On this day you will find a wide variety of perspectives across the kaleidoscopic amalgam of thought which is the Internet. From mourning, to patriotism, to conspiracy theory, someone has something to say and, by God, you are going to hear it. Sometimes you’re glad that you did and other times, not so much. Yet, when I woke up this morning, a vivid realization stuck out in my mind that was so lucid it felt as if it wasn’t my own. It involves a piece of history practically every single Muslim knows. So if you’re Muslim and thinking “I’ve heard this before, dude,” just please bear with me as I briefly summarize it for those —Muslim and non-Muslim— who may not have heard it.1
Early in the mission of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him), he and the Muslims had been turned out of every refuge they had ever known. Mecca had been persecuting and torturing them for calling the people to worship One God instead of the idols of their forefathers. Ultimately, they threw them out and forced them into the harshness of the arid desert. There, Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib, who had protected him like a father following the deaths of his father and grandfather, died. There, Muhammad’s one and only wife, Khadija, who married the much younger Muhammad for his honesty, and who had been his main source of emotional support and comfort during the confusing times of his first revelations from God, died. The visceral sense of dejection he felt at that point would drive even the firmest believer to hopelessness and despair. So many times have so many people wondered, “If there is a God, why doesn’t He hear me? Why isn’t He answering me? Why does He let this happen?” Yet, Muhammad was a man driven by the Spirit of God and, in being so, was always solution oriented even in the bitterest times of woe. Such morose laments were simply alien to his personality.
He went with Zayd, a former slave whom he had freed and then adopted as his own son, to the neighboring city of Ta’if in hopes of having an audience amongst the 3 brothers who shared control of the city. It was difficult not to respect Muhammad and feel compelled to lend him an ear. He wasn’t a nobleman, but he wasn’t a commoner either. He just had one of those faces that drew you in and much of it —based upon numerous reports— was due to his constant and contagious smile. Above all, he was known as “al-Amin” or “The Truthful”.
So the 3 ruling brother’s of Ta’if gave him audience. Soon, however, they realized that what he called for would make enemies out of their neighbors in Mecca. Regardless of the truth of what he spoke, it was in no way politically or economically in their benefit. Seeing that danger, and knowing that the Meccans would eagerly want to know what their allies in Ta’if did to secure their loyalty, they repulsed Muhammad and Zayd and let hooligans of the street drive the children to bludgeon and pummel him with stones. Zayd did his best to shield his foster father but to no avail. The crowd was simply overwhelming. In the pursuit of truth, holy blood is always shed.
Suffuse with blood to the point that even his shoes were filled with it, he just walked and walked. He would later be asked if there was a day worse than the Battle of Uhud. The Battle of Uhud was a crushing defeat the Muslims faced wherein Muhammad was struck in the head so hard his helmet split and pieces of chain mail were embedded in his face. It was a day of losses too great and innumerable to list here. Yet, he would say that this day was worse than even that.
So as he walked, he raised his head to the sky and saw the archangel Gabriel descending from a cleaving in the clouds accompanied by yet another angel he had never seen. Gabriel called out to him, “God Almighty has witnessed what the people have done to you and how they have rejected you. So he has sent the Angel of Mountains to do as you command.”
The other angel greeted him and called out to him, “O Muhammad! Verily, God has witnessed what the people have done. I am the Angel of Mountains and your Lord has sent me to do whatever you shall command. What do you command? If you wish it, I shall topple upon them the two mountains that tower over them!” The word for “two mountains” in the Arabic text is “al-akhshabayn” which means literally “The two rockies”2 . It indicates that had those two mountains been brought down upon the people, they would have faced a hailstorm of boulders and stones that would have ripped them to shreds before the mass of the mountains crushed them.
At that very moment it was Muhammad’s call. The fate of those people who had mercilessly bludgeoned him to a pulp was placed in his hands. But there was no momentary silence wherein he pondered his decision. There was no thought process. There was only the answer that came naturally to the man who was Muhammad:
“No! Rather it is my ardent wish that God raise from amongst them a people who will worship Him alone and place nothing before Him.”
Though abused, broken, disrespected and bloodied, he had placed his hope in those people’s future being better than their present. He had placed hope in their children being better than their parents. He had placed hope in them.
On that day, when he could have easily given in to rage, and revenge could have easily been his, he decided not to bring the two mountains down upon a people —some of whom had harmed him and probably most of whom had not— to redress the abuse he had been dealt that day. Make no mistake, when the time came to fight, Muhammad and his companions proved formidable as soldiers with a disciplined ferocity that struck fear in the two superpowers of his day: Rome and Persia. Yet, for this affront at Ta’if that was centered primarily at him, he would not punish them.
It was the way of our beloved Prophet to not hold accountable an entire people for the injustices of their leaders and those who followed them in oppression. It was the way of our beloved Prophet to not bring those two towers down upon them.
Think about that.
Author’s note: There is an additional historical nuance in that the commentaries of both Ibn Hajar and al-Nawawi mention that the two mountains were actually outside of Mecca and the offer was to destroy the people of Mecca for driving the Prophet to his abuse in Ta’if. Though, I wrote this article according to the popular narrative that is most widely known, I wanted to make the readers aware of these additional details.