Ismaili History 305 - Birth of Muhammad
Abdullah, the son of Abdul Muttalib, and the father of Muhammad, was then 24 years of age, affianced to Amina bint Wahab. Briefly was the wedded life of Abdullah and Amina. Shortly after the marriage her husband set out on a mercantile expedition to Yathirab, leaving the young pregnant wife who was destined to see him no more. It was their first and last parting, for on the return journey, Abdullah sickened and died before his wife was delivered. He was buried in Dar-i Nabigha, among the Banu Najjar. For the support of his widow, Abdullah left behind him no richer legacy than four camels, a flock of goats and a slave girl. Muhammad was therefore destined to be a posthumous.
Under the rocks of the Abu Kobeis, which rise eastward of Mecca over the narrow valley, stood the house of Amina, the birthplace of her only son. On the morning of Monday, April 22, 571 A.D., a grandson was born to Abdul Muttalib, who named him Muhammad (the extolled one). He gave a banquet in honour of his grandson to which he invited a number of Qoraish tribesmen and peers. When they inquired from him why he had chosen to name Muhammad, thus changing the tradition of using the ancestors' names, Abdul Muttalib answered, 'I did so with the wish that my grandson would be praised by God in heaven and on earth by men.'
'To the Arab nation' writes Thomas Carlyle in 'Heroes and Hero-Worship' (London, 1850, p. 101), 'it was as a birth from darkness into light; Arabia first became alive by means of it. A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world; a Hero-Prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe.' John William Draper also writes in 'History of the Intellectual Development of Europe' (London, 1875, 1st vol., p. 329) that, 'Four years after the death of Justinian, 571 A.D., was born at Mecca, in Arabia, the man who, of all men, has exercised the greatest influence upon the human race.' According to 'The Life of Mahomet' (London, 1930, p. 171) by Dermenghem, 'Muhammad appeared on the scene at one of the darkest periods in all history, when all the civilizations, from Merovingian Gaul to India, were falling to ruin or were in a state of troubled gestation.'
Mecca, also known as Umm al-Qura (mother of towns), about forty miles from the Red Sea, lay in an arid valley, embosomed with torrid rocks. The streets were narrow and piled high with dirt and garbage. The air was heavy in Mecca and the children there grew up pale, weak and sickly. All about and around Mecca was desert, whose air was limpid. For this reason, it was a custom among the Arab gentry and nobility that the mother did not nurse their children. They would give their suckling infants into the charge of Bedouin women shortly after birth to suckle and nourish them. Abdul Muttalib assigned his grandson into the nursing care of Halima al-Sadiyyah, the daughter of Abu Dhuayb, belonging to the clan of Sa'd, near Mount Taif, situated to the east of Mecca. The little Muhammad's five years of life spent in the tents of this wandering tribe. Having nurtured for a period of five years, the wet nurse Halima gave him back to his mother, Amina, who also died after one year. Henceforward, Abdul Muttalib was both mother and father to the orphaned child. But this was not to be for long either. The old man died when Muhammad was eight. The dying Abdul Muttalib had already consigned the guardianship of Muhammad to his son, Abu Talib, who discharged the trust kindly and faithfully. His fondness for his charge equalled that of Abdul Muttalib. He made him sleep by his bed, eat by his side, and go with him wherever he walked. Tor Andrae writes in 'Mohammed the Man and his Faith' (London, 1936, p. 48) that, 'It is said of Abu Talib that he loved Mohammed greatly. He would not sleep unless the lad were at his side, and he never cared to go out without him. He noticed also that a blessing accompanied the future prophet. When Mohammed was not present, Abu Talib's family could not eat.' This tender treatment was continued until his nephew emerged from childhood. In the twelfth year of age, Muhammad travelled with his uncle in a trade-caravan to Syria. It was during this journey that Muhammad is said to have met a Christian anchorite, called Bahira. Beholding the boy, so goes the story, he could discern in his face marks of the future greatness and he advised Abu Talib to take good care of him, for he would some day be the recipient of Divine call.
Muhammad took part in the battle at the age of twenty, between the Qoraish and the Qais which goes under the name of Harb al-Fijar, i.e., a war of transgression, so called because it was fought in the sacred months when warfare was forbidden. But his part in it was not that of actual fighting, but only of handing over arrows to his uncles. After that, he participated in the alliance known as Hilf al-Fudzul, formed to vindicate the rights of the weak and the oppressed against tyranny. Each member of the alliance was bound in honour to defend the helpless against all manner of opression. The credit of taking the lead in the formation of this humanitarian organisation was due to Muhammad and his family, Banu Hashim. His early inclinations to render help to the distressed go to show that human sympathy was implanted in his very nature.
At this early age, Muhammad's integrity had already won household fame in the town of Mecca. He was commonly known as al-Amin, the trustworthy. The epithet does not imply honesty alone, but is all-comprehensive, denoting righteousness in every form. Whosoever happened to have any dealings with him at this period, never ceased to praise him all his life. It was about this time that the necessity arose for the reconstruction of the Kaba. The requisite material being all provided, the Qoraish jointly undertook the work. In the course of construction a serious dispute arose as to who should have the proud privilege of laying the Black Stone. This might have resulted in the outbreak of inter-tribal feuds, when there rose a hoary-headed man with his elderly advice to refer the matter to an arbitrator. Whoever, he suggested, should be the first to appear at the Kaba the following day, should be accepted as a judge to decide the point at issue. The proposal was unanimously agreed to. All were eagerly awaiting the next morning, when lo, to the satisfaction of all it was a personage no other than Muhammad. 'Here is al-Amin! Here is al-Amin!' all shouted in one voice. And the general confidence in him was fully justified. Taking a sheet of cloth he placed the Black Stone thereon with his own hands, and then he invited principal men from every clan to hold the sheet by the four ends and thus equally shared in the honour of lifting the stone to its position.