“Our Prophet (peace be upon him) and his followers suffered much torture and many deaths at the hands of the polytheists.”
It’s true that some Muslims did suffer persecution at Mecca, but the extent of this is greatly exaggerated by modern-day storytellers, who are desperate to justify subsequent Muslim aggression. It is important to note that Muhammad himself was the source of bitterness against the early Muslims, yet he was protected from personal consequence by his powerful uncle, Abu Talib. Muhammad’s biographer recorded many instances in which the leading men of Mecca beseeched Muhammad (either directly or through his uncle) to stop mocking the religion of their ancestors:
Muhammad felt safe in rejecting their peace offering because he did not have to be accountable for the trouble that he was causing. This undoubtedly compounded the frustration of the local leaders, some of whom then took it out on other Muslims over whom they had power. These were primarily slaves and lower ranking family members.
Modern apologists are fond of repeating an apocryphal tale concerning the martyring of an elderly woman named Umm Summayah. She was one of the first converts to Islam and a slave of Abu Jahl, an adversary of Muhammad. According to the contemporary version of the tale, Umm Summayah died of a spear thrust from Abu Jahl. Unfortunately, there is scant evidence to support this (it is not contained in reliable accounts and even Ibn Kathir admits that authenticity is “lacking” vol.1 p.331).
It is more likely that Umm Summayah died of stress while exposed to the heat at Mecca:
This is the only recorded death of a Muslim who had suffered persecution at Mecca. It is not supported by either Bukhari or Sahih Muslim, although Ibn Sa’d does make a reference to the event that appears to be based on Ibn Ishaq/Hisham’s account. It is unclear why there is not more emphasis and detail about the death of Umm Summayah if she were actually bayoneted. (Interestingly, there is more evidence to support the death of Muhammad’s own daughter from the stress of Muslim persecution following her father’s death).
Beyond this curious event, which would have occurred after the Muslims became physically aggressive with Abu Jahl and the polytheists, there is nothing to substantiate the wild tales of deadly abuse that today’s Islamophiles are fond of claiming.
It is critical to note that, despite the detailed list of indictments against the Meccans that are scattered liberally and redundantly throughout the Quran, it never once says that any Muslims were actually killed by their adversaries during the thirteen years prior to their eviction. Instead, the worst of crimes is detailed in Sura 2:217:
Allah’s indictment against the Meccans is that they evicted Muhammad from Mecca (the only eviction of record) and were denying he and some of the other Muslims the ability to visit the Kaaba during pilgrimage.
There is no mention of death inflicted on the early Muslims. Instead the same verse attempts to convince them that they are justified in killing Meccans merely for not wanting to have anything to do with them. The verse goes on to say:
At the time, Muhammad was urging his people to attack merchant caravans from Mecca, which involved killing the drivers and stealing the goods. This became the primary source of income for the Muslims at Medina, and Muhammad became a wealthy man by appropriating a fifth of all loot collected for himself (on Allah’s command, of course).