Abu Lahab (d. 2H) أبو لهب

Abu Lahab (d. 2H) أبو لهب

After an initial period of secret preaching at the personal and individual level, lasting anything between six months to three years, the Prophet was ordered to announce his mission, starting with his kith and kin. One day he climbed Mount Safa and called out tribes and clansmen to assemble. Sensing something serious, they gathered in quite a good number. He began his address by asking, “O Banu `Abd AL-Muttalib. O Banu Fihr. O Banu Lu’ay. How will you respond if I said that there is a cavalry at the foot of this mountain ready to launch an attack on you? Will you believe me?” They said, “Yes.” He said, “(Let me tell you that) I am a warner unto you in the face of a severe chastisement.”

The crowd was stunned, but one of them was not. He answered in complete derision, “Perish be you the day long. Did you gather us just for this?” That was an uncle of the Prophet , Abu Lahab, a sworn enemy of Islam from the first day of its call.

Later, the Prophet threw a party for his kinsmen to present Islam after the meal. When a small amount of food sufficed them all, although they were some thirty men and each one of them a devourer of a ton, Abu Lahab cut short the Prophet's effort to address them by saying, “The man has worked magic on you.”

The real name of Abu Lahab (literally “the Father of Flame”) was `Abd al `Uzza b. `Abd al Muttalib. He was nicknamed Abu Lahab because of his beautiful countenance which glowed. He was not alone. His partner in life, shared his sentiments. She threw garbage over the wall into the Prophet's house and laid thorny bushes on his pathway.

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.’”

Except for pagan pride, we do not know the true reasons of the stubborn stand of a man whose two sons were already married to the Prophet's two daughters, and were waiting the finalization of the ceremonies. However, at least once he revealed his inside. He went up to the Prophet and enquired, ‘What do I get if I embrace Islam’? He replied, ‘Same as any other Muslim.’ He retorted, ‘That means I’ll have no advantage over others?’ The Prophet asked him what was on his mind. Abu Lahab shot back, ‘Destroyed be a religion in which I and the common man stand on the same footing.’ Shortly later, the following verses were revealed, with the only instance of an unbeliever named by the Qur’an:

Perished be the hands of Abu Lahab and ruined he be,
Neither his wealth nor what he has earned shall avail him.
He shall shortly roast in a flaming fire.
And his wife - laden with faggots,
Shall have a rope of palm fiber round her neck.

As incorrigible as he was, so was his wife. When there was cessation of revelation after the first few, she said to the Prophet, “It seems your Devil has abandoned you.” Later, when verses condemning her and her husband were revealed, she got out looking for the Prophet . He was then with Abu Bakr in the Haram area. She had a handful of pebbles in her hand, Abu Bakr advised the Prophet to move off, not to hear any abuse. He said he would be protected from her. When she got close she demanded to know, “Abu Bakr! Is it true that your companion has said abusive things about me?” Abu Bakr assured her that the Prophet had done no such thing. After she was gone Abu Bakr said to the Prophet, “It seems she didn’t see you.”

The Prophet replied, “Yes, an Angel came in between me and her.”

Some time later, Abu Lahab ordered his sons to divorce the Prophet's daughters, and they obliged. However, at least one of them did not see a good end. When leaving for Syria on business he said to a companion of his, “Let’s go and make fun of Muhammad's God.” He went up to him and uttered blasphemies. Then he spat in the direction of the Prophet. The Prophet said, “May Allah set upon you one of His dogs.” Both father and son proceeded along with others heading towards Syria. At one point during the journey they rested at night and Abu Lahab placed his son in the middle of the people and among riding animals, out of fear of the Prophet's words. But a lion came by midnight, went straight to his son, and sank his teeth in his neck.

The Qur’an had predicted that Abu Lahab would perish. That is what happened. When the Quraysh army returned to Makkah after its defeat at Badr, one of the participants described it as, ‘A total defeat in which the Muslims were able to strike at will. Moreover, they seemed to be aided by men who were total strangers to them. Riding horses, they descended from the sky and came across none but slew him.’ Upon this Abu Rafi`, who was a slave of `Abbas B Abd Al-Muttalib, interjected that those must have been Angels. At that Abu Lahab lost his temper and slapped him. The two came to blows but Abu Lahab overpowered him. Umm Fadl, the wife of `Abbas, came to the rescue of Abu Rafi` and hit Abu Lahab several times with a rod saying, ‘You dare hit him because his master is away?!’ Abu Lahab suffered a wound in the head and backed off much debunked. A little later he was struck by a disease similar to small pox and died in a week of wounds that refused to heal. The Quraysh feared the disease as much as plague and so nobody went near the corpse for three days until it began to decompose. Finally, his sons splashed water on the corpse from a distance, pushed it down a high wall, and heaped it up with stones.

These verses have been cited as a proof of Qur’anic revelation. All that Abu Lahab and his wife had to do to discredit the Prophet and the Qur’anic prediction was to announce their Islam, even if hypocritically. In fact, two of his sons later embraced Islam and became good Muslims. The husband and wife had twelve years to do that but they did not, and let the prediction come true. It can be further said that if the Prophet could conceal anything of the Qur’an, he would have wished to conceal this chapter, until the death of Abu Lahab and his wife, fearful that if they embraced Islam after the announcement of their destruction, he would be in a pretty awkward situation. But he trusted Allah's words and announced their destruction which goes to prove his authenticity as a Prophet.

Ironically too, Abu Lahab’s daughter Durrah also embraced Islam and became a narrator of Hadith. One is in Ahmad 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.”