The Prophet Muhammad Sent As A Mercy
Prophet Muhammad appeared at a time when people had lost their knowledge of the true religion and had reverted to worshipping idols of stones, earth, bread, and even cheese.
The Dark Period of Ignorance
Every period of history characterized by associating partners with God, whether by worshipping idols, deifying individuals, or attributing creativity to nature and material causes, is wholly dark. When belief in God’s Unity is removed from people’s hearts, their minds and souls darken, standards change, and things and the world are judged from false points of view. The Qur’an defines this moral, spiritual, social, and even economic and scientific state as ignorance (jahiliyyah):
Or like darkness on a deep sea obscure, covered by a wave, above which is a wave, above which is a cloud. Layers of darkness one upon the other. When he holds out his hand, well-nigh he cannot see it. And he for whom God has assigned no light, for him there is no light (24:40).
I do not like describing falsehood. Besides, it is wrong to do so where truth may be described. In the words of God:
What is there, after truth, but misguidance? (10:32).
However, to clarify the subject, I will say a few words about the pre-Islamic era, known as the Age of Ignorance.
Prophet Muhammad appeared at a time when people had lost their knowledge of the true religion and had reverted to worshipping idols of stones, earth, bread, and even cheese. As stated in the Qur’an:
They were serving, apart from God, what hurts them not, neither profits them, and they say: “These are our intercessors with God.” (10:18)
They were so degraded in thought and morals that, as reported by Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, they would cut their idols into pieces and eat them. The only excuse offered was that they were following in the steps of their forefathers:
When it is said to them:
“Follow what God has sent down,” they say: “No. We follow that wherein we found our fathers.” (2:170)
They also buried their daughters alive:
When any of them is given the good tidings of a girl, his face is darkened and he chokes inwardly, as he hides himself from the people because of the evil of the good tidings that have been given to him, whether he shall preserve her in humiliation, or trample her into the dust. (16:58-59)
Women were despised, not only in pre-Islamic Arabia but also in the Roman and Sassanid lands. The Qur’an openly declares that men will be questioned concerning this:
When the female infant, buried alive, is questioned—for what crime she was killed (81:8-9).
After the Prophet had declared his mission, a Companion told him what he had done with his daughter:
O Messenger of God, I had a daughter. One day I told her mother to dress her, for I was taking her to her uncle. My poor wife knew what this meant, but could do nothing but obey and weep. She dressed the girl, who was very happy that she was going to see her uncle. I took her near a well, and told her to look down into it. While she was looking into the well, I kicked her into it. While she was rolling down, she was shouting: “Daddy, Daddy!”
As he was recounting this, the Prophet sobbed as if he had lost one of his nearest kinsfolk.1
Hearts were hardened. Every day a pit was dug in the desert for an innocent girl to be buried. Human beings were more brutal and cruel than hyenas. The powerful crushed the weak. Brutality was taken for humanity, cruelty received approval, the bloodthirsty were exalted, bloodshed was considered a virtue, and adultery and fornication were more common than legal marriage. The family structure had been destroyed.
This dark period was followed by Islam. In addition to eradicating all other evils, God declared in the Qur’an:
Do not slay your children because of the fear of poverty: We provide for you and for them (6:151).
The Prophet’s Life Before His Prophethood
Prophet Muhammad was brought up in God’s sight and care. His father ‘Abd Allah died before he was born, which meant that he had to put all his trust in God and submit completely to Him. He visited his father’s tomb in Madina years later, cried his heart out, and on his return said: “I wept for my father and entreated God to forgive him.”
With the death of his father, God deprived him of all human support and directed him to the realization that there is no deity but God, Who has no partners.
His grandfather and uncle protected him to some extent, but he came to perceive that his real guardian was God. Behind every phenomenon and every cause and effect, he could discern the hand of the Single Creator of the universe and of causes. The Oneness of God would be manifested to him in the light of Divine Unity. That is, he would be tested in this world of wisdom, where material causes and means have a part in every attainment, and so would have to use necessary material causes and means and take all necessary measures to attain anything. He would have to depend wholly on his Lord and ask Him for any help, thereby demonstrating that only God creates the result and gives success.
As a result of his father’s death, he came to be called the “Matchless Orphan Pearl.” In reference to this, God addressed him years later:
Your Lord shall give you, and you shall be satisfied. Did He not find you an orphan and shelter you?… Did He not find you needy and suffice you? As for the orphan, do not oppress him, and as for the beggar, scold him not. (93:5-6, 8-10)
The Matchless Orphan Pearl also lost his mother, Amina, at an early age. When she died in Abwa at age 25 or 26 on her way back from visiting her husband’s tomb in Madina, he was only six years old. Thus, he learned the pain of having no father or mother. Indeed, he would learn and suffer everything, for he was sent to teach everything to humanity and to be an example in every respect.
His grandfather ‘Abd al-Muttalib, a respected Makkan elder, undertook his protection. For this reason, God saved ‘Abd al-Muttalib from misfortune. He embraced his beloved grandson, and always offered him the seat of honor in his house.
He felt that his grandson would grow up to save humanity. He was so noble and well-mannered that his grandfather anticipated his Prophethood. He was not the first of his forefathers to do so, however: Ka‘b ibn Luayy, who some consider a Prophet, predicted that the Last Messenger would be raised from his own progeny. He mentioned him by name:
Suddenly Prophet Muhammad will appear;
He will give tidings, and is truthful in his tidings.
‘Abd al-Muttalib, whom even the great army of Abraha could not bring to tears, wept bitterly when he took to his deathbed. When his son Abu Talib asked what was wrong, he replied: “I’m weeping because I’ll no longer be able to embrace Muhammad,” and added: “I’m afraid something might happen to my Matchless Pearl. I entrust him to you.”
Abu Talib assumed his grandson’s protection and, in return, his son ‘Ali would be blessed with being the father of the Prophet’s progeny. After Prophethood, the Messenger of God said to ‘Ali: “Every other Prophet’s progeny descended from himself, but my progeny will descend from you.” ‘Ali would be the father and the greatest saint until the Last Day, as the representative of the Prophet’s sainthood. This is Abu Talib’s reward for helping the Prophet. Abu Talib protected his nephew with great care. Ibn Ishaq, among other historians and biographers, relate that he took his nephew to Syria in a trade caravan when he was 10 or 12 years old. They stopped near Damascus and left him, as he was the youngest, to watch the caravan. From his nearby monastery, the Christian monk Bahira was observing the caravan. He was expecting the arrival of the Last Prophet, so he always studied people. He noticed that a cloud followed the caravan, stopping and starting when it did so, so that one of its members would be shaded.2 He thought: “This is a special characteristic of Prophets. The expected Prophet must be in that caravan.”
When the caravan stopped near his monastery, Bahira invited its members over for a meal. Noticing the cloud still hovering over the caravan, he asked Abu Talib if someone had been left behind. Abu Talib answered that they had left a young boy to watch over their things. The monk asked them to fetch him. When the Prophet came, Bahira took Abu Talib to one side and asked him about his relationship with the boy. “He is my son,” Abu Talib answered, but Bahira disputed this, saying: “He can’t be your son. According to our books, his father must have died before his birth.” Then he added: “Let me give you this advice. Take this boy back immediately. The Jews are envious. If they recognize him, they’ll harm him.” Abu Talib made an excuse to the other caravan members and returned to Makka with his nephew.3
God’s Messenger made a second journey when he was 25 years old, with the trade caravan of Khadija, a respected widow he would later marry. On the journey, he encountered Bahira once more. The monk was very pleased with this second meeting, and told him:
“You will be a Prophet, the Last Prophet. I wish that God would allow me to live to see you raised as a Prophet. I would follow you, carry your shoes and protect you against your enemies!”
A major event of the Prophet’s early life was the fijar (sacrilegious) war that occurred during his later teens. This was the fourth war that violated the sanctity of the sacred months (Dhu al-Qa‘dah, Dhu al-Hijjah, Muharram, and Rajab) and the sacred territory of Makka. Its immediate cause was two men’s jealousy and animosity. One belonged to the Banu Kinanah (a confederate of the Quraysh tribe) and the other to the Qays–‘Aylan (an important clan of the Hawazin tribe). The future Prophet, who would end all injustice and lawlessness, helped his uncle Zubayr ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, who represented Banu Hashim in the war, gather the arrows shot by the enemy.
Another important event was his presence at the meeting that resulted in the hilf al-fudul (the alliance of the virtuous). This league against injustice was sponsored mainly by the Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Muttalib tribes. It was formed to ensure that foreign merchants would no longer be deprived of their rights, as happened when the Qurayshi ‘As ibn Wa’il usurped a Yemeni merchant’s goods. The Yemeni appealed to the Qurayshi leaders for help, but they ignored him.
When the Banu Hashim, the Prophet’s clan, heard of this, they decided to form the hilf al-fudul and force the return of the merchant’s money. They also took an oath that whenever someone in Makka, whether citizen or stranger, suffered an injustice, they would offer their support until justice was restored. The Prophet was so impressed with the noble objectives of this alliance that he would say long after:
“I attended the conclusion of an agreement at ‘Abd Allah ibn Jud‘an’s house. I would not exchange it for the best material gain. If someone appeals to it in Islam, I would respond.”
The Prophet’s childhood and youth were a prelude to his Prophethood. Besides his other exalted and laudable characteristics, everyone agreed upon his truthfulness and trustworthiness. He never lied, cheated, broke his word, or participated in pagan rituals. He was called “the Truthful, Trustworthy Man” even by his bitterest enemies. People would say:
If you have to travel and need someone to look after your wife, entrust her to Muhammad without hesitation, for he will not even glance at her face. If you want to entrust your wealth for safeguarding, entrust it to this trustworthy, honest man, for he will never touch it. If you look for someone who never tells a lie and never breaks his word, go directly to Muhammad, because whatever he says is true.
Those who knew him from his childhood immediately believed in his Prophethood: Abu Bakr, ‘Uthman, Talha, Zubayr, Abu Dharr, and Yasir, among others. When ‘Ammar told his father that he believed, the latter responded:
“If Muhammad says that God is One, it is true. He never lies.”
In the early days of his Prophethood, the Prophet once summoned the Qurayshis to the foot of Abu Qubays hill. He asked them: “Would you believe me if I told you an enemy host was waiting behind this hill to attack you?” Everyone answered that they would, even his uncle Abu Lahab, who would become his bitterest enemy.4
When humanity was in dire need of someone to destroy unbelief and breathe new life into the world, God raised Prophet Muhammad to stop all forms of wickedness. In the words of Ahmad Shawky:
The sun of guidance was born,
and the entire universe was illumined.
A smile appeared on the lips of time,
and his praises were sung.
When he appeared on the horizon of Madina years later, the pure, innocent children of that illumined city would sing:
The “full moon” rose upon us from the hills of Wada’,
So it is incumbent upon us to thank God so long as
Those who pray and entreat Him to continue to do so.5
By M. Fethullah Gülen
1 Darimi, Sunan, “Muqaddima,” 7-8.
2. Busiri, in his famous Qasida al-Bur‘a (Eulogy of Bur‘a) mentions this incident, say- ing: “A cloud hovers over his head and protects him from the sun.”
3. Ibn Hisham, Sira, 1:191.
4. Sahih al-Bukhari, “Tafsir,” 1:111; Sahih al-Muslim, “Iman,” 355.
5. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, 3:241.