2. Seerah: Before Prophethood
MAKKAH AND THE QURAYSH:
After a long journey, Ibrahim approached Makkah, which lies in a valley between desolate mountains. As there was no water, crops could not grow and human life could not be sustained there. Accompanied by his wife Hajar and his son Isma’il, Ibrahim was fleeing from the cult of idol-worship which had spread throughout the world. He wanted to establish a centre in which Allah alone would be worshipped and to which people could be called. It would be a beacon of guidance and a sanctuary of peace, radiating true faith and righteousness.
Allah accepted Ibrahim’s intention and blessed the spot. After Ibrahim had left the inhospitable territory, water flowed from a spring to provide his small family with the means to survive. Hajar and Isma’il dwelt in this arid place far away from other people. Allah blessed the spring of Zamzam and, to this day, people continue to drink its water and to take it with them to all corners of the globe.
While Isma’il was growing up, Ibrahim visited his family. He wanted to sacrifice Isma’il, who was still only a child, in order to show that his love of Allah was greater than his love for his son, just as Allah had commanded him to in a dream. Isma’il also agreed to Allah’s command that he should be sacrificed. But Allah saved him and provided a ram from Paradise as a ransom to be sacrificed instead. Isma’ils survival meant that he would be able to help his father in calling people to Allah and to become the ancestor of the last Prophet of Allah, His exalted Messenger.
On a later visit to Makkah, Ibrahim and his son together constructed the Ka’bah, the House of Allah. They prayed to Allah to accept the House and to bless their action. They also beseeched Allah to allow them to live and die in Islam and for Islam to continue after their death. They asked Allah to send a Prophet from among their descendants to renew the call of his ancestor Ibrahim and to complete what he had begun.
‘When Ibrahim and Isma’il raised the foundations of the House, praying, “Our Lord, accept this from us. You are the Hearing, the Knowing. Our Lord, and make us surrender to You, and make of our descendants a nation that surrenders to You. Show us our rites and turn to us, You are the One who turns, the Compassionate. Our Lord, and send among them a Messenger from among them who will recite to them Your signs and teach them the Book and the Wisdom and purify them. You are the Mighty, the Wise. ” ‘ (2: 129-9
Allah blessed their descendants and the family multiplied in that barren valley. Adnan, a descendant of Isma’il (peace be upon him) had many children. Among Adnan’s descendants Fihr ibn Malik, in particular, was a distinguished chief of the tribe. From Fihr’s descendants Qusayy ibn Kilab emerged. He ruled Makkah and held the keys to the Ka’bah. He inspired obedience, was the guardian of the waters of Zamzam and was responsible for feeding the pilgrims. He also presided at the assemblies where the nobles of Makkah gathered for consultation and he held the banner for war. He alone controlled the affairs of Makkah.
Among his sons Abd Manaf was the most illustrious, while his eldest son, Hashim became a great man of the people. He provided food and water for the pilgrims coming to Makkah. He was the father of Abdul-Muttalib, the Messenger of Allah’s grandfather, who was also in charge of feeding and giving water to the pilgrims. He was honoured and held in high esteem by his people and his popularity outstripped that of his ancestors. His people loved him.
The descendants of Fihr ibn Malik were called Quraysh. This name came to predominate over all others and the tribe adopted it. All the Arabs recognised the excellent lineage and nobility of the Quraysh. Their eloquence, civility, gallantry and high mindedness were unanimously accepted.
IDOL WORSHIP IN MAKKAH:
The Quraysh continued to hold to the religion of Ibrahim and Isma’il, glorifying the creed of tawhid and the worship of Allah alone, until Amr ibn Luhayy became their chief. He was the first to deviate from the religion of Isma’il and to set up idols which he encouraged people to worship. Once he had travelled from Makkah to Syria on business where he saw people worshipping idols. He was so impressed that he brought some idols back to Makkah and set them up, commanding the people there to venerate them.
Traditionally some people would take a few stones from the Haram, the sanctuary, with them when they travelled from Makkah as a token of respect for the holy spot. This led to the day when they began to worship any stones they liked. Later generations lost track of the reasons why stones were originally venerated and the Quraysh were happy to worship stone idols just like the people were doing in surrounding countries.
THE EVENT OF THE ELEPHANT:
During this period a significant event took place which portended another happening of even greater importance. It meant that Allah desired a better future for the Arabs and that the Ka’bah would take on an importance never before attained by any place of worship anywhere in the world.
Abrahah al-Ashram, the viceroy of Negus, the King of Abyssinia, who ruled over the Yemen, built an imposing cathedral in San’a’ and named it ‘al-Qullays’. He intended to divert the Arab pilgrimage to San’a’. As a Christian, he was jealous that the Ka’bah should be the place where pilgrims gathered and he wanted this position for his church.
The Arabs were stunned by the news. They could not equate any other place with the love and respect they had for the Ka’bah. They could not contemplate exchanging it for any other house of worship. They were preoccupied with the news and discussed it endlessly. An Arab daredevil from the Kinanah tribe went so far as to enter the cathedral and defecate in it. Abrahah was furious when he heard about it and swore that he would not rest until he had destroyed the Ka’bah.
He set out for Makkah with a strong force that included elephants. The Arabs had heard some frightening stories about elephants. They were both distressed and alarmed. Although they wanted to obstruct the progress of Abrahah’s army, they realised that they lacked the power to fight him. They could only leave the matter to Allah and trust to the fact that He was the Lord of the Ka’bah and would protect it. This trust is amply demonstrated by a conversation between Abrahah and the leader of the Quraysh, Abdul-Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet. Abrahah had seized two hundred camels of his, so Abdul-Muttalib sought permission to see him. Abrahah treated him with respect, descended from his throne and sat down beside him. When Abrahah asked what he wanted, Abdul-Muttalib replied, ‘I want you to return my two hundred camels.’
Abrahah was taken by surprise. He asked, ‘Do you wish to speak to me about your two hundred camels that I have taken but say nothing about the House on which your religion and that of your forefathers depends I have come to destroy it, yet you do not speak to me about it!’
Abdul-Muttalib replied, ‘I am the owner of the camels. The House also has an Owner. He will defend ‘It will not be defended against me,’ retorted Abrahah. ‘That remains to be seen,’ said Abdul-Muttalib.
As Abrahah’s force drew near, the Quraysh hid high up in the mountains and down in the ravines. They feared the army’s approach and waited to see how Allah would save the sacred sanctuary. Abdul-Muttalib stood with a group of Quraysh and took hold of the door of the Ka’bah, imploring Allah to help them against Abrahah and his army.
Abrahah drew up his soldiers to enter Makkah fully intending to destroy the House. His elephant, whose name was Mahmud, was prepared for the attack. However, the elephant knelt down on the road and refused to get up in spite of severe beatings. When they turned it to face Yemen it got up immediately and moved off.
Allah then sent flocks of birds from the sea; each bird carried stones in its claws. Whenever a stone struck one of Abrahah’s soldiers it killed him. The Abyssinians fled in terror, rushing back as the stones hit them. Abrahah was badly hurt. When his soldiers tried to take him with them, his limbs fell off one by one. They took him to San’a’ where he died a miserable death. The Qur’an relates:
‘Have you not seen What your Lord did with the people of the Elephant? Did He not make their plan come to nothing. He sent birds against them in flocks, stoning them with stones of baked clay. He made them like eaten stubble.'(l 05: 1-5)
When Allah repelled the Abyssinians from Makkah, the Arabs respect for the Quraysh increased. They said, ‘These are the people of Allah. Allah fought on their side and helped them to defeat their enemy.’
The Arabs attached great importance to this event and rightly so. They dated their calendar from it, saying, ‘This occurred in the Year of the Elephant,’ and ‘So-and-so was born in the Year of the Elephant’ or ‘This occurred so many years after the Year of the Elephant.’ The Year of the Elephant was 570 in the Christian calendar.
ABDULLAH AND AMINAH:
Abdul-Muttalib, chief of the Quraysh, had ten sons. Abdullah, the tenth, was the noblest and his father married him to Aminah, daughter of Wahb, leader of the Banu Zuhrah. At that time, her lineage and position made her the best woman in the Quraysh.
However before long Abdullah died, leaving a pregnant wife who was to become the mother of the Messenger of Allah. Aminah saw many signs and indications that her son would become an important figure in the future.
NOBLE BIRTH AND PURE LINEAGE:
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was born on Monday, 12 Rabi’ al-Awwal, in the Year of the Elephant (570 C.E.). It was the happiest day ever. His ancestry can be traced back to the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him).
His full name is Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abdul-Muttalib ibn Hashim ibn Abd Manaf ibn Qusayy ibn Kilab ibn Murrah ibn Ka’b ibn Lu’ayy ibn Ghalib ibn Fihr ibn Malik ibn an-Nadr ibn Kinanah ibn Khuzaymah ibn Mudrikah ibn Ilyas ibn Mudar ibn Nizar ibn Ma’add ibn Adnan. The lineage of Adnan goes back to the Prophet Isma’il, the son of the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon both of them).
The Prophet’s mother sent a message to his grandfather, Abdul-Muttalib, telling him that she had given birth to a boy. He came and looked at the baby lovingly. Then he picked him up and took him into the Ka’bah. He praised Allah and prayed for his grandson whom he named Muhammad. The Arabs were not familiar with this name and were surprised by it.
It was the custom in Makkah for suckling babies to be put in the care of a desert tribe where they grew up in the traditional healthy outdoor environment. Abdul-Muttalib looked for a wet-nurse for his fatherless grandson, whom he loved more than all his children. Halimah as-Sa’diyah who received this good fortune had left her home to find a suckling child. It was a year of severe drought and her people were suffering hardship. They needed some income, The baby (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had been offered to many nurses but they had refused him, because they were hoping for a good payment from the child’s father. ‘An orphan!’ they would exclaim, ‘What can his mother or grandfather do!’
Halimah also left him at first but her heart had warmed to him. Allah inspired her with love for this baby so she returned to fetch him and took him home with her. Up until this time she had been an unlucky person but now she found countless blessings. Her animals’ udders and her own breasts overflowed with milk and her aged camel and lame donkey were rejuvenated. Everyone said, ‘Halimah you have taken a blessed child.’ Her friends envied her.
She continued to enjoy prosperity from Allah until the baby had spent two years with the Banu Sa’d and was weaned. He was growing up differently from the other children. Halimah took him to his mother and asked if she could keep him for a longer- period and Aminah agreed.
While the infant, who was to become the Messenger of Allah, was with the Banu Sa’d two angels came and split open his chest. They removed a black clot from his heart and threw it away. Then they cleansed his heart and replaced it.
He tended sheep with his foster brothers and was reared in an uncomplicated, natural environment. He lived the healthy life of the desert and spoke the pure Arabic for which the Banu Sa’d ibn Bakr were famous. He was sociable and popular. His foster brothers loved him and he loved them.
Eventually he returned to Makkah to live with his mother and grandfather. He thrived under Allah’s care and grew up to be healthy and strong.
THE DEATHS OF AMINAH AND ABDUL-MUTTALIB:
When the Messenger of Allah was six years old, his mother, Aminah, died. She had taken him to Yathrib to visit her relatives and on the journey back her death occurred at al-Abwa between Makkah and Madinah. Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) must have felt very lonely at this time but he went to stay with his grandfather who was extremely kind to him. He would sit Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) on his favourite seat in the shade of the Ka’bah and affectionately caress him.
When the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was eight, Abdul-Muttalib also died.
HIS UNCLE,ABU TALIB:
The Messenger of Allah then went to live with his uncle, Abu Talib, the full brother of his father, Abdullah. Abdul-Muttalib had told Abu Talib to take good care of the boy so he was always protective towards him. He treated him with more kindness than he showed to his own sons, Ali, Ja’far and Aqil.
As he grew up, the Messenger of Allah was protected by Allah Almighty. He distanced himself from the obscenities and bad habits of the Jahiliyyah. He outshone everyone in manliness, character, modesty, truthfulness, and trustworthiness. He earned respect and the name ‘trustworthy’. He respected family ties and shared the burdens of others. He honoured his guests and demonstrated piety and fear of God. He always provided his own food and was content with simple meals.
When he was about fourteen years old, the Fijar War broke out between the tribes of Quraysh and Qays. The Messenger of Allah was at some of the battles, passing arrows for his uncles to fire. He learned about war and about horsemanship and chivalry during these tribal encounters.
MARRIAGE TO KHADIJA(R.A.):
When the Messenger of Allah was twenty-five, he married Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, a Qurayshi woman of excellent character who was then forty years of age. She had a fine intellect, noble character and great wealth. She had been widowed when her husband, Abu Halah, died.
Khadijah(ra) was a businesswoman who hired men to trade goods for her and gave them a share of her profits. The Quraysh were a merchant people. She tested the truthfulness of the Messenger of Allah, his noble character and his sincerity when he took some of her goods to Syria to trade. When she was told about his outstanding competence on this journey she expressed her desire to marry him although she had refused the offer of many noblemen of the Quraysh. The Messenger of Allah also wished to marry her. His uncle Hamzah conveyed the khutbah, the marriage proposal, to Khadijah’s family and they all readily agreed to it. When the marriage took place Abu Talib delivered the khutbah at the ceremony.
Khadijah was the first woman that the Messenger of Allah married and she bore him all his children except Ibrahim.
REBUILDING THE KA’BAH:
When the Messenger of Allah was thirty-five, the Quraysh decided to rebuild the Ka’bah. Apart from needing a new roof, they found that the stone walls, that were higher than a man’s head, had no clay to bind the stones together. They had no alternative but to demolish the building and erect it again.
When the rebuilding had reached the point where the traditional Black Stone had to be put in place, they began to argue. Each clan wanted to have the honour of carrying out this prestigious task. They began to argue fiercely among themselves. During these pagan days far more trivial issues than this could spark off a war.
They prepared to fight. The Banu Abdu’d-Dar brought a large bowl filled with blood. They and the Banu Adi put their hands in the blood and took a vow to fight to the death.
It was a sign of death and evil. The Quraysh remained in that sorry state for several days, before agreeing that the first person to enter the door of the mosque should make the decision about placing the Black Stone. The first to enter was the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). When they saw him, they said, ‘This is the trustworthy one. We are pleased. This is Muhammad.’
The Messenger of Allah called for a piece of cloth He took the stone and placed it in the centre of the cloth. Then he said that each clan should take a corner of the cloth and lift it together. They did this, bringing it to its position. He put the Black Stone in place with his own hands, and then the building continued.
This was how the Messenger of Allah prevented a war from breaking out among the Quraysh by a supreme demonstration of wisdom.
The Messenger of Allah was present at the Hilf al-Fudul. This was the most renowned alliance ever heard of in Arabia. It was formed because a man from Zabid had arrived in Makkah with some merchandise and al-As ibn Wa’il, one of the Quraysh nobles, bought goods from him and then withheld payment. The Zabidi asked the Quraysh nobles for help against al-As ibn Wa’il, but they refused to intervene because of his position. The Zabidi then appealed to the people of Makkah as a whole for support.
All the fair-minded young men were full of enthusiasm to put the matter right. They met in the house of Abdullah ibn Jud’an who prepared food for them. They made a covenant by Allah that they would unite with the wronged man against the one who had wronged him until the matter was settled. The Arabs called that pact Hilf al-Fudul, ‘The Alliance of Excellence’. They said, ‘These people have entered into a state of excellence.’ Then they went to al-As ibn Wa’il and took from him what he owed to the Zabidi and handed it over.
The Messenger of Allah was proud of this alliance. He held it in such high esteem that, after receiving the message of Islam, he said, ‘In the house of Abdullah ibn Jud’an I was present at an alliance which was such that if I was invited to take part in it now in Islam, I would still do so.’ The Quraysh pledged to restore to everyone what was their due and not to allow any aggressor to get the better of those he had wronged.
In Allah’s wisdom, His Messenger was allowed to grow up unlettered. He could neither read nor write. Thus, he could never be accused by his enemies of altering other ideologies. The Qur’an indicates this when it says, ‘Before this you did not recite any Book nor write it with your right hand for then those who follow falsehood would have doubted.’ (29: 48)
The Qur’an called him ‘unlettered’ and said, ‘those who follow the Messenger, the Unlettered Prophet, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and Evangel.’ (7:157)