (pbuh) had a strong supporter and so for a while they stopped persecuting him. Soon, however, the leaders of Quraysh became angry again, when they saw that the Prophet (pbuh) was going ahead with his teaching. A group of them went to his uncle, Abu Talib, who had promised to protect him. They told him to ask the Prophet (pbuh) to stop attacking their gods and their way of life, and in return they would let him do as he wished with his religion.
After a time they saw that there was no change, so they went back to Abu Talib and this time they told him that if he did not stop his nephew, they would fight them both. Abu Talib was very upset by this quarrel among his people, but he could not break his word to his nephew. He sent for the Prophet (pbuh) and told him what had happened, saying, ‘Spare me and spare yourself; do not put a greater burden on me than I can bear.’ The Prophet (pbuh) thought that his uncle might abandon him and that he would no longer have his support, but nevertheless he answered, ‘0 my uncle, by Allah, if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left in return for my giving up this cause, I would not give it up until Allah makes Truth victorious, or I die in His service. Abu Talib was deeply moved by this answer. He told the Prophet (pbuh) that he would support him for as long as he lived and encouraged him to go on spreading Allah’s message. From that time on, however hard the leaders of Quraysh tried to convince Abu Talib to stop protecting his nephew, he always refused to listen to them. In order to get rid of the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers, his enemies started persecuting those Muslims who were poor or weak, or had no powerful friends. One such person was Bilal, the slave of Umayyah ibn Khalaf. His master would take him out into the desert, tie him up, and leave him in the sun with a large stone on his chest. Fortunately Abu Bakr was passing by one day and saw Umayyah torturing Bilal, so he bought him from his master for a large sum of money and then set him free. But not all persecuted Muslims were as fortunate as Bilal. Many suffered, but all of them endured it patiently, knowing that they were doing the right thing and that their reward in the life to come would be greater’ than any happiness they could find on earth.