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Muhammad’sﷺ Life Before His First Revelation: Part Two

Muhammad’sﷺ Life Before His First Revelation: Part Two

Both Muslim and non-Muslim writers have long been fascinated by the life of the Prophet Muhammad. If you are a Muslim, Prophet Muhammad’s life is the life of a prophet, and not just any prophet. It is the life of Allah’s final and most beloved messenger. If you do not share Islamic beliefs, Prophet Muhammad’s life is the life of perhaps the greatest military, political and social leader in history, as well as that of the man responsible for a moral code which has inspired some of the most important civilizations of the common era.

Regardless of your beliefs, there is no denying that Prophet Muhammad’s life is immensely interesting. We’re not just talking about his life as a prophet when we say that. Although his prophethood is certainly the most important period of his existence, his life before he was chosen as Allah’s messenger is just as interesting. In fact, if we are to fully appreciate the Prophet’s time as the Messenger of Allah, we must first familiarize ourselves with the first 40 years of his life. This article is the second in a series dedicated to examining his life before his first revelation. Let’s begin.

Muhammad’s Success As A Caravan Trader

In the first article of this series, we discussed Prophet Muhammad’s beginnings as a caravan trader. Accompanying Abu Talib, his uncle and an experienced caravan trader in his own right, the young Prophet Muhammad was introduced to the world of buying and selling. He traveled with Abu Talib throughout Arabia, often stopping and conversing with interesting individuals the caravan encountered on its journeys. 

As the Prophet Muhammad grew older, he began to establish his own identity as a caravan trader. He separated from his uncle and became an independent merchant, dealing in a variety of products as a means of avoiding the risks which come with focusing on a single commodity. Not a whole lot is known about the young adult Prophet Muhammad’s early years as an independent merchant. Although this may seem peculiar at first, it is, in fact, a testament to his dedication to his work. During this time, Prophet Muhammad kept his head down and worked diligently in order to build his business. He was concerned with little else beyond worshipping a single God and providing his customers with the best quality products he could. It seems he did just that, as the next corroborated accounts of the merchant he was, express praise for his trustworthiness and fairness as a trader. It is also important to note that written accounts were not common amongst the peninsula Arabs at this time. Furthermore, it was unlikely for the people to record about the Prophet , even though the Prophet’scharacter was conspicuous for its noble nature, for he was an unassuming person, never putting himself forward into a position of authority or leadership. 

But despite Prophet Muhammad’s determination to provide his customers with quality products at non-exploitative prices, he displayed a remarkable ability to turn a profit. In fact, on one particular occasion, Prophet Muhammad returned from a trading excursion to Syria with a markedly larger profit than anybody had witnessed before. With this rarely seen combination of honesty and business acumen, Prophet Muhammad attracted the eye of the wealthiest widow in all of Mecca. Together, they would build a business empire and lay the foundation for the Muslim world.

Meeting Khadijah رضي الله عنها

The aforementioned unusually profitable trading trip Prophet Muhammad made to Syria was commissioned by a woman named Khadijah. In a break from the norm of pre-Islamic Mecca, Khadijah رضي الله عنها was involved in business ownership, an activity typically reserved for men. Not only was Khadijah رضي الله عنها involved in business ownership, but she was immensely successful at it. She controlled perhaps the largest fleet of camels in all of Mecca, allowing her to deal in a wide variety of goods.

Unlike most caravan traders, Khadijah رضي الله عنها did not take part in trading trips. Instead, she chose to conduct her business from afar, employing traveling merchants to sell her goods on her behalf. They would receive a commission on their sales, which, given the immense value of Khadijah’s رضي الله عنها stock, often exceeded the money they would earn by selling their own goods. As such, working for her proved an extremely alluring prospect for many merchants of the time, including the Prophet Muhammad.

When the Prophet Muhammad agreed to sell goods on behalf of Khadijah رضي الله عنها on a trip to Syria in 595, he was just 25 years old. Khadijah رضي الله عنها  assigned one of her slaves to assist him on his journey and protect her stock as it crossed the treacherous Arabian desert. However, she had an additional motive for assigning her slave to accompany him. Like many in Mecca, Khadijah رضي الله عنها  had heard accounts of Muhammad’s honesty and humility. Having been twice widowed and living in a society where the unmarried were rare, Khadijah was searching for a husband and Muhammad, if these stories of his upright personality checked out, seemed to be the perfect candidate. Upon returning from the trading trip, Khadijah’s رضي الله عنها slave reported to her that not only was Muhammad the most truthful and admirable man he had ever encountered, but he was also a skilled trader and had more than doubled the profit she had expected to make from the journey. Khadijah رضي الله عنها was so immensely impressed upon hearing this that she proposed marriage to the young Muhammad, who accepted and made a formal proposal of his own, as was customary in Meccan society at the time.

Marriage To Khadijah رضي الله عنها

As we mentioned in the previous section, Khadijah رضي الله عنها had already been married – and widowed – twice by the time she first dealt with the Prophet Muhammad. It should come as no surprise, then, that she was considerably older than him. At the time of their marriage, some purport the future prophet was just 25 years old, while Khadijah رضي الله عنها a number of years his senior, was 40. Other, more accurate reports state that Khadijah رضي الله عنها was around the age of 30. Despite this age gap, the two enjoyed a blissful marriage, living as equals in defiance of the social convention that a woman should be a slave to her husband. 

Prophet Muhammad relied upon Khadijah رضي الله عنها for guidance in both his business and professional life. In fact, when he received his first revelation more than a decade after marrying her, he immediately ran to her for comfort. Along with providing the comfort that her husband sought, Khadijah رضي الله عنها helped Muhammad determine that the revelation he received had indeed come from Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى and not from demonic powers. As such, she is today recognized as the very first follower of Muhammad and is often dubbed “The Mother of the Believers.”

The Prophet Muhammad and Khadijah رضي الله عنها remained together throughout the early days of Islam. Their marriage lasted a total of 25 years, ending with her death in November of 619. Throughout their marriage, they both practiced monogamy. The Prophet would not take multiple wives until after Khadijah’s رضي الله عنها passing and, even then, always maintained that with his beloved Khadijah رضي الله عنها was never replaced with someone better.

Children With Khadijah  رضي الله عنها

Although the Prophet Muhammaddid not have children with any of the women he married after Khadijah’s رضي الله عنها death, he fathered several children during his lifetime. Together with Khadijah  رضي الله عنها, the Prophethad six children; four daughters and two sons. Tragically, both of Prophet Muhammad’s sons died in infancy. Additionally, three of his four daughters died before him. His surviving daughter, Fatimah رضي الله عنها, is the Prophet’s only daughter to have lived into later adulthood. She married Ali, who Muslims revere as the last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Together, Fatimah and Ali raised five children, two of whom would go on to become the second and third Shia Imams respectively. Today, the Muslim world recognizes a number of esteemed individuals as having descended from the Prophet Muhammad via Fatimah and Ali. 

Muhammad As A Community Leader

Muhammad displayed remarkable leadership skills throughout his prophethood. He led the Muslims out of the dangerous climate of Mecca and into the safety of Medina. Later, he led an army of believers back to Mecca, where they defeated the anti-Muslim polytheists and freed the Kabah from idolatry. He also guided the Muslims to success in a number of additional battles and ensured the spread of Islam throughout the world. Although the Prophet never served as the official leader of any group before his prophethood, the important role he played in the pre-Islamic Meccan society undoubtedly prepared him for the duties of a military and religious chief. 

Because he was famed for his honesty and fair judgment, Prophet Muhammad was regularly called upon by the Meccans to settle disputes within the community. Arguably the most famous example of him as an arbitrator is the story of the Black Stone, albeit it divinely destined for him to be chosen. The Black Stone is, of course, the sacred stone which sits in the eastern corner of the Ka’bah. Even in pre-Islamic Mecca, the Black Stone was considered a sacred object, fit to be handled by only the most respectable members of society. In 605, the stone was briefly removed from the Ka’bah in order to facilitate a number of renovations to the structure. The removal of the Black Stone and the subsequent renovations passed without issue. When it came time to return the stone to the Ka’bah, however, conflict arose. The clan leaders charged with overseeing the renovations could not come to an agreement as to which clan elder should have the honor of setting the stone back in place.

In an attempt to resolve the dispute, the elders enlisted the ProphetMuhammad. The elders settled it that whoever walked through the entranceway next would be chosen to be arbiter. By Allah’s decree, it was none other than the Prophet Muhammad who entered. Although just 35 years of age and five years away from receiving his first revelation, everyone rejoiced at his appearance. He was recognized by the clan leaders as a man of great knowledge and justice. He made everyone feel they were equally important and beloved by him, even if they weren’t his nearest kith and kin. Sure enough, the future prophet displayed this knowledge and justice in coming up with an acceptable solution to the problem of the clan elders. He instructed the elders to place the Black Stone on a sheet and, from there, commanded each to take a corner of the sheet and raise the stone to the Ka’bah. Prophet Muhammad  himself returned the Black Stone to its sacred spot, preserving the honor of all the clan leaders. The fact that this heated clash could end with everyone satisfied with the Prophetaffixing the Black Stone in its place was a testament to how beloved and respected he was. This event marked Prophet Muhammad’s first significant encounter with the Black Stone. Little did he know, pilgrims would be visiting the Black Stone for more than a thousand years later in memory of his moral and theological teachings.