Debunking Myths - Myths of Muhammad
Muhammad was Persecuted at Mecca for Preaching Islam
"Our Prophet (peace be upon him) suffered at the hands of the polytheists merely for preaching the religion of Allah to the poor and marginalized"
According to Muslim historians, the Meccans were actually quite tolerant of Muhammad preaching his new religion. Mecca was an open society where different religions were respected. Polytheists, Jews and Christians lived and worshipped side-by-side, especially during the holy months, when pagan pilgrims would travel long distances from beyond the city to perform their rituals at the Kaaba.
Muhammad brought on the resentment of the local people not by preaching Islam, but by breaking with Meccan tradition and cursing other religions:
When the apostle openly displayed Islam as Allah ordered him, his people did not withdraw or turn against him, so far as I have heard, until he spoke disparagingly of their gods. When he did that, they took great offence and resolved unanimously to treat him as an enemy. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 167), "[Muhammad] declared Islam publicly to his fellow tribesmen. When he did so, they did not withdraw from him or reject him in any way, as far as I have heard, until he spoke of their gods and denounced them." (al-Tabari Vol.VI, p.93)
Although asked to stop, Muhammad continued to stir up trouble by “condemning” the local religion, causing the Meccans great anxiety:
[The Meccans] said they had never known anything like the trouble they had endured from this fellow. He had declared their mode of life foolish, insulted their forefathers, reviled their religion, divided the community and cursed their gods (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 183)."We [the Meccans] have never seen the like of what we have endured from this man [Muhammad]. He has derided our traditional values, abused our forefathers, reviled our religion, caused division among us, and insulted our gods. We have endured a great deal from him." (al-Tabari, Vol.VI p.101)
Not only was this an insult to the people and their traditions, but it also threatened the local economy, which depended on the annual pilgrimage. Still, they were so eager to live at peace, that they offered Muhammad money if he would stop stirring up trouble:
They decided to send for Muhammad and to negotiate and argue with him... When he came and sat down with them, they explained that that they had sent for him in order that they could talk together. No Arab had ever treated his tribe as Muhammad had treated them, and they repeated the charges... If it was money he wanted, they would make him the richest of them all; if it was honor, he should be their prince; if it was sovereignty, they would make him king. (Ibn Ishaq/Hisham 188)
Further proof that the Meccans did not have a problem with Islam existing side-by-side with their own religion is found in the episode known as the Satanic Verses. According to Muslim historians, Muhammad briefly agreed to their demand to cease disparaging the local gods and recognize the rights of others to their religion:
When [the Meccans] heard that, they rejoiced. What he had said about their gods pleased and delighted them, and they gave ear to him… When he came to the prostration and finished the chapter, he prostrated and the Muslims followed their prophet in it, having faith in what he brought them and obeying his command. Those mushrikūn of Quraysh and others who were in the mosque also prostrated on account of what they had heard him say about their gods. In the whole mosque there was no believer or kāfir who did not prostrate. (al-Tabari, the Tarikh Vol. 1)
The Meccans were clearly relieved that the unprecedented tension over religious beliefs was broken. They rejoiced by praying alongside the Muslims at the Kaaba. They accepted the Muslims once Muhammad accepted them.
Unfortunately the period of peace and brotherhood was short-lived. Muhammad soon reneged on his words after his own people began to question the contradiction between his previous claims and his new-found tolerance for other faiths. This incident, particularly his about-face, had the effect of ratcheting up the tension and hostility all the more.