The Prophet Muhammad (saw)

Why did some oppose Muhammad's Message?


When Muhammad (pbuh), who was sent as a mercy to the world, conveyed the message of Allah's absolute unity and oneness and the teaching of servanthood only to Him based on the doctrine of Unity, some of the people around him violently opposed this. In the period when the Prophet was alive, people inhabiting the Hijaz region were in two categories: the Ummi and People of the Book. The Ummi were the Arab people who were tied to the traditional Arab religion based on polytheism and paganism. Although in the narrow meaning of the word Ummi means ignorant and illiterate, in the Quran this term is not used to mean illiterate, but rather designates persons who are not in the category of the People of the Book and who adopted the traditional Arab belief. "There are some Ummi among them who do not know of books; everything they know they have learned by ear..." (Al-Baqara, 78). In a statement directed to the Prophet in the Ali Imran Sura, the addressees of the Prophet are gathered into two main groups: "those given a book and the Ummi..."  (Ali Imran, 20). In a similar way, emphasizing that Muhammad is "a messenger sent to them from the Ummi," (Al-Juma, 2), the Quran indicates which group his lineage was from. Again, referring to the approach of the People of the Book towards the other group, it is said, "There are some from the People of the Book who, if you give them a dinar, they will not repay it unless you constantly pursue them.  They do this because they say, ‘we have no responsibility towards the Ummi'" (Al-i Imran, 75). It is interesting that in spite of differences of belief and tradition among those the Prophet addressed, they united in their opposition to Islam. Initially the Ummi, who represented the traditional Arab religion, were opposed to the Prophet who conveyed principles like unity, justice and virtue which were only basic to Islam, but in the later period People of the Book showed intense opposition. Taking a stand against the message of the Quran, they defended the status quo which they were tied to. Although there appeared to be different reasons for the opposition of the groups, they united at the point of defending the status quo in respect to religious belief and tradition.

The most basic arguments of the Arab pagans called Ummi against the message of the Prophet were: this belief would weaken and eliminate their ties with their ancestors and tradition; it would destroy the unity and solidarity of the society; and it would ruin the current social and political order. With these claims, the elite comprised of tribal leaders, the wealthy and other prominent people made various personal campaigns against the Prophet who was conveying this message.  According to them, the traditional structure handed down by their ancestors demanded that in the fulfillment of an important duty like conveying a divine message the hierarchic structure of society should be taken into consideration. Consequently, the performance of this duty by a person like Muhammad, who could be considered to belong to the middle-class economically and politically, was contrary to tradition and completely unacceptable to them. In the complaints of the People of the Book, again arguments made in view of their belief system and the presumptions and doctrines they were tied to were influential. Objections made by the Jews were based more on Jewish ethnocentricity. For those who believed the Jews were a chosen people and superior to others in every respect, a divine message being conveyed to mankind by a prophet from the sons of Ishmael was unacceptable. Although they were expecting a Savior to come with the duty of conveying a divine message, they believed he would be from the lineage of the Jews. Just like the claim in their tradition that all prophets in the past were sent from among the Jews... In addition, according to them the Messiah would perform the mission of a messiah-king rather than a prophet; his essential mission would be the return of the Jews to the Promised Land, the re-establishment of Jerusalem and the realization of the social and political dominance of the Jews over all other peoples. For this reason, they not only opposed Muhammad, but also individuals like Jesus and John who had criticized their presumptions. In the objections of the Christians, the teaching of Jesus to which they were tied was influential. According to them, the only road to salvation and the truth was shown by Jesus, the Son of God, who died for man on the cross and was resurrected after death. The only road to salvation for man was belief in Jesus Christ. After the road to truth and salvation had been shown by the Son of God, it was not possible for anyone else to convey a message of truth and salvation to man.

As can be noticed, in the opposition of both the Ummi and the People of the Book towards the message of the Quran, their own approaches formed by the basic principles of their beliefs or their prejudices were effective. Together with this, tradition, custom and the status quo formed the common focal point of their opposition to the Prophet. The message of the Prophet Muhammad, which challenged convention, turned upside down the status quo based on traditional beliefs and teachings, and shook the understanding based on the dominancy of exclusive social strata like religious leaders, certain classes, the rich or tradesmen, was seen as impossible for them to accept. For this reason, in spite of deep-rooted differences between the Ummi and People of the Book, they did not hesitate, although disunited, to oppose the Prophet and his message of Islam. As expressed in the Quran, the People of the Book and the Arab pagans claimed that they were superior to the Muslims. In spite of all this, Muhammad unfailingly continued to convey to them the message of Islam. 

Hues of Belief Corner by Sinasi Gunduz, a professor of the history of religions, deals with the attitude of Prophet Muhammad towards other religions and his relationship with their members


There are no comments to this article. Click here to write the first comment.