In both his sı-ra and tafsı-r works, Ibn Kathı-r rather emphatically connects Muh.ammad’s private meeting with his extended kin to the theme of divine protection. He argues that Muh.ammad did not request a successor in general, but only needed someone who would take care of his family if he were killed in the course of completing his mission. In the sı-ra accounts of both al-T.abarı-
and Ibn Kathı-r, the person that Muh.ammad needs protection from the most in this early period of his mission is his paternal uncle, Abu-Lahab. In the reports of Muh.ammad’s ﬁrst public call to his fellow tribesmen, only Abu-
Lahab responds to his warning. His response, however, is not one of support, but of viliﬁcation. In most of the reports of Muh.ammad’s private meeting with his extended kin, it is Abu-Lahab who interrupts the proceedings after the miraculous division of food and drink to inform those present that they have been ensorcelled by Muh. ammad. He is the only one, then, besides Muh.ammad and ʿAlı-, who is able to recognize the miracle that Muh. ammad performed.1 But Abu-Lahab is not Muh.ammad’s only enemy and the exegetical accounts of Qurʾa-n verses tied to this event by both al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r include reports in which someone threatens Muh.ammad but is forestalled through divine intervention. Therefore, the story of Muh.ammad’s ﬁrst public preaching in both genres is intimately connected to the theme of divine protection.
Before Muh. ammad begins receiving revelations and certainly before he publicly announces for the ﬁrst time his role as Prophet of God, relations between he and his uncle were reportedly quite good. Two of Muh.ammad’s daughters, Ruqayya and Umm Kulthu-m, were either engaged or married to two of Abu-Lahab’s sons, ʿUtba and ʿUtayba.2 But with the public announcement, the relationship between the two men becomes extremely strained. As reports in the works of both al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r reveal, Abu-Lahab condemns Muh.ammad after his ﬁrst public announcement on al-S.afa-. In the private meeting, it is Abu-Lahab who interrupts Muh.ammad and takes away his audience, albeit temporarily. Thus, in the sı-ra works, his rejection of Muh. ammad and the revelation of Qurʾa-n 26:214 are the only things that tie the two parts
of the story together. But although he plays an important role in Muh.ammad’s life in Mecca, the number of reports related about him by both authors is limited. Of the six reports included by al-T.abarı-, three relate the actions of Abu-Lahab – two in connection with the public announcement and one with the private meeting. Ibn Kathı-r’s sı-ra also provides six reports for this event, but only one in each of the public and private settings include Abu-Lahab. However, in his account, he adds comments to the texts that provide a better indication of Abu-Lahab’s role in the life of the Prophet. When his name is mentioned in relation to the public announcement, it is followed by the phrase “May God curse him,” and in the report of the private meeting, he is identiﬁed as “the wicked unbeliever.”3