In Muslim history there are some extraordinary stories of how people have embraced Islam over the years. As Muslims, these stories encourage and inspire us to learn more and more about the history of Islam, especially in the early days when our Prophet (peace be upon him) was struggling to make its message known and heard.
Learning about how others came to Islam allows us to pause and reflect on our own spiritual journey and to thank Almighty Allah for His great gift to us of being Muslims. Such stories of heroism and of spiritual searching help us to put into context our own poor efforts as servants of Allah.
One of the most human of these stories is that of Hamzah ibn Abd Al-Muttalib, the uncle of Prophet Muhammad. The story of his call to Islam is all the more amazing because it was not brought about by the reading of books, nor after hearing a beautiful sermon, nor after searching and pondering over the meaning of life. His return to Islam was a direct result of his very strong sense of family honor.
First of all, though, we need to remind ourselves why we use the term ‘return’ to Islam, rather than saying his conversion. As Muslims we believe that Islam is the natural religion of mankind and that it has existed since the beginning of time.
We also believe that right at the start of human history, Almighty Allah gathered before Him all the souls of everyone who would ever live on this earth. He then explained to them that there was no other god but He. As the natural religion of mankind, we believe that if individuals were left on their own in a pure state they would naturally believe in One God.
We believe, therefore, that everyone is born into this world a Muslim, but that it is the action of others that makes him or her Christian or Jew or whatever. So, when someone changes his religion to become Muslim, he is not really converting to a new religion, but rather returning to the natural state into which he was born. This is why we say that Hamzah “embraced” Islam, rather than converted to it.
The story is very simple. It happened like this. For three years Prophet Muhammad had spoken to only a few people about the revelations he had so far received from Angel Jibreel (Gabriel), and for a further three years he struggled against great odds to make the message known to the wider community in Makkah.
For doing this he was vilified and ridiculed by the people of Makkah, who described him as a madman or a magician. Some Makkans were especially strong in leading this campaign against the Prophet and against Islam. One of these men was Abu Jahl.
One day, Prophet Muhammad was walking at the foot of Mount As-Safa in Makkah when Abu Jahl met him. Abu Jahl began to hurl insults at him and to ridicule the message of the Oneness of Allah that he was preaching. Some reports even say that he took a stone and hit Muhammad with it, causing his head to bleed. The Prophet did not respond to the taunts, and Abu Jahl moved to the Kabah at the center of the town, where he boasted to his tribes people of what he had done.
It was just at this time that Hamza was coming back from hunting. Hamzah was a brave man, very popular with the people of Makkah, and he used to love hunting. He came across the freed slave woman of `Abdullah ibn Judan, who told him what had happened to his nephew.
In a rage, Hamzah rushed off to the Kabah to seek revenge on the one who had harmed a member of his family. Without saying a word he used his hunting bow to hit Abu Jahl, cutting his head. He then asked Abu Jahl how he dared to hurt his nephew, especially since he preached the very message that Hamzah believed in.
Hamzah had never said these words before and they were a shock to everyone and set the two tribes in frenzy, Abu Jahl had to admit that he had offended Muhammad and deserved what he got.
From that moment on, declaring before the people of Makkah that he believed in the message of his nephew, Muhammad, Hamzah was one of the Prophet’s staunchest supporters and did everything he could to protect him.
Hamzah was to go on to become known as “Asadullah”, the Lion of Allah, so strong was his defense of Islam and so great was he to become as one of its warriors. In the end he died a very cruel and brutal death at the hands of wicked and vengeful people, giving his last breath in the cause of Allah.
Lessons to Learn
So what, then, can this story teach us today? What does the return of Hamzah to Islam have to say to us now? Well, first of all it teaches us that we don’t know what is going on in a person’s heart and mind.
Who knows what Hamzah had been thinking in those weeks and months before he came out in defense of his nephew and proclaimed his own belief in Islam?
Had he all along been quietly thinking about becoming Muslim? Had a special word or phrase convinced him of the truth of Islam? Had it been the message and the personality of the Prophet that had drawn him to Allah?
We really don’t know, and nor do we know what is going on in the hearts and minds of our non-Muslim colleagues and friends when we talk to them about Islam.
The news of the assault on his nephew came not from a very great person or through some great speech, but by the words of a freed slave woman. In the same way, it need not be a sheikh or someone with vast knowledge of Islam and the Qur’an whose words draw someone else closer to Islam. It could be our own very simple words or actions which begin others thinking.
We never know, then, the effects our words and our example will have on others. The greatest dawah of all is giving good example to others about how sweet and gentle Islam really is.
We must educate ourselves, of course, to the highest degree in being able to explain its teachings and its message, but all we are asked to do is to play our part in letting others know about Islam. It is not we who call them to Islam, it is Allah alone.
Another striking thing about the story of Hamzah’s return is that he showed himself to be very human. Almost out of rage, in defense of a family member, he came out with the words that he believed Islam to be true.
A strong sense of family honor and a very hot temper were the catalysts that brought him to submit and to bow down to Allah. See how Allah uses all things to draw people to Himself? He even uses our weaknesses to speak to us.
If we were to truly live as good Muslims, how the world would look on Islam In our modern world, too, the name and the character of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) is both vilified and ridiculed.
Just remember those cartoons in Denmark. In the Qur’an, Almighty Allah says to Muhammad in those very dark days when his message seemed not to be succeeding and when personal insults on the prophet were at their height:
[We know that your breast is distressed by what they say.] (Al-Hijr 15:97)
But Almighty Allah also told him in the next verse what means:
[Therefore, celebrate the praises of your Lord, And be among those who prostrate themselves before Him.] (Al-Hijr 15:98)
As Muslims today, we are called to defend our beloved Prophet, even to the shedding of our blood or to the giving up of our last breath. We may not be the brave and valiant heroes that Hamzah showed himself to be, but we are called, in our own small way, to be ambassadors of Islam in everything that we do.
If we were to truly live as good Muslims, how the world would look on Islam. Instead of taking distorted ideas about Islam from the television and the newspapers, they would see from us that it is a beautiful and sweet message, which speaks to the hearts of all mankind today.
In celebrating the life of Hamzah ibn `Abdul-Muttalib and being inspired by the story of his call to Islam, let us all resolve to be lions of Allah, afraid of no one in proclaiming His message, and showing by the sweetness and the gentleness of our own lives the happiness which that message brings.
By Idris Tawfiq