The city of Makkah was founded by the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him). It started to take its position soon afterward, as the great city of the Arabs and the epicenter of their lives. Later on, as the supplication of the Prophet Ibrahim was answered by God, Makkah became a mecca for people from all over the world as well as a central meeting place for Arabs.
Thus, we can easily realize that the environment of Makkah was one of distinction, in which various practices of social and political life took place. The factors that normally contribute to the building up of sound personalities were also widely present in that environment. Among them were opulence, social security, an honor code, elevated social status and practical political activities.
The community of the Quraysh obtained the highest intellectual level among all other Arab tribes. Qurayshites had the most well-known and prestigious bloodlines and were recognized as the possessors of the purest Arab dialect in terms of performance, fluency and clarity. Consequently, the other Arab tribes were keen on presenting their cultural and poetic productions to the Qurayshites every year during the season of pilgrimage.
With regard to the city’s social security, a factor that has a profound impact on one’s personality through allowing the mind to experience peace and tranquility, Makkah was highly secure and stable due to the presence of the Sacred House. In time, it gained its position as the religious center of the Arabs and living proof of their honor code. From all corners of Arabia, people performed the pilgrimage to the Sacred House and enjoyed complete security inside it.
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Owing to the holy position that the Sacred House occupied in people’s hearts, and despite the Arab’s excessive tendency toward vengeance, they forbade vengeance inside the precincts of the Sacred House. A man may meet his father or son’s murderer within the borders of the Sacred House and never harm them as a sign of absolute veneration for the place. History has recorded the observance of this practice across several generations, and the Qur’an has also bore witness to it:
“Have they not seen that We made (Makkah) a safe sanctuary, while people are being snatched away all around them? Then in falsehood do they believe, and in the grace of Allah they disbeliever?”(Al-Ankabut 29: 67)
It becomes clear that, unlike the suffering neighboring tribes, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was raised in a socially and economically rich environment.
The Makkah-based tribe, Quraysh, maintained extensive trade relations with the Romans and Persians, such that trade caravans were coming and going to Yemen loaded with Roman commodities, and on from Yemen to Persia, with caravans coming from Persia through Yemen transporting Persian commodities to the Levant, then to provinces in the Roman Empire. In addition to this, a commercial boom occurred every pilgrimage season as delegations from all Arab tribes used to gather in Makkah.
With respect to political practices, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), lived in the house of His grandfather and the political chieftain of Makkah, Abdul Muttalib. After the death of Abdul Muttalib, Muhammad moved in with his uncle Abu Talib, who had inherited the leadership of Makkah from his deceased father. At the time, Makkah had a vibrant political life where political affairs including litigation, dispute resolution and the management of tribal affairs were widely practiced. Consequently, a young Muhammad grew up to learn a great deal about both the current affairs of the world outside Makkah as well as those of the tribes and allies in that time period.
Having become a center for religious, political and economic activities in the Arabian Peninsula, and by becoming a city of distinguished stature, Makkah started to draw the attention of foreign men of state.
Some neighboring men of state begrudged Makkah’s high status and set out trying to turn people away from it, by establishing rival temples in their homelands. They had hopes that the newly established temples could vie the Kaaba in Makkah and become new destinations of pilgrimage. One of the most famous among these imitative temples was the cathedral erected by the Ethiopians at the command of their monarch, Abraha Al-Habashi. Despite its astonishing ornaments and exquisite construction, the ‘new mecca’ turned out a complete failure and the Arabs did not perform the pilgrimage to it. Determined to retaliate against the disregard people showed towards the new temple, Abraha headed to Makkah, bringing with him a huge army with elephants in the vanguard. According to several narratives, Allah consequently punished Abraha’s army with diseases, and sent birds in huge flocks that struck the soldiers with fiery stones.
That incident was clearly and directly referred to in the Qur’an as a divine miracle. It was a sign of Allah’s veneration and protection of the Kaaba.
“Have you not considered, (0 Muhammad), how your Lord dealt with the companions of the elephant? Did He not make their plan into misguidance? And He sent against them birds in flocks, striking them with stones of hard clay, and He made them like eaten straw.”(Al-Fil 105: 1-5)
The Year of the Elephant took place in 571 AD, and was the same year that witnessed the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Elements that Influenced the Prophet’s Character :
An assortment of elements helped in shaping the unique character of the Prophet Muhammad; and each of them left a prominent impression on His consciousness.
Primarily, the family to which prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born was the noblest and most prestigious among the Arab tribes, and maintained the purest lineage of them all. None of His enemies, whether from Quraysh or other clans or communities, who, rejected His message, had ever dared to slander His lineage nor question His honor despite the intensity of their animosity—which reached the level of conspiring to assassinate Him.
Authentic traditions convey to us the questions posed by Heraclius, the Eastern Byzantine Emperor (610 – 641 AD) to a congregation of Makkan merchants whom he had summoned to his court to inquire from them about the new prophet. The crowd was led by Abu Sufian, the fiercest enemy of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) at that time.
The first among the many questions asked by Heraclius was, “What is his family status among you?”
They—represented by Abu Sufian—replied, “He belongs to a noble family among us.”
Heraclius then remarked, “Verily, all prophets come from the noblest family among their people.”
It is true that Islam does not value the nobility of a person’s family over his deeds. Nevertheless, it is a greater merit to possess both nobleness of family and excellence of actions. This meaning is better conveyed in the following prophetic hadith:
“People are like gold and silver; those who were best in jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic period of ignorance) are best in Islam, if they have religious understanding.'”
At the same time, the Arabs were inclined to give heed only to those who belonged to noble families. And it was indeed, advantageous that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) already possessed the quality of noble descent, in that it would ward off any suspicion that His prophethood was merely a means for improving His social status.
Among the other key elements significantly affecting the Prophet’s upbringing was the death of His father in the early stages of His mother’s pregnancy. His mother also passed away when He was almost six years old. Due to these events, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) grew up as an orphan who went through the pain of losing both parents and their invaluable kindness. That pain made Him more aware of the noble, humane emotions and filled His heart with mercy and compassion for orphans and all those who experienced suffering. The Qur’an depicts this expressively in the following verses:
“Did He not find you an orphan and give (you) refuge? And He found you lost and guided (you)? And He found you poor and made (you) self-sufficient? So as for the orphan, do not oppress (him). And as for the petitioner, do not repel (him).”(Al-Duha 93: 6-10)
An account of the same care and love for the Prophet Moses as a newborn baby is also provided in the Qur’an:
“…And I bestowed upon you love from Me that you would be brought up under My eye. (And We favored you) when your sister went and said, ‘Shall I direct you to someone who will be responsible for him?’ So We restored you to your mother that she might be content and not grieve. Then you killed someone, but We saved you from retaliation and tried you severely. And you remained (some) years among the people of Madyan. Then you came (here) at the decreed time, O Moses. And I produced you for Myself.” (Taha 20:39-41)
The young Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began His first days in the arid desert where the tribe of Bani Sa’d lived and stayed there until He reached His fourth year of age. As a result, He grew up physically stalwart, healthy, and fluent in the purest Arabic dialect, and He possessed great courage.
In the early days of his youth, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) worked as a shepherd. The influence of shepherding on Him was notable as it surrounded Him with the atmosphere of calmness that is necessary for the refinement of a noble spirit. Moreover, it instilled in Him the virtues of patience, forbearance, far-sightedness, caution and mercy. Mercy is one of Allah’s attributes, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was renowned for possessing it, so much so that He became known by the epithet ‘the Prophet of Mercy’
Once more, authentic traditions make known to us that all the prophets, without exception, worked as shepherds for certain periods of their lives, as in the hadith:
“Allah did not send any prophet but shepherded sheep.
” His companions asked Him, “Did you do the same?”
The Prophet replied, “Yes, I used to shepherd the sheep of the people of Makkah for some Qirats” (a few fractions of a dinar or dirham).
We are witness to a systemized educational process by which intertwined spatial, temporal and personal circumstances were engineered for the Prophet (peace be upon him) to undergo, thus creating that unique and superb human model: The Prophet Muhammad.
A physical Description of the Prophet
Unquestionably, providing a description of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) physical traits is not at all intended to devalue whoever looks differently. Rather, the desired goal is to enable the reader to visualize a comprehensive, living and normative scene of the Prophet Muhammad’s life. The companions and followers of the Prophet Muhammad have showed great interest in His personality. For that reason, the sound traditions that have reached us from them, which describe the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are large in number and are therefore reliable sources for setting up the scene we are after.
The Prophet’s Body
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had a straight posture and was well-built. He was of medium height, but more inclined to be tall than short. Anas ibn Malik, the Prophet’s companion, described Him saying, “The Prophet was neither conspicuously tall nor short, but was closer to being tall.” His companion Al-Bara’ ibn Azib said about Him, “The Prophet was neither conspicuously tall nor short.” Other traditions reveal that He was broad shouldered with a broad upper back as well.
His Facial Features
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was fair skinned, though not absolutely fair; a reddish complexion dominated his face. Abul-Tufail said, “He was fair-skinned with handsome facial features.”
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to walk with firm, dignified steps, and at a fast pace. His body was well-built and His steps equal. The way He walked showed how active and vigorous He was. Abu Huraira had more to reveal in the following hadith, “I did not see anyone walk faster than Him, as if the Earth folded for Him. We found it difficult to keep pace when we walked with Him and He walked at His normal pace.” In another hadith, he adds, “I was with Him in a funeral. When I walked, He outstripped me. So I started to pace. When I paced, I outstripped Him.”
The Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) speech was quiet and pleasant, and the words He uttered were clearly pronounced. He refrained from using obsolete words and never uttered what may have hurt the feelings or the modesty of listeners. Moreover, He made sure His audience understood what He said, such that He often repeated some words thrice to emphasize them. By reason of His clarity and eloquence, whoever sat with Him would memorize His words well.
The Prophet’s wife, Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), said, “His speech was fast (of decisive indication) – understood by whoever listened to it.” The Prophet’s companion and servant, Anas ibn Malik, also said, “Whenever Allah’s Apostle greeted somebody, He used to greet him three times, and if He spoke a sentence, He used to repeat it thrice.”