Prophet Muhammad (saw) Birth and Forty Years Prior to Prophethood
Without a shadow of doubt, the birth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) gives us our identity and paves out a path for what we are to do in life. Had it not been for the birth of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ , our lives would be empty, meaningless and we would not have understood our role in life or made sense of our existence on this dunya(material world).
This circle (halaqa) will highlight the significant events of the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ birth right up to before he ﷺ received revelation from the heavens from the Lord of the Universe and the owner of the Last Day.
The Miraculous Birth Of The Prophet ﷺ
The Prophet ﷺ was born during the year of the Elephant (al-fil), when king Abraha tried to destroy the Ka’bah. Born on a Monday, in Rabbi’ul-Awwal, in the year 571 CE. Ibn Kathir noted that this is the opinion that is held by the majority of scholars (Al-Bidayah wa’n Nihaya (2/260)
In an authentic hadith the Prophet ﷺ responded with why he fasted on Mondays by saying, “It was on this day that revelation came down to me” (Muslim).
Allah (swt) sent the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to earth the day a man tried to destroy the Ka’bah. It would be this very Ka’bah that millions across the world would be prostrating towards daily across the globe as a reference to their prayers to their Lord and it was the last Nabi (prophet), Muhammad ﷺ who would be the saviour of Bait-Ullah, the House of Allah.
These miraculous events continue with the Prophet’s ﷺ noble birth. Ibn Sa‘d reported that Holy Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ Mother, Amina (ra) said: “When he was born, there was a light that issued out of my pudendum and lit the palaces of Syria.” On the authority of ‘Arbadh bin Sariya Ahmad reported a similar hadith. (Mukhtasar Seerat-ur-Rasool, p.12; Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d 1/63).
The holy Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ mother felt no delivery pain like other women felt. It was a miraculous birth unlike any other and marked a turning point in history to what the world was going to witness.
Abu Lahab Frees Slave-Girl Thuwayba
The birth of the beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ brought joy, even to those who later became the staunch enemies of Islam. Even Abu Lahab, Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ paternal uncle was overjoyed at his nephew’s birth, only later to despise his message. ‘Ursa Narrates that Thuwayba was the slave girl of Abu Lahab. When the Abu Lahab heard the news of the birth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ he raised his hand and pointed his finger to Thuwaiba and said ‘you are no longer a slave and are now a free girl’.
When Abu Lahab died, one of his relatives, Al-Abbas (ra) – another uncle of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ – dreamt that Abu Lahab was in a very bad state and asked him, “What have you encountered (after death)?” Abu Lahab replied in the dream, “I have not found any rest since I left you, except that I have been given water to drink in this (the space between his thumb and other fingers) and that is because of my freeing Thuwayba.” [Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, (Book of Marriage, kitab Al Nikah, no. 38).
If this is the respite that a vehement disbeliever in Islam gained then what of the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who do believe in his message, and try their level best to practice the deen in this life? What will be their abode in the next life!
The Blessings With Halimah
The Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was blessed from birth; he bought fortunes and great news wherever he went. He was the Beloved of Allah and Allah (swt) opened the gates for him wherever he went.
Immediately after the Prophet’s ﷺ birth, as per custom, women came from afar on their annual trip to Makkah to nurse the children of the Qurayshi tribe. This was the profession of many women and there was good pay in it.
Traditions relate how after all the women had selected their children of high-earning households, one woman was left - Halimah (ra), and only the baby Muhammad ﷺ, the orphan (yateem) from a poor household, was available. Halima (ra) had no choice but to request nursing Muhammad ﷺ and upon doing so, the whole of her household were favoured by successive strokes of good fortune. She narrated herself:
“It was a year of drought and famine and we had nothing to eat. By Allah we could not get even a drop of milk (from the cattle). We could not have a wink of sleep during the night for (my) child kept crying on account of hunger. There was not enough milk in my breast and even the she-camel had nothing to feed him. We reached Makkah looking for children to suckle. Not even a single woman amongst us accepted the Messenger of Allah ﷺ offered to her.
When I lifted him in my arms and returned to my place I put him on my breast I found enough milk in (it was overflowing). He drank to his heart’s content, and so did his foster brother and then both of them went to sleep. My husband then went to the she-camel to milk it and, to his astonishment, he found plenty of milk in it. He milked it and we drank to our fill, and enjoyed a sound sleep during the night”.
Best Of Creation
The lineage of the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was the ‘Best of the Best’ as he came from the line of all prophets dating back to Prophet Ibrahim (as) and Prophet Adam (as). He was born into the most powerful tribe of Banu-Hashim from the Quraish; his unmatchable heritage and noble character made him the ‘Khair-ul-khalqila’ - the best of creation. Allah only chooses the best to give His message of humanity’s salvation and uses such people of rank to illuminate the way forward for success in this life and the next. Despite having no father – a claim of status and protection in 6th century Makkah – and living as a shepherd boy, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was Divinely chosen to lift people from the jahiliyah (ignorance) lifestyle.
The Prophet ﷺ affirmed this, “Verily Allah chose Kinanah from the children of Ismail, He chose Quraish from Kinanah; from the Quraish he chose the children of Hashim (as the best), and from Hashim he choose me,” (Muslim no.2276) .
Important Events In The Life Of The Prophet ﷺ
During childhood, more events unfolded in Allah (swt)’s Glorious plan to prepare his beloved for Prophethood. When the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was 12 years old he accompanied his uncle Abu-Talib to Ash-Shaam (modern day Syria). During the trip Abu-Talib realised that his nephew had mature qualities, he was a special boy and so began to take extra care in protecting him.
Abu-Musa al-Ashari said, ”they (Muhammad ﷺ and Abu-Talib) unpacked near a monastery and made camp. The monastry monk (Bahira) came out, which was strange, since in the past, he would never come out to them whenever they passed him and would never look or pay attention to them. The monk took the Prophet’s hand and remarked,
“This is the chief of all created beings; this is the Messenger of the Lord of all that exists. Allah has sent him as a mercy to all created beings.” The chiefs of Quraish asked, “And how do you know this?” He replied, “When you overlooked this spot from the mountain road, every tree and stone (in this area) fell down in prostration. And they perform prostration only for a prophet. And verily, I recognise him (i.e. as being the awaited prophet) by the seal of the Prophethood that is like an apple (in shape) and that is situated beneath the soft bone of his shoulder”.
Those who hadn’t even heard of Islam yet were testifying to the stature, character and signs of the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. How can it be that we as believers don’t value this?
The Character Of The Prophet
Even before the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was given his prophethood, he was known among his people as ‘Al‐Ameen’, the Trustworthy. People would entrust him above others with their valuables when they wanted to travel. He was also known as ‘As‐Saddiq’ - the Truthful, for he never told a lie. He was well mannered, well‐spoken, and loved to assist people in need. He was loved by children, women spoke of his modest personality, and he never cheated people or hurt the weak.
His people therefore loved and revered him for his many beautiful traits and good manners and he commanded respect amongst all. In fact, people would come to him to resolve their disputes such as his well-known resolution for the tribal ownership over the Black Stone (hajar al-aswad); he advised all four Makkan tribes to place the stone on a piece of cloth, take a corner and carry it over to the rightful place at the Ka’bah. Peace was restored once again.
The Prophet ﷺ And Khadijah
It was these sacrosanct qualities that got the attention of his wife-to-be Khadijah (ra). As an employee of Khadijah (ra) the businesswoman, he travelled to Syria as a merchant, aged 25. Ibn Ishaq reported that Khadijah, was a business-woman of great honour and fortune. When Khadijah (ra) was informed of Muhammad’s ﷺ truthful nature, great honesty and kind manners, especially his trading skills during the business trip, she asked her friend to send for him [Ibn Hisham 1/187,188]. She was pleased with his conduct and business affairs, and after sending a proposal to him, married him.
Key Points To Ponder
Indeed, without a shadow of doubt, the noble character of the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was part of Allah (swt)’s plan for the people He chooses. Such was the preparation that the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was not given the opportunity to indulge in the social bad actions prior to and during his Prophethood.
Despite living in a society rich with idol worship where people associated partners with Allah (swt), the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ never worshipped idols and kept his faith in one Illah (God) – in Allah – pure!
The social scene which was rife with illicit relationships, lewd behaviour and alcohol was something the Prophet ﷺ never went near, to the extent that Allah put him to sleep to avoid the parties and celebrations where this behaviour took place.
Ibn Al-Katheer reported the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “I have never tried to do what my people do except for two times. Every time Allah intervened and checked me from doing so and I never did that again. Once I told my fellow-shepherd to take care of my sheep when we were in the upper part of Makkah. I wanted to go down to Makkah and entertain myself as the young men did. I went down to the first house of Makkah where I heard music. I entered and asked: ‘What is this?’ Someone answered: ‘It is a wedding party.’ I sat down and listened but soon went into deep sleep. I was awakened by the heat of the sun. I went back to my fellow-shepherd and told him of what had happened to me. I have never tried it again.” (Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum, Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, A Rapid Review of Muhammad’s Biography before Commissioning of the Prophethood)
The strong atmosphere did not hinder the Prophet ﷺ from his own principled thinking where he would rather seek refuge in the mountains and steep into deep thinking, and reflect upon nature, signs of Allah, and the corrupt society he lived in.
Why Did The Quraish Initially Not Feel Challenged?
An interesting point is that people were well aware that the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did not participate in their practices but revered him for his outstanding and un-tarnished character. They were versed with his moral principles, on his truthfulness, his kindness, his eagerness in helping people and on his un-willingness to take part in the corrupt behaviours of Quraishi society. So why did the Quraish not feel threatened by him then?
The holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ before his prophethood did not approve of the jahil (ignorant) society. Yet why was this not enough to change these practices to pure monotheism?
Other religions also existed. They disapproved of the corruption of Quraishi society too. They were already calling to oneness of God, the oppositeto Quraishi beliefs of idolatry. There were holy people around, priests, hanifs (monotheists) yet why did the Quraish still not feel challenged by them?
Many people were not pleased with the custom of burying daughters alive in preference to boys and found this vile, just like many of the other vices that were around like gambling, cheating, oppressing the poor, slavery, fornication.
But these were merely personal opinions and not political opinions which could affect and challenge the power in Meccan society responsible for this chaos.
Public opinion was strongly directed by the ruling elite which no one addressed and tried to challenge in a political way. Neither were the morals that people practiced and held onto were enough to challenge the status quo!
After Revelation Situations Change – Khadijah Consoles The Prophet
On receiving the first ayaat (verses) of revelation from the Archangel, Jibreel (alayhi salaam) in cave Hira, the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was left confused. He felt feverish, he doubted himself, he rushed home and asked his wife to ‘zamilooni! Cover me!’ Once he felt better, he narrated what he had seen and been told to his faithful and supportive wife, Khadijah.
She consoled the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that Allah would never leave him because of his good character. She said,
“By Allah, Allah shall never subject you to any indignity… for you always maintain your ties with those of your kin, and you are always generous in giving; you are diligent, and you seek what others regard as unattainable; you cool the eyes of your guest, and you lend your support to those who seek justice and redress. Stay firm , for by Allah I know that He will not deal with you except most beautifully, and I testify that you are the awaited Prophet in this nation, and your time, if Allah wills, has come.”
We see in Khadijah’s words the comparison of how the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was treated in Makkan society before Islam and how he will be received later by the same people after revelation.
After the demise of Khadija, the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to talk about her quite often, so much so that his youngest wife, `Ayesha, daughter of Abu Bakr, felt extremely jealous and said to him,
“… But she was only an old woman with red eyes, and Allah has compensated you with a better and younger wife (meaning herself).”
This caused the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to be very angry and he said,
“No, indeed; He has not compensated me with someone better than her. She believed in me when all others disbelieved; she held me truthful when others called me a liar; she sheltered me when others abandoned me; she comforted me when others shunned me; and Allah granted me children by her while depriving me of children by other women.”
The heavy message of monotheism from the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was immediately rejected by the Quraish because now something challenged their Political way of life, their Economic dealings, their idol worship and their corrupt practices and traditions. The Makkan society centred on the trade of these idols for which people came to buy and sell from near and far.
From the beautiful, truthful, sincere, kind, gentle and polite man whom all loved, the Holy Prophet of Allah, Muhammad ﷺ was hated and feared by the Quraish. And only his wife Khadijah stood by him.
An Important Lesson
Both these incidents highlight that despite the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ established good character and reputation before Prophethood, it was the revolutionary nature of Islam which brought great difficulty when the red and black (everyone) was challenged.
It was the revolutionary nature of Islam now which challenged Quraish on their entire societal set up, their beliefs, their practices and their power! Before Prophethood, the nice, truthful, sincere, kind, gentle and polite man was no threat as his disgusts with Qurayshi society were no threat to the Quraysh but rather personal opinions and choices.
Those working for change today must realise that if it is morals alone that change society then why did this not happen prior to Prophethood where the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ already possessed these?
Shari’ Lessons Before Prophethood
We must look at the life of the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ before the age of 40 as Allah (swt)’s planned to prepare him for the mission which would be the final communication to mankind. We should marvel at the various incidents in which the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was being prepared for Prophethood and this should build and increase our love for his roles as we read about the various events in the seerah (biography).
We must realise that the actions of the holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ need to be understood after his Prophethood and not just before. Hukm Shari’ starts from the time of Bi’tha wahi -revelation – and we are therefore bound to the Shari`ah which came after this period.
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an,
“Indeed, the deen (religion) with Allah is Islam…” (Al-Imran, 3:19)
Allah (swt) further says in the Qur’an,
“And whosoever seeks a deen other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him…” (Al-Imran, 3:85)
“Shar`a of the people before us, is not a Shar`a for us”
The scholars deduced this principle and applied it to all the previous Prophets as well as the 40 years prior to Prophethood. What counts for us as Muslims today is the time after the revelation began. This should be the source and basis of our thinking when looking at working for change and creating revival amongst the Muslim Ummah today.
The seerah also clearly highlights the reforming nature of Islam which does not co-exist with other systems (on a state and governmental level) but rather offers it own unique package to society. It is this which shocked the Quraish and they began to ridicule the Prophet ﷺ and all his followers.
It is this revolutionary aspect which needs to be once again thrust on the world stage and present its ideas on injustice, social breakdown of society, poverty, the rising divides between rich and poor, political corruption, illegal wars, and aimless pursuit of happiness through acquiring goods.
Morals and good character are not enough to change a society on their own. This is amply demonstrated by the Prophet ﷺ before his Prophethood. The corruption needs to be challenged. Poverty, war and lewdness is not resolved through increasing morals alone but through policies on a state level which Islam has clearly addressed.
Without a shadow of doubt Islam encourages the highest morals and best behaviour of Muslims at all times but this is not the way to change society. Allah Almighty says referring to his beloved Messenger ﷺ who is an example for all aspects of our life:
“Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for those who hope in Allah and the latter day and those who often remember Allah”. (Qur’an, 33:21)
Allah says that for us to improve society we must take examples from the best of examples, which the Holy Prophet Muhammad ﷺ amply exemplified in his life in Makkah.