A call may be there, strong and sound in principle, but lacking the man
able to propagate it and carry it through. Such a call will inevitably
fail. At the start, the requisite personality for advocating a call is
more important than a written programme or a worked-out scheme. To succeed
in his mission, the advocate of a new call must be in possession of those
rare qualities which are essential elements of success. Now, did the personality
of Muhammad, the Prophet, possess such traits?
It may be important in this connection to point out that many Muslim historians
attributed to revelation all the wonderful traits of the Prophet. Revelation,
it is claimed, guided him in big and little, in the trivial as well as
in the momentous, to the entire exclusion of any inborn personality in
Muhammad himself. The influence exerted by revelation can in no way be
denied, the Qur'an being the main source. But the Messenger, upon whom
be peace, could not have properly delivered the divine message without
having been endowed with the proper personality for carrying such a tremendous
task through. He had to use his initiative in adapting the manner of delivery
to the mentality of the various peoples addressed, so widely divergent
in class and character.
Had he lacked the necessary intellect, wisdom and foresight, he would not
have been able to carry out his mission with such conviction and success.
Nor could he have been the man chosen by God and sustained throughout by
the Divine Spirit. This point was amply expounded by all biographers who
had written about Islam and the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
Muhammad did not see his father who died while his mother was in pregnancy.
This may have influenced him only very little on account of the care and
patronage extended to him by his fond mother and his large influential
family. He grew up in the untractable sandy desert which makes one lonely
and impressionable, inclined to self-criticism and self-contemplation.
This introvert trait would grow stronger the more the child felt his loneliness
in the absence of immediate kin who should have sympathised with him. When
the Child is brought up among children, his linguistic expression develops,
and his vocabulary multiplies, for undoubtedly the child learns more through
mixing with children. Moreover, desert life engenders in a child muscular
strength, stiffness of bone, and agility.
When back from the desert to the bosom of his mother and the sympathy and
affection of his grand father Abdul-Mottalib, his mother took him on a
visit to Yathrib (Medina), the dwelling place of his uncles "The Naggars",
and the burial place of his father Abdullah. There he passed one month
with his mother and uncles, and on their return home were accompanied by
Um-Eiman, his nurse. That was fortunate, for his mother fell ill on the
road, and the child, only seven years old, was destined to see a very sad
and oppressive sight to see his mother succumbing to her illness and dying
in his presence. With his impressionable nature, this would touch him very
deeply, and throughout life remain a bitter memory.
Grief seems to have deeply touched his heart and inclined him more to mysticism
and contemplation. His now complete orphanage speeded up his experience
in life, developing his sense of responsibility, and maturing his judgment.
He returned to Mecca to his grandfather Abdul Mottalib, to tell him of
It seems that this old chief, now in his eightieth year, was deeply affected
by his grand-son's calamity, since Muhammad was, to him, the dearest of
descendants - the son of Abdullah who had been offered as a sacrifice to
God, narrowly escaping his doom in much the same way as Isaac of old in
one version, or Ismail in another, namely by a timely redemption. On his
death bed, Abdul Mottalib earnestly committed Muhammad to the care of his
uncle Abu Talib.
What sore trials the boy was destined to meet his father dies before he
is born. His mother expires before his eyes. His grandfather, his kind
and affection ate guardian, is soon consigned to the grave.
These tragic events he meets successively without relief. Man is affected
most by his childhood's impressions. That may be one reason why Muhammad,
the Apostle, appeared sad, his face suggesting a shade of sorrow. In this
connection, it is said by Abu Halah that "The Messenger of God was in continual
sorrow, continual contemplation, restless and silent, save when the situation
pressed for an answer". That also is probably why he was aloof when young,
and did not take part in youthful entertainments, though his biographies,
reporting the fact, did not give it such a natural explanation.
The guardianship of his uncle was another factor in the development of
this aloofness on his part, this tendency to loneliness. His uncle was
of strained means, having a big family to support. He had, in one phase
to send his sons, including his nephew, to work as shepherds. Muhammad
shepherded his flock at the outskirts of Mecca, near the vast desert. This
gave him leisure and opportunity to enjoy the company and conversation
of some shepherd slaves of diverse experience and some knowledge of border
These talks might have done something towards the enlightenment of the
boy-shepherd concerning certain already existing peoples and religions,
countries and cities, outside his Arabian home. Since, as has been stated
above, he was of a contemplative bent of mind, such various bits of information,
must have speeded up his intellectual maturity far above that of his mates.
It was inevitable that such a boy would not be left behind by his uncle
when on his trading journeys to Syria, not only because of the training
and experience that would be acquired by the boy through such a journey,
but also because of the benefit which would accrue to the uncle through
his talented nephew, since on such travels certain services are better
done by boys like Muhammad than by men.
He left with his uncle for Syria when he was only twelve years old. He,
along with his uncle and the other travellers, met Bahira the monk at his
convent where they rested. According to tradition, Bahira discovered in
Muhammad the physical marks foreshadowing his prophethood. This is probably
true, though the writer personally thinks that the boy's talents and intellectual
maturity did not escape the monk who was so impressed by them as to prophecy
for him a brilliant future. In Syria he could see new types of people,
and come in contact with religions he had previously heard of but not seen.
Perhaps owing to his young age and his overcautious uncle, Muhammad was,
at that stage, of limited knowledge, because he seldom mingled with people,
could see more than he could hear, and could hear more than he could converse.
With his return he, like other boys of his age, got well trained in horsemanship
and marksmanship with bow and arrow. His first experience in warfare was
gained in the war waged between the Quraish tribes and the tribes of Kais
- the second Figar war. He was barely fifteen years when he was first able
to participate in the battles which his uncles fought, and although he
was assigned the task of supplying the fighting men with bows and arrows
on the battlefield, he soon gave vent to his fervour, and took an active
part in the fighting. Young though he was, he soon developed into a capable
fighter. Indeed, the boy of the desert grew into a courageous warrior,
and it is no wonder that Ali, son of Abu Talib, himself a famous warrior,
said of Muhammad's courage : "When the battle grew hot and thick, we used
to find protection in the Prophet, peace be upon him, than whom no other
man was nearer the enemy". Later the Prophet remarked : "Only
three kinds of sporting are recommended : training one's how playing with
one's folk, and shooting with one's bow and arrow. These are true. To give
up shooting willingly after having learnt it is to forego a blessing"
On attaining age, Muhammad seems to have confined himself to Mecca, mixing
with the Meccans, frequenting their consultation "House" and performing
pilgrimage. This I say because the probability is that Muhammad in this
period did not show signs of detracting from Quraish's worship or of denouncing
their gods. He was named the "Trusty" and lived confortably in conformity
with the established traditions and institutions sanctified by the Arabs.
So he lived on until he became a young man of twenty five. It then happened
that Khadigah, daughter of Khowailid, wanted to send a trading caravan
to Syria. His uncle Abu Talib suggested to him that he should be the head
of this caravan, Muhammad accepted, Khadigah consented, and so he travelled
to Syria for the second time accompanied by Maisarah, one of the retainers
of Khadigah. One tradition says that he there met Nastor the monk. If so,
Muhammad is now the young man who can appreciate what he hears, comprehend
the speech of the Christian monk, learn what the latter might say about
the essentials of his religion and discuss it with him. Nastor probably
felt more admiration for Muhammad than Bahira. It will be understood that
during his long residence in Mecca he had the opportunity of meeting many
people, especially such monotheists as Zaid son of Nofile and Waraka son
of Noufal, in addition to some of the freed Christian slaves. If then he
with Nastor, his argument would be not without some knowledge and experience.
It is probable that he had the opportunity of meeting with other people
in Syria through whom he acquired further experience.
His trade having prospered, he went back home safe to render to Khadigah
a full account, restoring to her capital, profits, and property, in the
best condition possible, having protected all against marauders or fraud.
She found in him the man of youth and vigour, whose talk was that of the
experienced old, whose right opinion and deep thought was beyond his age,
of charm and power in speech and exposition. Khadigah was impressed; and
proceeded to plan something. She secretly sent some one who praised and
recommended to him his marrying her. To this he did not object. It is possible
that he saw in the offer an opportunity to obtain leisure to settle with
the conflicting thoughts which might have been started in him by his journeys,
his knowledge, and keen intellect, a possible inner conflict which might
have been akin to that state of enquiry and doubt which usually attacks
youths at that stage of life, leading sometimes to atheism if not met in
Muhammad's marriage to Khadigah contributed largely to the success of the
Islamic call when it came. He remained Khadigah's husband for 15 years
before he received the divine mission, and became the father of her children.
During this period he developed again the tendency to live in isolation.
He was yearning to go back to desert-life where he would be alone with
his own thoughts. Where would he then go? To the place where was buried
the martyr Zaid son of Nofile, to that place where the Hanifite monotheists
of Quraish used to meet, to the Cave of Hira. There, tradition says, he
used to stay one month every year. This recurrent solitude might have converted
his doubt into conviction. He looked into what his people worshipped, and
found it degrading to man's reason. He might have looked into Christianity
and found it a religion that devotes most care to the hereafter, and little
concern for the present world. He might have looked into Judaism, and found
it narrow, the religion of a class whose book bears many a contradiction
to Arab tradition and ethical usage. From this tumult he was only relieved
by the Angel Gabriel coming to him in one of his contemplation moments
to give him a new message and reveal a new religion. So runs the divine
text, to the effect:
"Did He not find thee wandering and direct (thee)"
personality of the honoured Prophet, then, combined both moral and physical
courage, both deep thinking and awful doubt, till he was thus divinely
delivered and guided to the Right Faith.
The tragic events and trials he had undergone, the bereavements he had
suffered, and the long periods he remained away from home, seem to have
stirred in him the deepest springs of love and mercy, as may be evidenced
by the kind treatment he used to accord to slaves, liberating whom he could,
and by his habitual relief of the poor and the wretched Khadigah who knew
him best, told him on the famous occasion : "God will never foresake you.
You never foresake your relatives, you always carry the weary, relieve
the distressed, honour the guest, and give help in misfortune".
This undoubtedly, is the type of personality capable of delivering the
Call, discharging the big Mission, and transferring the Beduin Arabs to
a state where they could carry the big trust, the trust of establishing
the Faith. Such a personality is capable of discharging the trust, as indeed
was done by the Prophet despite his illiteracy. But what sort of illiteracy.
The illiteracy of letters, of reading and writing, not of mental awareness
or intellectual initiative Muhammad, in the nature of the case, could not
have been illiterate in the mental and spiritual sense, since he was to
be charged with so sacred a mission. He should have been the foremost of
his nation, and the best of his time in enlightened capacity to be equal
to the task. And such was Muhammad. He was endowed with an eloquent tongue,
a charming power of expression, and a broad mind. This is illiterate Muhammad
as the writer conceives him - illiterate as regards the alphabet and the
symbols used in writing:
"And thou (O Muhammad) was not a reciter of any
scripture before it (the Qur'an) nor
didst thou write it with thy right hand" (Surah, Al Ankabout verse 48).
He was not a writer nor a reader, it is true, but he was a preacher, indeed
a genius in every sense of the word.
A man may read and write and yet not understand or learn. Another may be
good at reading and writing and yet be not cultured. A third may have read
much without being able to assimilate what he has read, or make use of
what he has learnt. Life teems with these varieties of people. But history
tells of a different type of people, like Muhammad, of illiterate geniuses,
like Jesus. Such, through divine guidance, are the rare makers of epochs,
the moulders of history despite their ignorance of reading and writing.
Such are the extra ordinary product of time very rarely presented to the
That is Muhammad the Messenger whom God sent to an illiterate but clever
nation, a nation believing in her right of existence:
"He it is who hath sent among the illiterates a messenger of their own,
to recite unto them His revelations, and to make them grow, and to teach
them the Book and Wisdom, though heretofore they were in error manifest"
(Surah, Al Gum'a, verse 2).
Illiteracy is not a blemish in the Prophet, but rather a miracle, another
of the miracles of his Mission.