One of my friend forwarded some questions to me. Since I couldn't find any satisfactory answers to his questions I decided to forward his questions to you.
One of his questions is as follows:
History testifies that when Hadrat Muhammad (sws) declared his Prophethood, the Quraysh subjected the Banu Hashim to a boycott. Hadrat Abu Talib took the tribe to an area called Shib Abi Talib where they remained for three years, suffering from immense hardship.
Where were Hadrat Abu Bakr and Hadrat Umar (rta) during that period? They were in Makkah so why did they not help the Holy Prophet (sws)? If they were unable to join the Prophet (sws) at the Shib Abi Talib is there any evidence that they provided any type of support (food etc), breaching the agreement that the Quraysh boycott all food / business transactions with Bani Hashim?
Though the basic sources of early Islamic history mention that there had been a boycott by the Quraish with the family of Banu Hashim, yet all of these reports differ in details. It is commonly stated that after the
Muslims migration to Abyssinia Quraish tried to talk the Abyssinian king into handing the migrants to them who turned their request down. This infuriated the Quraish and they decided to come down on the Prophet (sws) with heavy hands. They demanded the leaders of the clan of Banu Hashim to hand the Prophet (sws) over to them. The clan did not yield to their threats and kept the Prophet (sws) under their protection. Now the Quraish unanimously decided to teach the clan a lesson. They forced the clan to leave their place and settle in Sha`ab Abi Talib near Mecca where they spent three years of immense hardship.
Terms of the boycott as they are reported include:
none will marry into the clan
none will enter into any kind of financial trade with them
none will keep social ties with them
A careful study of all the reports would reveal that the present version of the narrative gives rise to some questions. We cannot come to a conclusion before providing satisfactory answers to these questions.
The stated terms do not mention that the clan would be driven out of their settlements in Mecca and do not render them subject to a severe siege.
The narratives make it clear that the boycott was against the Banu Hasham and their allies Banu Muttalib. Thus there was no question of torturing and forcing members of other clans into this severe suffering as the reports also reveal that Sa`ad Bin Abi Waqas a member of Banu Zuhrah was forced to swallow a piece of skin of dead animal. Why was he huddled with the clan and why did his clan not show up to help him?
The terms state that none of the Quraish would enter into financial contact with the clan. How could other tribes be stopped from entering into trade with the clan? The terms do not hold it necessary that the clan could not enter into trade with other tribes. There remains no question of their being starved for three years.
The boycott was not agreed upon by all the Quraish. They would pass such a resolution in Dar-ul-Nadwah as they did in the case of their vow to kill the Prophet (sws) before his migration to Medina.
Banu Hasham was a famous tribe, which was held in high esteem among the Arabs. They did not live a life of such anonymity that the incident remained unnoticed by all other tribes. This is further corroborated by the fact that they were in charge of looking after the House of Lord and entertaining the pilgrims. We do not hear any thing about their abandoning their duty and any other taking the charge during the time they were besieged.
The above makes it clear that the report cannot be accepted as such. There, however, is a tradition recorded in the Sahih of Muslim which only mentions comprehensible portion of the incident.
Abu Huraira (Allah be pleased with him) reported: Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to us as we were at Mina: We would observe halt tomorrow at Khaif of Banu Kinanah, where (the polytheists) had taken an oath on unbelief, and that was that the Quraish and Banu Kinanah had, pledged against Banu Hashim and Banu Muttalib that they would neither marry nor do any transaction with them unless they deliver Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) to them. And (this pledge was) taken at this (place) Muhassab. [Chapter: Excellence of Making A Halt at Al-Muhassab, on the Day of Nahr, and Observing Prayer There]
This is the most reliable report in this context which does not tell us that the Prophet (sws) and his clan remained subject to starvation for three years.
As regard the Sha`ab of Abi Talib, the place is not known to history. It can only be connected with the Sha`ab of Banu Hashim, a settlement belonging to the tribe that was situated in Mecca. This is supported by the fact that cries of starving children would be heard in the city. Therefore it could not be a far off place. Moreover the place where the tribe was settled did not have much green trees as to be used by the tribe to kill their hunger.
We can only rely on the agreed upon parts of the report as reported in Sahih of Muslim that some of the people of the tribe of Quraish entered into a pledge. It was not a decision backed by the whole tribe. Even the common version of the story mentions that some of the leaders of the Quraish like Mut`am Bin `Adi, Abu `ul Bakhtari Bin Hashim, Zam`ah Bin al-Aswad, `Adi bin Qais and Zuhair Bin Abi Umayyah at last came forward and said that they would no more condone this cruelty. This indicates they did not approve of it in the first place. The pledge did not require the whole of the Arabs and nor could they abandon the clan. Also the terms and conditions do not dictate besieging of the clan. Thus the clan must have faced boycott which worried the Prophet (sws) a lot as he remembered the incident but the nature of the worries could only be what one necessarily feels after being socially boycotted by an influential faction of the society. All the Muslims were not under compulsion and the preaching mission of the Prophet (sws) continued as before.
It clearly seems that the whole incident has been completely blown out of proportion. The incident which related primarily to the social boycott of a people is presented as one of persecution. Nevertheless, it is clear that if the incident were one of persecution, not only Abu Bakr and Omar, but all the Muslims would have stood by the Prophet (sws) and helped their brethren.