MUHAMMAD was born at Mecca in A.D. 570. His father’s name was ‘Abdu'llah, and his mother's Amina. Both belonged to the Quraish tribe of Arabs. The Quraish were the hereditary guardians of the sacred Ka’ba or temple at Mecca, and as such were held in the highest esteem by the Arabs. It is recorded that a few days after the nuptials of ‘Abdullah and Amina had been celebrated, the former proceeded to Syria on a trading expedition. From this he never returned, for on the homeward journey he was attacked with illness and died before reaching his young wife. The latter, a few months later, gave birth to a son whom she named Muhammad. A few weeks later Amina, in conformity with a practice current amongst the city Arabs, handed over her infant child to a woman of the desert Arabs or Bedouin named Halima, who undertook to nurse the fatherless child. The charge thus undertaken lasted for five years, at the expiry of which period the child was again returned to his mother.

In the Qisasu’l-Anbiya and other collections of traditions an extraordinary story is related of an incident which is said to have befallen Muhammad during his stay with Halima. The story goes that one day the child Muhammad was playing with the other sons of Halima (though some reports declare that he was minding goats at the time) when suddenly two angels appeared. These promptly seized the child, and, throwing him on his back, opened his breast, and after washing it with pure water, extracted therefrom a clot of blood, saying as they did so

هذا حظ الشيطان منك يا حبيب الله.

‘This is Satan's portion from thee, O, beloved of God.’ 16 This done, they restored the child's breast as before, and disappeared as suddenly as they had come!! This astounding story is gravely recorded in the celebrated Mishkatu'l-Masabih 17 and other Muslim works, and the exuberant fancy of Muhammadan writers has delighted to enlarge upon the incidents there narrated in order to show that thus early Muhammad was being prepared by God for his prophetic mission. Some affirm that Muhammad's heart was thus cleansed, once for all, from all taint of sin; but it would appear that either the angels failed satisfactorily to accomplish their unwonted task, or that Muhammad's personality was so strong that he was able to over-ride the intentions of God, for in the Qisasu’l-Anbiya it is recorded that on a second occasion some years later, when he was about to perform the Mi’raj or miraculous ascent to heaven, two angels again appeared, and after opening Muhammad's breast in a similar manner washed it thoroughly with the famous Zem Zem water of the Ka’ba. 18 Be that as it may, it is related that Halima became thoroughly alarmed at the story brought her by Muhammad and his companions; and when to this were added not infrequent signs of epilepsy, she resolved to rid herself of so heavy a responsibility by returning the child to his mother. In the Siratu’r-Rasul it is related that her husband also became concerned, and addressing Halima said, ‘O Halima, I fear the child is possessed of Satan, therefore return him to his mother ere the malady further appear.’ Amina listened to the story with interest, exclaiming as she noticed the fears of the child's foster-parents,

أفتخوفت عليه الشيطان.

‘Do ye then fear he is possessed with Satan?’ But the child was still young, and at last, yielding to the entreaties of his mother, Halima consented to keep him still another year. At the expiry of that period she finally, in Muhammad's sixth year, brought him to Mecca, and once more placed him in the care of his mother.

Soon after Muhammad's return to Mecca his mother took him with her on a visit to some relations at Madina. After some days spent pleasantly there, they left on their return journey; but Amina fell sick soon after setting out, and after a short illness expired, leaving the orphan Muhammad to face a cold world without the tender care of father or mother. His upbringing now devolved upon his aged grandfather ‘Abdu'l-Muttalib, who with tender affection watched over the young child's destinies. But 'Abdu'l-Muttalib was an old man of eighty, and two years later he too passed to the great unknown leaving the orphan child in charge of his son Abu Talib. The latter was a good and generous guardian and, until the day of his death many years later, carried out with faithfulness and solicitude the responsibility imposed upon him by his aged father.

In his tenth year Muhammad accompanied his uncle Abu Talib on a trading expedition to Syria, where he came into contact with the Christians of that prosperous country. From that date until his assumption of prophetship, thirty years later, there is little of special interest to chronicle in the life of the young Meccan. He was esteemed by his fellow-townsmen for his integrity and honesty of purpose; and it is recorded that his upright behaviour gained for him the title of Al Amin—the Faithful.

Abu Talib's circumstances, however, were not good, and partly upon his advice Muhammad was tempted to seek an independent livelihood. The opportunity soon presented itself, and one day the young Meccan found himself engaged by a wealthy widow named Khadija for a mercantile expedition to Syria. A few days later he departed on his business, having joined a caravan which was journeying thither on a similar errand; and with such ability did he prosecute the business entrusted to him that, on his return, his mistress offered him her hand; and a few days later the marriage was celebrated with great rejoicings. Muhammad's age at this time was about twenty-five years, whilst Khadija's was not less than forty; yet the match proved a thoroughly happy one notwithstanding. Six children were born to them, but nearly all of these died young. Other children of Khadija by her previous marriage are mentioned, some if not all of whom had died previously. Concerning these there is an interesting tradition preserved in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih. One day, after Muhammad's assumption of prophetship,

سَأَلَتْ خَدِيجَةُ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَنْ وَلَدَيْنِ مَاتَا لَهَا فِي الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: هُمَا فِي النَّارِ.

‘Khadija asked the prophet concerning her two children who had died in the time of ignorance (i.e. before Islam). The prophet of God replied: “They are both in the fire (of hell).”’

There is no doubt that both Khadija and Muhammad were at one time idolaters. Early Muslim annals contain clear proof of this. In the Musnad, for example (vol. iv, p. 222), it is recorded that they were both in the habit of worshipping idols before retiring to rest at night. Ibn Hanbal records the practice thus:

حدثني جار لخديجة بنت خويلد أنه سمع النبي صلعم ويقول لخديجة أي خديجة والله لا أعبد اللات والعزى والله لا أعبد أبداً قال فتقول خديجة خل اللات خل العزى قال كانت صنمهم التي كانوا يعبدون ثم يضطجعون.

‘Abdu'llah said, “A servant of Khadija, daughter of Khualid, related to me that he heard the prophet say to Khadija, O, Khadija., by God I do not (now) worship al Lat or al Azza, and by God, I never will (in future) worship them. He said, Khadija replied, Leave al Lat and al Azza.” ('Abdu'llah) said “These were their idols which they were in the habit of worshipping, after which they retired to rest.”’ The Qur'an itself is not altogether silent on the subject. In Qur’an ad-Duha (93:6-7), we read:

أَلَمْ يَجِدْكَ يَتِيماً فَآوَى وَوَجَدَكَ ضَالاًّ فَهَدَى.

‘Did he not find thee (O Muhammad), an orphan, and gave thee a home; and found thee erring, and guided thee?’ 19 The famous commentator Jalalu'd-din in his comment upon this passage says:

ووجدك ضالاً عما أنت عليه من الشريعة فهدى أي هداك إليها.

Did he not find thee erring from the Divine law (Shari'at) upon which thou art now (standing), and guided thee to it?’ One of the greatest Indian authorities, Shah Abdul Aziz of Delhi, in his Persian commentary is even more explicit in his exposition of the passage. He says the verse refers to that period of the prophet's spiritual history when ‘he, on attaining to maturity of understanding and wisdom, discovered that the worship of idols and the rites of darkness were mere trash . . . so he gave up the worship of idols, and parted company with those evil rites, and was led to the knowledge of the God of Abraham.’ Again in Qur’an al-Fath (48:1-2), we read:

إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَكَ فَتْحاً مُّبِيناً لِيَغْفِرَ لَكَ اللَّهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ.

‘Verily we have won for thee an undoubted victory, in token that God forgiveth thy earlier and later faults.' Concerning this significant passage the commentator 'Abbas writes thus of the ‘earlier’ sins referred to:

ما تقدم من ذنبك قبل الوحي.

‘That is, thy sins which preceded the descent of inspiration.’ 20 ‘Abbas makes it clear that the Qur’anic passage quoted refers to those sins of Muhammad committed in his youth and early manhood; in other words to the sins committed prior to his claim to prophetship. As a matter of fact Muhammad himself, in later years often referred to the sins of his youth, and his prayers for pardon are recorded at great length in the traditions of both Bukhari and Muslim. As an illustration the following prayer of Muhammad recorded in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih, in the Kitabu’s-Salat may be quoted:—

اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِي مَا قَدَّمْتُ وَمَا أَخَّرْتُ وَمَا أَسْرَرْتُ وَمَا أَسْرَفْتُ وَمَا أَعْلَنْتُ وَمَا أَنْتَ أَعْلَمُ بِهِ مِنِّي.

‘O God, forgive one the sins I have committed before and after (the descent of inspiration). (Forgive me) those I have concealed, and those I have proclaimed; those which I have committed in excess, and those which thou knowest better than I.’

It is only natural to assume that Muhammad, like his parents and guardians, took part in the idolatrous practices of his people. His parents, we know for certain, worshipped idols, and it is recorded in the Qur'an that, for that reason, Muhammad was prohibited from praying for them after their decease. In Qur’an At-Taubah 9:113, we read:

مَا كَانَ لِلنَّبِيِّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ أَن يَسْتَغْفِرُواْ لِلْمُشْرِكِينَ وَلَوْ كَانُواْ أُوْلِي قُرْبَى مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُمْ أَنَّهُمْ أَصْحَابُ الْجَحِيمِ.

‘It is not for the prophet or the faithful to pray for the forgiveness of those, even though they be of kin, who associate other beings with God, after it hath been made clear to them that they are to be the inmates of hell.’

Although Muhammad was in youth and early manhood an idolater, yet with the advance of middle age he became gradually weaned from the polytheistic practices of his countrymen. The influence of his Hanif relations, and his Christian foster-son Zaid, not to speak of the Jews and Christians, gradually led him to the belief in one God, and prepared him almost insensibly for the great message which, he was soon to persuade himself, God had commissioned him to preach.

16. Sahih Muslim, Book 1 Hadith 311, “He took hold of him and lay him prostrate on the ground and tore open his breast and took out the heart from it and then extracted a blood-clot out of it and said: That was the part of Satan in thee.”

17. Al-Hadis, An English Translation and Commentary of Mishkat-Ul-Masabih With Arabic Text, Al-Haj Maulana Fazul Karim, Vol 4, Chapter 54, Sec 5, No 2461 (87), Signs of His Prophethood, Islamic Book Service, New Delhi India, 1998 Edition, page 367. 

18. Al-Hadis, An English Translation and Commentary of Mishkat-Ul-Masabih With Arabic Text, Al-Haj Maulana Fazul Karim, Vol 4, Chapter 54, Sec 6, No 2465 (97), His Ascent to Heaven, Islamic Book Service, New Delhi India, 1998 Edition, page 380.  See also, Sunan Nasai, Book 5 Hadith no. 452 and Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Hadith 319.