Birth and Childhood of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.)
Source: The Message
by Ayatollah Ja'far Subhani
The dark clouds of ignorance had completely enveloped the Arabian Peninsula. Abominable and unlawful deeds, bloody campaigns, wide-spread plundering, and infanticide had obliterated all moral virtues, and placed the Arab society in a strange declivity. The distance between their life and death had become very short. Just at this time the morning star of prosperity made its appearance and that dark atmosphere was illuminated with the auspicious birth of the Holy Prophet. Thus the preliminary step towards the foundation of the civilization and the advancement and prosperity of a backward nation was taken. Soon the beams of this light lit up the entire world and the foundation of learning, wisdom and civilization was laid.
Every chapter of the lives of great men is worthy of study and scrutiny. At times the personality of an individual becomes so great and grand that all phases of his life, even his infancy and childhood, are mysterious. The lives of the geniuses, leaders of the society, and the forerunners of the caravan of civilization, are usually attractive and contain sensitive and wonderful phases. From the cradle to the grave their lives are replete with mysteries. We read about the great men that the periods of their childhood and youth are admirable and miraculous. And if we accept this proposition about the great men of the world, the acceptance of something similar to that about the Prophets and saints becomes quite easy.
The Taurat and the Qur'an depict the childhood of Prophet Musa as very mysterious and say "Hundreds of innocent children were beheaded with the object, so that Musa should not be born. However, as Allah had willed that he should make his appearance in the world, it so happened that not only could his enemies not harm him, but Firaun, his greatest enemy, himself became his guardian and supporter". The Holy Qur'an says:
We revealed Our Will to Musa's mother, saying: Put your chld in the box arid let him be carried away by the river. The river will cast him on the bank safely, and he will be taken up by an enemy of his and Mine. I lavished my love on you, so that you might be reared under My watchful eye.
The sister of Musa went to the palace of Fir'aun and said, "Shall I bring you one who will nurse him?" Then the mother of Musa was hired to nurse the child and her son was thus restored to her. (Surah Taha, 20: 41 - 43 ).
The period of pregnancy, birth and nurture of Prophet 'Isa was even en more wonderful than that of Prophet Musa. The Holy Qur'an narrates the period of growth of 'Isa in this manner:
We sent to her (i.e. Maryam) Our spirit (i.e. Archangel Jibril) in the semblance of a full-grown man. And when she saw him she said "May the Merciful defend me from you! If you fear the Lord, leave me and go your way". "I am the messenger of your Lord", he replied and have come to give you a holy son". "How shall I bear a child," she answered, "when I am a virgin, untouched by man"? "Such is the Will of your Lord", he replied, "that is no difficult thing for Him. He shall be a sign to mankind", says the Lord, "and a blessing from Ourself. This is Our decree".
Thereupon she conceived him, and retired to a far-off place. And when she felt the throes of childbirth, she lay down by the trunk of a palm-tree crying "Oh, would that I had died and passed into oblivion!" But a voice from below cried out to her "Do not despair. Your Lord has provided a brook that runs at your feet, and if you shake the trunk of this palm-tree it will drop fresh ripe dates in your lap. Therefore rejoice. Eat and drink, and should you meet any mortal say to him: "I have cooled a test to the Merciful and will not speak with any man today" .
Then she took the child to her people, who said to her, "This is indeed a strange thing! Sister of Harun, your father was never a whore-monger, nor was your mother a harlot".
She made a sign to them, pointing to the child, but they replied "How can we speak with a babe in the cradle?"
Whereupon he spoke and said, "I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Gospel and ordained me a Prophet ...... (Surah Maryam. 19:18 - 32)
When believers in the Qur'an and the Taurat and the followers of Prophet 'Isa confirm the above-mentioned facts connected with the birth of the two great Prophets they should not wonder at the extraordinary events which followed in the wake of the auspicious birth of the Prophet of Islam and should not treat them to be superficial. We learn from the books on history and ahadith (reports) that at the time of the birth of the Holy Prophet the walls of the palace of Khosroes split and some of its turrets collapsed. The fire of the fire-temple of Persia extinguished. The lake of Sawah became dry. The idols in the temple of Makkah were turned upside down. A light ascended from the Holy Prophet's body towards heaven and illuminated a distance of many leagues along its path. Anushirwan and the Zoroastrian priests dreamt very horrible dreams. When the Holy Prophet was born he was already circumcised and his navel too had been cut. On coming into the world he said "Allah is Great and all praise is due to Him and He is to be praised day and night"
All these details are given in authentic historical documents and in the collections of ahadith and keeping in view the facts regarding Prophet Musa and Prophet 'Isa, which have been mentioned above, there is no justification for hesitation in the acceptance of these events.
YEAR, MONTH AND DATE OF BIRTH OF THE PROPHET OF ISLAM
The writers of "Seerah" (biographies of the Prophet) generally agree that the Prophet of Islam was born in the "Year of the Elephant" in 570 A.D. As it is definite that he breathed his last in 632 A.D. when he was 62-63 years old, the year of his birth must have been 570 A.D.
Almost all the traditionalists and historians are unanimous that the Prophet was born in the month of Rabi'ul Awwal, but they differ about the date of his birth. It is well-known among the Sh'iah traditionalists that he was born after sunrise on Friday, the 17th of Rabi'ul Awwal, whereas it is believed by the Sunni scholars that his birth took place on the 12th of that month on Monday.
WHICH OF THE TWO VERSIONS IS CORRECT?
It is a matter of great regret that authentic information about the dates of birth and death of the Prophet of Islam and, in fact, about most of the religious leaders is not available with the Muslims and on account of this ambiguity most of the celebrations of their birthdays, and death anniversaries, do not take place on days which should be definite from historical viewpoint. Aithough the Muslins scholars have recorded various events of lslamic history in a very systematic manner it is not known as to why the dates of birth and death of most of the religious leaders have not been recorded after due scrutiny.
However, this problem is solvable to some extent. In this connection let us take an example. If you wish to write the biography of a scholar belonging to a particular city and supposing that this scholar has left a number of children and other relatives behind him, would you like to enquire about the details of his life from strangers or from his friends and acquaintances in spite ot there being present his children and other members of his family, who naturally possess detailed and exact knowledge about the particulars of his life? It is definite that your conscience will not permit you to do so.
The Holy Prophet departed from amongst the people and left behind himself his family and children. These relatives of the Holy Prophet say, "If the Messenger of Allah is our revered father and we have been brought up in his house and under his patronage, we say that the head of our family came into this world on such and such date and departed from it on such and such date. In the circumstances is it permissible for us to ignore the statement of his children and rely on the version of other people?
CEREMONY OF GIVING A NAME TO THE PROPHET OF ISLAM
The seventh day approached. A sheep was slaughtered by Abdul Muttalib as an expression of gratitude to Allah and a number of persons were invited to the feast. In that magnificent celebration, which was attended by most of the Quraysh, he gave his grandchild the name "Muhammad". When it was enquired from him as to why he had named his child "Muhammad", while this name was very rare amongst the Arabs, he replied "I wished that he should be praised in the heavens as well us on earth". Hassan bin Thabit, says thus in this regard:
"The Creator derived the name of His Prophet from His own name. As such, whereas Allah is "Mahmud" (laudable), his Prophet is 'Muhammad' (praiseworthy). Both the words have been derived from the same root and carry the same meaning".
It is certain that occult inspiration had a part to play in the selection of this name, because, although the name 'Muhammad' was well-known amongst the Arabs, very few persons had till then been given this name. According to the exact statistics, which some of the historians have collected, only sixteen persons had been given this name before the Holy Prophet.
It goes without saying that the lesser a word is used the lesser is the chance of any misunderstanding about it. As the Heavenly Books had predicted the advent of Islam and the name, the particulars, the spiritual and corporeal signs of the Prophet, it was necessary that his signs should have been so evident that the question of any mistake should not have arisen. One of those signs was the name of the Holy Prophet and it was essential that it should be borne by so few persons that no doubt should be left about his identification, especially when his qualities and signs were appended to it. In this way the person whose appearance had been predicted by the Taurat and the Injeel could be easily identified.
The Holy Qur'an mentions two names of the Prophet.
In the 138th, 2nd, 29th and 40th verses respectively of the Surah Ale Imran, Muhammad, al-Fath and al-Ahzab he has been called 'Muhammad' and in Surah al-Saff he has been called 'Ahmad'. The reason for this difference is that, as mentioned in history, the Holy Prophet's mother had named him 'Ahmad' before his grandfather gave him the name 'Muhammad'.
THE INFANCY OF THE PROPHET
The Prophet was suckled by his mother for three days only. Thereafter two other women had the honour of being his foster-mothers.
1. Suwaybah: She was a female slave of Abu Lahab. She nursed the Prophet for four months and remained the object of appreciation by the Prophet himself, as well as of his virtuous wife (Khadijah), throughout her life. Earlier she had also nursed Hamzah, uncle of the Prophet. After his appointment to the prophetic mission the Prophet intended to purchase her and sent someone to Abu Lahab to arrange the transaction, but he refused to sell her. However, she received assistance from the Prophet throughout her life. When the Prophet returned from the battle of Khaybar he came to know about her death and signs of grief appeared in his face. He made enquires about her son, so that he might do some good to him, but was informed that he had died earlier than his mother.
2. Halimah: She was the daughter of Abi Zuwayb and belonged to the tribe of Said bin Bakr bin Hawazan. She had three children named Abdullah, Anisah and Shima'. The last of them also attended upon the Prophet. It was customary with the noble families amongst the Arabs that they entrusted their children to wet nurses. The nurses usually lived at places beyond the city so that the children could be brought up in fresh desert air and might grow up strong and healthy. Incidentally, while staying in the desert, the children remained immune from the contagious diseases of the city of Makkah which were more dangerous for the new-born babies and they also learnt the Arabic language in an untempered region. The nurses who belonged to the tribe of Bani Sa'd were famous in this area. They visited Makkah at a particular time of the year and every one of them took a new-born baby along with her. When four months had passed since the birth of the Prophet the nurses of the Bani Sa'd tribe visited Makkah. That year they were in the grip of a severe famine and, were therefore, in great need of help from the noble families.
The new-born baby of Quraysh did not suck the breast of any wet-nurse. Eventually Halimah came and the child sucked her breast. At this moment the family of Abdul Muttalib became very jubilant.
Abdul Muttalib turned to Halimah and said "To which tribe do you belong?" She replied that she belonged to the tribe of Bani Said Then he enquired about her name and she told him that it was Halimah. Abdul Muttalib was very much pleased to learn her own name and that of her tribe and said "Very good! Very good! Two good habits and two decent qualities. One of them is happiness and prosperity and the other is meekness and forbearance".
History tells us that the life of the Prophet, the noble guide of the Muslims, was replete with a chain of wonderful events from his very childhood upto the time when he was entrusted with the prophetic mission and all these events had an aspect of greatness. On the whole these events testify that the life of the Prophet was not a usual one.
As regards the explanation of these events the writers are divided into two groups, the materialists and a number of orientalists.
1. The materialist scholars who look at the world from the material point of view and consider the organisation of existence as confined within the four walls of matter and believe that.all the phenomena are material and dependent upon physical causes do not attach any importance to these events and even though they may be supported by a very strong authority, they do not pay any heed to them. The reason for such an attitude on their part is that according to the principles of materialism the occurrence of such events is impossible. As and when, therefore, they observe such happenings recorded in history they adjudge them to be the offspring of the imagination, love and devotion of the followers of the particular religion.
2. There is also a group of the orientalists, who apparently present themselves to be theists and godly persons and express belief in the supernatural, but, on account of weakness of their faith, their pride about their knowledge and predominance of materialism over their thoughts, while analysing events, follow the principles of materialism. We frequently come across this sentence in their discourses "Prophethood is the state of being a human genius. A Prophet is a social genius who illuminates the path of life of human beings with his brilliant ideas etc.... " Discourses of this type originate from a sense of materialistic thinking which considers all religions to be the outcome of human reflection, although the doctrinal scholars have proved, while discussing 'general prophethood', that prophethood is a divine gift which is the source of spiritual inspirations and connections, and, unless there is a diffusion from the side of the Almighty, not the slightest benefit can be derived by this side (i.e. by the Prophets). However, as the Christian orientalist looks at these matters from the materialistic point of view and wishes to measure all events in accordance with the scientific principles, which have been discovered through tests and expert meets, he subjects to criticism all those events which have a supernatural aspect and denies their genuineness.
WORSHIPPERS OF ALLAH
These are the people who believe that the properties and structure of the material world are under the management of another world and another power (the world of solitude and metaphysics) is responsible for the order of the physical world. In other words the material world is not free and independent and all its fixed rules and natural and scientific laws are inspired by another world viz. the Will of the Creator which surrounds all things that exist. It is He who has created matter and enforced sound laws amongst its ingredients and erected it on the basis of a chain of natural and scientific principles.
Along with believing in the scientific laws and whole heartedly accepting the statements of scholars about the connections of physical beings upto the extent to which they have been substantiated by science, the people belonging to this group also believe that these scientific rules and principles and the wonderful system of the material world are connected with another organization, all parts of which revolve according to the Will of that High Being. Furthermore, they do not consider these scientific laws to be permanent and unalterable and believe that watchful Power can change them at any time it likes, in order to achieve some special object. It is competent to do so and (not only competent but) has actually done this many times for such aims and objects as it has had in view.
They say that supernatural and surprising acts of the Prophets which do not accord with the natural laws have been performed through this channel. These people do not permit themselves unduly to reject or doubt what they come across in the Holy Qur'an and in the Hadith as well as in authentic and reliable history hooks merely on the ground that it does not conform With the standards of nature and scientific laws. Now we mention two events from the mysterious and wonderful life history of the Holy Prophet relating to his childhood and when this narrative is kept in view no room is left for any improbability or doubt about them.
1. The historians have quoted Halimah as saying: "When I assumed responsibility for bringing up the new-born child of Aminah I decided to feed the infant with my milk in the same assembly and in the presence of his mother. So I put into his mouth my left breast which contained milk, but the child was more inclined to my right breast. However, I did not have anv milk in my right breast since I had given birth to my first-born. The insistence of the child made me put my milkless right breast in his mouth, and, as soon as he began sucking it, its dry mammary glands were filled with milk and this incident made all those present wonder.
2. She also says "From the day I took Muhammad to my house I became all the more prosperous and my wealth and herd increased".
Undoubtedly in these matters the judgement of materialists and their followers differs from that of the persons who worship Allah, although none of them has observed these events and the only evidence for them is the statement of the nurse of the Holy Prophet. As those who follow materialistic principles cannot explain such incidents through natural sciences, they immediately say that these events are the creation of imagination. If they are very much respectful they say that the Prophet of Islam did not stand in need of such miracles. There is no doubt about the fact that the Prophet did not stand in need of these miracles, but not standing in need of something is a matter totally different from a judgement on its being true or false. However, a godly person, who considers the organism of nature to be conquered and subdued by the Will of the Creator of the world and believes that the entire Universe including the smallest being (viz. atom) and the biggest phenomenon (viz. the Milky Way) rotates according to His plan and control. After studying these events and their supporting evidence, he looks at all these events with due respect and, even if he is not satisfied, he does not reject them outright.
We come across a similiar event in the Holy Qur'an regarding Maryam (mother of Prophet 'Isa) about whom it has been said:
When the time for Maryam, being delivered of the child, drew near she lay down by the trunk of a palm-tree and (on account of throes of childbirth, loneliness and fear of accusations) she wished to Allah that she might die. At this moment she heard a voice saying, "Do not despair. Your Lord has provided a brook that runs at your feet and if you shake the trunk of this (withered up) palm tree, it will drop fresh ripe dates in your lap. (Surah Maryam, 19:24 - 25).
Although there is a great difference between Maryam and Halimah from the point of view of their respective positions and virtues, but a similar difference also exists between the two new-born babes. And if the personal merit and excellence of Maryam made her an object of Divine blessings it is also possible that the position and rank which this infant (i.e. Muhammad) was to acquire later might have made his nurse worthy of Allah's bounties.
We also learn something more about Maryam from the Holy Qur'an
Her chastity and piety had elevated her so much that whenever Zakariyah visited her place of worship, he found heavenly food there, and when he asked her from where that food had come, she used to say that it had come from Allah. (Surah Ale Imran, 3: 32)
On this basis we should not doubt the correctness of such miracles or consider them to be impossible.
FIVE YEARS IN THE DESERT
The Holy Prophet spent five years amongst Bani Sa'd tribe and was sufficiently grown up. During this period Halimah took him to his mother twice or thrice and eventually made him over to her.
The first time that Halimah took him to his mother was when his suckling period was over. She, however, insisted on her giving him back to her. The reason for her insistence was that this child had become a source of bounties and blessings for her, and the reason why his mother acceded to her request was that cholera had broken out in Makkah at that time.
The second time that she took him to Makkah was when a group of Ethiopian clergymen came to the Hijaz and saw Muhammad amidst the tribe of Bani Sa'd. They observed that all the signs of the Prophet who was to come after Prophet 'Isa, as given in the Heavenly Books, were found in this child. They, therefore, decided to take hold of him, in whatever manner it might be possible, and to take him to Ethiopia, so that the honour of having the Prophet might fall to the share of that country.
This is not at all unlikely, because, as clearly mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, the signs of the Prophet of Islam had been narrated in the Injeel. It was, therefore, perfectly in order that the sages of that time should have identified the person in whom those signs were present. The Holy Qur'an says in this regard:
And of 'Isa, who said to the Israelites: "I have been sent to you by Allah to confirm the Taurat already revealed and to give news of an apostle who will come after me. His name is Ahmad". Yet when he (the Prophet about whom 'Isa had foretold), came to them with all the signs and proofs to support his truthfulness), they said: "This is plain magic ''. (Surah al-Saff, 61 6).
There are other verses also which show that the signs of the Prophet of Islam were clearly described in the Heavenly Books and the earlier peoples were aware of them.
 Tarikh-i Ya'qubi, vol. II page 5; Biharul Anwar, vol. XV, chapter 3, pp. 231 - 248 and Seerah-i Halabi, vol. I, page 64.
 Miqrizi has collected all the statements with regard to the day, month and year of the birth of the Prophet in al-Amta' (page 3).
 Seerah-i Halabi, vol. I, page 93.
 Mudrak Pesh, vol. I, page 97.
 As regards the words 'Taha' and 'Yasin' some scholars believe that they are the 'moqatta' Ietters of the Holy Qur'an and not the names of the Prophet.
 Seerah-i Halabi, vol. I, page 93.
 Biharul Anwar, vol. XV, page 442.
 Seerah-i Halabi, vol. I, page 106.
 Biharul Anwar, vol. XV, page 345 quoted from Fazatil-i Waqidi.
 Manaqib-i Ibn Shehr Ashob, vol. I, page 24.
 Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I, page 167.
 Vide Surah al-A'raf, 7:157