Early Childhood of Muhammad ﷺ: Pre-Prophethood [Seerah Ep 6]

September 19th, 2023
Early Childhood of Muhammad ﷺ

It was the general custom of the Arabs to send their children away to bedouin wet nurses so that they might grow up with fresh air for the breasts, pure Arabic for the tongue, and freedom for the soul. Away from the hustle and bustle of the town they were to form a lasting bond with the desert and would spend up to eight years there.

The bedouin tribes would visit the Quraysh periodically and in the year Muhammad ﷺ was born many tribes had suffered from severe famine. The tribe of Bani Sa’d were desperate and despite Muhammad ﷺ being an orphan child of poor background, Halima, decided to take him anyway because she had not been able to find another suckling. But Halima was so hungry herself that she had no milk to give her own baby, the milk of her camel had dried up and even the donkey on which she had ridden to Makkah was on its last legs. But this is what happened as soon as she took the baby Muhammad ﷺ:

“When I lifted him in my arms and returned to my place I put him on my breast and to my great surprise, my breasts overflowed with milk. He drank to his heart’s content and so too did his foster brother, and then both of them went to sleep although my baby had not been able to sleep the previous night. My husband then went to the she-camel to milk it and, to his astonishment, he found plenty of milk in it. He milked it and we drank to our fill, and enjoyed a sound sleep during the night. The next morning, my husband said: “By Allah Halimah, you must understand that you have been able to procure a blessed child.” And I replied: “By the grace of Allah, I hope so.””

Not surprisingly Halima was reluctant to lose Muhammad ﷺ and begged Aminah to let him stay with them a little longer. Then a frightening but portentous incident made her change her mind.

The story goes that one day Muhammad ﷺ’s foster brothers had rushed to their ?parents, crying in terror that two men in white had seized Muhammad ﷺ and had seemed to slit his chest open. Halima had rushed to the scene to find the little boy lying weakly on the ground: later he explained the men had taken his heart from his body and extracted a blood-clot out of it and said: “That was the part of Satan in thee.” They then washed it with the water of Zamzam in a gold basin. After that the heart was joined together and restored to its place.

After this event, Halimah was worried about the boy and returned him to his mother who calmed them down and reassured them of Muhammad ﷺ’s exceptional nature. She decided to keep him with her in Makkah, but when he was six years old Aminah died and Muhammad ﷺ had been orphaned twice over. He went to live in the household of his grandfather Abdul Muttalib who grew to love him dearly. Nonetheless, his orphanhood cut deeply into Muhammad ﷺ’s soul. Even the Quran had to console the Prophet reminding him, as it were, “Did Allah not find you an orphan and give you shelter and protection? Did He not find you erring and guide you to the truth?” It is related that a mattress was put in the shade of the Ka‘bah for ‘Abdul-Muttalib. His children used to sit around the mattress in honour to their father, but Muhammad ﷺ used to sit on it. His uncles would take him back, but if ‘Abdul-Muttalib was present, he would say: “Leave my grandson alone. I swear by Allah that this boy will hold a significant position.” He used to seat the boy on his mattress, pat his back and was always pleased with what the boy did.

End of 571 CE

Lessons and Wisdom

From the early childhood of Muhammad ﷺ we learn that the experience of travel, living with the masses and becoming familiar with the people’s customs, circumstances and problems, can help one to have a greater, more lasting impact in their Da’wah, religious calling to others.

People who interact with others only through the medium of books, articles, and the internet, without mixing with people of different backgrounds are less likely to connect with their community and forge bonds of influence. This is because the people will not listen to them or respond to their call because they perceive that such a person knows nothing about their circumstances and their problems.

Contrasting this with the Prophet’s upbringing, we find that Muhammad ﷺ was a well-known figure amongst his peers and traveled twice outside Makkah. The first time was with his paternal uncle Abu Talib when he was twelve years old, and the second time was when he was twenty-five, when he went to engage in trade on Khadijah (RA)’s behalf.

The young Muhammad ﷺ grew up to become well-known in Mecca. He was handsome, with compact, solid body of average height. His hair and beard were thick and curly, and he had a strikingly luminous expression and a smile of enormous charm. He was decisive and whole-hearted in everything he did, so intent on the task at hand that he never looked over his shoulder, even if his cloak got caught in a thorny bush. When he did turn to speak to somebody, he used to swing his entire body around and address him full face. When he shook hands, he was never the first to withdraw his own. He inspired such confidence that he was known as al-Amin, the Reliable One. Such was the profound character of Muhammad ﷺ which was no doubt one of the wisdoms behind Allah selecting him, above all others, to be His Messenger.

Even though the people of Mecca had left nomadic life behind, they still regarded the Bedouin as the guardians of authentic Arab culture. As a child Muhammad ﷺ had been sent to live in the desert with the tribe of his wet nurse Halima in order to be educated in the nomadic ethos. It made a profound impression on him though he never grew inclined to their irreligiousness and lack of speculation about the supernatural. At this point in Muhammad ﷺ’s life he was the perfect example of someone living in sync with an uncorrupted fitrah; the natural wholesome dispensation endowed by Allah in every human being.

Polemical rebuttals particular to this year

This part of the timeline seeks to address some of the most commonly held criticisms and attacks levelled at the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

A series of short articles critically analysing these polemics begins from 595 CE and continues later in the following two eras: Makkan and Madinan Eras

Edicts and Rulings

When he was a young man, Muhammad ﷺ tended the sheep of the people of Makkah in return for a few pennies. It was narrated that he once said:

“There is no Prophet who was not a shepherd.” His Companions said, “Even you, O’ Messenger of Allah ﷺ ?” He said, “Even me.” According to another report he said, “Allah never sent any Prophet but he was a shepherd.” His Companions said to him, “Even you, O’ Messenger of Allah ﷺ ?” He said, “Even me. I tended the sheep of the people of Makkah in return for a few pennies.”

The outstanding character of Muhammad ﷺ was made mention of by Allah in various places of the Qur’an. In the chapter of al-Ahzab:

You have an excellent model in the Messenger of Allah ﷺ , for all who put their hope in Allah and the Last Day and remember Allah much.

And also in the chapter al-Qalam:

And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character

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