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According to Islamic narrations and inline with Arabic history, Abū Lahab (Arabic: أبو لهب) (c. 549 – 624) was Muhammad's paternal uncle. He is condemned in Surah al-Massad for being an enemy to Islam.
He was born in Mecca c. 549, the son of Abdul Muttalib, chief of the Hashim clan, and of Lubna bint Hajar, who was from the Khuza'a tribe. People from the Khuza'a tribe were the caretakers of the Ka'bah for several centuries, before the Quraysh took over the responsibility through their ancestor Qusai ibn Kilab. Abu Lahab was the half-uncle of Muḥammad since Muḥammad's grandmother was Fāṭimah bint ‘Amr of Banu Makhzūm clan.
His original name was 'Abd al-'Uzzā, but his father called him Abū Lahab ("Father of Flame") "because of his beauty and charm" due to his red (inflamed) cheeks. He is described as "an artful spruce fellow with two locks of hair, wearing an Aden cloak" and as "very generous".
He married Arwā Umm Jamīl bint Harb, sister of Abu Sufyān (Sakhr), whose father Ḥarb was chief of the Umayya clan. Their children included Utbah, Utaybah, Muattab, Durrah (Fakhita), 'Uzzā and Khālida. Abu Lahab had another son, also named Durrah, who may have been borne by another woman. He may also have been the father of Masruh, a son born to his slave Thuwayba.
His daughter Durrah embraced Islam and became a narrator of Hadīth. One is in Ahmad’s Musnad, where she reports that a man got up and asked the Prophet, “Who is the best of the people?” He answered, “The best of the people is the most learned, the most godfearing, the most to be enjoining virtue, the most to be prohibiting vice and the most to be joining the kin.”
‘Utbah also embraced Islam after the conquest of Mecca and pledged allegiance to Muḥammad.
The Wa Ṣabāḥah (c. 613)
When Muhammad announced that he had been instructed by God to spread the message of Islam openly, the Quran told him to warn his kinsfolk about divine punishment. He therefore climbed Mount Ṣafā and shouted: "Wa ṣabāḥah!" which means, "O calamity of the morning!" In Arabia this alarm was traditionally raised by any person who noticed an enemy tribe advancing against his own tribe at dawn.
On hearing this, the inhabitants of Mecca assembled at the mountain. Muhammad then addressed the clans by name. "O Banū Hāshim, O Banū 'Abd al-Muṭallib ... [and so on], if I were to tell you that behind this hill there is an enemy about to attack you, would you believe me?" The people responded that they would, since Muhammad was known to be honest. He continued saying: "Then I warn you that you are heading for a torment."
At this point, Abu Lahab interrupted: "Woe be on you the rest of the day! Is that what you summoned us for?" Another tradition recalls Abū Lahab picking up a stone to throw at his nephew.. Muslim consensus is that this is an unreasonable act by Abu Lahab towards Muhammad for crying wolf and alarming people by falsely sounding the alarm when no enemy was in fact advancing towards them.
Abu Lahab rejected the claims of Muhammad and said: "Muhammad promises me things which I do not see. He alleges that they will happen after my death; what has he put in my hands after that?” Then he blew on his hands and said, “May you perish. I can see nothing in you of the things that Muhammad says.”
The Sura of Abu Lahab
In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, the most merciful (بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم)
- Perish the two hands of Abu Lahab, and perish he,
- His wealth will not avail him or that which he gained,
- He will [enter to] burn in a Fire of [blazing] flame,
- His wife [as well] – the carrier of firewood (thorns of Sadan which she used to put on the way of the Prophet).
- Around her neck is a rope of twisted fiber (masadd).
Umm Jamil is called “the bearer of the wood” because she is said to have carried thorns and cast them in Muhammad's pathway. Being a next-door neighbor to Muḥammad, she also threw garbage over the wall into Muhammad's house.
Abu Lahab had married two of his sons to the daughters of Muḥammad, 'Utbah to Ruqayyah and 'Utaibah to Umm Kulthum. However, the marriages were never consummated, presumably because the girls were so young. After the announcement of Al-Masadd, Abu Lahab told his sons: "My head is unlawful to your head if you do not divorce Muhammad's daughters." They therefore divorced them. Abu Lahab's daughter Durrah was at some stage married to Zaid ibn Ḥarīthah, who was at that time regarded as Muhammad's son, and they were later divorced; but the timing of this marriage and divorce is not known. Later, she married Ḥārith ibn Naufal of Banu Hāshim; and after his death, she married Dihya ibn Khalifa.
Other acts of opposition (613–619)
When the Quraysh began to torture the Muslims, Abu Lahab's brother Abu Talib called upon the Hashim and Al-Muttalib clans to stand with him in protecting his nephew. It was a custom among the Arabs to staunchly support their own clan. Despite the dissension between Muḥammad and some members of Banu Hashim & Banu Muṭṭalib, most of them stood by him in his predicaments and provided him protection and security except Abu Lahab.
Once Abū Lahab asked Muḥammad: "If I were to accept your religion, what would I get?" Muḥammad replied: "You would get what the other believers would get." Abū Lahab responded: "Is there no preference or distinction for me?" In which Muḥammad replied, "What else do you want?" Abū Lahab replied back: "May this religion perish in which I and all other people should be equal and alike!"
While Muhammad was praying near the Kaaba, Abū Lahab once threw the entrails of a sacrificed camel over him. Muhammad later told Aisha: "I was between two bad neighbours, Abu Lahab and Uqba ibn Abu Mu'ayt. They brought excrements and threw them before my door and they brought offensive material and threw it before my door." Muhammad said he came out of his house, saying: "O sons of Abdumanaf! Is it the behaviour of a neighbour?" and threw the rubbish away.
He was overjoyed and expressed his sheer happiness at the news of the death of ‘Abdullah, Muḥammad’s second son and celebrated it with ‘Āṣ ibn Wā’il, Abu Jahl and other enemies of Islam. Besides, they also dubbed Muḥammad “al-Abtar”. So Allah revealed Sūra al-Kaothar.
On the 7th year of preaching Islam, the Quraysh imposed boycott on Banu Hāshim & Banu Muṭṭalib and forced them to live in a mountain gorge outside the city. Most of the members of Banu Hāshim had not accepted Islam at that time. Yet they stood by Muḥammad and suffered as much as he did. Abu Lahab was the only member of Banu Hāshim who supported the boycott and did not join his clan. Through a deep sense of animosity, Abu Lahab violated this ‘Arab tradition and took the side of non-Muslim Quraysh clans. Abu Lahab renounced his affiliation with the Hashim clan and remained in Mecca. Soon afterwards, he met his sister-in-law, Hind bint Utbah, and said to her, "Haven’t I helped Al-Lat and Al-Uzza, and haven’t I abandoned those who have abandoned them and assisted their opponents?” She replied, “Yes, and may god reward you well, O Abu Utba.”
Between the Boycott and Badr (619–624)
After the boycott was lifted, another nephew, Abu Salama, came to Abu Talib asking for protection. When the Makhzum clan protested about this, Abu Lahab supported his brother. He told the Makhzumites: “O Quraysh, you have continually attacked this shaykh for giving his protection among his own people. By God, you must either stop this or we will stand in with him until he gains his object.” The Makhzumites wanted to keep Abu Lahab's support, and therefore they agreed not to annoy Abu Salama.
Abu Talib died in 620, From this time, Muhammad went around the trade fairs and markets to tell the Arab tribes that he was a prophet and call them to worship Allah. Abu Lahab used to follow him around the fairs, saying, “This fellow wishes only to get you to strip off Al-Lat and Al-Uzza from your necks and your allies the jinn of the Malik ibn Uqaysh tribe for the misleading innovation he has brought. Don’t obey him and take no notice of him.”
Someone reported: “Before my own Islam I used to see the Prophet in markets outside Makkah calling out: ‘People, say there is no deity save Allah and you will prosper.’ People would gather around him but a man, bright faced, intelligent looking, with two locks of hair (hanging down), would appear from the rear and say: ‘This man has renounced the religion (of his forefathers). He is a liar.’ He followed the Prophet wherever he went. The people would enquire who he was to learn that it was his (the Prophet's) uncle.’”
Once Abu Lahab chased and hit Muḥammad with stones in one of those markets. He hit so hard that his feet began to bleed profusely and his slippers were filled with his own blood causing great pain and difficulty in walking.
Muhammad and most of the Muslims left Mecca in 622, and Abu Lahab had no further direct interaction with his nephew.
When the rest of the Quraysh went to Badr to protect the merchant-caravan carrying their property from an expected attack, Abu Lahab remained in Mecca, sending in his place Abu Jahl's brother al-‘Āṣ ibn Hishām ibn al-Mughīra who owed him four thousand dirhams that he could not pay. So he hired him with them on the condition that he should be cleared off his debt.
The first people to reach Mecca with the news of the Quraysh defeat in the Battle of Badr were al-Haysuman and 'Abdullāh ibn al-Khuzā'ī, who bewailed the fact that so many of their chieftains had fallen on the battlefield. Abu Lahab went to the large tent of Zamzam, "his face as black as thunder". Before long, his nephew Abu Sufyan ibn al-Harith arrived, so he called him over for news. A small crowd gathered around the two as Abū Sufyān told his uncle, "The facts are the Quraysh met our enemy and turned their backs. They [the Muslims] put us to flight, taking prisoners as they pleased. I cannot blame our tribesmen because they faced not only them but men wearing white robes riding piebald horses, who were between heaven and earth. They spared nothing, and no one had a chance."
At the other end of the tent, a Muslim freedman named Abu Rafi' and Abbas's wife Lubaba sat sharpening arrows. When they heard the news of the men in white riding between heaven and earth, they could no longer contain their happiness, and Abu Rafi exclaimed: "They were angels!" Abu Lahab was so furious that he forced the frail Abu Rafi' to the ground and beat him up. Lubaba grabbed a nearby tent pole and hit her brother-in-law over the head, crying: "Do you think that you can abuse him just because Abbas is away?"
Lubaba wounded Abu Lahab so severely that his head was split open, laying bare part of his skull. The wound turned septic, and his entire body erupted into open pustules. He died a week later. This would have been in late March 624.
The smell from Abu Lahab's wound was so repulsive that nobody could come near him. His family left his decaying body decomposing in his home for two or three nights until a neighbour rebuked them. "It is disgraceful. You should be ashamed of leaving your father to rot in his house and not bury him from the sight of men!" They then sent in slaves to remove his body. It was watered from a distance, then pushed with poles into a grave outside Mecca, and stones were thrown over it.
A Muslim narration says that after Abu Lahab's death, some of his relatives had a dream in which they saw him suffering in Hell. He told them that he had experienced no comfort in the Afterlife, but that his sufferings had been remitted "this much" (indicating the space between his thumb and index finger) because of his one virtuous deed of manumitting his slave Thuwayba, who had briefly suckled Muhammad.
- Ibn Hisham note 97. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). The Life of Muhammad p. 707. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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- Muhammad ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). The Life of Muhammad, p. 195. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Muhammad ibn Saad, Tabaqat vol. 8. Translated by Bewley, A. (1995). The Women of Madina p. 24. London: Ta-Ha Publishers.
- Ibn Ishaq/Guillaume p. 170.
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- Ibn Saad/Bewley vol. 8 p. 25.
- Ibn Ishaq/Guillaume p. 314.
- Muhammad ibn Saad, Tabaqat vol. 3. Translated by Bewley, A. (2013). The Companions of Badr p. 32. London: Ta-Ha Publishers.
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- Ibn Ishaq p. 120.
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