10.4 Abu Talib on His Deathbed
As Abu Talib approached death, Mohamed went to see him. This old man was very dear to him. He had brought him up from childhood, guided him through youth, and even after he had become a man, Abu Talib had stood resolutely between him and the evil spite of Quraysh. Remembering this period of his life in later years, Mohamed used to say,
"Quraysh were never really able to do me harm except after the death of Abu Talib."
Now that Abu Talib was about to leave this world, Mohamed wanted to help him gain a place in Paradise. He was going to him with the hope that perhaps now that he was so close to death his uncle would be able to accept the truth. Unfortunately he found Abu Jahl and some other of the Qurayshi chiefs with him. Mohamed pleaded with Abu Talib, coaxed him, begged him just to say one statement,
"Allah is One."
"If only you would say it, I could plead for you with it before the Throne."
Abu Talib loved his nephew, loved him as dearly as a son, but he could not understand what Mohamed had been struggling and was still struggling for. He protected him because he loved him and because Mohamed was his own flesh and blood. He trusted and respected him, but this strange, spiritual contact with the unknown was beyond Abu Talib. His old mind, fixed in its habits, could not at this late hour strike out on a new route but, because he loved his nephew, he said,
"If l did not fear that the women of Quraysh would say that I said it out of fear of death, I would say it to please you."
Here Abu Jahl and the other men intervened saying,
"Nay, nay, the religion of Abdu-Muttalib."
Abdu-Muttalib, Abu Talib's father and Mohamed's grandfather, had been a polytheist who worshipped the stone idols of the Kaaba. To these visionless men the greatest virtue was to adhere to the religion of their forefathers. They did not ask themselves whether it was true or not, sound or not, or whether there was something better. They followed blindly in the groove that preceding generations had left and considered this to be steadfastness and faithfulness.
Again Mohamed pleaded with his uncle. To save the soul of the man he loved like a father was so important to him, but again, whenever Abu Talib began to lean towards him a little, the Qurayshi chiefs would remind him,
"The religion of Abdul-Muttalib."
Mohamed found himself powerless to move the rigid, fixed mind of the old man, reinforced as it was by the constant interruptions of the others. The weight of tradition and the habits of years stood against him. He returned home sad and discouraged, and Abu Talib died a polytheist.
On this occasion these holy verses were sent down to console Mohamed for his failure to save the old man, so close to his heart,
"You do not guide those you love. Allah guides whom He will, and He knows best those who would be guided." (28:56)