Muhammad: The Prophet's Youth

The Dawn: The Prophet's Youth

When Muhammad was twelve years old, his uncle Abu Talib who was a trader, undertook a business trip to Syria. He was reluctant to take Muhammad with him because of the hardships of the journey. Muhammad was, however, unwilling to remain separated from his uncle. He clung to him and after a good deal of pleading prevailed upon his kind uncle to take him to Syria along with him. It was during this journey that he is said to have met Bahira, a Christian monk. This meeting has been time and again emphasized by several Christian scholars who deduce that it was from Bahira that he learned to hate the idols.

The authentic records of the life-story of Muhammad (peace be upon him) prove beyond all shadow of doubt that there is not a grain of truth in this deduction. That Bahira met Muhammad is a fact, but the claim that he learnt from the Christian monk the concept of God and hatred against idolatry is absolutely baseless. On the other hand, we learn that the Holy Prophet in his very first talk showed his utmost contempt for idol-worship that had taken a firm hold on the minds of the people around him. We reproduce below a passage from Ibn Hisham in order to give an idea of what actually transpired between Muhammad and Bahira:

When Bahira saw him he began to eye him keenly and to observe the features of his body so as to find out in him the signs (of prophethood) which he already knew already knew (from the Holy Scriptures). Then, when the party had finished eating and had broken up, Bahira went up to him and said, "Young man! I adjure you by al-Lat and al-Uzza to answer my questions." Bahira said that to him only because he had heard his people swearing by these two. They say that the Messenger of God (God bless him and preserve him) said to him, "Do not ask by al-Lat and al-Uzza for by God there is absolutely nothing I detest so much as these two." So Bahira said to him, "Then, in God's name, answer what I ask you." "Ask what seems good to you," he said. So Bahira began to ask him about certain particulars of his condition in sleep. Then the Messenger of God (God bless and preserve him) set about answering him and what he said agreed with the description of him in Bahira's (book)…

Then he (Bahira) went to his uncle Abu Talib, and said:

Return to your own country with your nephew, and take care of him against the Jews, for, by God, if they see him and know what I know about him, they will desire evil; for great fortune is in store for your nephew. So hurry to your country with him.

His uncle Abu Talib set out with him quickly and soon reached Mecca on the completion of their trade in Syria. (1)

Muhammad was hardly fifteen (2) when the "sacrilegious" wars (harb al-fijar) - which continued with varying fortunes and considerable loss of human life for a number of years broke out at 'Ukaz between the Quraysh and the Banu Kinanah on the one side and the Qays Aylan on the other. In one of these battles the Prophet (peace be upon him) attended on his uncles but did not raise his arm against their opponent. His efforts were confined to picking up the arrows of the enemy as they fell, and handing them over to his uncles.

At the conclusion of these wars, when peace was restored, people felt the need of forming a confederacy at Mecca for suppressing violence and injustice and vindicating the rights of the weak, the indigent, and the destitute. Muhammad played an important role in its conclusion and this league exercised a strong moderating influence amongst the different tribes of Arabia. (3)

The authorities agree in ascribing to the youth of Muhammad (peace be upon him) a modesty of deportment and purity of manners rare among the people of Mecca. During all this time he proved himself to possess a noble and spotless character, to be an absolute believer in one God, and thoroughly trustworthy in respect of his companionship, help and guidance. He was affectionate, kind, and sympathetic to his compatriots; always considerate, truthful, and sincere; perfectly faithful in respect of all trusts and promises. He kept himself aloof from gambling, drinking, vulgar wrangling, voluptuousness, and all the vices rampant among his compatriots. He was always fair and honest in all his dealings; generous and obliging to his friends and benefactors. He walked humbly and thoughtfully in the midst of the arrogant, headstrong and marauding tribes of Arabia. He hated all appearance of show, vanity, and pride and would readily attend to the addresses of children and spare no pains in alleviating the sufferings of the poor, old, and the weak. He always impressed his people by his wise, tranquil and piety-inspiring countenance and, by his genuine kindliness and graceful manners, won the heart of everyone who came into contact with him, passing by all the temptations of vice with a majestic indifference. The spotless character and honourable bearing of the unobtrusive youth won the approbation of his fellow-citizens, and earned the titles, by common consent, of al-Amin and al-Sadiq, meaning trustworthy and truthful.

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1.Ibn Hisham, I, p. 182. Some of the modern critics of Hadith and of the early biographers of the Holy Prophet have said that this incident is not authenticated by authentic traditions, but it is not correct. 'Asqalani says that the incident as recorded in Tirmidhi is authentic even according to the criteria in respect of transmission.

2. Ibid, p. 184.

3. Ibn Sa'd, Vol. I, p. 129.

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