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A GLIMPSE OF THE PROPHET’S LIFE BEFORE HIS PROPHETHOOD

Prophet Muhammad was, from his birth, brought up in the sight and under the care of God

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was, from his birth, brought up in the sight and under the care of God. He was deprived of his father while still in his mother‘s womb. He had to put all his trust in God and completely submit himself to Him. He visited his father’s tomb in Madina years later, cried his heart out, and on his return, said: I wept for my father and entreated God to forgive him.

With the death of his father, God deprived him of all human support and directed him to the realization that there is no deity but God; He has no partners whatsoever.

He had to put all his trust in God. He was able to enjoy the protection of his grandfather and uncle to some extent, but he came to perceive that his real guardian was God. Behind every phenomenon and every cause and effect, he could discern the ‘hand’ of the Single Creator of the universe and of ‘causes.’ The Oneness of God would be manifested to him in the light of Divine Unity.

As a result of his father’s death, he was an orphan. He was like a matchless “orphan pearl.” In reference to this, God addressed him years later:

Your Lord shall give you, and you shall be satisfied. Did He not find you an orphan and shelter you?... Did He not find you needy and suffice you? As for the orphan, do not oppress him, and as for the beggar, scold him not. (al-Duha’, 93:5-6, 8-10)

The future Prophet not only lost his father, he lost also his mother, Amina, at an early age. When she died in the village of Abwa at age 25 or 26 on her way back from visiting her husband’s tomb in Madina, Muhammad was only six years old. Thus, he learned the pain of being left without father and mother. Indeed, there would be nothing he would not learn and no suffering he would not have to bear, since he was sent to teach everything to mankind and to be an example in every respect.

When Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, lost his parents, his grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muttalib, a respected elder of Makka, protected him. For this reason, God saved ‘Abd al- Muttalib from all forms of misfortune. He embraced his beloved grandson, and always offered him the seat of honor in his house. He felt that his grandson would grow up to save humankind. Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was so noble and well-mannered that his grandfather anticipated his Prophethood. He was not the first of his noble forefathers to do so. Ka’b ibn Luayy, who is thought by some to also be a Prophet, had predicted that the Last Messenger would be raised up from his own progeny. He mentioned him by name:

Suddenly the Prophet Muhammad will appear;

He will give tidings and is truthful in his tidings.

The honorable grandfather of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, whom even the great army of Abraha could not bring to tears, wept bitterly when he took to his deathbed. His son, Abu Talib, came to him and asked why he was weeping. The answer came: ‘I am weeping because I will no longer be able to embrace Muhammad’. He added: ‘I am afraid something might happen to my Matchless Pearl. I entrust him to you for safekeeping.’

Abu Talib’s protection

Abu Talib assumed Muhammad’s protection and, in return, his son, ‘Ali, would be blessed with being the father of the Prophet Muhammad’s progeny. After Prophethood, the Messenger of God said to ‘Ali, may God be pleased with him: The progeny of every other Prophet descended from himself, but my progeny is to be descended from you. ‘Ali would be the father and the greatest of all saints to come until the Last Day as the representatives of the Prophet’s sainthood. This is the reward given to Abu Talib for helping Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

Trade caravans

Abu Talib protected Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, with utmost care. As related by historians and biographers such as Ibn Ishaq, Abu Talib took his nephew to Syria in a trade caravan, when he was ten or twelve years old. They stopped somewhere near Damascus and left him, as he was the youngest among them, to watch over the caravan. The caravan was being carefully observed by a monk from his nearby monastery, one who had been expecting the arrival of the Last Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. The monk, named Bahira, had seen a cloud following the caravan, stopping when the caravan stopped, starting when the caravan started to shade one amongst them.1 ‘This is a special characteristic of Prophets. The expected Prophet must be in that caravan,’ he thought.

When the caravan stopped near his monastery, Bahira sent for the tradesmen and invited them for a meal. He noticed the cloud was still hovering over the caravan. Bahira asked Abu Talib if someone was left behind. Abu Talib answered that there was only a young boy, whom they had left to watch over their things. The monk asked them to fetch him. When Muhammad came, Bahira took Abu Talib to one side and asked him about his relationship with the boy. ‘He is my son,’ Abu Talib answered, but Bahira disputed this, saying: ‘He cannot be your son. According to our books, his father must have died before his birth.’ Then he added: ‘Let me give you this advice. Take this boy back immediately. The Jews are envious. If they recognize him, they will harm him.’ Abu Talib made an excuse to the other members of the caravan and returned to Makka with his nephew.2

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, made a second journey when he was twenty-five years old, this time with the trade caravan of Khadija, a respected widow he would later marry. On the journey, he encountered Bahira once more. The monk was very pleased with this second meeting, and told Muhammad, upon him be peace: ‘You will be a Prophet, the Last Prophet. I wish that God would allow me to live to see you raised as a Prophet. I would follow you, carry your shoes and protect you against your enemies!’

Sacrilegious war and formation of a league against injustice

Another major event in the early life of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was the Fijar or Sacrilegious war which took place during his later teens. The Fijar war which he witnessed was the fourth one during which the sanctity of the sacred months (Dhu’l-Qa‘dah, Dhu’l-Hijjah, Muharram, Rajab) and the sacred territory of Makka was violated. The cause of the war, which took place between the Quraysh and their confederates of Banu Kinana on the one side and the Hawazin on the other, was quite trivial: a spirit of jealousy and animosity was ignited between two men, (one belonging to the Kinana and the other to the Qays-‘Aylan (an important clan of the Hawazin). The future Prophet, who was to come to put an end to all kinds of injustice and lawlessness, only helped his uncle Zubayr ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, who represented Banu Hashim in the war, gather up the arrows discharged by the enemy.

Another important event worthy of mention with respect to the future Prophet’s youth is that he was present in the meeting which resulted in the formation of Hilf al-Fudul (the alliance of the virtuous). Hilf al-Fudul was a kind of league against injustice. It was sponsored mainly by Banu Hashim and Banu al-Muttalib. The immediate reason for forming this alliance was an injustice suffered by a merchant from the Yemen. The Qurayshite ‘As ibn Wa’il had usurped his goods. The Yemeni in vain sought the help of the Qurayshite leaders. When Banu Hashim, the clan of the Prophet, heard this, they called a meeting which resulted in the formation of Hilf al-Fudul, and of course the return of the money to the Yemeni merchant. An oath was taken by the members of this assembly that whenever they found someone in Makka whether he be a citizen of it or a stranger visiting it to whom injustice had been done, they would stand by him against his oppressor until the wrong had been redressed. Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was so impressed by its noble objectives that he would say long after: I attended at the house of ‘Adbullah ibn Jud‘an the conclusion of an agreement which I would not exchange for the best of material gains, and if someone appeals to it in Islam I would respond.

Muhammad’s childhood and youth were a prelude to his Prophethood

Muhammad’s childhood and youth were a prelude to his Prophethood. Besides his other exalted, laudable characteristics, everyone agreed upon his truthfulness and trustworthiness. He never lied, never cheated and never broke his word. He did not participate in jahiliya, even for a second. He was called ‘the Truthful, Trustworthy Man’ even by his bitterest enemies.

People would say of him: ‘If you go on a journey and need someone to whose safeguarding you will entrust your wife, you can entrust her to Muhammad without hesitation. He will not take even a momentary glance at her face. If you want to entrust your wealth for safeguarding, entrust it to this trustworthy, honest man. He will never touch it. If you look for someone who never tells a lie and never breaks his word, go directly to Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, because whatever he says is true.’

Those who knew him from his childhood immediately believed in him when he declared his Prophethood. Among them were Abu Bakr, ‘Uthman, Talha, Zubayr, Abu Dharr, and Yasir. When ‘Ammar told his father, Yasir, that he believed in Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, the latter responded to him, saying: ‘If Muhammad says that God is One, it is true. He never lies.’

In the early days of his Prophethood, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, once summoned the people of the Quraysh to gather at the foot of the hill of Abu Qubays and asked them: Would you believe me if I told you an enemy host was waiting behind this hill to attack you? ‘Yes, we would believe you,’ all of them answered, including even his red-haired uncle, Abu Lahab, his most bitter and inflamed enemy.3

When mankind were in dire need of someone to destroy the order of unbelief and breathe a new life into the world, God raised Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, to stop all forms of wickedness. In the words of Ahmad Shawky:

The sun of guidance was born

and the entire universe was illumined.

A smile appeared on the lips of time

and his praises were sung.

When he appeared on the horizon of Madina years later, the pure, innocent children of that illumined city would sing his praises as follows:

The ‘full moon’ rose upon us from the hills of Wada’,

So it is incumbent upon us to thank God so long as

Those who pray and entreat Him continue to do so.4

 

1 Busiri, in his famous Qasidah al-Bur’a (Eulogy of Bur’a) mentions this incident, saying: ‘A cloud hovers over his head and protects him from the sun’.)
2. Ibn Hisham, Sira, 1.191)
3. Bukhari, Tafsir, 1.111; Muslim, Iman, 355.
4. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya, 3.241.

 


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The awaited prophethood

Last Updated on November 23, 2000

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