Abu Jahal (D. 2H) أبو جهل
A hot-headed, strong, handsome pagan, an exemplary figure for pagans of all times, a portrait of arrogance against established truths. In fact, a pagan group celebrated his anniversary some time back in India. A stubborn, hotheaded man who proudly lay in the dust but would not acknowledge he was in error.
A leading member of the Quraysh at Makkah, he decided to oppose Islam, right or wrong (like pagans of all times), with all his powers, physical and mental, from the day he heard Prophet Muhammad announce his ministry.
It was he who first passed the remark, “fables of old,” when he heard of the Qur’anic stories of past nations that received similar messages but met with destruction when they denied. Later, his remark caught on and it was on the tongue of every denier. Nadr b. al-Harith was another of those, or maybe the first, who said the same thing. The Prophet warned him, “Woe unto you, man. These are Allah's words.” But he and Abu Jahal replied in words preserved by the Qur’an (8: 32), “O Lord, if this (message) be truly from You, then rain down upon us stones from the heaven, or send upon us a painful chastisement.”
An interesting story goes around in this context. Referring to a woman ruler, Mu`awiyyah once said to a Yemeni, “What kind of ignorant blokes your people were that they appointed a woman as their head.” The man replied, “Your people were greater blokes in ignorance to say, ‘O Lord! If this (message) be truly from You, then rain down upon us stones from the heaven, or send upon us a painful chastisement.’ Why could they not say, ‘O Lord, if it be truly from You, guide us to it?’” The man brought out a truth about arrogant persons. They will rather die than accept writings on the wall that their egos do not accept.
Abu Jahal was in the forefront of those who tortured those weaker people, especially the slaves, who had embraced Islam. A slave-girl Sumayyah was tied to two camels and Abu Jahal then thrust a spear in her vagina which killed her.
Abu Jahal had no doubts in his mind about the truth of the Prophetic message. But it was the tribal pride – in addition to his personal ego - that kept him from accepting it. He told the Prophet, ‘We do not think you are lying. Rather, we deny what you have brought to us.’ The following incident lends us some insight into the psyche of an arrogant mind: Once he, Abu Sufyan and Akhnas b. Shurayq hid themselves in the darkness of the Haram listening to the Prophet's recitation in Prayers. With the dawn on the horizon as they repaired to their homes, they bumped into each other. They asked each other what had brought them out so early in the morning. Each confessed, and everyone agreed that they should not repeat the lapse. But each one of them broke the promise twice again. The third time Akhnas b. Shurayq met Abu Jahal and asked: “What do you think of what Muhammad has brought?” Abu Jahal replied: “Look. We and Banu `Abd Munaf (the Prophet's clan) competed for honor. They fed the pilgrims, we fed the pilgrims. They helped (the distressed), we too helped. They gave, we gave - until the two of us were neck to neck, equally balanced. Now they say, ‘We have a Prophet who receives revelations from the heavens.’ Now, where are we going to get a Prophet from? No, by God, we shall never believe in him.”
Having experienced the power of the Qur’an, and seen the symmetrical, as well as symbolically perfect beauty of the Islamic Prayer-postures, Abu Jahal was completely opposed to the Prophet praying in the Grand Mosque. He had promised that he would place his foot on the Prophet's neck if he ever found him in prostration there and all but did it except that as he advanced, he quickly retreated. When asked he replied that he faced a horribly brute camel advancing threateningly toward him.
When Abu Jahal heard of the verse (74: 30) that speaks of nineteen keepers over Hell, he suggested to the Quraysh, “Your companion says that there are 19 keepers of Hell. Now, we are a big group. Can ten of us not handle an Angel each?” When the Qur’an promised that the deniers will eat a nasty fruit Zaqqum in Hell, adding, (37: 64-65), “Lo! It is a tree that sprouts from the bottom of Hell. Its emergent fruits like the heads of the Devils,” Abu Jahal mockingly asked for some dates and butter and said, “Here, eat some. This is the only Zaqqum that we know of.”
Once Walid b. al-Mughirah visited the Prophet whose recitation of the Qur’an softened his heart. The news reached Abu Jahal. He became extremely concerned. If Walid fell, many would follow. He visited him in his house and chided him, and provoked him to anger by saying that people around would like to raise some charity money for him seeing that, “You have gone to Muhammad for financial gains.” When Walid protested that it was not true then Abu Jahal suggested that he should say something that will dismiss doubts about him. Walid said that he was convinced that Muhmmad’s message does not fit into any class of poetry, and so he needed to think of a good reason to reject it. Abu Jahal suggested, “It is magic of the past handed down to him.”
Abu Jahal was naturally a prominent member of those delegations that went to Abu Talib to either prevent Muhammad from preaching his message, or lift his protection, both of which were rejected through words of pacification.
By coincidence Abu Jahal was the first person the Prophet came across the day he left his house after his Night Journey. Aware that the Prophet received Revelation every now and then, he asked mockingly, “Any news?” He told him about his journey. Fearing that the Prophet would retract from his story, he asked him anxiously whether he will repeat the same story if he gathered a few people. He wished to have a good laugh. When the Prophet said yes, he hurried away to gather the people.
Abu Jahal was one of those who kept watch of every Muslim to prevent migration. When `Ayyash b. b. Abi Rabi`ah migrated to Madinah (while the Prophet himself was still at Makkah) Abu Jahal followed him in his tracks, met him at Madinah, and informed him that his mother had vowed that she would lie in the sun until `Ayyash came to see her. But once `Ayyash was out of town, Abu Jahal and his companion overpowered him tied him and rode back to Makkah.
Once the Prophet met him in a valley and told him point blank to fear the Fire. “Muhammad,” answered Abu Jahal, “People know that a man more honored than me has not trespassed between these two mountains.”
When the Quraysh leaders met in Dar al-Nadwah just before the Prophet's migration, to discuss what was to be done with him, it was Abu Jahal who suggested that the combined swords of every clan should fall on him to distribute the responsibility over the entire Quraysh tribe to prevent the Prophet's clan, Banu Hashim, from retaliating against any. He was among those who stood the whole night in guard in front of the Prophet's house waiting for him to emerge; and it was he who slapped `Ali who had spent the night in the Prophet's bed, and `Ali told them that he knew nothing about the Prophet's whereabouts.
We encounter Jahal at Badr. He was the main force behind the Quraysh army’s encounter with the Muslims. On the way to Badr he received Abu Sufyan’s word that since his own caravan had escaped unmolested, the Quraysh army could return to Makkah. But Abu Jahal refused. He said they would march up to Badr, camp for three days, slaughter animals, drink wine, sing and dance until the news spread that the Quraysh had fitfully responded to the Prophet's challenge. Abu Sufyan was a lesser fanatic and hence endowed with slightly higher intelligence. He expressed the fear that the Quraysh could face slaughter, but Abu Jahal was already drunk.
Another premonition was sounded when during those very days a sister of `Abbas saw a dream in which she saw an Angel from the heaven hurling a huge rock at Makkah. Not a house of the town escaped its fragments. When Abbas spoke of the dream to Abu Jahal he quipped: “Is it not enough for Banu Hashim that one of their men claimed prophethood, that they should now claim they have a Prophetess also?”
The last minute efforts to separate the two armies were also thwarted by the arrogant man. Although he had more than once acknowledged that what the Prophet received was Revelation (but perhaps in the sense of the Western antagonists of Islam, who can too, combine belief and disbelief in one mind), yet when a tribal chief sent word to him that if needed, he could help with fighters, the answer to the messenger was, “Tell your father that if we are fighting Allah, as Muhammad claims, then there is no way we can win. But if we are fighting men, then, we have enough manpower.”
The warrior’s death (along with 70 others) at the hands of two boys who had entered into their teenage, is an all-time lesson for those who are ready to confront the truth in battlefields. But it is a lesson little learnt. Whenever non-Islam has clashed with Islam, not for mineral resources or fertile lands but in fear and hatred of the Islamic truth, the clash has resulted in the destruction of the proud power. The tawagheet are about to learn another lesson soon in Asia, Allah willing, if they are willing to learn lessons. The two boys had learnt that the man had been insulting the Prophet and torturing the early Muslims. They attacked him from either side, being on foot while he on a horse and brought him down. He was a hugely powerful man and it needed several strikes to make him lie motionless in the dust, but still alive.
`Abdullah ibn Mas`ud happened to pass by him as he lay in the dust, immovable, but apparently alive. He, being a short and puny man himself, was still scared of getting close to him. He prodded him with his sword, but Abu Jahal did not respond violently. So he stepped on his breast to behead him. Abu Jahal knew him from the times he was a shepherd in Makkah. You have climbed high, O Bedouin! he remarked. Ibn Mas`ud took his head to the Prophet who remarked, “The Fir`awn of this Ummah.” Ironically, he had prayed prior to the battle: “O God. Decide between us.” The decision had come.