Abdul Muttalib was well known for his generosity, reliability and wisdom. He was a handsome person. He had many wives but only one son. His cousin Umayyah, was the head of the clan of Abdu Shams. He was blessed with many sons. Abdul Muttalib prayed that if Allah would bless him with ten sons and let them all grow to manhood, he would sacrifice one of them at the Holy Ka’bah for Allah.

His prayer was answered: He was blessed with nine more sons. When all his sons were grown up his vow began to dominate his thoughts. Abdullah was the one he loved most. He was endowed with remarkable beauty. Abdul Muttalib was a man of his word. He gathered his ten sons together, told them of his pact with Allah, and called on them to help him to keep his word.

He asked them to make each his mark on an arrow. He went to the Sanctuary and took his stand beside Hubal. He drew out a large knife that he had brought with him, and prayed to Allah. The lots were cast, and it was Abdullah’s arrow that came out.

Fatima the mother of Abdullah was a woman of Quraysh. She belonged to the powerful clan of Makhzum. When Abdul Muttalib began to tell them of his vow, he was cut short by Mughirah, the chief of Makhzum. He told him, "Thou shalt not sacrifice Abdullah, but offer a sacrifice in his stead, it may be that his ransom be all the property of the sons of Makhzum, we will redeem him". Abdullah’s brothers turned to their father and begged him to let their brother live and to offer some other sacrifice by way of expiation. Abdul Muttalib agreed to consult a wise woman in Madinah who could tell him whether an expiation was possible in this case, and if so what form it should take.

Abdul Muttalib rode to Madinah only to learn that the wise woman he wanted to consult had gone to Khaybar. Next morning the woman was consulted, who said: "Word hath come to me, what is the blood-money amongst you"? He answered that it was ten camels "Return to your country" and put your man and ten camels side by side and cast lots between them. If the arrow fell against your man, add more camels and cast lots again; and if need be add more camels until your Lord accepts them and the arrow-falls against them, then sacrifice the camels and let the man live". The arrow fell against Abdullah, they went on adding camels, ten at a time, and casting lots with the same result until the number of camels had reached one hundred. Only then did the arrow fall against them.

Abdul Muttalib left for Makkah and offered sacrifice of one hundred camels in the name of Allah in place of his son. Years later when Abdullah’s only son Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was blessed with Prophethood and the Holy Qur’an was revealed upon him, Allah fixed the number of camels to one hundred as Diyyat - the blood money for the murder of a human being on the provision that it should not have been planned deliberately on tribal grounds.

When Abdullah grew up to adulthood, Abdul Muttalib arranged that he should marry Aminah

who belonged to a respectable tribe of Madinah. He also asked that Halah should be given in marriage to himself. Wahib agreed, and all preparations were made for the double wedding to take place at the same time. On the appointed day, Abdul Muttalib took his son by the hand, and set off for the dwellings of the Bani Zuhrah where the weddings were to take place.

The marriages took place according to plan, and the two couples stayed for some days in the house of Wahib. The year of the marriages was 569 AD.

Abdullah had gone for trade to Palestine and Syria with one of the caravans; and on his way home he had lodged with his grandmother’s family in Madinah, and there he had fallen ill. His wife Aminah was conscious of a light within her, and one day it shone forth from her so intensely that she could see the castles of Bostra in Syria. She heard a voice say to her, "Thou carrieth in thy womb the lord of this people; and when he is born say, ‘I place him beneath the protection of the One, from the evil of every envier’; then name him Ahmad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace)". Some weeks later the child was born. Aminah was in the home of her uncle at that time. She sent word to Abdul Muttalib, asking him to come to see his grandson.

His grandfather, Abdul Muttalib named him Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) meaning the praised one. This was an unusual name in Arabia. Aminah did not feel the weight of the child during her pregnancy. Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) came to this world already circumcised.

After the birth of Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) his head was shaved, as was the custom, and gold, equivalent to the weight of his hair, was given in alms to the poor. Though this weight was not much, the Quraysh were strict observers of this tradition. If anywhere in the world you observe this custom of charity, consider it the same tradition initiated by the Arabs.

After shaving his head, Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was handed over to the governess. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) of Islam had two governesses, one has been seldom mentioned in history, possibly because she was the "Kaneez" (servant) of Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) uncle Abu Lahab. He is considered very detestable for he was one of the greatest enemies of Islam. He did all he could, to cause harm to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), his followers and his work. Of Abu Lahab, Allah says in the Holy Qur’an;


Perish the hands
Of the Father of Flame:
Perish he!


No profit to him
From all his wealth,
And all his gains!


Burnt soon will he be
In a Fire
Of blazing Flame!


His wife shall carry
The (crackling) wood -
As fuel!


A twisted rope
Of palm-leaf fibre
Round her (own) neck!
Surah Lahab; V-1-5)

Abu Lahab used to stone the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). The stones would hit his face and chest and injure him. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would wipe clean the blood from his face by the edge of his cloth and would pray to Allah for Abu Lahab’s guidance. Abu Lahab’s wife, ‘Umm-e-Jamil’ also followed her husband. During the night she would scatter thorns in the way of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to injure his feet. The Holy Qur’an recalls her as a woman who is always collecting thorns. When Abu Lahab will be thrown into hell, she will accompany him.

Some Islamic historians name this first governess of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) as ‘Thobia’. She was negligent in her duties and in feeding him in time. She was soon relieved. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) repaid her well in spite of her negligence. When he had grown up he bought her from Abu Lahab to be freed. When the need for another governess arose, a group of women belonging to ‘Banu Sa’ad’ tribe had entered Makkah. These women, within few hours, took the children in need of breast feeding with them back to the desert. But none, knowing the Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to be an orphan, accepted him. Only one woman, named Halimah Sa’adia

, consented to take him.

Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was handed to the care of Halimah to act as a foster mother as was the custom in Arabia. The tribes of Quraysh that were settled in Makkah led lives based on nomadic traditions. They used to entrust their young ones to governesses so that their children could be brought up in the cradle of the desert.

This custom had two reasons, firstly the climate of Makkah at that time was not favourable to the growth of the children and many would die young. This precept was quite true as in Makkah, the children were exposed to various diseases, whereas the desert was devoid of such problems. The second reason was the establishment of tribal relationships, which such arrangements could foster easily. Governesses would keep children from different tribes along with their children in their homes. Such infants being fed by the same breast would grow up like foster brothers. This relationship was so sacred that often foster brothers were considered real brothers in many matters.

Halimah Sa’adia later stated:

"We had no spring harvest that year as there was no rain and we had nothing to earn. I suggested to my husband that we go to Makkah to bring a child and rear him to earn our living".

"My husband accepted the proposal and I along with my young baby in my lap, rode the dromedary and we headed to Makkah. My child cried with hunger and there was no milk in my breasts. Due to drought, even the dromedary had no milk, therefore, we went hungry most of the time. When we reached Makkah, our fellow women of ‘Banu Sa’ad’, were returning with the children of rich people with appropriate rewards. We could not have a baby from a well-off family, instead there was only an orphan child of a poor family which could not reward us well".

"Instead of returning empty handed, I thought it better to take him with us, thinking he might be able to acknowledge us when he grows up (as he belongs to the Quraysh tribe) as a respectable man, and remember our old relationship".

"My husband accepted this suggestion and we began preparations to return. We had hardly covered the half distance from Makkah, when I observed to my utmost surprise that my both breasts were filled with milk so both the children had their full shares".

"When we reached home, my husband pointed at the teats of the dromedary and said, "Look, Halimah, they are filled with milk". We, who were weak with hunger, milked her to our heart’s content. We spent that night very comfortably. Next day my husband said to me, "O Halimah, the child you have brought is very auspicious and he will definitely change our fortune".

Halimah had a good-natured daughter, named Sheema. It was she who developed a strong liking for the baby Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and looked after him. Halimah used to take the baby Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to meet his mother twice a year. When at the age of two, he had been weaned off, she set off to Makkah again since now the time had come for his return. Then there was a severe plague in Makkah and on Halimah’s advice, Aminah allowed Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to stay on at the desert safe from the danger of the epidemic. So baby Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) returned to the desert with Halimah to spend some more days in that fresh and open atmosphere. Of those early days and the Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) childhood, Halimah says:

"He did justice right from the beginning. He sucked milk only from one side leaving the other for his foster brother Abdullah. His growth was better than any other child and he seemed bigger than his age. Every one was struck with the innocence and charm of his personality. His face radiated like the full Moon in darkness. He went out to play with other children, but would not take part in untidy activities. He was very helpful and co-operative from the very beginning. At the age of three he began to go out with his foster-brother, Abdullah to help him graze the sheep".

Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) would later in his life herd the sheep of his tribe and other Makkans. At these times he would ponder over the purpose of human life and meaning of the universe. Later he used to make proud references to those wonderful days and thanked Allah for his enriching experiences.

When Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) reached the age of three, Halimah thought it best to return him to his mother. Taking him along she arrived at Makkah but in the congested streets somehow lost him. Extremely distressed she rushed to chief Abdul Muttalib and reported the matter to him. Abdul Muttalib was taken aback and praying for the speedy recovery for the lost child he dashed to the Holy Ka’bah. Hardly had he reached there when Waraqah bin Nawfal and another youth of Quraysh met him. They were carrying the Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). They said that they had found him wandering in the streets of Makkah. Abdul Muttalib thanked them. He perched Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) on his shoulder and started going round the Holy Ka’bah, praying for the health and safety of his grandson. After a while he sent the child to his mother who was anxiously awaiting his return.

The boy lived happily in Makkah with his mother for about three years, winning the affection of his grandfather and his uncles and aunts, and his many cousins with whom he played. Particularly dear to him were HamzahR.A and Safiyyah, the children of Abdul Muttalib’s last marriage that had taken place on the same day as that of Muhammad’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) parents. HamzahR.A was his age, Safiyyah a little younger.

When Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) began living with his mother in their Makkan residence Umm-e-Aiman, a nurse, was engaged to look after him. When he reached the age of six, his mother decided to take him to Madinah where she wanted to show him his father’s grave and visit her relatives. During his stay there Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) learnt how to swim and made many friends.

The son and mother stayed about a month in Madinah. On their way back to Makkah, at Abwa, Aminah already weakened from the journey fell seriously ill and died.

It was customary in Arabia that close relatives would fall into continuous conversation with a dying loved one to give him comfort from the fear of death. Aminah too, before her death was surrounded by her people who were continually talking to her. She replied to them in undertones and soon became unconscious.

When the young Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) saw his mother in this state, he put his head on her bosom and whispered plaintively, "Mother..... ......Mother........ why don’t you answer?" But the noble soul had parted for good.

The near relative of Aminah did the corpse-laving and Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) saw his mother wrapped in shroud. She was buried in the graveyard at a village, named Abwa.

The grave of Aminah

is at the top of a mountain, and the village is at the foot of the valley. The graves were dug on higher ground to avoid the bodies from being washed away by the flood waters and rains.

In 1995, I have visited the grave of the Muhammad’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) mother. From Madinah I travelled to Badr which is 140 Kilometres. From Badr I went to Masturah which is about another 70 Kilometres. From Masturah I drove by Jeep right through the heart of the desert till I reached the village of Abwa, where I found the grave unattended by any Auqaf authority. The grave was well maintained and the earth around was clean. I had reached the grave just before mid-night. It was 14th of the lunar month and the full moon had lit the vast lands of desert with its majestic light. For me it was a soul-stirring event.

It was customary to bury the dead in a bier. Wood was scarce in Arabia and extremely expensive thus Aminah was buried without a bier.

After the burial of Aminah, people noticed on their way back that Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was not with them. When they returned to the graveyard, they found him sitting beside her grave uttering, "Mother, Mother, where are you? Why don’t you come home, can you not see I have none but you in this world"?

Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) who had now lost both his parents started spending his days in solitude. When asked to play with children of his age, he always declined. Full of grief over his mother’s death, he desisted from food. Nurse Umm-e-Aiman endeavouring her utmost to console him and dry away his tears somehow managed to take him back to Makkah and handed him over to Abdul Muttalib, his paternal grandfather.

Abdul Muttalib was an old man of one hundred and eight years and used to live in Makkah. He took Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to his home and cared for him for two years. Abdul Muttalib became so fond of his grandson that he took him everywhere. He even took him to Al-Nadwah, the legislative Assembly of Makkah, in which only male members of the Quraysh tribe above forty years of age were allowed. At first other members of Al-Nadwah opposed his entry but later on they grew so attached to the child that they showered him with kindness and courtesy.

The Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) infancy was marked with tragedy. He lost his grand father when he was only eight. When Abdul Muttalib died at the ripe age of one hundred and ten, Abu Talib who was his uncle took him under his care and became his new guardian. Abu Talib had a son named Talib. In Arabia people were named after their progeny; Abu Talib meant father of Talib. Abu Talib’s real name was Manawf.

Abu Talib had a large family. He could not offer dress or shoes or provide for another mouth to feed from his income. Consequently, Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was compelled to earn at the young age of eight. He started looking after sheep in the blazing deserts of the peninsula to help out his uncle. Hard work at such a tender age created a strong calibre and developed his intellect too. It later enabled him to bear the burden of Prophethood. When he took sheep and cattle for grazing, he used to be thoroughly engrossed in meditation and deep thought. The desert is a place par excellence for such training.

Until and unless one spends time in the deserts of ‘the Peninsula’, one is unable to understand the attributes acquired in thought and composure through the vastness and silence of these deserts. The cacti and other plants of these deserts are radically different from those of Europe. There is hardly a plant in these deserts without a fragrance - even the acacia thorns bear an agreeable fragrance. It is even said that if the non-fragrant flowers of Europe are cultivated in the hot deserts of this Peninsula, after a couple of generations, they develop pleasant odours and small plants transform into big trees.

Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) had to take sheep for grazing every morning. He would remain out in the desert till evening. He often fixed his vision into the great vistas of the horizons. He would bring sheep back to the city before sunset and would go to his uncle for the night.

It is said that orphans mature early intellectually and become conscious of the world at a greater pace than other children. They neither have a shoulder to cry on for emotional support nor anyone to remove the shade of grief from their faces. They have no parents to buy clothes or shoes for them. Even at festive occasions like Eid; no one embraces an orphan or bestows a kiss on his forehead. An orphan who is made to labour at the age of eight, becomes well aware of the bitter realities of life. He does not trust anyone but his judgement. He has no choice but to find his way out of the maze of hardships. It is understandable that the Prophet’s (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) infancy was marked with periods of contemplation and meditation. Extreme hardships, loneliness and sense of responsibility made Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) solemn and understanding. This can also explain that when he was only twelve his Uncle Abu Talib decided to take him along on a trade mission to Syria.

Like other nobles of Makkah, Abu Talib too was a trader by profession. It was customary with Quraysh to undertake a trade journey to Syria once a year. On one such journey, the caravan of Abu Talib landed near the city of Bostra in Syria close to the monastery of a hermit named Bahira.

Bahira had never stepped out of his monastery. He had also never indulged in conversation to any traveller of caravans, but that day, he stepped out of his hermitage. He saw caravan approaching near his hermitage. He particularly observed, a small low-hanging cloud moving slowly above the heads of caravan people. The cloud was always between the sun and one or two of the travellers. As soon as they halted the cloud ceased to move, remaining stationary over the tree beneath which they took shelter, while the tree itself lowered its branches over them. They were doubly in the shade. Bahira sent a word to the caravan: "Men of Quraysh, I have prepared food for you".

"Men of Quraysh," he said, "Let none of you stay behind". Despite what Bahira had said they left Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) behind to look after their camels and baggage. "There is not one that hath been left behind," They answered, "Only a boy, the youngest of us all has been left behind". "Treat him not so" said Bahira, "But call him to come, and let him be present with us at this meal. One glance at the boy’s face was enough to explain the miracles to Bahira. There between his shoulders, was the very mark he expected to see the seal of Prophethood as it was described in his book.

He told Abu Talib about his dream that, "A caravan would come with a boy who would be commissioned by Allah for Prophecy among the Arabs and would instruct them in Arabic". "Henceforth you would not be compelled to adopt Judaism or Christianity as Allah is going to appoint a Prophet for you". Bahira also warned Abu Talib, "Take your nephew back to Makkah immediately and protect him from the Jews. If they recognised those signs in him which I have seen, they might do some mischief to him, for your nephew has all the signs of the "Awaited Prophet" as given in our religious books. The Prophet would communicate to that nation in their native language and would spread his message among them".

Abu Talib took Bahira’s warning seriously and completing his business quickly took Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) back to Makkah.

In Syria, ‘Bahira’ means a paragon of beauty or genius or the old sage. Bahira was stated to be the embodiment of Christianity. An Arab biographer ‘Ibn-Hasham’ however writes that contrary to the common belief, Bahira was not a Christian but a Manichaean priest. He followed a person called "Mani" who claimed prophesy during the ‘Sasanid’ period. The Sasanid King Bahram (I) had him crucified at the door of a city "Jindy Shapur" of the Iranian Province ‘Khostan’ in the year 376 AD. Christians recall him as a heretic because of the introduction of preferment ideas in religion. Mani and his followers including Bahira believed that Allah is not constrained to a particular nation, rather He is for every nation of the world, which, in turn, is His creation. He may send his prophets to any nation as He pleases.

Abu Talib knew some of the Hunafa, and one of them was Waraqah. He was the son of his second cousin Nawfal, of the clan of Asad. Waraqah had become a Christian; and there was belief among Christians of those parts that the coming of a Prophet was imminent. Abu Talib was convinced about his nephew. Therefore he wasted no time to return to Makkah.

The first war in which Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) took part was the war between a tribe in the South of Makkah and an alliance of ten tribes of Quraysh. The reason was that the former tribe had broken its contract of ‘no-war’ during the months when it was strictly prohibited. The economic sustenance of the Makkans depended on conducting business at the market place of Ukaz. If the contract of forbidden months was not enacted, then people would neither come for pilgrimage nor for the Ukaz fair.

In other months of the year, the caravans were bound to offer tribute so as to escape highway robbery. During the month of ‘Haram’ none had the right to receive tribute and if some one broke the contract, the Quraysh tribes were always prepared to fight back against the transgressors.

It is not known when this war between the Quraysh alliance and the other tribe started. Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) took part in this war and was beside his Uncle Abu Talib.

Some historians opine that as Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) was still quite young, he carried only his uncle’s quiver and gave him arrows by his hand so his uncle could hurl them at their enemy. Others say that Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) carried a sword in his hand and even injured ‘Boobr’, the chieftain of the treacherous tribe.