By: Dr Casim Avcı
After his birth, Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) stayed with his mother Amina for a while and then, as per tradition, was handed over to his wet-nurse. The purpose of entrusting children to a wet nurse was so that they could be raised in the desert –a healthier environment in which to grow up when compared to the city– and so that they could learn fluent Arabic. In accordance with this tradition, Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) was given to Halima bint Abi Dhuayb, who was a member of the Sa’d ibn Bakr branch of the Hawazin tribe. In a year of famine, Halima had gone to Makka with her husband and other Bedouin women who earned a living through nursing; however, she was unable to find a child from a rich family to nurse. But when she learned that Muhammad had lost his father she did not hesitate to take him, and she agreed to be his wet nurse so that she would not return home empty-handed. Halima brought Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) back to Makka two years later; however, Amina wanted her child to stay with Halima for a little longer, as she believed that the desert air was good for her child and, according to some accounts, there was a plague in Makka. Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) stayed with his wet nurse until he was five or six years old and was then brought to Makka and handed over to his mother. Halima’s husband was Harith ibn Abdil ’Uzza. The couple’s children, ‘Abd Allah, Unaysa and Shayma, were the Prophet’s foster siblings.
According to narration, Halima and Harith witnessed great abundance and blessing after taking Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) in their care; their camels and sheep began to provide much more milk than they had before. In addition, the sources reveal that the Splitting of the Chest (shaqq al-sadr) incident occurred during the time Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) was staying with his wet nurse. This was an event in which two angels descended to earth, split open Muhammad’s chest, removed his heart and purified it from all evils, washing it with heavenly water and then putting it back in its place. It is recorded that when Halima and Harith learned about this incident they were very anxious as they were unable to explain certain extraordinary characteristics of Muhammad that they had witnessed many times before; they now thought that it would be better for the child to be back with his family.
When Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) reached the age of six, his mother Amina took him in her care, and together with her helper Umm Ayman, took him to Yathrib (Madina). While there, they visited the grave of her husband ‘Abd Allah and the members of the Banu Najjar, who were considered uncles of the family due to ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s mother. After staying in Yathrib for a month Amina, still young at the time, became ill and later died in Abwa –located 190 km from Madina– while on the way back to Makka. It is said that before her death, Amina looked at her child and said: “All living things perish. All things new get old. All things in abundance diminish. All things great disappear. Certainly I too will die, but I will always be remembered, because I leave to the world my son as a benevolent future.” Orphaned with the death of his mother, Muhammad was brought back to Makka by Umm Ayman and entrusted to the care of his grandfather ‘Abd al-Muttalib. Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) revisited Abwa in the sixth year following the Emigration (628 AD) and visited his mother’s grave. Tidying the grave with his own hands, he shed tears as he remembered the affection and compassion of his mother. Greatly affected by his grief, the Companions could not hold back their tears and cried with him.
‘Abd al-Muttalib took great care of Muhammad, as the precious gift from his son ‘Abd Allah, who had died at an early age. He would sit at the table and eat with Muhammad, offer him the seat of honor located in the shadow of the wall of the Ka’ba, take him to the meetings in Dar al-Nadwa (Council Hall) over which he presided, and through all his actions, tried his utmost to ensure that his grandson did not feel the absence of fatherly compassion and love. More than eighty years-of-age at the time, ‘Abd al-Muttalib passed away not long after he had handed over the custody and protection of his grandson, then eight years-of-age, to the latter’s paternal uncle, Abu Talib. Abu Talib was born from the same father and mother as the Prophet’s father. He loved his nephew more than his own children, believing that the child had brought fortune to the family, and he made great efforts to raise him well. He would take Muhammad with him on some of his journeys. And so, when the Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) was nine (or twelve) years old and his uncle had decided to go to Syria for trade, he wanted to accompany Abu Talib. Seeing his nephew’s insistence on this, Abu Talib took the Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) with him on his journey. The caravan stopped in Bosra, located in Syria. A monk called Bahira, living in a monastery, invited the caravan to join him for a meal. After Bahira told Abu Talib that Muhammad was the awaited Prophet foretold in the Bible, he cautioned Abu Talib against some of the dangers that his nephew could face and advised Abu Talib to protect his nephew well. Upon this warning, Abu Talib ended his journey and returned to Makka.
It is known that when Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) was about ten years old he worked as a shepherd for a period of time in order to help his uncle Abu Talib, who had a large family. He would later refer to this time during his Prophethood saying, “There has never been a Prophet who did not herd sheep.” When his Companions asked, “Did you herd sheep O Messenger of God?” he replied, “Yes. I herded the sheep of Makka.”
Abu Talib’s wife Fatima bint Asad took great care of Muhammad, caring for him more than her own children. The Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) never forgot the goodness of his aunt when he grew up. He would visit her in her house in Madina and would sometimes sleep there in the afternoons. Very grieved when she passed away, the Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) used his own shirt for her shroud and personally led her funeral prayer. When speaking of his sadness to those around him, he showed his great sense of loyalty with the following words: “I was a child who was in need of her custody. She would feed me even if her children were hungry. She would leave her children and comb my hair. She was like my mother.” Abu Talib stood by his nephew after he became a Prophet and although Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace)’s persistent requests that Abu Talib accept Islam were never answered, Abu Talib did his best to protect Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace), both as a child and later when he became a Prophet.
There were frequent wars between the Arab tribes in the Age of Ignorance, so much so that there would even be warfare during the sacred months (Dhu al-Qa’dah, Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab) during which bloodshed was prohibited. Such battles were known as fijar (sacrilegious) wars because of their being fought in the sacred months. The Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) was compelled to join such a war in his later teens. The most reliable account states that the Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) and his uncles participated in the great battle that broke out between the Quraysh-Kinanah and Qays-‘Aylan alliances, but that he did not actually fight in the war, rather protecting the belongings of his uncles, deflecting arrows with his shield and then collecting them to give to his uncles. It is thought that he was either fourteen, fifteen, seventeen or twenty years old at the time.
Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) participated in a meeting when he was twenty for a league known as the Hilf al-Fudul (the Alliance of the Virtuous). The Hilf al-Fudul was drawn up to prevent injustices that were being carried out against the weak and defenseless who came to Makka for pilgrimage or trade, and to prevent the tribal wars that broke out frequently. The Hilf al-Fudul was drawn up under the auspices of Zubayr ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace)’s uncle, and under the leadership of Jud’an at-Taymi, the richest, oldest and most influential tribal leader in Makka.
Those who joined the league took an oath that they would protect everyone in Makka who encountered injustice, be they natives or foreigners, acting as one and helping each other financially to ensure that justice was served. Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) talked about this alliance, praising it, and said: “I was present in ‘Abd Allah ibn Judan’s house when they concluded a pact so excellent that I would not change my part in it even for a herd of red camels; if I was asked now, in Islam, to take part in it, I would gladly agree.” According to an account by Balazuri, in the Islamic period Abu Jahl refused to pay the price of something that he had purchased from a man who was a member of the Arash. A polytheist who knew the hostility of Abu Jahl towards the Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) jokingly told the aggrieved trader that he could apply to the Prophet who was in the Ka’ba and that the Prophet would give him his money back. Upon hearing these words, the trader went to the Ka’ba, explained the situation to Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) and asked for his help. The Prophet (Allah bless him with peace) went to Abu Jahl’s house and took back the money without any confrontation.
Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) made his living through trade, like many of the Quraysh in Makka. He embarked on his career in trade by helping Abu Talib, who was involved in trading cloth and grain. Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) continued this trade when his uncle became older. It is known that Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) traveled to various places for purposes of trade, such as to the Hubasha trade fair when he was a teenager, to Yemen once or twice, to the Mushakkar and Daba fairs in eastern Arabia, and even to Abyssinia. As a result of these journeys, Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) not only learned about the necessities of commercial life, but also became acquainted with the people living in certain regions of Arabia, and learned about their languages, dialects, religions, and political and social conditions. There is consensus among the sources that Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) lived an honest life and remained removed from the wrongdoing prevalent in the Age of Ignorance and came to be known, at the age of twenty-five, as Muhammad al-Amin or Al-Amin (the Trustworthy) because of his decency, bravery, compassion, fairness, and his honesty and reliability in commercial life. The Makkan trader ‘Qays ibn Saib stated that he had many commercial dealings with Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him with peace) and that he had never come across a partner in trade who was better than he. He said: “When he set out on a journey, I would refer to him some transactions that needed to be carried out for me. After the journey he would not return to his house until he had told me about the transactions in such a way as would make me content. In contrast, when I set out on my travels and he gave me some transactions to perform, upon my return he would only ask whether I was healthy and in good spirits, unlike other people, who only questioned me on issues relating to their business.”