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His Life New Muslims

A Blessed Birth of a Noble Prophet

In his seminal authoritative book on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Ibn Hisham – the author of the first account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, which has come down to us as As-Seerah An-Nabawiyah (The Prophet’s Life) – informs us that Ibn Ishaq has clearly and precisely established the Prophet’s birth date:

peace be upon him

He was orphaned and poor, and for that reason he is reminded and ordered never to forsake the underprivileged and the needy.

“The Messenger (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) was born on a Monday, on the twelfth night of Rabi` Awwal, in the year of the elephant.”

Other accounts mention other months of the year, but throughout history there has been broad acceptance of that date among scholars and within Muslim communities. The Muslim calendar being a lunar one, it is difficult to determine exactly the solar month of his birth, but the “year of the elephant” to which Ibn Ishag refers corresponds to 570 CE.

Noble Birth… Noble Origin

The Last Prophet was born in one of Makkah’s noble families, Banu Hashim, which enjoyed great respect among all the clans in and around Makkah. This noble descent combined with a particularly painful and debilitating personal history. His mother, Aminah, was only two months pregnant when his father, `Abdullah, died during a trip to Yathrib, north of Makkah.

Fatherless at birth, young Muhammad was to live with the tension of the dual status implied in Makkah by a respectable descent, on one hand, and the precariousness of having no father, on the other.

Ibn Ishaq reports that the name Muhammad, quite unknown at the time in the Arabian Peninsula, came to his mother in a vision while she was still pregnant. (Ibn Hsham, As-Seerah An-Nabawiyah)

This same vision is also said to have announced to her the birth of the “master of this people” (sayyid hadhihi al-ummah); according to the vision, when he was born she was to say the words “I place him under the protection of the One (Al-Wahid) against the treachery of the envious.

Torn between her grief at her husband’s death and the joy of welcoming her child, Aminah said repeatedly that strange signs had accompanied the gestation, then the extraordinarily easy birth of her child.

The Desert

Aminah soon became aware that she was the mother of an exceptional child. This feeling was shared by Muhammad’s grandfather, `Abdul-Muttalib, who took responsibility for him after his birth. In Makkah, it was customary to entrust infants to wet nurses belonging to the nomadic Bedouin tribes living in the nearby desert.

Because he was fatherless, one nurse after another refused to take the child into her care, fearing that his ambiguous status would bring them no profit. Halimah, who had arrived last because her mount was tired, decided with her husband that it was better for them to take the child, although he was an orphan, than to risk being mocked by their tribe when they went home. They therefore went back with the infant Muhammad, and Halimah, just like Aminah, tells of many signs that led her and her husband to think that this child seemed blessed.

For four years, the orphan was looked after by Halimah and lived with the Banu Sa`d Bedouins in the Arabian desert. He shared the nomads’ life in the most barren and difficult natural environment, surrounded, as far as the eye could see, with horizons bringing to mind the fragility of the human being and spurring contemplation and solitude.

Although he did not yet know it, Muhammad was going through the first trials ordained for him by the One, Who had chosen him as a messenger and was, for the time being, his Educator, his Rabb (Lord).

Why Orphan?

The Qur’an would later recall his particular situation as an orphan as well as the spiritual teachings associated with the experience of life in the desert:

Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter? And He found you wandering, and He gave you guidance. And He found you in need, and made you independent. Therefore (for that reason), do not treat the orphan with harshness, nor chide him who asks. But the bounty of your Lord, proclaim! (Ad-Duha 93:6-11)

lighthouse

For each human being: never to forget one’s past, one’s trials, one’s environment and origin, and to turn one’s experience into a positive teaching.

Those verses of the Qur’an carry several teachings: being both an orphan and poor was actually an initiatory state for the future Messenger of God, for at least two reasons. The first teaching is obviously the vulnerability and humility he must naturally have felt from his earliest childhood.

This state was intensified when his mother, Aminah, died when Muhammad was six. This left him utterly dependent on God, but also dose to the most destitute among people. The Qur’an reminds him that he must never forget this throughout his life and particularly during his prophetic mission. He was orphaned and poor, and for that reason he is reminded and ordered never to forsake the underprivileged and the needy.

Considering the exemplary nature of the prophetic experience, the second spiritual teaching emanating from these verses is valid for each human being: never to forget one’s past, one’s trials, one’s environment and origin, and to turn one’s experience into a positive teaching for oneself and for others.

Muhammad’s past, the One reminds him, is a school from which he must draw useful, practical, and concrete knowledge to benefit those whose lives and hardships he has shared, since he knows from his own experience, better than anyone else, what they feel and endure.

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The article is an excerpt from Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s book “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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His Family New Muslims

Khadijah: The Faithful Wife & Companion

Lady Khadijah, the Prophet’s wife, played a very critical role throughout the first years of revelation which were ridden with events, some extraordinary and others deeply painful.

Prophet’s wife Khadijah

Khadijah was a sign sent by the One to manifest His presence and His support to His Prophet.

She was the one who had first noticed and then chosen Muhammad for his honesty, his fairness, and the nobleness of his character.

Widely courted in Makkah because of her wealth, Lady Khadijah had been able to measure the disinterested and reserved attitude of that young man, who was nonetheless so enterprising and efficient.

And against usual practice, she had the courage to propose marriage to him through her friend Nufaysah.

Their union was to bring them their lot of happiness, sorrow, and grief: they lost their two sons, Qasim and `Abdullah, in infancy and only their four daughters survived. (They, daughters, all died when Muhammad was still alive, except for Fatimah, who died six months after him.)

Faithful Khadijah

This family destiny was difficult enough, but among the Arabs, the birth of a daughter was considered shameful; tradition reports how much, on the contrary, Muhammad and his wife surrounded their daughters with deep love and constant care, which they never hesitated to express in public.

When at the age of forty, Muhammad received the first Revelation, it was to his wife he immediately turned, and she was the first to stand by him and comfort him. During all the previous years, Lady Khadijah observed a man whose nobleness of character was a distinctive feature.

When he came back to her from the cave of Hira’, troubled and assailed with deep doubt as to what he was and what was happening to him, she wrapped him in her love, reminded him of his qualities, and restored his self-confidence.

The first Revelations were both an extraordinary gift and a terrible trial for a man who no longer knew whether he was possessed or the prey of devilish delirium. He was alone and confused: he turned to his wife, who immediately lent him comfort and support.

A Gift from God

From that moment on, there were two of them facing the trial, trying to understand its meaning and then, after the silence of Revelation had ended, answering God’s call and following the path of spiritual initiation.

In this respect, Khadijah is a sign of God’s presence at the heart of Muhammad’s trial; she is to the Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual experience what Ishmael and Hagar were to Abraham’s trial. Both women and the son were the signs sent by the One to manifest His presence and His support in their trial, so that they should never doubt Him.

Khadijah was to be the first to accept Islam, and throughout the first ten years of Muhammad’s mission, she was to remain at his side, an unfailingly faithful companion.

This woman’s role in the Prophet’s life was tremendous. She was, for twenty-five years, his only wife, whose presence alone protected the Prophet but who also underwent with him rejection by his kin, persecution, and isolation. She was the mother of all his children, except for Ibrahim, whom Muhammad had with the Copt Mariyah and who also died in infancy.

The Prophet’s Love for Khadijah

He loved her so much. This was so obvious that, many years after Khadijah’s death, `A’ishah -who later married the Prophet-was to say that Khadijah was the only woman of whom she had ever been jealous.

Khadijah received the good news of his election by God; she was a woman, independent, dignified, and respected, then a wife, strong, attentive, faithful, and confident; she was a pious Muslim, sincere, determined, and enduring.

Muhammad, the Last Prophet of the One, was not alone, and one of the dearest signs of God’s bounty and love for him was a woman in his life, his wife.

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The article is an excerpt from the author’s book In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press,2007.

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Prophet Muhammad: The Father of Fatimah

Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) was all the way a message of true love and compassion. He taught and spread this love in all ways. His relationship with Fatimah, who also was a model of piety, generosity, and love, was a unique one. Learn how was the Prophet as a father…

father

The Prophet taught his people good manners, kindness, gentleness, respect for children, and regard for women.

The Father: Model of Modesty

The Prophet lived very modestly: his dwelling was particularly bare, and he often had nothing but a few dates left to eat. Yet he kept helping the destitute around him, especially Ahl As-Suffah (the people of the bench, who lived near his home).

When he received presents, he had them given out, and he immediately freed the slaves who were sometimes sent to him as gifts: he did so with the slave Abu Rafi, whom his uncle Al-`Abbas had sent him when he had returned to Makkah after his release.

In spite of his increasingly important role in Madinah society and of his many responsibilities, he kept this simplicity in his life and in the way he allowed the members of his community to approach him. He owned nothing, and he let himself be accosted by women, children, slaves, and the poorest people. He lived among them; he was one of them.

 The Daughter

His daughter Fatimah (may God be pleased with her) was very close to her father. Married to `Ali ibn Abi TaIib (the Prophet’s cousin, may Allah be pleased with him), she had eventually moved near her father’s dwelling and she was most devoted to the cause of the poor, including Ahl As-Suffah.

When the Prophet was at home or in public and his daughter came to him or entered the room, he would stand up and greet her, publicly showing her great respect and tenderness. Both the people of Madinah and the Makkans were surprised at this behavior toward a daughter, who in their respective customs did not usually receive such treatment.

The Prophet would kiss his daughter, talk to her, confide in her, and have her sit by his side, without paying attention to the remarks or even the criticisms that his behavior could give rise to.

Once he kissed his grandson, Al-Hassan, Fatimah’s son, in front of a group of Bedouins, who were startled. One of them, Al-Aqra’ ibn Habis, expressed his shock and said: ”I have ten children and I have never kissed any of them!”

The Prophet answered: ”He who is not generous (loving, benevolent), God is not generous (loving, benevolent) to him.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

In the light of his silent example and his remarks, the Prophet taught his people good manners, kindness, gentleness, respect for children, and regard for and attentiveness toward women. He was later to say: “I have only been sent to perfect noble manners.” (Al-Bukhari)

Fatimah: The Wife 

Fatimah received that love and the teachings of faith and tenderness from her father and spread them around her through her activities with the poor.

One day, however, she told her husband about her difficulties: like her father, they owned nothing, and she felt it increasingly difficult to manage her daily life, her family, and her children. Her husband advised her to go to her father and ask for his help; perhaps he might supply her with one of the slaves he had received as gifts. She went to see him, but she dared not express her request, so deep was her respect for her father.

father, fatimah

Fatimah lived in the light of her father’s spiritual teachings; getting by on little, asking everything of the One, and giving everything of herself to others.

When she came back, silent and empty-handed, `Ali decided to go with her and ask for the Prophet’s help himself.

The Prophet listened to them and informed them that he could do nothing for them, that their situation was far better than that of the Ahl As-suffah, who urgently needed his help. They had to endure and be patient. They left, sad and disappointed, although they were the Prophet’s daughter and cousin, they could not claim any social privilege.

Late in the evening, the Prophet came to their door. They wanted to get up to receive him, but Muhammad entered and sat at their bedside. He whispered: ”Shall I offer you something better than what you asked me for?” They assented, and the Prophet told them: ”They are words Gabriel has taught me, and that you should repeat ten times after each prayer:

Suban Allah (Glory to God)!”, then “Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God)”, then “Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest). Before going to bed, you should repeat each of those phrases thirty-three times.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

True Love & Help

Sitting at his daughter’s bedside late at night, deeply attentive to her needs, he answered his daughter’s material request by granting her the privilege of a confidence from the divine: a spiritual teaching that has come down to us through the ages and each Muslim now adopts as his own at the heart of his daily life.

Fatimah, like her husband, `Ali, was a model of piety, generosity, and love. She lived in the light of her father’s spiritual teachings; getting by on little, asking everything of the One, and giving everything of herself to others.

Years later, by her dying father’s side, she was to weep intensely when he whispered in her ear that God was going to call him back to Him, that it was time for him to depart. She smiled happily when, a few minutes later, he told her in confidence – as loving confidence seems to reveal the essence of this father daughter relationship – that she was to be the first in her family to join him.

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The article is an excerpt from the author’s book In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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His Character New Muslims

Prophet Muhammad: A Morality Message for All Time

A few months after his return to Medina, in the eleventh year of hijrah, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) decided to send an expedition to the north, near Mu’tah and Palestine, where a few years earlier Ja`far ibn Abi Talib, `Abdullah Ibn Rawahah, and Zayd ibn Harithah had been killed.

nature-peace

The Prophet had taught in various circumstances about warfare, respect for nature, or how to treat animals.

To everyone’s surprise, he gave the command to young Usamah, Zayd’s son, who was only twenty years old, though this three-thousand-strong army included such men as `Umar and other experienced Companions.

This choice gave rise to much criticism, but the Prophet reacted very promptly and put an end to all arguments when he proclaimed:

“You criticize the choice of Usamah to command the army as you had formerly criticized that of his father Zayd. Usamah is truly worthy of the command I entrust him with, as his father was before him.” (Ibn Hisham, As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah)

Qualifications-based

In the past, some Muslims had reacted to the choice of Zayd because they still considered him as a slave, though he had been freed; now some opposed the choice of his son, perhaps because of his father, but mostly because of his young age.

By confirming his choice, Prophet Muhammad informed them that neither a man’s social origin nor his age should prevent him from exerting authority and power if he possessed the spiritual, intellectual, and moral qualities required. One had to show discernment by offering the most destitute in society real equality of opportunity and trusting the young so that everybody could express their skills and talents.

On a more general level, trust was a fine lesson in humility addressed to older Companions: they were to experience the inner, greater jihad of obeying a man who could have been their son, and in so doing remember that their time was limited, like any man’s.

By that choice, Prophet Muhammad taught them that time naturally erodes one’s energy, and one must be wise enough to learn to step aside, to delegate authority to those who are young and strong enough to create and build.

The Prophet gave young Usamah his recommendations and asked him to set out promptly. However, the Prophet’s sudden illness was to delay that departure, and the army waited near Medina during all those days of doubt about his condition.

Prophet Muhammad & War Ethics

A few weeks later, Abu Bakr was, according to the Prophet’s wish, to ask Usamah to carry out the expedition. He reminded him of the Prophet’s teachings concerning war ethics, for the latter had constantly insisted on the principles Muslims must respect when dealing with their enemies:

“Do not kill women, children, and old people,” Abu Bakr ordered him.

Literally, “Let the blood of women, children and old people never soil your hands.”

“Do not commit treacherous actions. Do not stray from the right path. Never mutilate. Do not destroy palm trees, do not burn houses and cornfields, do not cut down fruit trees, and do not kill livestock except when you are compelled to eat them …. As you move on, you will meet hermits who live in monasteries and serve God in seclusion. Leave them alone; do not kill them and do not destroy their monasteries.”  (At-Tabari)

Those teachings were essential, and they were conveyed to Usamah in the light of what the Prophet had said in various circumstances about warfare, respect for nature, or how to treat animals.

In a few sentences, Abu Bakr was synthesizing the essence of the Messenger’s teachings in this respect.

Years before, at the end of the Battle of Hunayn, the Prophet had passed by a group of people standing around a woman who lay on the ground, and heard that she had been killed by Khalid ibn Al-Waleed (who was then a recent convert). He was deeply angered and asked that Ibn Al-Waleed be told: “God’s Messenger forbids killing children, women, and slaves.” (Ibn Hisham, As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah)

The Prophet’s Mercy

He had also blamed him when he had killed men who had already surrendered after a battle. In both cases, then, the message was the same: one should fight only enemy soldiers, while sparing all those who did not directly take part in armed conflict or could no longer cause any harm.

The Prophet had clearly stated before sending the Mu’tah expedition:

You shall not be treacherous, you shall not deceive, you shall not mutilate, you shall not kill children nor the inhabitants of hermitages (ashab as-sawami`).” (Ibn Hanbal)

War was never desirable, but when Muslims were compelled to it because they were attacked or because their survival was threatened, they had to keep strictly to what was needed to fight enemy forces who were armed and/ or determined to fight. If the latter wished for peace or surrendered, the war must be stopped, according to the Qur’anic injunction:

But if they incline toward peace, do you (also, in the same way) incline toward peace, and trust in God, for He is the One that hears and knows (all things). (Al-Anfal 8:61)

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The article is an excerpt from Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).

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