Sabahuddin Aleem, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
One of the biggest challenges faced by society today is the upbringing of children. Amidst a new wave of immorality and unnatural ideologies, parents often find it difficult to navigate the pitfalls of modern society and ensure their children receive a proper upbringing. A recent survey by PEW found that children’s mental health tops the list of parental concerns, with four in ten parents being either extremely or very worried that their children might struggle with anxiety or depression at some point. (www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/01/24/parenting-in-america-today/)
The prevailing source of this concern must be attributed to the growing exposure of children to various societal ills from a young age.
Much like today’s society, the environment in Arabia before the commission of the Holy Prophetsa was one of corruption and depravity. This is why, in Islam, this era is commonly referred to as “jāhiliyyah” (the age of ignorance). As the Holy Quran has so eloquently put it:
ظَہَرَ الۡفَسَادُ فِي الۡبَرِّ وَالۡبَحۡرِِ
“Corruption has appeared on land and sea.” (Surah ar-Rum, Ch.30: V.42)
Karen Armstrong, a specialist in comparative religions, describes that in Mecca, “there seems to have been widespread dissatisfaction and spiritual restlessness.” (History of God, p. 156) Syed Ameer Ali has painted a vivid picture of Meccan society in his book, “The Spirit of Islam”:
“The beginning of the seventh century, as has been rightly said, was an epoch of disintegration – national, social, and religious […].” (The Spirit of Islam (2010), Cosimo Classics, New York, p. xviii) “Every trace of religious life was extinct among the people; the masses were ground down by the worst of all evils, a degenerate priesthood and a licentious oligarchy.” (Ibid., p. 217)
The Holy Prophetsa was born into this society; a society in which countless obstacles stood between him and God Almighty. He had to face these obstacles without a father, who passed away before his birth. Even after his birth, he faced a number of challenges in his childhood. His mother passed away in his early childhood, shortly followed by the sad demise of his paternal grandfather just a few years later. As a parent, bringing up children amidst all these social ills is a tall order, let alone facing them as orphans.
According to various studies, fatherless households put children in greater danger on many fronts. One study states that such children account for the majority of suicide rates, runaways, behavioural disorders, high school dropouts, juvenile detention rates, substance abuse, and aggression among children. (www.liveabout.com/fatherless-children-in-america-statistics-1270392)
All the odds were seemingly against the Holy Prophetsa, yet what do we observe? Rather than fall into the pitfalls of his society, the Holy Prophetsa was the one who revolutionised it. He may have lost his parents, yet it was Allah the Almighty who provided his upbringing.
God Almighty has mentioned that a sign of the truthfulness of His chosen prophets is their life before prophethood. For a prophet to be true, they must have lived pure, pious lives without blemish, and there must be a clear distinction between them and the rest of the people.
فَقَدۡ لَبِثۡتُ فِيۡکُمۡ عُمُرًا مِّنۡ قَبۡلِہٖ ؕ اَفَلَا تَعۡقِلُوۡنَ
“I have indeed lived among you a [whole] lifetime before this. Will you not then understand?” (Surah Yunus, Ch.10: V.17)
In line with this, it was necessary for the Holy Prophetsa of Islam, the Seal of the Prophets, to have lived an exemplary life from the day he was born to the day he was commissioned as a prophet of God. Allah the Almighty took this task upon Himself and imbued the Holy Prophetsa’s youth and upbringing with Divine guidance and protection. The youth of the Holy Prophetsa is filled with such incidents, and Allah the Almighty has testified to this in the Holy Quran. Regarding the life of the Prophetsa before prophethood, Allah the Almighty states:
اَلَمۡ يَجِدۡکَ يَتِيۡمًا فَاٰوٰي وَوَجَدَکَ ضَآلًّا فَہَدٰي
“Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter? And He found thee wandering in search for Him and guided thee unto Himself.” (Surah ad-Duha, Ch. 93: V.7-8)
It was common practice for the children of noble families of Mecca to be sent outside the city and entrusted to Bedouin wet nurses. Accordingly, The Holy Prophetsa spent much of his early childhood among the Banu Sa’d tribe under the care of Hazrat Halimahra. Apart from the obvious health benefits of growing up in a rural area, this sheltered the Holy Prophetsa from the negative influences of the city, especially in his crucial formative years.
During this period, the well-known incident known as “Shaqq-e-Sadr” (incision of the chest) occurred. This incident is narrated as such,
“At one occasion the Holy Prophetsa was playing with some children. Angel Gabrielsa came to him and laid the Holy Prophetsa on the ground; thereafter, he made an incision into his chest. Then he took the heart out of his chest, extracted something from its core, and threw it away. At the same time, Gabrielas said, ‘This was the filth of weakness that has now been separated from you.’ After this, Gabrielas cleansed the heart of the Holy Prophetsa with pure water and placed it back into his chest, and once again it was joined together. When the children saw Gabrielas laying the Holy Prophetsa on the ground and making an incision into his chest, they were greatly frightened and ran to the wet nurse of the Prophetsa and said, ‘Someone has murdered Muhammadsa.’ When these people reached the Holy Prophetsa the Angel had vanished, and the Prophetsa was standing alone in a state of fear.” (The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets, Vol. 1, p. 133)
The Holy Prophetsa was approximately four years old at the time of this occurrence. Through this vision, Allah the Almighty made it clear that this was no ordinary boy, but rather someone who had been completely purified and destined for greatness. The blessed life of the Holy Prophetsa is a testament to this.
Idol worship was rife in Mecca at the time. It is reported that they kept 360 idols in the Holy Ka’bah – one for every day of the year. However, the Holy Prophetsa was never inclined towards these idols; rather, he was focused on the worship of one God. On one occasion, the Holy Prophetsa is reported to have said, “I have never eaten from the sacrificial offerings made to idols.” (The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets, Vol. 1, p. 161) At another place, he said that he never worshipped any idol or consumed alcohol and that, “I have always detested these things.” (Ibid.)
On another occasion, it is narrated that the Quraish used to hold a special festival in honour of one of their idols at Buwanah. When the Holy Prophetsa was invited to attend, he declined the offer. At this, he was told, “We are afraid a calamity will befall you for your lack of respect for our idols”. Ultimately, the Holy Prophetsa accepted the offer and made his way to the festival. However, when they were in the presence of this idol, he disappeared and returned, frightened. When asked about what happened, the Holy Prophetsa said, “As soon as I went close to the idol, a person of white complexion and high stature appeared before me, crying, “O Muhammad! Do not touch it.” It is narrated that the Holy Prophetsa never attended such a gathering after this. (Ibn Sa‘d, Kitab at-Tabaqat al-Kabir (2001), Vol. 1, Cairo: Maktabat al-Khanji, pp. 132-133)
When the Holy Prophetsa was twelve years old, he used to look after sheep. One night, he requested a companion to tend to his flock so he could go into Mecca and spend the night at one of their gatherings. Hence, he set out to join in, however, Allah the Almighty protected him from this evil, and it so happened that he fell asleep until dawn. This happened on a second occasion, and the same thing happened. The Holy Prophetsa said, “I intended only twice, in the entirety of my life, to observe such a gathering, but I was restrained both times.” (The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets,Vol. 1, p. 143)
These are just a few examples of how the youth of the Holy Prophetsa was Divinely protected. This Divine protection had a direct impact on the character of the Holy Prophetsa which is evident from the testimonies of the people who witnessed his early life. When the heavy mantle of prophethood was placed on the shoulders of the Holy Prophetsa, his wife Khadijara attested to his lofty status and qualities. She said:
“By God, Allah shall never disgrace you. You treat your kith and kin with love. You are truthful, assist others in discharging their responsibilities, and have gathered within yourself lost virtues. You are hospitable and a helper to others in the way of truth.” (Ibid., p. 168-169)
The people of Mecca understood that this was no ordinary man, but rather someone imbued with outstanding morals. Commenting on this, Hazrat Ch Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra states:
“Enough is known of the youth and early manhood of Muhammad to indicate that he was gentle, patient, and obedient, respectful towards his elders, affectionate with his companions, and full of compassion for those who, on account of age, infirmity, or adversity, stood in need of help. As he grew into manhood, his good qualities were recognised by his contemporaries. They were impressed by his complete integrity, in word and deed, and he became generally known among them as “El-Ameen,” meaning “the Trusty,” or “the Faithful.”” (Islam, It’s Meaning for Modern Man (1962), p. 20)
From a quick glance at the early years of the Holy Prophetsa life, it becomes apparent that Allah Almighty had a major role to play. He protected his chosen Prophetsa from the ills of society and ensured that he lived a life without blemish, furnishing his eventual claim to prophethood with undeniable proof for the ages to come.