The Life & Character of the Seal of the Prophets(saw) — Part 2No Comments | January 2011
Second part of the English rendering of Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra)’s magnus opus, ‘Seerat Khatamun Nabiyyin’, an outstanding biography on the life of the Founder of Islam, the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). This section features incidents from his early childhood, including an interesting meeting with Bahira, the Christian Monk.
Translated from Urdu by Ayyaz Mahmood Khan
His Mother’s Demise
After a stay of approximately one month, Aminah [the Prophet(saw)’s mother]departed on her return journey, but her death was destined to be in a foreign land just as her husband’s had been. She fell ill on the way and passed away at a place known as Abwa’, – and thus was buried there.1 Once in the time of his prophethood, the Holy Prophet(saw) passed by the same location and honoured the grave of his mother by his presence. Upon seeing the grave of his mother, the Prophet(saw)’s eyes welled with tears. When the Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) saw this sight, they also began to shed tears. The Holy Prophet(saw) addressed his Companions saying: “God has given me permission to visit the tomb of my mother, but He has not permitted me to pray upon it.”2 This does not mean that the mother of the Holy Prophet(saw) would not be forgiven, because this matter rests in the hands of God, and none can draw conclusions regarding it; however, from this instance we find that just as the Holy Prophet(saw) had elaborated upon other occasions, it is not right to pray for the forgiveness of one who dies in a state of idolatry. Instead, the affair of an idolater should be entrusted to God alone.
The mother of Muhammad(saw) passed away, and consequently he became an orphan; without mother or father. It would be no small grief to be absent from home and apart from dear ones at such a young age. It could not be an insignificant grief to lose one’s mother when one’s father had already passed away. Hence, these events left a deep and ever enduring effect on the heart of the Holy Prophet(saw). Undoubtedly, the Prophet(saw) was sent as Rahmatullil-‘Alamin,3 however, due to external causes occurrences of this nature had a very profound influence on the disposition of Muhammad(saw). To some extent, these initial grievances were the reason behind his immense love for the poor and special sympathy for the less fortunate; thus, his nature became exceptionally distinguished. The Holy Qur’an mentions the orphanage of Muhammad(saw) in the following words:
Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter?… So the orphan, oppress not.4
Guardianship of ‘Abdul Muttalib
After the demise of his mother, Muhammad(saw) reached Makkah with his slave Ummi Aiman. This is the same Ummi Aiman who was given to Muhammad(saw) as a female slave through inheritance when his father passed away. When Muhammad(saw) matured, he freed her and would always treat her with much kindness. Ummi Aiman was later married to a freed slave of the Holy Prophet(saw), Zaid bin Harithah, and from this relationship Usamah bin Zaid was born. Ummi Aiman lived even after the death of the Holy Prophet(saw). In any case, after the death of his mother, the young Muhammad(saw) returned to Makkah with Ummi Aiman. Upon reaching there, Abdul Muttalib took Muhammad(saw) directly into his own custodianship. Abdul Muttalib kept Muhammad(saw) very dear to himself. While performing Tawaf of the Ka‘bah, Abdul Muttalib would place the young Muhammad(saw) upon his shoulders. Muhammad(saw) gradually became quite informal with Abdul Muttalib as well. It was the habit of Abdul Muttalib to sit in the courtyard of the Ka‘bah upon a carpet, and none had the courage to sit upon it with him, so much so that even the sons of ‘Abdul Muttalib would sit at some distance. But the young Muhammad(saw) due to his sentiments of love, would sit right beside ‘Abdul Muttalib, and he would always be pleased to see Muhammad(saw). At times, the paternal uncles of Muhammad(saw) would attempt to restrain him from sitting upon their father’s carpet, but Abdul Muttalib would always stop them saying, “Reproach him not.”
Demise of ‘Abdul Muttalib
It was in this very relationship of love that the days of Muhammad(saw) were passing by, when Abdul Muttalib also passed away. As the funeral proceeded, Muhammad(saw) followed with tears flowing from his eyes. This was the third great shock that Muhammad(saw) was made to bear in his childhood. At the time he was eight years of age, and the age of Abdul Muttalib due to varying narrations, is recorded as between 80 to 140 years.5
Abdul Muttalib had many sons from various wives. Among these sons, the most eminent were Harith, Zubair, Abu Talib, Abu Lahab, Abdullah, Abbas and Hamzah. Among them, Abu Talib and Abdullah were of the same mother. Perhaps due to this relationship, upon his deathbed, ‘Abdul Muttalib entrusted the young Muhammad(saw) into the guardianship of Abu Talib, whilst bequeathing him the special care of the child. Thereafter, Muhammad(saw) began to live in the custodianship of Abu Talib. Among the national duties belonging to Abdul Muttalib, the responsibilities of Siqayah [supplying pilgrims with water during the Hajj] and Rifadah [feeding pilgrims during the Hajj] were delegated to his eldest son Zubair. Since this work required significant finances, Zubair found these responsibilities far beyond his capacity and handed them over to Abu Talib. Similarly, Abu Talib was also unable to manage the financial commitment involved, and therefore the task of Rifadah was transferred to the Banu Nawfal. Eventually, Abu Talib handed over the work of Siqayah to his brother Abbas who was considerably wealthy.
At this point, it is necessary to mention that during the lifetime of Abdul Muttalib, the Banu Hashim were extremely dignified and honoured, and possessed an eminent position among all the tribes of the Quraish. But after his demise, no man from the Banu Hashim came forward who could maintain this esteem. Overall power escaped their hands, and gradually the Banu Hashim’s rival tribe, the Banu Umaiyyah, gathered strength.
Guardianship of Abu Talib
Abu Talib acted upon the will of his father with tremendous honesty and justice and held Muhammad(saw) dearer than his own children. He would always keep the child before his eyes and during the night he would usually keep him in his company.
Travel to Syria and the Incident of Bahira the Monk
When Muhammad(saw) was twelve years of age, Abu Talib was required to travel to Syria with a mercantile caravan. Since the travel was long and difficult, Abu Talib decided to leave Muhammad(saw) behind in Makkah. However, for young Muhammad(saw) the thought of separation from Abu Talib was too painful to bear. Therefore, at the time of departure overcome by his emotions of love, the child clung to Abu Talib and began to weep. When Abu Talib witnessed this he was moved and decided to take the young Muhammad(saw) along.
To the south of Syria there is a very well known place called Busra, where a very strange incident took place. A Christian Monk resided there by the name of Bahira. When the caravan of the Quraish passed by this monk’s holy abode, he witnessed all the rocks and plants falling into prostration simultaneously. In the light and spirit of divine scriptures, he was aware that a prophet was to be raised, and due to his deep insight, he concluded that this very prophet was present in the caravan. Hence, he was able to recognise Muhammad(saw). The Monk informed Abu Talib of this fact, and advised him to protect the young Muhammad(saw) from the evil designs of the Ahl-e-Kitab [People of the Book].
In the spirit of ‘Ilm-e-Riwayat, this particular narration is rather weak. However, if such an instance did in fact occur it should not be the cause of surprise. If this event did actually occur, the prostration of trees would be considered a Divinely inspired sight of the monk, which is not unusual in relation to the status of the Holy Prophet(saw).
Has Islam been influenced by Christianity?
At this point it is necessary to mention that Sir William Muir, along with various other non-Muslim historians, have used the incident of Bahira the Monk and various other occurrences in which Muhammad(saw) met Christians prior to prophethood, in order to falsely conclude that the Holy Prophet(saw)’s claim to prophethood was as a result of the direct influence of Christianity. Furthermore, his teachings have also been attributed to this influence. However, this notion is completely false and is contrary to facts. Anyone who possesses even little knowledge of the life and teachings of the Holy Prophet(saw), and whose eyes are not shrouded by the veil of prejudice, cannot be taken in by such allegations. It is definitely true that every sensible human being analyses his surroundings in accordance with his capacities. Therefore, it is quite natural to acquire a good or bad impression of one’s environment, its virtues and vices.
Nonetheless, prior to his prophethood, the Holy Prophet(saw) perhaps came across Christianity, and may have had the opportunity to hear its teachings as well. Therefore, naturally the heart of Muhammad(saw) may have developed impressions with respect to the merits and demerits of Christianity. However, it is definitely erroneous and baseless to deduce the notion that the prophethood and teachings of the Holy Prophet(saw) are a direct result of those impressions. Firstly, it cannot be firmly established that Muhammad(saw) met any Christian prior to his prophethood in a manner that might have left very deep and permanent impressions on his nature. If hypothetically there was any influence upon the Prophet(saw) in regards to Christianity, it was, most certainly an unfavourable one. Every individual is well-aware of the fact that the teachings brought by the Holy Prophet(saw) completely differ from Christianity on many fundamental issues. For example, at the present time the religion of Christianity is primarily based upon the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus(as), trinity and atonement. However, even a child knows well that the Holy Qur’an has expressed strong aversion to these three basic concepts. So much so, that while alluding to the supposed “Godship” and “sonship” of the Messiah, the words used are that this doctrine is such that due to this incredible belief the heavens and the earth should burst.6 It is nothing more than a desperate and futile attempt to falsely associate the teachings of Islam with Christianity.
The matter remaining is that the Holy Qur’an has praised the Messiah. This fact does not serve as a supporting argument either. Firstly, the praise bestowed upon the Messiah is rendered whilst acknowledging him as a prophet, and not the son of God nor God himself as the Christian faith asserts. Secondly, this praise is not unique to the Messiah. The Holy Qur’an has praised all the prophets of the past and has declared them to be righteous and respectable personalities. As a matter of fact, the Holy Qur’an has stressed the point that prophets of God were sent to every nation of the world.7 By doing so, the Qur’an has firmly established a sense of respect in the hearts of all Muslims for the saints of every nation. However, it is obvious that the “godship” of the Messiah and other principles of Christianity have been firmly rejected by Islam. Moreover, the Messiah has not been given a rank higher than that of a man and a prophet who went through the days of his life and passed away, as did the prophets before him. Hence, the allegation that Islam was influenced by Christianity is absolutely false and unfounded.
Moreover, if it is argued that various religious and moral teachings of Christianity are also common to Islam, which gives rise to its ideology, and that perhaps Islam has derived these teachings from Christianity, this can be proven to be a baseless allegation as well. Firstly, consider the fact that a better part of the principal teachings of present-day Christianity differ completely from those of Islam. The mere fact that the various ancillary elements of these two teachings resemble one another is not sufficient evidence to support the fact that one has been derived from the other. Secondly, when Islam declares the Messiah a chosen messenger of God and that it, in itself, also claims to have originated from God, it is inevitable that since both have sprouted from a common source, it was only logical that Islam and Christianity should resemble each other in certain aspects. Indeed, the principles of guidance are the same for every age and every nation. Thirdly, the Holy Qur’an itself claims that it has consolidated the everlasting truths of all the teachings that have come to pass. The Holy Qur’an states (i.e., therein are the everlasting teachings)8, which indicates that the Qur’an comprises all the wise and eternal aspects of past scriptures. Hence, from this perspective also, well, no distinction of Christianity can be established.
At this point, it is necessary to mention that the Holy Qur’an has presented this unique feature, that all the everlasting truths, wisdoms and eternal teachings of past scriptures are gathered in it, as an expression of its utmost perfection. From this perspective, the Holy Qur’an has been given similitude to the honey bee [Ch.16:Vs.69-70], which extracts the fine essence of various plants to produce an extremely exquisite product through a complex chemical process. Although it is the essence of various plants, it evolves into a new creation that cannot be attributed to any specific flower or plant. Moreover, the Holy Qur’an has not only derived the wise teachings of past scriptures, but, being an everlasting law of conduct, has also contributed new subtleties in light of universal requirements that transcend time, thus presenting a perfect and eternal law. The Holy Qur’an has been endowed with such qualities that, in the similitude of this physical world, it possesses the hidden opulence to provide for all the religious requirements of mankind as they arise, until the end of time. In reality the Holy Qur’an is a compendium of the following teachings:
Those aspects of past scriptures, which possess the ability to become part of an everlasting and universal law.
In light of the future requirements of the various nations of the world, it possesses a permanent teaching which enables one to fulfil Huququl-‘Ibad [the rights of mankind] and Huququllah [the rights of God]. It possesses the teachings necessary for the success and progression in every aspect of one’s moral and spiritual life until the Day of Judgement.
Furthermore, the notion that the Holy Qur’an or the prophethood of the Holy Prophet(saw) was a result of the teachings of Christianity or another faith, is absolutely erroneous and vain. A statement of this nature can be made only by one who has absolutely no knowledge of Islamic history and teachings. To attribute Islamic teachings particularly to the encounter with Bahira the Monk as mentioned above, is a ridiculous statement which cannot be uttered by any wise individual.
Pasturing of Goats by Muhammad(saw)
After he returned from his journey to Syria, Muhammad(saw) continued to reside with Abu Talib. It was a custom among the Arabs that children were given the responsibility of tending the flock. Hence, the young Muhammad(saw) also undertook the task of pasturing goats and performed this task on various occasions. In the time of his prophethood, the Holy Prophet(saw) would say that: “The pasturing of goats is the tradition of the prophet.9 and I too have pastured goats.” On one occasion, while travelling, the Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw) were gathering some fruit upon which the Prophet(saw) said, “Search for this particular fruit in darker colour, for when I used to tend to the goats I have found through experience, that the darker its shade of black, the finer it proves to be .”10
God’s Protection from Evil
On one night during the childhood of Muhammad(saw), he requested his companion, who was also a partner in grazing goats, “Tend to my flock so that I may go to the city in order to view the nightly gathering of the people”. In those days, it was a custom of the Arabs to gather at a single location whereafter they would relate stories and share various forms of poetry. On various occasions, the whole night would be consumed in these gatherings. In his childhood curiosity, Muhammad(saw) also ventured out to observe one of these spectacles. However, God the Almighty disliked the idea that His Khatamun-Nabiyyin [Seal of the Prophets]partake of such nonsense. Therefore, once Muhammad(saw) departed for such a gathering but fell asleep en-route and remained in a state of sleep until dawn. The young Muhammad(saw) intended to witness a similar gathering a second time; however, the unseen hand prohibited him this time also. During the time of his prophethood, the Holy Prophet(saw) said, “I intended only twice, in the entirety of my life, to observe such a gathering, but I was restrained both times.”11
The Arabs were an excessively combatant nation and it was considered an honour to fight to death. It was due to this very reason that even upon trivial differences the sword was instantly unsheathed. Whenever this happened, the Arabs would fill a large goblet with blood and dip their fingers in it whilst taking an oath that they should die on the battlefield but would never retreat from combat. There existed constant enmity between various tribes as every individual tribe considered it absolutely obligatory to safeguard its reputation and grandeur. In carnivals, etc., where diverse types of people gathered together, quarrelling and fighting was nothing out of the ordinary.
It was during the childhood of Muhammad(saw) that when the ‘Ukaz Carnival was being held, in a pleasant valley situated to the east of Makkah at a distance of approximately three days, provocation was spurred between the tribes of the Qais Ailan and Banu Kinanah. At that time, the various tribes of the Qais Ailan resided in the south-east, between Makkah and Ta’if. For some time, the tribal leaders of both parties successfully managed to avert warfare. This war is known as Harb-e-Fijar in history, which means ‘The Unlawful War’, because this war commenced in the sacred month when fighting was forbidden, according to ancient custom.
This war was fought with such vigour and violent fervour, that it possesses distinct notoriety among the wars of the Jahiliyyah. The Banu Kinanah paired with the Quraish, and on the opposing side was the Qais Ailan allied with the Hawazin. The most dangerous battle of this war was the last one, referred to as the fourth battle of the Harb-e-Fijar. The passion with which this last fight was such that some commanders had themselves tied to the battleground with ropes, thus intentionally leaving themselves no means of retreat even if desired. During the initial portion of the day the Qais ‘Ailan led in battle, however towards the end of the day the Banu Kinanah over their opponents. After the defeat of the Qais Ailan, both parties were reconciled in a concord of friendship.
Young Muhammad(saw) also participated in this war. However, from various narrations it is found that Muhammad(saw) did not actively engage himself in battle. Instead, his participation was merely limited to the fact that he was a part of the army, and would hand over arrows to his paternal uncle. At the time Muhammad(saw) was approximately twenty years old. In this battle every tribe had its own commander. Therefore, the Banu Hashim was under the command of Zubair bin Abdul Muttalib; however, the commander-in-chief of the entire army of the Banu Kinanah was Harb bin Umaiyyah, who was the father of Abu Sufyan and the paternal grandfather of Amir Mu’awiyah.12
In the past, various noble-hearted individuals of Arabia thought to establish a mutual agreement. This agreement stated that the rights of the oppressed would be protected, and that the oppressor would be restrained from injustice. In the Arabic language, the word fadl also refers to one’s ‘right’, which transforms into fudul when expressed in plural. This is why the agreement was named the Hilful-Fudul [i.e. Confederacy of Rights]. In accordance with other narrations, it is also said that since the names of the proponents of this confederacy contained the word fadl, this agreement was named Hilful-Fudul.13 In any case, after the infamous Harb-e-Fijar, Zubair bin Abdul Muttalib, a paternal uncle of Muhammad(saw), was most probably inspired by this war and proposed to revive this agreement once more . Therefore, representatives from the different tribes of the Quraish gathered at the home of Abdullah bin Jad‘an, where arrangements for a feast had been made. All the representatives unanimously took an oath that they would forever restrain injustice, and assist the oppressed. The ones who took part in this agreement included; the Banu Hashim, Banu Muttalib14, Banu Asad, Banu Zuhrah and Banu Yatim.
Muhammad(saw) was also present on this occasion and joined in the agreement. Once during the time of his prophethood, the Holy Prophet(saw) said: “In the house of ‘Abdullah bin Jad‘an, I once partook in such an oath that even if I was called to it today, in the age of Islam, I would present myself saying, here I am to do thy undertaking”. Perhaps it was due to the influence of these deep sentiments that during the time of Amir Mu’awiyah, when his nephew Walid bin ‘Utbah bin Abu Sufyan, the governor of Madinah, usurped one of the rights of Hadhrat Husain bin Ali bin Abi Talib(ra), Hadhrat Husain(ra) said, “By God if Walid does not return my due right, I shall stand before Masjid-e-Nabawi [the Prophet’s Mosque’ in Madinah], with my sword in hand, calling people towards the Hilful-Fudul.” When Abdullah bin Zubair heard of this, he said, “If Husainra calls me to this oath, I shall surely present myself saying, here I am to do thy undertaking, and we will either acquire his right or all of us shall perish in this endeavour.” Many other individuals also repeated these words upon which Walid’s evil intentions were suppressed, and he eventually returned the right of Hadhrat Husain(ra).15 It should be kept in mind that Abdullah bin Zubair was of the Banu Asad tribe, which took part in the Hilful-Fudul.
1. This narration is generally that of most historians. Some narrations state that Aminah bint Wahab passed away in Makkah, and that her grave is situated in the Valley of Hujun, Makkah. (Author)
2. * Sahih Muslim, Kitabul-Jana’iz, Babu Isti’zanin-Nabi(saw) Rabbahu ‘Azzawajal fi Ziyarati Qabri Ummihi, Hadith No 2258
* Sunan Ibni Majah, Kitabul-Jana’iz, Babu Ma Ja’af Ziyarati Quburil-Mushrikin, Hadith No. 1572
3. A mercy for all peoples (publisher)
5. At-Tabaqatul-Kubra, By Ibni Sa‘d, Al-Juzul-Awwal, Babu Dhikri Dammi ‘Abdil-Muttalib Rasulallahi(saw) ilaihi ba‘da Wafati Ummihi wa Dhikri Wafati ‘Abdil-Muttalib wa Wasiyyati Abi Talib bi Rasulillahi(saw), p.56, Daru Ihya’it-Turathil-‘Arabi, Beirut, First Edition (1996)
9. From this it can be concluded that in a way the work of a prophet is like that of a shepherd. Therefore, by assigning prophets the work of shepherds in their young age, God indicates through depicted foreshadowing that they should soon prepare themselves to tend to the flocks of humanity. (Author)
10. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabu Ahadithil-Anbiya’, Babu Ya‘kifūna ‘ala Asnamin lahum, Hadith No. 3406
11. Tarikhut-Tabari, vol.2, p. 207, Babu Dhikri Rasulillahi(saw) wa Asbabihi, Darul-Fikr, Beirut, (2002)
12. As-Siratun-Nabawiyyah, By Ibni Hisham, Babu Harbil-Fijar, pp. 146-148, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, (2001)
13. Raudul-Anf, By Imam Suhail, Volume 1, p. 242, Babu Hilfil-Fudul, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, (2001)
14. Bear in mind that the Banu Nawfal and Banu Umaiyyah remained separated from the Banu Hashim in this instance (Author)
15. As-Siratun-Nabawiyyah, By Ibni Hisham, Babu Bābu Hilfil-Fudul, p.112, Darul-Kutubil-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, (2001)