1. Life before Prophethood
It was in the year 571 of the Christian era that Prophet Muhammad
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 this vast and deep-rooted idolatry, the Arabs
were, as Bosworth Smith remarks, materialistic. "Eat and drink is,"
as he says, "the epicurean tone of the majority of the poems that
have come down to us." There was practically no faith in the 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 was practically
The Arabs belonged to one race and spoke one language, yet they
were the most disunited people. Tribe made war on 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 this 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." [68:4]
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 unsoiled character and his love for truth and honesty,
he won from his compatriots the title of al-Amin, or the
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
"Our authorities all agree in ascribing to the youth
of Muhammad a modesty of deportment and purity of manners rare among
"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. Even 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.