From this time dates the creation of one of the foremost principles in the creed of the Prophet. If a Believer is in danger of torture, he may dissemble his faith to save himself from infamy and death. Though in striking contrast to the Christian tenets, this exhortation was neither cowardly nor imprudent. In his eyes reckless courting of death would not avail the propagation of Islam, and though a man might die to some good service on the battlefield, smiting his enemies, no wise end could be served when his death would merely gratify the lust of his murderers.
The persecution continued in spite of Mahomet’s attempts to withstand it, until he was forced to go to Abu Talib for protection. This was accorded willingly, on account of kindred ties, but there can have been little cordiality between uncle and nephew on the subject, for Mahomet was more than ever determined upon the maintenance and growth of his principles. Still the conversions to Islam continued, and the persecution of its adherents, until there came to the Kureisch a sharp intimation that this new sect arisen in their midst was not an ephemeral affair of a few weeks, but a prolonged endeavour to pursue the ideal of a single God. In 615 the first company of Muslim converts broke from the confined religious area of Mecca and journeyed into Abyssinia, where they could practice their faith in peace. This move convinced the Kureisch of the sincerity of their opponents, for they were almost strong enough to merit the name, and compelled them to believe a little in the force lying behind this strange manifestation of religious zeal in their midst.
Mahomet does not at this time seem to have been definitely ranged against the Kureisch. He was still on negotiable terms with them, and they were a little distrustful of his capacity and ignorant of his power. The stages by which he developed from a discredited citizen, obsessed by one idea, into a political opponent worthy of their best steel and bravest men was necessarily gradual, and indeed the Prophet himself had no knowledge of the role marked out for him by his own personality and the destinies of Arabia. The cause of Islam stood as yet in parlous condition, half-formulated, unwieldy, awaiting the moulding hand of persecution to develop it into a political and social system.
“Do you see Al-Lat and Al-Ozza and Manat the third idol beside? These are the exalted females, and truly their intercession is to be expected.”—The Kuran (last two lines excised later by Mahomet).
The little band of converts, driven by the Kureisch to seek peace and freedom in Abyssinia, remained for two years in their country of refuge, but in 615 returned to Mecca for reasons which have never been fully explained, though it is easy, in the light of future events, to discover the motive behind such a move.