Abu Talib, the dear uncle of the Holy Prophet Muhammad [s], was the grand chief of the Quraysh. As we know, the Quraysh were the most bitter enemies of the Prophet [s], but Abu Talib was a good man and, even though not a Muslim, he was always by the side of his nephew, Muhammad [s].
For forty long years, he had protected the Prophet [s] and he oftentimes put himself into grave danger to do this. Even though he had to undergo great difficulty he never once turned his back on the Prophet [s].
The Holy Prophet Muhammad [s] loved his uncle dearly and he wished for nothing more than that his uncle proclaim the shahadah and embrace Islam. Every time the Prophet [s] pleaded with his uncle, “O My dear uncle believe that there is no god except Allah and that I am his messenger,” Abu Talib would smile back at his nephew and say softly, “But you know that I cannot leave the religion of my forefathers.” And so throughout his life, Abu Talib worshiped the idols his father and grandfather worshiped, and their fathers too.
But then the day came which the Holy Prophet Muhammad [s] dread most. Abu Talib had taken ill and was now on his deathbed. The Prophet [s] rushed over to his house. Instead of the smiley face and warm hug of his uncle that usually greeted him, all the Prophet [s] saw was a pale, limp body stretched on a bed. Tears came to the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s [s] eyes as he kneeled by his uncle’s side, holding his frail hand tightly.
Abu Jahl, the arch enemy of Islam, was already there and so too were the other chiefs of the Quraysh. He frowned and squinted his beady, cold eyes, grinding his teeth in hatred as the Prophet [s] sat there next to Abu Talib. The Prophet [s] paid no attention to him and in a gentle voice pleaded with his uncle one last time, “O my dearest and most beloved uncle, please do declare that there is no god except Allah and you shall be saved.”
No sooner did the Holy Prophet [s] utter these words but Abu Jahl growled, “O Abu Talib, are you going to cowardly turn away from the religion of your father? Do you fear death so.”
Abu Talib’s weak eyes glanced back at his nephew, Muhammad [s]. The Prophet [s] pleaded again and again, and every time he spoke Abu Jahl badgered the old chief, “Are you a coward who turns away from the religion of his father.”
Abu Jahl new that if the old chief accepted Islam then many of the people of Makkah would follow him and embrace Islam too. This he had to prevent.
Abu Talib looked over at the people assembled in his house and spoke softly, “I do know that the religion of Muhammad is the best of all faiths, but I shall stay true to the way of my father, Abd al-Muttalib.” And so Abu Talib breathed his last refusing to accept Islam.
Tears of anguish rolled down the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s [s] face. “I shall continue to beg of Allah’s forgiveness for you, O my dear Uncle, unless I am forbidden to do so.”
It was then that Allah revealed, “It is not proper for the Prophet and those who believe to ask Allah’s forgiveness for the disbelievers, even though they may be close family, after it has become clear to them that the (disbelievers) shall be the dwellers of the fire (of Hell).”
Abbas [r], the younger brother of Abu Talib who was also an uncle of the Prophet [s] and who later accepted Islam, said to him, “You have not been able to help your uncle even though he was always there to protect you.”
The Holy Prophet Muhammad [s] replied, “O Abbas, know that Abu Talib is in a shallow fire that rises up only to his heels, and had it not been for me, Allah would have cast him into the very bottom of Hell.” This is so because Allah forgives all sins except disbelief.
And so, despite being such a kind and loving man, Abu Talib, the dear uncle of the Prophet [s], could not be saved from the fire of Jahannum. Only true faith in Allah, the One, and accepting His religion, Islam, can save one from His anger and punishment.