The Dawn: The Prophet's Childhood (The Infant)
The infant Muhammad, shortly after his birth, was made over to Thuwaybah, the slave girl of his uncle Abu Lahab, who had lately suckled Hamzah. Though nursed by her only for a few days, the Prophet retained a deep sense of kinship and always looked upon her and her family with profound respect and gratitude. When the Prophet was married to Khadijah, Thuwaybah would often come to him and she always received from him the love and affection of a loving son. Muhammad could not forget her and after his migration to Medina, he used to send her clothes and many other gifts as a token of his love and respect. At the time of the conquest of Mecca, he inquired about her and her son but they had died and she had left no other relative to mourn her. (1)
It was the general custom of the wealthy Arabs to send their children away to bedouin nurses so that they might grow up in the free and healthy surroundings of the desert whereby they would develop a robust frame and acquire the pure speech and manners of the bedouins, who were noted both for chastity of their language and for being free from those vices which usually develop in sedentary societies and accompany material abundance and prosperity.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was later entrusted to Halimah, a bedouin woman of the tribe Banu Sa'd, a branch of Hawazin. The lady did not accept the child without reluctance, since the care of a fatherless child was less likely to be well rewarded than that of the one whose parents were alive. She proved, however most faithful to her trust. The infant was carefully and lovingly tended, and was growingup as a healthy and vigrous child when, at the age of five, he was finally returned to her mother's charge. Traditions delightfully relate how Halimah and the whole of her household were favoured by successive strokes of good fortune while the child Muhammad lived under her care. It will suffice to give the best known of the accounts as embodied in Ibn Hisham. Jahim B. Abu Jahim, the client of al-Harith b. Halib states that Halimah, the nurse of the Messenger of God (God bless him), narrated that she, along with her husband and a suckling babe, set out from her village in the company of some women of her clan in quest of children to suckle. She said:
It was a year of draught and famine and we had nothing to eat. I rode on a brown she-ass. We also had with us an old she-camel. By God we could not get even a drop of milk. We could not have a wink of sleep during the night for the child kept crying on account of hunger. There was not enough milk in my breast and even the she-camel had nothing to feed him. At length we reached Mecca looking for children to suckle. Not even a single woman amongst us accepted the messenger of God (God bless him) offered to her. As soon as they were told that he was an orphan, they refused him. We had fixed our eyes on the reward that we would get from the child's father. An orphan! What are his grandfather and mother likely to do? So we spurned him because of that. Every woman who came with me got a suckling and when we were about to depart I said to my husband: "By God, I do not like to go back along with the other women without any baby. I should go to that orphan and must take him." He said, "there is no harm in doing so and perhaps God might bless us through him." So I went and took him and I did it simply because there was no other alternative left for me but to take him. When I lifted him in my arms and returned to my place I put him on my breast and to my great surprise, I found enough milk in it. He drank to his heart's content and so did his foster brother and then both of them went to sleep although my baby had not been able to sleep the previous night. My husband then went to the she-camel to milk it and, to his astonishment, he found plenty of milk in it. He milked it and we drank to our fill and enjoyed a sound sleep during the night. The next morning my husband said: "By God, Halimah, you must understand that you have been able to get a blessed child." And I replied: "By the grace of Allah, I hope so." (2)
The tradition is explicit on the point that Halimah's return journey and her subsequent life, as long as the Prophet stayed with her, was encircled with a halo of good fortune. The donkey that she rode when she came to Mecca was lean and almost foundered; it recovered speed much to the amazement of Halimah's fellow travellers. By the time they reached the encampments in the country of the clan of Sa'd, they round the scales of fortune turned in their favour. The barren land sprouted forth luxuriant grass and their beasts came back to them satisfied and full of milk. (3) The child grew up to be strong and healthy and learnt the pure, chaste Arabic of the desert. The Prophet himself was conscious of this attainment. Abu Bakr once said: "O Messenger of God, you are very eloquent in your expression." The Prophet replied: "I was born in a family of the Quraysh and suckled by a lady of Banu Sa'd." (4)
Muhammad (peace be upon him) remained for full five years in the desert with Halimah and her family int eh quiet serenity of the country-side. During these years he developed the habit of mediation and reflection which persisted throughout his life. The handsome child, grateful by nature, loved Halimah and her children and helped them in their daily errands. He developed such a deep attachment to Halimah that he cherished a life long affection for her family. Halimah used to visit him in Mecca after his marriage with Khadijah. It was a year of draught in which so many cattle heads had perished. Muhammad's affectionate nurse went to Khadijah and that generous lady sent her away with the gift of a noble riding camel and a flock of forty sheep. (5) On another occasion the Prophet spread out his mantle for her to sit upon as a token of special respect. (6) Many years later his foster-sister was brought to him along with many other captives in his expedition ot Ta'if. She claimed that she was his foster sister. Muhammad (peace be upon him) inquired how he could verify this statement, and she replied: "Once you gave me this bite upon my back, while I was carrying you." The Prophet recognised the mark, spread his mantle, and asked her to sit upon it. He gave her the option of remaining in his house with honor and comfort, but she preferred to return to her people with the gifts the Prophet had given her.
It was during his stay with Halimah that the Prophet's heart was purified by the angels. (7) In this again, we see an Arabic version of the Psalmists' prayer, "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord."
1. Suhayli, Rawd al-Unuf, Vol. 1, p. 108 and Ibn Hajar 'Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, Vol. IX, p. 124.
2. Ibn Hisham, vol. I, p. 163.
3. Ibid., Vol. I, p. 164.
4. Suhayli, op. cit., p. 109.
5. Ibn Sa'd, Vol. I, pp. 1131.
6. Ibid., p. 114.
7. Ibid., p. 165.