It was in the year 571 of the Christian era that Prophet Muhammad (saw) was born, on the 12th of the lunar month Rabi' I. He came of the noblest family of Arabia, the Quraish
, who were held in the highest esteem, being guardians of the Sacred House at Makka
, the Ka'ba, the spiritual centre of the whole of Arabia.
At the time of his birth, Arabia was steeped deep in the worst form of idolatry that has ever prevailed in any country. The Ka'ba itself was full of idols, and every household had, in addition, its own idols. Unhewn stones, trees and heaps of sand were also worshipped. In spite of this vast and deep-rooted idolatry, the Arabs were materialistic. There was practically no faith in life after death, no feeling of responsibility for one's actions. The Arabs, however, believed in demons and diseases were attributed to the influence of evil spirits.
Ignorance prevailed among the high as well as the low, so much so that the noblest of men could boast of his ignorance. There was no moral code, and vice was rampant. The sexual relations were loose obscene poems and songs were recited in public assemblies There was no punishment for adultery, nor any moral sanction against it. Prostitution had nothing dishonourable about it so that leading men could keep brothels. Women were "in the most degraded position, worse even than that in which they were under the laws of Manu in Hindustan." Woman was looked upon as a mere chattel. Instead of having any right to inheritance of property, her own person formed part of the inheritance, and the heir could dispose of her as he liked, even if he did not care to take her as a wife. There was no settled government, no law in the land, and might be practically right.
The Arabs belonged to one race and spoke one language, yet they were the most disunited people. Tribe made war on the tribe, and family on family, on the most trivial excuse. The strong among them trampled upon the rights of the weak, and the weak could not get their wrongs redressed. The widow and the orphan were quite helpless and slaves were treated most cruelly.
Amongst these people was born Muhammad, an orphan from his birth, who lost even his mother when six years old. He came of the noblest family of the Quraish, yet, like the rest of his countrymen, he was not taught reading and writing. He tended sheep for some time, and the noblest of the Arabs had no contempt for that occupation, but in his youth, he was chiefly occupied in trade. It was, however, his high morals that distinguished him from the first from all his compatriots. The Holy Quran, which contains the most trustworthy account of the Prophet's life, says that he was the "possessor of sublime morals."
Leading generally a reserved life, he had for friends only those men whose moral greatness was admitted by all. His truthfulness is testified in the clearest words [6:33]. His bitterest opponents were challenged to point out a single black spot on his character during the forty years that he had passed among them before he received the Divine call [10:16]. It was in his youth that, on account of his pure and unspoiled character and his love for truth and honesty, he won from his compatriots the title of al-Amin
, or the Faithful.
Living in a country in which idol-worship was the basis of the everyday life of the community, Muhammad hated idolatry from his childhood, and the Holy Quran is again our authority for the statement that he never bent his forehead before an idol [109:4]. Even Sir William Muir bears testimony to the purity of his character in his youth:
"Our authorities all agree in ascribing to the youth of Muhammad a modesty of deportment and purity of manners rare among the Makkans."
"Endowed with a refined mind and delicate taste, reserved and meditative, he lived much within himself, and the pondering of his heart no doubt supplied occupation for leisure hours spent by others of a low stamp in rude sports and profligacy. The fair character and honourable bearings of the unobtrusive youth won the approbation of his fellow-citizens: and by common consent he received the title of al-Amin the Faithful"
Though he lived in a city in which drinking orgies were only too common, never did a drop of wine touch his lips. Abu Bakr
, the most intimate friend of Muhammad's youth, never tasted wine. The society at Makka found pleasure in gambling, yet never did Muhammad take part in any such pastime. He lived among a people who were addicted to war as they were addicted to wine, yet he had no liking for either.
To quote Muir again, "though now nearly twenty years of age he had not acquired the love of arms."
Perforce, he had to take part on one occasion in the famous sacrilegious war that continued for four years between the Quraish and the Hawazin, yet he did no more than gather up arrows that came from the enemy and hand them over to his uncles. He did not even take to trading for love of wealth but simply out of regard for his uncle Abu Talib, whom he loved to help. Thus says Muir:
"Muhammad was never covetous of wealth, or at any period of his career energetic in the pursuit of riches for their own sake. If left to himself, he would probably have preferred the quiet and repose of his present life to the bustle and cares of a mercantile journey. He would not spontaneously have contemplated such an expedition. But when the proposal was made, his generous soul at once felt the necessity of doing all that was possible to relieve his uncle and he cheerfully responded to the call"
Above all, his earlier life was marked by that rare characteristic, rarest of all in Arabia at the time, love of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the weak, the helpless and the slave. Before he had affluence of means, he was one of the members who took an oath to stand by the oppressed and formed themselves into a league as champions of the injured. When at twenty-five he married a wealthy widow, Khadija, he spent freely for the help of the poor.
No slave came into the household but was set free by him. He had acquired such a fame for helping the poor that when, after the Call, the Quraish demanded him of Abu Talib to put him to death, the old chief refused and praised him in a poem as the "Protector of the orphans and the widows."
Earlier than this when Muhammad received the Call, and was diffident whether he would be able to achieve the grand object of reforming his countrymen, his wife, Khadija, comforted him, saying that God would not disgrace him because he bore the burden of those who were weary and helped the poor and gave relief to those who were in distress and honoured the guest and loved his kinsmen [Bukhari, 1:1].
To these great qualities was added his anxiety for a fallen humanity. The Quran refers to it repeatedly [9:128, 18:6, 26:3, 35:8]. As years went on, the gross idolatry of the Arabs and their evil ways pressed the more heavily on his heart, and he spent hours in solitude in the neighbouring mountains. Source:
Muhammad Ali, A Brief Sketch of the Life of The Prophet Muhammad, Muslim Town, Lahore, India (1946) http://www.mountainman.com.au/islam_1.html
(Last accessed 03/08/2019)