THE LIFE OF PROPHET MOHAMMED
- BIRTH AND EARLY YEARS
Mohammed, literally, the highly praised, is the chief name of the great Arabian Prophet and founder of the religion of Islam, wrongly called after him Mohammedanism. He was born at Mecca, the chief town of Arabia, in the year 570 A.D. He was the posthumous son of Abdullah who belonged to the family of Hashim, the noblest family of the Koreish section of the Arabian race. His grandfather Muttalib who was directly descended from Ishmael held the high office of custodian of the Kaaba, the common Pantheon of pagan Arabia and was virtual head of the Mecca Commonwealth.
The birth of Mohammed is stated to have been attended by many remarkable portents.
Before the child completed the 6th year of his age, his mother died and the doubly orphaned Mohammed was under the charge of his grandfather Abdul Muttalib who took the most tender care of him. But the old chief died two years afterwards. On his deathbed he confided to his son Abu Talib the charge of the orphan. When Mohammed was twelve years old, he accompanied his uncle Abu Talib on a mercantile journey to Syria and they proceeded as far as Busra. The journey lasted for some months. It was at Busra that the Christian monk Bahira met Mohammed and he is related to have said to Abu Talib “Return with this boy and guard him against the hatred of the Jews, for a great career awaits with your nephew.” After this travel, the youth of Mohammed seems to have been passed uneventfully, but all authorities agree in ascribing to him such correctness of manners and purity of morals as were rare among the people of Mecca. The fair character and the honourable bearing of the unobtrusive youth won the approbation of the citizens of Mecca, and by common consent he received the title of ‘Al Amin’, the faithful.
In his early years, Mohammed was not free from the cares of life. He had to watch the flocks of his uncle, who like the rest of the Hashimites, had lost the greater part of his riches. From youth to manhood he led an almost solitary life. The lawlessness, rife among the Meccans, the sudden outbursts of causeless and sanguinary quarrels among the tribes frequenting the fair of Okaz (the Arabian Olympia), the immorality and scepticism of the Koreishites naturally caused feelings of pity and sorrow in the heart of the sensitive youth. Such were to him scenes of social misery and religious degradation characteristic of a depraved age.
When Mohammed was 25 years old, he traveled once more to Syria as the factor of a noble and rich Koreishite window named Khadija, and having proved himself faithful in the commercial interests of that lady, was soon rewarded with her hand in marriage. This marriage proved fortunate and singularly happy. Khadija was much the senior of her husband, but in spite of the disparity of age between them, the loving heart of a woman who was ever ready to console him in his despair and to keep alive within him the feeble, flickering flame of hope when no man believed in him- not even himself and the world appeared gloomy in his eyes.
Till he reached the 30th year of his age, Mohammed was almost a stranger to the outside world. Since the death of his grandfather, authority in Mecca was divided among the ten senators who constituted the governing body of the Arabian Common-wealth. There was no such accord among them as to ensure the safety of individual rights and property. Though family relations afforded some degree of protection to citizens, yet strangers were frequently exposed to persecution and oppression. In many cases they were robbed, not only of their goods, but even of their wives and daughters. At the instigation of the faithful Mohammed, an old league, called the Federation of ‘fudul’, i.e. favours, was revived with the object of repressing lawlessness and defending every weak individual, whether Meccan or stranger, free or slave, against any wrong or oppression, to which he might be the victim, within the territories of Mecca.
When Mohammad reached the 35th year of his age, he settled by his judgment a grave dispute, which almost threatened to plunge the whole of Arabia into a fresh series of her oft- recurring wars. In rebuilding the sacred temple of the Kaaba, in 605 A.D., the question arose as to who should have the honour of raising the black stone, the most holy relic of that temple, into its proper place. Each tribe claimed that honour. The senior citizen advised the disputants to accept for their umpire in this difficulty the man who would be the first to enter from a certain gate. The proposal was agreed upon, and the first man who entered the gate, was Mohammad, “The Ameen” Mohammed gave them an advice, which served to satisfy all the contending parties. He ordered the stone to be placed on a piece of cloth, and each tribe to share the honour of lifting it up, by taking hold of a part of the cloth. The stone was thus deposited in its place, and the rebuilding of the temple was completed without further interruption. It is related that, about this period, a certain Osman son of Howairith, supported by Byzantine hold, made an attempt to convert the territory of Higaz into a Roman dependency, but the attempt failed, chiefly through the instrumentality of Mohammed.
These are nearly all the public acts related by historians, in which Mohammed had taken part within the 15th years after his marriage with Khadija. As for his private life he is described to have been ever helpful to the needy and the helpless. His uncle Abu Talib had fallen into distress through his endeavours to maintain the old position of his family, and Mohammed, being rather rich at his time by his alliance with Khadija, tried to discharge part of the debt of gratitude and obligation which he owed to his uncle, by undertaking the bringing up and education of his son Ali; and a year later he adopted Akil, another of his uncle’s sons.
Khadija had born Mohammed three sons and four daughters, all of the males died in childhood, but in loving Ali he found much consolation.
About this time Mohammed set a good example of humanity which created a salutary effect upon his people. His wife Khadija, to gratify her husband, made him a present of a young slave, named ‘Zaid son of Haritha’ who had been brought as a captive to Mecca and sold to Khadija. When Haritha heard that Mohammed possessed Zaid, he came to Mecca and offered a large sum for his ransom, whereupon Mohammed said, ‘Let Zaid come hither, and if he chooses to go with you’ addressing the boy’s father, “take him without ransom; but if it be his choice to stay with me, why should I not keep him? And Zaid, being brought into Mohammed’s presence, declared that he would stay with his master who treated him, as if he were his only son. Mohammed no sooner heard this, than he took Zaid by the hand and led him to the black stone of Kaaba where he public adopted him as his son and constituted him his heir, to which the father acquiesced, and he then returned home well satisfied. Henceforward Zaid was called the son of Mohammed.
Mohammed was now approaching his 40th year and his mind was ever engaged in profound contemplation and reflection. “Before him lay his country, bleeding and torn by fratricidal wars and intolerable dissensions; his people, sunk in barbarism, addicted to the observation of rites and superstitions, were, with all their desert virtues, lawless and cruel. His two visits to Syria had opened to him a scene of unutterable moral and social desolation, rival creeds and sects tearing each other to pieces, wrangling over the body of the God they pretended to worship carrying their hatred to the valleys and deserts of Hidjaz and rending the townships of Arabia with their quarrels and bitterness.