The Life and Character of the Seal of Prophets

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Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra) was one of the sons of the Promised Messiah(as). Born on April 20, 1893 he passed his matriculation in 1910 with distinction, and according to the wishes of the Promised Messiah(as), attained an MA in Arabic in 1916. A great religious scholar and prolific writer, his books and speeches are easily understandable by the average reader. Some of his important works include Siratul Mahdi (Life of the Mahdi), Silsila-e-Ahmadiyya (The Ahmadiyya community), Tabligh-e-Hidayat (Propagation of Guidance), Kalimutal Fasl (The Decisive Word) and Hamara Khuda (Our God). He also contributed countless articles to magazines and periodicals of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, such as the daily Al-Fazl, and was Editor of The Review of Religions for many years. Sirat Khatamun Nabiyyin is his magnum opus; an outstanding biography of the Holy Prophet(saw), which includes insightful analysis and commentary on various aspects of his life. For the first time this book has been translated into English. The English rendering, “The Life and Character of the Seal of Prophets,” will be serialised in various parts in The Review of Religions.

Translated from Urdu by Ayyaz Mahmood Khan

Early Life

Auspicious Birth

The hour of the manifestation of Aminah’s light was fast approaching and the days of her delivery were near. She lived in the Valley of Bani Hashim and was anxiously waiting for her child to enter the light of this world, to rejuvenate the memory of her deceased husband and thus become a source of tranquillity and solace for her ever grief-stricken heart. Thus, twenty five days following the occurrence of the Ashabul-Fil1 the Holy Prophet(saw) was born on 12 Rabi’ul-Awwal, corresponding to the 20th of August 570 AD, or according to recent and perhaps more authentic research, 9 Rabi’ul-Awwal2, corresponding to the 20th of April 571 AD. It was a Monday morning.3

The fact that the birth of the Holy Prophet(saw) so closely coincides to the occurrence of ‘the elephant’ is, in itself, a clear indication from God that, just as He rendered vain the physical attack upon the Ka‘bah, similarly it was the time when falsehood and vain worship would also be wiped out in a confrontation with the ultimate divine religion. It seems as if the Holy Qur’an has also mentioned the attack of the Ashabul-Fil to indicate the same superlative purpose. In any case, as soon as the child was born, Aminah sent word to ‘Abdul Muttalib who immediately came to Aminah replete with feelings of extreme happiness. Aminah presented the newly born child before him and said: “I saw in a dream his name is Muhammad(saw).” Abdul Muttalib took the newly born child into his arms and made his way to the Baitullah [i.e. the House of Allah] where he offered his gratitude to God and named the child Muhammad(saw), meaning the ‘most praiseworthy’. He then brought the child back and happily entrusted him to his mother.4

Historians have attributed many strange occurrences to the birth of the Holy Prophet(saw). For example, it is said that the palace of Chosroes, King of Iran, was struck with a devastating earthquake and that fourteen of his royal galleries collapsed. Furthermore, the fire at ‘The Holy Fire Temple of Persia’, alit for hundreds of years, was suddenly extinguished. Then it is also said that various rivers and fountains became dry, and that even in the very house of Muhammad(saw) many miracles were manifested. However, these narrations are generally weak. There is also a narration, perhaps true, which states that during the time of the birth of Muhammad(saw), the sky was a spectacle of the “breaking” of many stars.5 There is also another narration which states that the young Muhammad(saw) was born naturally circumcised.6 If in fact this is true, it should not cause astonishment, for natural phenomena like this have been witnessed in other children also. Another feature naturally inherited by the Holy Prophet(saw) was an accentuated piece of flesh on the left side of his back, which is well-known among the Muslims as the ‘Seal of Prophethood’.7

Fosterage and Childhood

It was a custom among the nobles of Makkah that mothers did not suckle their own children. Instead, children were normally sent outside the city and were entrusted to Bedouin wet-nurses. The obvious benefits of this were that infants would remain vigorously healthy and grew strong as a result of the pure and unpolluted rural environment. Moreover, they would learn to speak excellent and precise Arabic.

Initially, the young Muhammad(saw) was suckled by his mother and later Thuwaibah also nourished him with her milk. Thuwaibah was a slave-girl who belonged to Abu Lahab, the paternal uncle of Muhammad(saw). Abu Lahab freed her at the birth of his orphan nephew as an expression of his gratitude. It was this very Thuwaibah who suckled Hadhrat Hamzah(ra) as well. Hence, Hamzah(ra), the uncle of Muhammad(saw), also became his foster brother through this relationship of milk. The Holy Prophet(saw) never forgot this relationship. All her life, the Prophet(saw) would always assist Thuwaibah, and even after her death, he inquired whether she had any relatives. It was found that she had no remaining relatives.

After Thuwaibah, the fosterage of Muhammad(saw) was permanently entrusted to Halimah(ra), a noble lady belonging to the people of Hawazin, from the tribe of Bani Sa‘d. Along with other women, she came to Makkah as a wet nurse in search of a child. She was not content in taking an orphan child along with her because her desire was to find a child with a living father, from whom the expectation of reward and veneration would be much higher. Therefore, in the beginning she was rather reluctant in taking the young Muhammad(saw) along with he. However, when no other child could be found and all her companions had already found their respective children, she preferred to take Muhammad(saw) instead of returning empty handed. Nonetheless, Halimah(ra) realised very soon that the child she had brought with her was one of great fortune. She relates:

“Prior to the arrival of Muhammad(saw) we suffered times of hardship and poverty, but immediately after the arrival of the child this poverty was miraculously transformed into prosperity and we began to see blessings in all of our matters.”

Besides Muhammad(saw), another child who was also suckled by Halimah(ra) was ‘Abdullah, who had an older sister by the name of Shima. Shima held Muhammad(saw) very dear to herself.

After two years when the appointed time of fosterage was complete, Halimah(ra) brought the young Muhammad(saw) to Makkah, as was the custom. She had developed such a deep love for the child that it was her heartfelt desire to take him back with her again, if his mother so permitted. Halimah(ra) therefore, requested with great persistence: “Let the child stay with me for some more time, I shall take care of him in every way.” Initially, Aminah rejected the idea, but eventually gave in due to the forceful persistence of Halimah(ra). She also considered that the climate outside Makkah was far more beneficial than that therein. During those days the climate of Makkah was particularly adverse, therefore Aminah hesitantly agreed and Halimah(ra) happily returned home with Muhammad(saw).

Subsequently, Muhammad(saw) remained with Halimah(ra) until he was approximately four years of age, and grew up playing with the young children of the tribe Banu Sa‘d. The language of this tribe was very pure, and eloquent in particular; thus, the young Muhammad(saw) also learned this particular dialect.

Halimah(ra) kept Muhammad(saw) very dear to herself and all the people of this tribe looked upon the boy with special love and affection. However, when Muhammad(saw) was four, an incident occurred which frightened Halimah(ra). Therefore, Halimah(ra) brought Muhammad(saw) back to Makkah and handed him over to his mother. The incident is recorded that on one occasion, Muhammad(saw) and his foster brother were playing together and no adult was present nearby. Suddenly, two men in white cloaks were seen and they took the young Muhammad(saw), lay him on the ground, and made an incision into his chest. Upon witnessing this sight, ‘Abdullah bin Harith, the foster brother of Muhammad(saw), hurriedly ran to his mother and father and informed them: “My brother of the Quraish has been seized by two men who are cutting open his chest.” Upon hearing this news, Harith(ra) and Halimah(ra) ran to the place of the incident. They saw no men standing there but noticed that Muhammad(saw) was standing, in a state of great fear, thus the colour of his face had changed significantly. Halimah(ra) moved forward and took the child into her arms and asked, “My dear son what has happened?” Muhammad(saw) narrated the entire incident and said, “They were searching for something in my chest, which they eventually found and threw out”.8 Then Halimah(ra) and Harith(ra) took Muhammad(saw) into their pavilion and Harith(ra) said to Halimah(ra), “I am afraid that something has happened to this child9, it is only appropriate that you immediately take him to Makkah and deliver him to his mother.” Consequently, Halimah(ra) brought Muhammad(saw) back to Makkah and gave the child to his mother Aminah. Aminah inquired as to the early return, upon which Halimah(ra) narrated the entire story and expressed her fear that perhaps the child had been possessed by an evil spirit or demon. Aminah responded:

“That is not at all possible. My son is of great grandeur. When I was expecting this child, I saw that a light was emitted from within me and spread to far-off lands in every direction.”10

This incident is also supported by a narration in the Sahih Muslim of great detail, where Anas bin Malik(ra) relates:

‘On one occasion the Holy Prophet(saw) was playing with some children. The Angel Gabriel(as) came to him and laid the Holy Prophet(saw) on the ground; thereafter he made an incision into his chest. Then he took the heart out of his chest and extracted something from its core and threw it away. At the same time Gabriel(as) said, “This was the filth of weakness which has now been separated from you.”

After this, Gabriel(as) cleansed the heart of the Holy Prophet(saw) with pure water and placed it back into his chest and once again it was joined together. When the children saw Gabriel(as) laying the Holy Prophet(saw) on the ground and making an incision into his chest, they were greatly frightened and ran to the wet nurse of the Prophet(saw). They said to her, “Someone has murdered Muhammad(saw).” When they all reached the Holy Prophet(saw) the Angel had vanished, and the Prophet(saw) was standing alone in a state of fear.11

By the affrmation of the Sahih Muslim, the narration of Ibn Hisham is further strengthened. Hence, without any powerful refutation we cannot disregard it as weak. Nonetheless, it is obvious that this was a Kashf12, or a divinely inspired vision. Therefore, in the case of Shaqq-e-Sadr13, the absence of any physical signs as Halimah(ra) saw no tangible elements at the scene, proves that this was a spiritual experience, the circle of inclusion of which was also extended to the other children present at the time. Moreover, it is clarified in the occurrence itself that the purpose of this incident was for an Angel incarnate of God, to make an incision into the chest of the young Muhammad(saw), in a world of divine inspiration. He thereby fully removed the taint of weakness from within the young Muhammad(saw). It is evident from authentic Ahadith that during the night of the Mi‘raj14, the Holy Prophet(saw) experienced an occurrence almost identical to the one mentioned above. An angel took the heart of the Holy Prophet(saw) out and cleansed it with the pure water of Zam Zam, and then restored it to its original place.15

At this point, it would be appropriate to mention that Sir William Muir has mentioned this occurrence and remarked maliciously that, God forbid, Muhammad(saw) underwent an epileptic fit. It is impossible for us to halt someone’s tongue; nonetheless, by making such an assertion Mr Muir has most definitely resorted to prejudice of the lowest degree. Firstly, it is a well-established fact that one who suffers from epilepsy possesses a weak physical and mental structure. As far as Muhammad(saw) is concerned, Muir himself admits that Muhammad(saw) was an individual who possessed excellent physical and mental faculties. Aside from this, the narration in itself and the basis upon which this objection is made, refutes the allegation. It is clearly mentioned in the narration that this sight was witnessed by the foster brother of the young Muhammad(saw), who ran to his parents and informed them that his brother of the Quraish [dominant tribe in Makkah at the time], had been laid down by two men in white cloaks and they were slitting open his chest. Is there also a form of epilepsy in which other witnesses can testify to such a sight? Can a person who undergoes an epileptic fit have the ability to think, reflect and recall the fact that someone has laid him on the ground,  moreover, that the people around him also see such a vision? Words of this nature are such as none other than a prejudiced man can dare bring to his tongue.

In any case, when Muhammad(saw) was four years of age Halimah(ra) brought the child back and entrusted him to his mother. The four years of service offered by Halimah(ra) were not of insignificance. As far as the Holy Prophet(saw) was concerned, he would never forget even the smallest of services. Therefore, the Holy Prophet(saw) remembered the sincere service of Halimah(ra) all his life, and treated her with kindness of the greatest calibre. Once when the country underwent a famine and Halimah(ra) came to Makkah, the Holy Prophet(saw) gave her forty goats and one camel. During the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet(saw), Halimah(ra) once came to visit. As soon as the Holy Prophet(saw) saw her, he immediately stood up, fervently repeating the words “My mother! My mother!”, and took off the mantle he had upon himself and spread it out before her, so that she could sit upon it. Then, during the Battle of Hunain, when one thousand prisoners of war were captured from the tribe of the Hawazin, the Prophet(saw) released them all for the sake of this very relationship. He did not take even a penny from them as ransom for their freedom16. Moreover, the Holy Prophet(saw) bestowed abundant wealth upon one of his foster sisters, who also happened to be a prisoner of war at that time. There is disagreement regarding the acceptance of Islam by Halimah(ra) and her husband Harith(ra). However, the prevalent notion is that both Halimah(ra) and Harith(ra) became Muslims and thus, died as Muslims. The foster brother of Muhammad(saw), ‘Abdullah, and his sister Shima, also died as Muslims.

Mother’s Guardianship and Travel to Yathrab

When Halimah(ra) brought Muhammad(saw) to his mother, he was approximately four years of age. After this, the child remained in the guardianship of his dear mother. When the young Muhammad(saw) reached the age of six, Aminah travelled to Yathrab [now Madinah], with the intent of meeting her relatives from the Banu Najjar, and also took Muhammad(saw) along with her. Ummi Aiman also accompanied them. It is quite possible that during this trip, Aminah may have contemplated visiting the tomb of her deceased husband. In any case, she travelled to Yathrab and remained there for one month. The Holy Prophet(saw) remembered this precious time for the rest of his life. After approximately fifty years when he migrated to Madinah, he still showed his Companions the house in which he had resided along with his mother, during his stay in Madinah. He also showed them the place where he used to play with the children of Madinah, and pointed out the pond where he learned to swim.17

References and endnotes

1.   The People of the Elephant.

2.   Third month in the Islamic calendar.

3.   Mahmud Pasha Misri.

4. As-Siratun-Nabawiyyah, By Ibni Hisham, Babu Wiladati Rasulillah wa Rida‘atihi, p.129, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, (2001)

5.   Sharhu ‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, Volume 1, pp.227-230, Babu Min ‘Aja’bi Wiladatihi Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, First Edition (1996)
* Tarikhul-Khamis, vol.1, p.200, Dhikru Ma Waqa‘a Lailata Miladihi, Muwassasatu Shu‘ban, Beirut.

6.   Sharhu ‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, Volume 1, p.232, Babu Min ‘Aja’bi Wiladatihi Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, First Edition (1996)
* Tarikhul-Khamis, vol.1, p.204, Dhikru Khatanihi, Muwassasatu Shu‘ban, Beirut

7.   Sharhu ‘Allamatiz-Zarqani ‘alal-Mawahibil-Ladunniyyah, Volume 1, p.226, Babu Min ‘Aja’bi Wiladatihi Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, First Edition (1996)

8.   Cease not to forget that Halimah(ra) and Harith(ra) found no blood spilled at the place of this event neither did they find any other physical elements hinting towards the Shaqq-e-Sadr, nor could they find anything extracted from the heart of Muhammad(saw) and thrown out. (Author).

9.   In other words the child has been possessed by an evil spirit or demon. (Author)

10. As-Siratun-Nabawiyyah, By Ibni Hisham, Babu Wiladati Rasulillah wa Rida‘atihi, p.133, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, (2001).

11. Sahih Muslim, Kitabul-Iman, Babul-Isra’i bi Rasulillahisa ilas-Samawati wa Fardis-Salah, Hadith No. 413.

12. Some readers may be unaware of the term Kashf, hence for their knowledge it is mentioned. Just as at night one witnesses various sightings or visions in one’s sleep and one perceives them to be reality although in actuality it is nothing more than a dream. Similarly, in some cases, visions of this nature are also shown by God to his noble servants in a state of complete wakefulness. In other words a particular state overtakes man while he is awake and as a result he becomes separated from his physical senses (or in some cases whilst still connected to his physical senses) witnesses a peculiar vision. The vision or sight seen in this state of mind is referred to as Kashf. In certain instances during a Kashf the sphere of this vision extends to more than one person and thus others also become influenced by this special sight. Therefore, in addition to the one who directly experiences this divine inspirational sight, other individuals can also partake in the same experience. (Author).

13. Incision of the chest (Publisher).

14. Night of ascension (Publisher).

15. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabu Fada’ilis-Sahabah, Babu Ma Ja’a fl-Mi‘raj, Hadith No. 3887.

16. At-Tabaqatul-Kubra, By Ibni Sa‘d, Al-Juzul-Awwal, Dhikru Man Arda‘a Rasulallah wa Tasmiyyati Ikhwatihi wa Akhawatihi minar-Rada‘ah, p.54, Daru Ihya’it-Turathil-‘Arabi, Beirut, First Edition (1996)

17. * As-Siratun-Nabawiyyah, By Ibni Hisham, Babu Wiladati Rasulillah wa Rida‘atihi, p.134, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, (2001).

* At-Tabaqatul-Kubra, By Ibni Sa‘d, Al-Juzul-Awwal, Dhikru Wafati Aminata Ummi Rasulillahisa, p. 55, Daru Ihya’it-Turathil-‘Arabi, Beirut, First Edition (1996).

* Tarikhut-Tabari, vol.2, p. 139, Babu Dhikri Mauladi Rasulillahisa, Darul-Fikr, Beirut, (2002).

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