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Life of the Prophet - Part 1 - Eshaam Palmer

This is the first of a seven part series relating the life of the Prophet (pbuh). The first part deals with the period in Arabia immediately prior to the birth of the Prophet (pbuh) and the birth and young life of the Prophet (pbuh).Other parts in the series will deal with the different periods in his life, in historical order


The prevalent religions during this period in Arabia were Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Last-mentioned religion had its origin in Persia and had a smaller following than the other two religions. The Arabian Peninsula is a very large irreg¬ularly shaped piece of land, which is bor¬dered by Palestine and Syria. Although its largest neighbour is the Indian Ocean, most of the land’s uncultivable as it has a desert climate. Yaman was the most developed and advanced province in the Arabian Peninsula as a result of its fertile land, water resources and competent administration. However, from a religious perspective, it was eclipsed by Makka, which was home to the Ka'bah, the house of Isma'il and the object of religious pilgrimage since the beginning of Arabian history. Most Arabs at some point in their lives undertook a jour¬ney to the Ka'bah. For this reason and because it was an important commercial centre, Makka was viewed as the capital of Arabia. Of all the tribes in Arabia, the Quraysh were dominant and assumed an almost sovereign role.

The Ka'bah was built by Nabi Ebrahim and his son Isma'il as a holy temple. Hashim, great-grandfather of the Prophet, collected money from members of the Quraysh tribe in order to provide for the needs of pilgrims who arrived to worship at the Ka'bah. His son Abd al Muttalib took over that role when Hashim died. Abd al Muttalib had many sons, including, Hamzah, al Abbas, Abdullah, Abu Lahab, Abu Talib and al Harith. Abd al Muttalib was a very generous man and soon took over the role of his father of caring for the pilgrims who visited the Ka'bah. During that period the well of Zamzam had been destroyed by Mudad ibn Amr, by filling it with dirt, and water had to be brought from the subsidiary wells in the outlying areas of Makka. Abd al Muttalib and his son al Mughirah dug out the dirt and the water from Zamzam flowed again. Thereafter the well came under the joint ownership of Abd al Muttalib, the Quraysh tribe and the Ka'bah. The rejuvenation of the well made the work of Abd al Muttalib towards the pil¬grims much easier. However, the task was still difficult as he only had two sons to help him, and he was not getting any younger.
However, as the years went on, another eight sons were born. When they reached maturity they assisted him in his task of car¬ing for pilgrims visiting the Ka'bah. His most beloved son was the youngest, Abu Talib. Other sons who were well known were Abdullah, Abu Lahab, Hamzah, al Harith and al Abbas.

Certain people in Arabia tried to tempt its inhabitants away from Makka by building holy houses in their areas to rival the Ka'bah. A tribal leader known as Abrahah built a holy house in Yaman in order to attract people to live there, however, he failed in his endeavours. He was further incensed when the inhabitants of Yaman accepted pilgrimage to the Ka'bah as the only authentic form of worship. He then decided to destroy the Ka'bah. Abrahah  summoned his army and marched onto, Makka,  raiding the outskirts of Makka and stealing hundreds of cattle and camels belonging to Abd al Muttalib. The army of Abrahah was more powerful than that of the Quraysh, and the latter were relieved when informed by Abrahah that he did not wish to make war with them, but only destroy the Ka'bah. Abd al Muttalib thereafter decided not to make war with Abrahah, and the two started to hold talks after Abd al Muttalib's cattle and camels were returned to him. The Makkans offered Abrahah a third of the annual crop of the Tihamah province, but he refused. When talks broke down, Abd al Muttalib advised the Makkans to leave Makka and withdraw to the nearby mountains in order to protect themselves and their families. However, on the day that Abrahah decided to send his troops to destroy the Ka'bah, a plague of smallpox infected the troops. The epidemic spread with uncanny speed and many of the soldiers died. When the disease infected Abrahah he ordered his army back to Yaman. By the time he reached the capital of Yaman, San'a, most of his soldiers had died of the disease. Shortly after his arrival in San'a, Abrahah also died from smallpox.


Makka was a pocket of luxury in an other¬wise barren desert. Its inhabitants enjoyed a life of revelry, drinking of wine and wom¬anising. They lived for pleasure and traded in slave girls in order to ensure a constant supply of females. Most of the parties and drinking sessions were held in the vicinity of the Ka'bah. Another favourite past time was telling stories whilst sitting at the Ka'bah at night. The inhabitants of Makka were pagans and the only Christians and Jews who lived there were slaves. The Ka'bah was the ultimate holy site of the pagans. In Makka the houses of its inhabi¬tants were built around the Ka'bah, with those closest to it belonging to the most noble families.

Abdullah, one of the sons of Abd al Muttalib was a handsome and strong man who was admired by the unmarried women in Makka. There were many proposals of marriage for him, but the honour of mar¬riage fell to Aminah, the daughter of Wahb. However, shortly after their marriage, Abdullah died whilst on a trip away from Makka. When Abdullah died ;Aminah was pregnant with their first and only child, Mohammed.

Immediately after their marriage Abdullah spent the customary first three days living with his wife's relatives, after which they lived with Abd al Muttalib. When Abdullah went on a business trip to al Sham, Aminah was already pregnant. At this time there. were stories circulating in the area that Abdullah had other wives besides Aminah. However, no proof was ever established that he had more than one wife, although unmarried women still sought him after. After several months in Gaza, Abdullah became ill when he stopped to rest in Madinah at the residence of a family mem¬ber. When the caravan arrived back in Makka, Abd al Muttalib sent his eldest son al Harith to Madinah to accompany Abdullah back home when he recovered from his illness. However, on arrival in Madinah, al Harith was informed that Abdullah had died and had  been buried. News of the death of one of his favourite sons, left Abd al Muttalib and Aminah dev¬astated. Her short happy marriage to Abdullah was brought to an abrupt end. The fact that she was pregnant made the hurt all the more painful. She would now have to rear her child without the love and protection of its father. It is not known what type of illness he died of, but it appears that his illness was of short duration. As Abdullah was still a young man his estate was riot extensive. The estate left to his offspring consisted of five camels, a herd of sheep and a slave nurse called Umm Aymara[to care for the baby to be born]. The size of his estate was indicative of the fact that he had not yet amassed a fortune of any notable size.

Aminah had a normal and uncomplicated pregnancy, which ran its full term. Abd al Muttalib took Mohammad to the Ka'bah to announce his birth. The name Mohammad was not a name commonly used in Arabia, and was also against the prevailing tradition of naming him after his ancestors. The family then awaited the arrival of the wet nurses from the tribe of Banu Sa'd to take care of the new born baby. It was common practice in Makka that babies born to the nobility were cared for and suckled by wet nurses. 'there is disagreement amongst histori¬ans as to the date of Mohammad's birth. Most are of the view that he was born in the "Year of the Elephant", namely, 570, whilst others are of the opinion that he was born fifteen years earlier, and still others believed he was born up to seventy years after 570. Although they also differ as to the month of his birth, the majority agree that he was born in the third month of the lunar calendar, namely, Rabi al Awwal. The majority of historians agree that the actual day of his birth was the 12th of Rabi al Awwal. Seven days after his birth, Abd al Muttalib gave a feast to which many noblemen of the Quraysh were invit¬ed in Mohammad's honour. As he had no father, Mohammad fell under the protec¬tion of his grandfather Abd al Muttalib.

It was the custom amongst the Makkans to send their children, on the eighth day after their birth, into the desert with their wet nurse where they remained until the age of about eight years. When the time arrived Mohammed was given to a wet nurse called Thuwayba who was a servant of Abu Lahab, uncle of Mohammad. Thuwayba nursed both Mohammad and Hamza for a short while, making them brothers-in-nursing. Mohammad and his uncle Hamza were about the same age.
Although Thuwayba only nursed Mohammad for a short while, he remained loving and caring toward her until her death seven years after the Hegira. For as long as she was alive, Muhammad showed her love and affection. The other wet nurs¬es were not in favour of taking Mohammad into their care as he was an orphan, and not a wealthy one at that. When the wealthy children were all taken into care no wet nurse remained to take Mohammed.

Having initially also refused to take Mohammad into her care, Halima eventu¬ally accepted him as she could find no other child for whom she could care. Caring for children was an important source of income for wet nurses. Halima was also not sought after as a wet nurse by the noble women of the Makkans as she was thin and not physically attractive. In order not to return empty handed, Halima took Mohammad into her care. Mohammad remained for two years with Halima in the desert where she nursed him in a kind and caring manner. Her daughter Shayma was always around to cuddle and play with Mohammad. The desert climate and clean air was conducive to Mohammad's growth and development. After he was weaned Halima took him back to Aminah for a short while but then took him back with her to the desert. He stayed with Halima for a further two years, where he grew up healthy and strong and free from the illnesses prevalent in Makka.

Splitting Mohammed Chest:
Tradition has it that when Mohammed was three years old an incident occurred whilst he was playing with Halima's son behind the encampment. Halima's son reported to Halima and his father that two men dressed in white took Mohammed and opened his abdomen and turned him around. When Halima ran out to where Mohammad was, he was very pale. When asked what hap¬pened he repeated what Halima's son had told them, but added that the two men in white removed something from his abdomen. It is reported that after the inci¬dent Halima took Mohammed back to Aminah to tell her what had happened. The interpretation of this incident is that it was two angels who came to prepare .


Mohammed stayed  in the desert with the tribe of Bana Sa'd for a period of five years, living a healthy and clean life. It was here that he learnt to speak Arabic in its purest form. All his life Mohammed harboured love and admiration for Halima and her family. In later life whenever Mohammad met Halima he would place his mantle down for her to sit on as a sign of love and respect for her. When Mohammad was a leader and Shayma, Halima's daughter was captured by Muslim forces after the siege of Ta'if, Mohammad released Shayma unharmed to her family when he realised who she was. After his five-year stint in the desert Mohammad returned to his mother and Abd al Muttalib took Mohammad into his personal care. Abd al Muttalib showered Mohammad with love and affection. As leader of the Quraysh, Abd al Muttalib was also master of Makka. When he sat on his cushion in the shade of the Ka'bah he would allow only Mohammad to sit there on with him. It was clear that Abd al Muttalib cared more for Mohammad  than for any of his other relatives.


Not having been acquainted with her fami¬ly, Aminah took Mohammad to Madinah to meet his uncles of the tribe of Banu al Najjar. Umm Ayman, the nurse left by his father to care for Mohammad, accompanied them. Whilst in Madinah, Aminah took Mohammad to the house where his father died and also to the place where he was buried. Mohammad's heart was filled with sadness as this was the closest he had ever come to his father. This must have been a poignant moment in his life when his status as an orphan became clear to him. Aminah had spent but a few days with Abdullah before he left for Madinah and Mohammad had never known what it was to have a father -so the pain and sorrow for both must have been great. This visit to Madinah had a sig¬nificant impact on Mohammad, as later in life he always spoke about it to his compan¬ions and friends. They stayed for about a month and left to return to Makka. However, on the way home, whilst in the village of Abwa, his mother Aminah fell ill and died. She was buried in the village. It is difficult to describe the pain and anguish experienced by Mohammad at this time. He had just left the grave of his father, whom he never saw, and was accompanying his mother back to Makka, remembering that he spent five years in the desert away from her, and loses her within a span of a few days. The impact was devastating on the young boy. From a very early age he was confronted with sig¬nificant personal losses. He has to bear this grief on his own in a village far away from his home. It was left to Mohammad's nurse Umm Ayman to bring him back to Makka.

The death of his mother and father were not the only tragedies he had to deal with in his young life. After the death of his mother Mohammad relied on his grandfather, Abd al Muttalib for love and protec¬tion. They two grew even closer as they supported each other emotionally. Mohammad was eight years old and his grandfather was eighty when Abd al Muttalib became ill and died. At the funer¬al Mohammad cried bitterly - his remorse was deep as the closest link to his family had died and left him without a protector. For a few days he was inconsolable. The following verse in the Quran refers to this period in Mohammad's life: "Did God not find you an orphan and give you shelter and protection? Did he not find you erring and guide you to the truth?" [Surah 93, verses 6-71]. The death of Abd al Muttalib was not only a loss to Mohammad, but also to the whole of Makka, where he was the undis-puted leader and protector of pilgrims. It is noteworthy that none of his children ever achieved his greatness in leadership or personality.

Mohammad had a unique infancy and childhood. Born into a noble family in Makka, his father died before he was born and his mother died when he was eight years old. His guardian and protector died shortly thereafter. Five years of his young life was spent away from his mother, in the care of his wet nurse, Halimah. At the ten¬der age of eight he had to deal with grief, the magnitude of which many people never have to face in a lifetime. However, it made him a compassionate person and strength¬ened his character.

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