Ismaili History 308 - Cessation of revelation
After the first revelation, Gabriel did not visit Muhammad for some time. This is known as the period of fatrat al-wahy or the cessation of revelation. There is great divergence of opinion as to the duration of this period. With some it was two or three years long. But the version of Ibn Abbas that it lasted but for a short time, is more reliable and corroborated by historical evidence. The story that during this period, Muhammad would go out to the tops of mountains to hurl himself headlong is sheer nonsense. According to the established criteria of the authenticity of reports, this is not reliable, for Zuhri, from whom the report has come down, belonged to a later generation. In truth, the Divine Light, after which Muhammad had been so eagerly seeking, disappeared no sooner than it had flashed upon his mind. This made him all the more restless. All the more did his heart long to hear once again the word of God. It was thus in search of what was so dear to his heart that he would go out to mountains.
At length, there came an end to the period of cessation. To Muhammad, the period looked unusually long; for it was a period of separation from One he loved with all his heart. The number of Muslims continued to grow and the conversion of some prominent men from among the Qoraish added to the strength of the small brotherhood. At the outset, the opposition of the Meccans to the message of Islam took the form of sneering and jeering at Muhammad. They did not attach much importance to the mission, thinking that it would die out in due course. It was treated with contempt and indifference unworthy of any serious attention. Resort to viloence was not yet thought necessary. Whey they passed by the believers, they would laugh and wink at them by way of derision. Sometimes they would call Muhammad an idle visionary, given to poetic fancies, destined to come to nought as a matter of course. There was something wrong with his brain, they would say. Once, when Muhammad was saying his prayers in the Kaba, lying prostrate, Abu Jahl placed the dirty foetus of a she- camel on his neck. As he used to go out of his house for prayers at early dawn, one way adopted to annoy him was that branches of prickly shrubs were strewn on his way, so that owing to darkness he should become entangled in them. Sometimes dust was thrown at him; sometimes he was pelted with stones. One day a number of the Meccans fell upon him. One, Uqba bin Abi Mu'ait threw his mantle around his neck and twisted it till he was on the point of getting strangled. But the brunt of the oppression had to be borne by those not coming of some family of note among the Qoraish, especially by the slaves, male as well as female. These were subjected to the most cruel tortures. Bilal, the Abyssinian, was tortured in a most heartless manner by his master to make him renounce Islam. His oppressor would make him lie flat on burning ground under the scorching heat of the sun at midday. Heavy slabs of stone were then placed on his chest, so that he could scarcely breathe. He lay gasping for breath and writhing with agony under the weight of the heavy stone. Notwithstanding such extremly painful torments he would loudly repeat in a state of senselessness, Ahad (One), i.e., there is but One God. Ammar's father, Yasir, and his mother, Sumayya, were persecuted in a most barbarous way. The story of their afflictions makes one's hair stand on end. Yasir's legs were tied to two camels and the beasts were driven in opposite directions. He was brutally torn to pieces. Sumayya was killed in a similar brutal but far more disgraceful manner. Lubaina was the hand- maid of Umar. The latter used to go on beating her in his pre-conversion days till he would get tired. Then he would say: 'I leave you now, not because I pity you, but because I am tired of beating you.'
For the first three years, Muhammad kept his missionary activities underground. Neither the rancor of Arab chiefs nor the antagonism of other opponents in Qoraish prevented the underground secret mission of Islam. This period of Muhammad's life is one of the noblest and greatest pages of human history. To those who did harm him, Muhammad prayed for guidance, for liberation from the yoke of vile paganism. The more they persecuted, the more patience and resolve Muhammad showed in his mission. One must not forget the deep-rooted faith of the handful Muslims at a time when the new religion was not even complete and the Holy Koran was not yet fully revealed.
But in the fourth year, Muhammad received a divine command to preach his mission to the public. In compliance, he invited his kinsmen to a feast exclusively arranged for them. Tabari (d. 310/922) in 'Tarikh al-Rusul wa'l Muluk' (ed. de Goeje, Leiden, 1879-1901, 2nd vol., p. 63) and Ibn Sa'd (d. 230/845) in 'Kitab at-Tabaqat' (ed. E. Sachau, Leiden, 1905, 1st vol., p. 171) write that after the feast was over, Muhammad addressed the participants, 'Friends and Kinsmen! I hereby declare that I have brought unto you a blessing in this world and in the world to come. I do not think there could be anyone else throughout the whole of Arabia, to come out with a better and more precious offer towards this nation than that of mine. I am commanded by my Lord to invite you all towards Him. Tell me! who amongst you will come forward to help me and to be my vicegerent? The spell of hush prevailing over the audience, was broken by impatient courage of Ali, the son of Abu Talib, who responded with enthusiasm and said, 'O Prophet of God! I am the youngest of all here, yet I beg to offer myself to stand by you and to share all your burdens and earn the great privilege of being your vicegerent.' Muhammad caused Ali to sit down. Again he put the question to the assemblage. All remained silent but Ali rose for a second time to repeat his fidelity, and was again ordered to sit down. When Muhammad repeated the same question to the congregation the third time, he got no response. Ali again stood up and repeated his fidelity on which Muhammad remarked, 'You are my brother, my collateral and vicegerent.' This evoked the hostility of the Qoraish tribe towards Muhammad and his followers. They leapt angrilly to their feet and walked out, and their murmurings and protests echoed back into the house as they passed through the coutryard into the street.
On the following day, when Muhammad went to the Kaba, he was greeted with scornful gestures. 'This is the man who claims to bring us messages from the heaven,' they shouted and began to joke at him.