Mr & Mrs Abu Lahab

In Surah 111, Allah pronounces curses on a man named Abu Lahab and his wife.

1 May the hands of Abu Lahab be ruined, and ruined is he.
2 His wealth will not avail him or that which he gained.
3 He will [enter to] burn in a Fire of [blazing] flame.
4 And his wife [as well] – the carrier of firewood.
5 Around her neck is a rope of [twisted] fiber.

Surah 111

Abu Lahab was an uncle of Muhammad. His real name was Abd-al-Uzza.

What did this man and his wife do, that warranted Allah dedicating an entire chapter of the Quran to describe their horrendous punishment?

Was Abu Lahab a murderer? Perhaps he was a terrorist responsible for beheading an entire tribe? Or perhaps he was a bandit who robbed caravans? A pedophile maybe? Rapist?

No. His crime was that he refused to believe Muhammad’s claims.

Abu Lahab was well acquainted with his nephew. He knew the kid growing up. So when Muhammad began making stupendous claims of alleged revelations, his uncle balked at his claims.

As his name suggests, Abd-al-Uzza’s (Abu Lahab) family were worshippers of the goddess, Al-Uzza, who they believed was one of the three daughters of the idol named Allah. The Quraysh (Muhammad’s tribe) revered Al-Uzza. The three idols were viewed as intercessors for the people to Allah. The names of the goddesses were Al-Lat, Al-Uzza, and Al-Manat are mentioned in the Quran as the Exalted Cranes (based on the belief that they carried the prayers of the people).

Have ye seen Lat and ‘Uzza, And another, the third (goddess), Manat?

Quran Sura 53:19-20

Abu Lahab had no problems with believing in Allah. After all, Allah was one of their many gods!

“Allah was known to the pre-Islamic Arabs; he was one of the Meccan deities”

(Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. Gibb, I:406)

But what Abu Lahab could not accept was Muhammad’s claim that “there is no god but Allah”. This was blasphemy to his ears! To Abu Lahab, his nephew, Muhammad, who used to bow to the idols of the Quraysh together with him, had now become a traitor of the people!

So when Muhammad begins to preach Islam publicly in Mecca, he is met with skepticism, and he is accused of plagiarizing the “tales of the ancients”.

“Such things have been promised to us and to our fathers before! they are nothing but tales of the ancients!”

Sura 23:83

Abu Lahab, as a leader of the tribe, became one of Muhammad’s sternest critics. He rejected Muhammad’s claims as lies.

So they wonder that a Warner has come to them from among themselves! and the Unbelievers say, “This is a sorcerer telling lies! “Has he made the gods (all) into one Allah? ……”We never heard (the like) of this among the people of these latter days: this is nothing but a made-up tale!”

Sura 38:4-6

Muhammad felt hurt and insulted. What could he do?

Ibn Abbas narrated:

“One day the Messenger of Allah ascended As-Safa and called out: ‘O people! Come at once!’ So the Quraish gathered before him. He said: ‘I am a warner for you before the coming of a severe punishment. Do you think that if I informed you that the enemy was preparing to attack you in the evening or in the morning, would you believe me?’ So Abu Lahab said: ‘Is it for this that you gathered us? May you perish?’ So Allah, Blessed is He and Most High, revealed: Perish the hands of Abu Lahad, perish he.”
(Jami` at-Tirmidhi, Book 47, Hadith 3689)

One day, he decides to test his popularity among his tribesmen. So Muhammad calls out the entire tribe to come out to him indicating there was something very urgent to be communicated. Everyone gathers around wondering about the nature of the emergency.

When everyone had settled down, Muhammad speaks, “If I told you that an enemy was coming to attack you, would you believe me?”
Abu Lahab was infuriated, “WHAT! That’s it? That’s why you called all of us out? To waste our time with your nonsense? We dropped everything we were doing because we thought there was something important! You scammer!”
Well, that was not his exact words but that was what he meant. Muhammad must have gone red in the face in embarrassment when his uncle ridiculed him out in front of the entire tribe. And everyone went back home shaking their heads.

The “revelation” then came to him. Retribution for Muhammad’s embarrassment. And that’s how Sura 111 came to be in the Quran.

The story does not end there.

According to commentaries by Ibn Kathir and Syed Abul Maududi (appended below), word gets to Abu Lahab and his wife about this supposed “revelation” condemning them. Abu Lahab laughs it off as more nonsense from the demonic poet but his wife, Umm Jamil, is enraged. She was not going to let it go. She intended to square up to him and demand an explanation.

At this time, Muhammad was sitting at the kaabah, with Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr sees Umm Jamil coming in the distance and warns Muhammad. Instead of telling Abu Bakr that there was nothing to fear and that he would speak to her hinestly, Muhammad decides to hide.

When Umm Jamil arrives, she fails to see Muhammad around so she speaks to Abu Bakr, “`O Abu Bakr! Verily, I have been informed that your friend is making defamatory poetry about me.’ Abu Bakr replied, `Nay! By the Lord of this House (the Ka`bah) he is not defaming you.’ 

Did you notice that? Abu Bakr lied! Not only did he lie, he swore the lie in the name of Allah, making Allah witness of the deception! And Muhammad said nothing! The coward stayed hidden while his goon Abu Bakr lied through his teeth for Allah and Muhammad because they were scared of what this scary lady was going to do to them! What a shame! They couldn’t even defend Sura 111. If it was a genuine revelation, why hide? Why fail to admit what the Lord of the kaabah supposedly revealed about her and her husband?

Or was it all just Muhammad’s ruse? Personal vendetta for being insulted and embarrassed by Abu Lahab? And then became too cowardly to own up to it when confronted?

Umm Jamil bint Harb came out wailing, and she had a stone in her hand. She was saying, `He criticizes our father, and his religion is our scorn, and his command is to disobey us.’ The Messenger of Allah was sitting in the Masjid (of the Ka`bah) and Abu Bakr was with him. When Abu Bakr saw her he said, `O Messenger of Allah! She is coming and I fear that she will see you.’ The Messenger of Allah replied,«إِنَّهَا لَنْ تَرَانِي»(Verily, she will not see me.) Then he recited some of the Qur’an as a protection for himself. So she advanced until she was standing in front of Abu Bakr and she did not see the Messenger of Allah. She then said, `O Abu Bakr! Verily, I have been informed that your friend is making defamatory poetry about me.’ Abu Bakr replied, `Nay! By the Lord of this House (the Ka`bah) he is not defaming you.’ So she turned away saying, `Indeed the Quraysh know that I am the daughter of their leader.”’ Al-Walid or another person said in a different version of this Hadith, “So Umm Jamil stumbled over her waist gown while she was making circuits (Tawaf) around the House (the Ka`bah) and she said, `Cursed be the reviler.’ 

(111:1-5; Tafsir Ibn Kathir)

Umm Jamil heard it, she was filled with rage and went out in search of the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace). She carried a handful of stones and she was crying some verses of her own, satirizing the Holy Prophet. She came to the Ka`bah, where the Holy Prophet was sitting with Hadrat Abu Bakr. The latter said: “O Messenger of Allah, there she comes and I fear lest she should utter something derogatory to you.” The Holy Prophet replied: “She will not see me.” The same thing happened. She could not see the Holy Prophet although he was there. She said to Hadrat Abu Bakr: “I hear that your Companion has satirized me.” Hadrat Abu Bakr replied: “No, by the Lord of this house, he has not satirized you.” Hearing this she went off.

111:1-5; Tafhim Al-Quran, Maududi – Syed Abul Ala Maududi