From Marriage to Prophethood
Muhammad married Khadijah and gave her a dowry of twenty young camels. He moved to her house and thus began a new chapter in the life of both. Muhammad offered Khadijah the love of a man of twenty-five, though not the raging passion of youth which is as quickly kindled as cooled or put off. Khadijah gave him sons as well as daughters. The sons, namely al Qasim and `Abdullah, died in childhood to the great grief of their father. The daughters survived and constantly remained the object of Muhammad's love and compassion just as he was the object of their love and devotion.[Most of the scholars who have investigated the geneological descendents of Muhammad and his family agree that the sons of the Prophet-may God's peace and blessing be upon him-given him by Khadijah were two: al Qasim and 'Abdullah, who was also called "the pure" and "the good." It has also been reported that his sons were three or even four.]
Muhammad was handsome of face and of medium build, and neither conspicuously tall nor inconspicuously short. He had a large head, very black thick hair, wide forehead, heavy eyebrows, and large black eyes with a slight redness on their sides and long eyelashes to add to their attractiveness. He had a fine nose, well-spaced teeth, a thick beard, a long handsome neck, wide chest and shoulders, light colored skin, and thick palms and feet. He walked resolutely with firm steps. His appearance was always one of deep thought and contemplation. In his eyes there lurked the authority of a commander of men. It is no wonder that Khadijah combined love for him with obedience to his wishes or that she soon excused him from having to administer her trade and took over its reins as she had done before marriage in order to give him leisure to pursue a life of contemplation.
Aided by a marriage which complemented his geneological honor and provided amply for his needs, Muhammad spent his days respected and loved by all the people of Makkah. His family life, numerous offspring, along with the ample provisions he now enjoyed, kept him from falling in public esteem. On the other hand, Muhammad had not withdrawn from society, from participating in the public life of Makkah as he did before. His new status added to his prestige among his peers as well as strengthened his already great modesty. Despite his great intelligence and outstanding ability, he listened well and attentively to anyone who spoke to him, never turning his face away from his interlocutor. Whosoever addressed him, Muhammad was never satisfied to lend his ear alone but turned to him with all his being. He spoke little, listened much, and inclined only to serious conversation though he did not refuse to share a joke. He always spoke the truth. Sometimes he would laugh until one could see his molars, but his anger could never be recognized except by perspiration between his eyebrows. His anger and fury were always sublimated, and his magnanimity, candidness, and loyalty knew no bounds. He loved to do the good, and was charitable, hospitable, and friendly, as well as resolved and strong willed. Once resolved on a course of action, he was persevering and knew no hesitancy. Whoever came into contact with him was deeply impressed by all these qualities; whoever saw him would immediately fear him; and whoever had anything to do with him, loved him. All these qualities helped strengthen the bond of loyalty, truthfulness, and love which united him to Khadijah.
Reconstruction of the Ka'bah
We have said that Muhammad did not withdraw from the people of Makkah or from participating in the public life of the city. At the time, the Makkans were preoccupied with the rebuilding of the Ka'bah after a sudden flood had shaken its foundation and cracked its walls. The Ka'bah had for some time been the concern of the Quraysh. It had no ceiling and the treasures it housed were exposed to robbery. The Makkans were afraid, however, that a rebuilding of the Ka'bah with doors and ceilings might bring upon them a curse. The Ka'bah was girded by a series of superstitions designed to frighten the people from ever altering anything that pertained to it. Any such change would have been regarded as forbidden innovation and anathema. When the floods cracked its walls, it was imperative to do something about it despite fear and hesitancy. Coincidentally, a ship coming from Egypt belonging to a Byzantine trader called Pachomius was washed ashore. Pachomius was a builder by trade and knew something of carpentry. When Quraysh heard of him, al Walid ibn al Mughirah headed a delegation of Makkans to Juddah to negotiate with him. They bought from him the ship and commissioned him to come with them to Makkah and help them in the building of the Ka'bah. Pachomius accepted. In Makkah, there resided another Coptic man who knew something of carpentry. They asked him to assist Pachomius and the work began.
Wrecking and Rebuilding the Ka'bah
To every one of the four clans of Makkah fell the duty of wrecking and rebuilding one of the four walls of the Ka'bah. No one, however, volunteered to begin the work of wrecking for fear of punishment by its gods. Al Walid ibn al Mughirah, approaching his task with strong premonitions, prayed to the gods before pulling down part of the Yamani wall assigned to his tribe. The rest waited in order to see what would befall al Walid as a result of his deed. When the morning came and nothing had happened to him, they took courage and began their work. Like the rest, Muhammad carried stones back and forth, and the wrecking continued until the Ka'bah was leveled. Below the walls green stones were found which the Makkans were unable to shake loose. They decided to use them as foundation on which to build the new walls. From the neighboring mountains, they carried stones of blue granite. As the walls rose from the ground and the time came to place the sacred black stone in its place in the east wall, they differed as to who would have the honor of laying it in place. Competition was so keen that it almost led to a new civil war. The descendents of `Abd al Dar and of `Adiyy allied themselves together and swore that none would rob them of this honor. They were so serious in their resolution that members of the clan of Banu `Abd al Dar brought a bowl full of blood in which they dipped their hands in confirmation of their solemn oath. For this act they were later called "the blood mongers". When Abu Umayyah, son of Mughirah al Makhzumi saw what happened, he took advantage of his power and prestige and said to the Makkans, "While we are all standing here, let the first one to pass through the gate of al Suffah be our arbitrator in this dispute." The first one to pass through the gate was Muhammad. When they beheld him they said, "There goes al Amin. We shall agree with his verdict." Realizing, as he listened to them, that the contenders had worked themselves up into a passion, Muhammad thought for a moment and said, "bring me a robe." He took the robe they brought, spread it on the ground, and placed the black stone on it and then said, "Let the elders of each clan hold onto one edge of the robe." They all complied and together carried the stone to the site of construction. There, Muhammad picked up the stone and laid it in its place by himself. Bloodshed was thus averted and the dispute was solved. The Quraysh completed the building of the Ka'bah, raising its walls to a height of eighteen cubits. In order to make it more defensible, they raised its entrance above ground level. Inside the Ka'bah, they erected two parallel rows of three pillars each to support the ceiling and built a stairway on its north side leading to the roof. Hubal, the idol, was placed inside the Ka'bah together with all the treasures whose security concerned the Makkans.
There is disagreement about the age of Muhammad at the time of the rebuilding of the Ka'bah and of his arbitration between the Quraysh clans concerning the black stone. While some claimed that he was twenty-five years old, Ibn Ishaq reported him to be thirty-five. Regardless which of the two claims is true, the acceptance by the Quraysh of his arbitration and verdict as well as his taking over the stone with his own hands and laying it down first on the robe and then in its place in the wall all this proves the very high prestige Muhammad enjoyed among all Makkans as well as appreciation by his fellow countrymen for his objectivity and candidness of purpose.
Dissolution of Authority in Makkah and Its Effects
The foregoing dispute between the clans, the alliance of "the blood mongers," and the recourse to arbitration by the first man to pass through the gates of al Suffah, all proved that public power and authority in Makkah had by that time dissolved and that none of the absolute power of Qusayy, Hashim, or `Abd al Muttalib had passed to any Makkan. Undoubtedly, this dissolution was furthered by the power struggle between Banu Hashim and Banu Umayyah after the death of `Abd al Muttalib. Such dissolution of public power and authority was bound to harm the city sooner or later were it not for the sanctified status of the ancient house and the awe and reverence it commanded in the hearts of all Arabs. Nonetheless, a natural consequence of political dissolution was the noticeable increase in the liberty of many to speak out their religious and other views. It was equally evident in the boldness of Jews and Christians, hitherto living in fear, publicly to criticize Arab idolatry. This dissolution of public power also contributed to the gradual disappearance among large numbers of Qurayshis of their old veneration of the idols, though their elders continued at least to appear to respect them. Anxious to safeguard the old ways, the elders held that to stabilize the situation and to prevent further deterioration of Makkan unity, idol worship in the Ka'bah might preserve for Makkah its place in the trade relations and religious life of Arabia. In fact, Makkah continued to benefit from this position of religious eminence, and its commerce continued to prosper. In the hearts of the Makkans themselves, however, Makkan prosperity could not for long impede the deterioration and final disappearance of idol worship.
Dissolution of Idol Worship
It is reported that one day the Quraysh tribe convened at a place called Nakhlah to celebrate the day of the goddess al `Uzza. Four Qurayshis failed to show up and participate in this sacrament: namely, Zayd ibn `Amr, `Uthman ibn al Huwayrith, `Ubayd Allah ibn Jahsh and Waraqah ibn Nawfal. They are reported to have addressed one another in these words, "Mark well these words! By God, the people are unworthy and surely misguided. As for us, we shall circumambulate no stone which neither hears nor sees, which is capable of neither harm nor good and on which the blood of sacrifice runs. O people, seek for yourselves a religion other than this!" Waraqah joined Christianity, and it is reported that he translated into Arabic some of the contents of the Evangels. `Ubayd Allah ibn Jahsh remained a man without religion until he joined Islam and emigrated with his fellow Muslims to Abyssinia. There it is reported that he joined Christianity and died a Christian. His wife Umm Habibah, daughter of Abu Sufyan, remained a Muslim. She returned to Madinah and became one of the wives of the Prophet and a "Mother of the Faithful"[Title given to each of the wives of the Prophet.]. As for Zayd ibn `Amr, he separated himself from his wife and from his uncle al Khattab, lived for a while in al Sham and `Iraq and returned to Arabia without ever joining either Judaism or Christianity. He also separated himself from Makkan religion and avoided the idols. Leaning on the walls of the Ka'bah he used to pray, "O God! If I knew in which form you preferred to be worshipped, I would surely worship you in that form." Finally, as for `Uthman ibn al Huwayrith, a relative of Khadijah, he traveled to Byzantium, became a Christian and, for some time, achieved a position of eminence in the imperial court. It is said that he sought to subjugate Makkah to Byzantium and to get himself appointed as the emperor's viceroy. The Makkans finally banished him from Makkah. He joined the Ghassanis in al Sham. From there he sought to cut off the trade route of Makkah, but the Makkans undid his schemes by sending all sorts of gifts to the Ghassani court. There, ibn al Huwayrith died by being poisoned.
The years passed while Muhammad participated in the public life of Makkah and found in Khadijah, the loving woman who gave him many children, the best of all woman companions. She gave him two sons, al Qasim and 'Abdullah the last of whom was nicknamed al Tahir and al Tayyib-and four daughters, Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah. Hardly anything is known of al Qasim and `Abdullah except that they died before the coming of Islam, while still infants. Undoubtedly their loss caused their parents great grief and affected them deeply. As their mother, Khadijah must have received a permanent wound at their loss. She must have turned to her idols, inquisitively asking why the gods did not have mercy on her, and why they did not prevent her happiness from repeated shipwreck by the loss of her children. Certainly, Muhammad must have shared her grief and unhappiness. It is not difficult for us to imagine the depth of their tragedy in an age when daughters used to be buried alive and male descendants were sought after as the substance of life itself indeed more. Sufficient proof of this grief is the fact that Muhammad could not last long without a male heir. When he saw Zayd ibn Harithah offered for sale, he asked Khadijah to buy him; no sooner was the new slave bought than Muhammad manumitted and adopted him as a son. He was called Zayd ibn Muhammad, lived under his protection, and became one of his best followers and companions. There was yet more grief ahead for Muhammad when his third son Ibrahim passed away in the Islamic period, after Islam had prohibited the burial of live daughters and declared paradise to stand under the feet of mothers. It is not surprising, therefore, that Muhammad's losses in his children should leave their deep mark upon his life and thought. He must, have been quite shocked when on each of these tragic occasions, Khadijah turned to the idols of the Ka'bah, and sacrificed to Hubal, to al Lat, al `Uzza, and Manat in the hope that these deities would intercede on her behalf and prevent the loss of her children. But Muhammad must have then realized the vanity and futility of these hopes and efforts in his tragic bereavement and great sorrow.
Muhammad took care to marry his daughters to good husbands. He married Zaynab, the eldest, to Abu al `As ibn al Rabi` ibn `Abd Shams, whose mother was Khadijah's sister, and who was an upright and successful citizen. This marriage proved a happy one despite the separation of the two spouses following Zaynab's emigration to Madinah after Islam; as we shall see later. He married Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthum to `Utbah and `Utaybah, the sons of his Uncle Abu Lahab. These marriages did not last, for soon after the advent of Islam, Abu Lahab ordered his two sons to divorce their wives. It was `Uthman that married both of them one after the other. Fatimah, who was still a child, did not marry 'Ali until after Islam.
Still, Muhammad's life during these years was one of well being, peace, and security. Were it not for the loss of his sons, it would have been a very happy one blessed with progeny and Khadijah's constant love and loyalty. During this period it was natural for Muhammad to allow his soul to wander, his mind and imagination to contemplate and to listen to the Makkan dialogue concerning their religion, to Jews and Christians concerning theirs, as well as to the tatter's critique of Makkan religion. He could afford to give these problems his time and energy and to concern himself with them far more than could his compatriots. Endowed with such penetrating insight and prepared for conveying the divine message to mankind and ready for guiding their spiritual life to the true path, Muhammad could not enjoy his peace and security while men sank in misguidance and untruth. It was necessary for such a soul as he had to seek the truth perennially and everywhere, for only by such seeking and soul searching would it receive that which God was about to reveal. Despite this keen and noble obsession with the spiritual, this natural impulsion to religion, Muhammad never sought to become a priest nor a wise counselor, such as Waraqah ibn Nawfal and others were, to whom men ran for advice. Rather he sought first to convince himself of the truth, not to pass it on to others. Consequently, he spent long intervals alone, completely absorbed in his thoughts and meditation, and hardly ever given to communicating his ideas to anyone.
The Arabs' Annual Retreat
It was Arabia's custom at the time for the pious and thoughtful to devote a period of each year to a retreat of worship, asceticism, and prayer. They would seek an empty place far away from their people where they could concentrate on their prayers and genuinely seek a new level of seriousness, wisdom, and ethical goodness through meditation. This practice was called tahannuth or tahannuf. Therein Muhammad found the best means of satisfying his will to thinking and meditating. In its solitude he could find a measure of spiritual detachment and peace that would enable his consciousness to screen the whole universe for inspiration and to pursue his thought where it might lead. At the head of Mount Hira', two miles north of Makkah, Muhammad discovered a cave whose perfect silence and total separation from Makkah made of it a perfect place for retreat. In that cave Muhammad used to spend the whole month of Ramadan. He would satisfy himself with the least provisions, carried to him from time to time by a servant, while devoting himself uninterruptedly to his spiritual pursuits in peace, solitude and tranquility. His devotion often caused him to forget himself, to forget his food, and, indeed, to forget the whole world around him. At these moments the very world and existence must have appeared to him like a dream. Through his mind he would turn the pages of all that he had heard and learned, and his search could only whet his appetite for the truth.
Groping after Truth
Muhammad did not hope to find the truth he sought in the narratives of the rabbis or the scriptures of the monks but in the very world surrounding him, in the sky and its stars, moon, and sun, and in the desert with its burning air under the brilliant sun-its impeccable purity enclosed by the light of the moon or that of the stars in the balmy night, in the sea with its countless waves, and in all that which underlies this existence and constitutes its unity of being. It was in the world that Muhammad sought to discover the supreme truth. He sought to unite his soul to it, to penetrate it, and to grasp the secret of its being. He did not take much thought to realize that his peoples' understanding of the nature of this world, of their religiosity and devotion, was all false. Their idols were mere stones-speechless, thoughtless, and powerless. Hubal, al Lat, and al `Uzza, as well as every one of these idols and statues inside or around the Ka'bah, had never created even so much as a fly and never did Makkah any good. Where was to be found the truth in this vast universe of infinite skies and stars? Is it in the brilliant stars which give men their light and warmth and sends them rain ? Is it in their water, the light and warmth as sources of life to all mankind throughout the world? No! For all these are creatures like the earth itself. Is the truth then behind the sky and their stars, in the boundless space beyond? But what is space? And what is this life which is today and is gone tomorrow? What is its origin and source? Is this world and our presence therein all a mere accident? The world and its life have, however, immutable laws which cannot be the product of circumstances. Men do good and they do evil. But do they do it willingly and deliberately, or is their action a mere instinct which they are powerless to control? It was of such spiritual and psychological problems that Muhammad thought during his solitary retreat in the cave of Hira', and it was in the totality of spirit and life that he sought to discover the truth. His ideas filled his soul, his heart, his consciousness, indeed all his being. This paramount occupation diverted him from the commonplace problems of everyday. When at the end of Ramadan, Muhammad returned to Khadijah, his perturbed thoughts showed on his face and caused Khadijah to inquire whether he was well.
In his devotions during that retreat, did Muhammad follow any one of the known religious schools? That is a question on which scholars disagree. In his Al Kamil fi al Tarikh, ibn Kathir reported some of the current views in answer to this question. Some claimed that Muhammad followed the law of Noah; others, the law of Ibrahim; others, the law of Moses; others the law of Jesus. Others claimed that Muhammad had followed every known law and observed it. Perhaps this last claim is nearer to the truth than the others, for it agrees with what we know of Muhammad's constant search for answers and for ways to the truth.
The True Vision
Whenever the year revolved and the month of Ramadan arrived, Muhammad would return to the cave of Hira' for meditation with a soul yet more ripe and more concerned. After years of preoccupation with such problems, Muhammad began to see in his dream visions of the truth he sought. Contrasted with these visions, the illusory character of this life and the vanity of its ornaments became especially apparent. He had become perfectly convinced that his people had gone utterly astray and that their spiritual lives had been corrupted by their idols and the false beliefs associated with them. He was also convinced that neither the Jews nor the Christians had anything to offer that would save his people from their misguidance. Some truth there certainly was in the claims of both Judaism and Christianity, but there was also a fair measure of falsehood and illusion, of outright paganism, which could not possibly agree with the simple absolute truth beyond all the barren dialectics and futile controversies in which Christians as well as Jews indulged. This simple absolute truth is God, Creator of the universe, other than Whom there is no God. The truth is that God is Lord of the universe, that He is the Compassionate and the Merciful, and that men are responsible for their deeds. "Whoever will do an atom's weight of good, will be rewarded therefore on the Day of Judgment; and whoever does an atom's weight of evil, will like-wise be punished therefor"[Qur'an, 29:7-8]. The truth is that paradise and hell are true; that those who worship other gods than God shall dwell in hell and suffer eternal punishment.
When Muhammad retreated into the cave of Hira' as he approached the fortieth year of his age, his soul was fully convinced of the vision of truth he had seen. His mind was cleansed of all illusion and falsehood. His soul was well disciplined by the search for truth and devotion to it. His whole being was now oriented toward the eternal truth, and his whole life was devoted to the pursuit of its path. He had prayed with all his power that God might deliver his people from their misguidance and error. In his retreat he prayed day and night and fasted long periods. He would come down from the cave for a stroll on the desert highway and then return to his retreat, always rethinking, contemplating and reconsidering. This continued for six whole months while Muhammad was unable to tear himself away. Naturally he was scared, and intimated to his wife, Khadijah, the fear that he might even be possessed by an evil spirit. His loving and loyal wife reassured him, reminding that he was al Amin" [i.e., the faithful], that evil spirits could not approach him precisely because of his faith and strong morality. It had never occurred to either that God was preparing His chosen one by means of all these spiritual exercises for a truly great day, the day of the great news, the day of the first revelation. It did not occur to them that God was preparing His Prophet for prophet hood.
The Beginning of Revelation (610 C.E.)
One day, while Muhammad was asleep in the cave, an angel approached with a sheet in his hand. The angel said to Muhammad, "Read." Muhammad answered in surprise, "What shall I read?" He felt as if the angel had strangled and then released him and heard once more the command, "Read." Muhammad's reply was, "What shall I read?" Once more he felt the angel strangling and then releasing him, and he heard him repeat the command, "Read." For the third time Muhammad answered, "What shall I read?" fearful that this time the strangling would be stronger. The angel replied, "Read in the name of your Lord, the Creator, Who created man of a clot of blood. Read! Your Lord is most gracious. It is He who taught man by the pen that which he does not know"[Qur'an, 96:1-5.], Muhammad recited these verses, repeating them after the angel who withdrew after they were permanently carved upon his memory. Thus the earliest of the biographies reported, and so did ibn Ishaq. Many of the Muhaddithun [i.e., "reporters of the Prophet's tradition"-Tr.] have reported likewise. Some of them have claimed that the beginning of revelation was in the hours of wakefulness, and they mention a hadith to the effect that Gabriel first said words of reassurance to assuage Muhammad's fear at his appearance. In his Al Kamil fi al Tarikh, Ibn Kathir gave a quotation from the book, Dala'il al Nubuwwah by Abu Na'im al Isbahani, in which the latter reported that `Alqamah ibn Qays had said, "The first revelations come to the prophets in their sleep until their hearts are reassured. Thereafter, revelation comes any time of the day or night." To this report Abu Na'im added, "This report comes to me from `Alqamah ibn Qays in person. It is sound and reasonable, and it is corroborated by that which comes before and after it."
Stricken with panic, Muhammad arose and asked himself, "What did I see? Did possession of the devil which I feared all along come to pass?" Muhammad looked to his right and his left but saw nothing. For a while he stood there trembling with fear and stricken with awe. He feared the cave might be haunted and that he might run away still unable to explain what he saw. He walked in the area around the mountain asking himself who could have commanded him to read. Until that day in his retreat, Muhammad used to have visions of the truth dawning upon him after his meditation and filling his consciousness with great light. In these visions, Muhammad was guided to the truth, his doubts were dissolved, and the darkness which had enveloped the Quraysh in their idol worship was exposed. This light that illuminated the way in front of him was that of the truth which provided him with true guidance. It was the One and only God. But who was this who came to remind Muhammad of Him, that He had created man, and that He was the most gracious who taught man by the pen that which he does not know? Pursued by his own questioning and still trembling in fear of what he had seen and heard in the cave, Muhammad stopped in the middle of the road when the same voice called to him from above. Mesmerized in his place, Muhammad lifted his head toward heaven. He saw the angel in the form of a human giant across the sky. For a moment he sought to escape, but wherever he looked or ran, the angel stood right there before him. In his absence from the cave a messenger from Khadijah looked for him and could not find him. Filled with what he had seen, Muhammad returned home once the angel disappeared. His state was one of extreme dread. He had literally experienced the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans.
Khadijah, the Faithful
As Muhammad entered his house he asked Khadijah to wrap him in blankets. She could see that her husband was shivering as if struck with high fever. When he calmed down, he cast toward his wife the glance of a man in need of rescue and said, "O Khadijah, what has happened to me?" He told her of his experience and intimated to her his fear that his mind had finally betrayed him, and that he was becoming a seer or a man possessed. Khadijah was still the same angel of mercy, peace, and reassurance she had always been. As she did on earlier occasions when Muhammad feared possession by the devil, she now stood firm by her husband and devoid of the slightest doubt. Respectfully, indeed reverently, she said to him, "Joy to my cousin! Be firm. By him who dominates Khadijah's soul I pray and hope that you will be the Prophet of this nation. By God, He will not let you down. You will be kind to your kin; your speech will all be true; you will rescue the weary; entertain the guest and help the truth to prevail."
Reassured, Muhammad thanked Khadijah and was grateful for her faith. Exhausted, he fell asleep. This sleep was to be followed by a spiritual life of utmost strength, a life whose sublimity and beauty was to confront each and every mind. His life was to be dedicated purely to God, to truth, and to humanity. He was being commissioned to convey to man the message of His lord. He was to carry out his charge not by force, but by argument yet more gentle, sound and more convincing than any man has known. Despite every unbeliever, the light of God and His guidance will yet fill the world.