Prophet Ismail (PBUH) had 12 sons. His second son Qaydaar (قیدار) settled in Hijaz and became the custodian of Kaaba built by Ibrahim (PBUH) and Ismail (PBUH). Prophet Ismail’s descendants, over time, became a large community. They expanded into large number of different tribes. But, the clan of Quraysh (قریش) occupied superior and special status among all the tribes.
Quraysh (قریش) was nickname of Fahr (فہر) (circa 325 A.D.), the son of Qaydaar (قیدار). There are many meanings of the word Quraysh (قریش). The king of the ocean, whale, is also called Quraysh (قریش) in Arabic. It is speculated that Fahr (فہر) kept this nickname because of his power and status. Among the Qureshi clan, Qasi Ibn Kalaab (کلاب ابن قصی) (circa 475 A.D.) gained special fame because he laid down the political structure of this clan. He divided the management of Kaaba into different units such as supplying food and drink for pilgrims coming to Kaaba; creating security structure for Kaaba; instituting a system for financial help for pilgrims; building a judicial system for resolving disputes; establishing an assembly for political consultation and collective decision making for running the affairs of Quraysh (قریش). After Fahr (فہر), the next person that occupied a famous place among Quraysh was Hashim. He was a gifted leader and fulfilled his duty as custodian of Kaaba very effectively. He signed treaties with the Caesar of Rome and the king Negus of Abyssinia for tax exemption of Quraysh’s caravan passing through their territories. His son Abdul Muttalib was also a great leader of Quraysh who discovered the Zamzam well (that had disappeared over time) and restored it. He married his son Abdullah to Amina (daughter of Wahb bin Abd Manaaf), a well-respected woman of the clan of Zahra of Quraysh.
In this respected and distinguished family was born (circa 570 A.D.) the Sunshine of the world who was to remove all its darkness. Abdul Muttalib, the grandfather – the baby’s father had passed away before the birth of his son – carried his beloved grandson in his arms to the courtyard of Kaaba and prayed for him. On the seventh day, he invited his entire clan for a feast and named the baby Muhammad. People asked in surprise as to why he chose this name instead of a traditional family name. He replied that he wants his grandson to be worthy of praise and admiration of the whole world and that this name reflects that high and unique status. The mother of the baby called him Ahmad.
In those days, it was the tradition that babies were given in the custody of Bedouin families so that they could grow up in open desert environment and develop clear and commanding speech. Powerful oratory was a great characteristic of the Arabs. According to this custom, the Prophet’s initial upbringing happened in the famous tribe of Bani Saad. When the Prophet was six years old, his mother also passed away and the grandfather took his custody.
The society, in which the Prophet (PBUH) was born and raised, was drowned in the darkness of Shirk (شرک) and idol-worship. The Kaaba, where Abdul Muttalib took his beloved grandson to pray for him, had hundreds of idols while his own family was its key custodian. The Prophet (PBUH) grew up in this environment. However, he disliked such practices of Shirk (شرک) and always shunned them. In one instance, he was given food in which the meat was from an animal that was sacrificed in the name of an idol. But he refused to eat that food [Bukhari – Book of Almunaqib]. What to say of these major evils like Shirk (شرک) and Kufr (کفر), the Prophet (PBUH) in his pre-prophetic life, shunned even the common practices and rituals that were quite common among the Arabs at that time. In those days, the Arabs even took their clothes off while doing circumambulation of Kaaba, and did not feel any shame in doing so. The Prophet (PBUH) was growing up in such an evil society but these pre-Islamic customs and traditions could not touch his life. Once in his childhood, during the repair of Kaaba, he was bringing loads of bricks along with others. His uncle Abbas thought to remove the young child’s garment and put it on his shoulder to provide some cushion. But the moment he tried to do this the Prophet (PBUH) became unconsciousness. When he gained consciousness, he kept asking – where is my dress, where is my dress? His uncle then immediately put his garment back on him. When the young child turn to adulthood, he was so shy that, according to his companions, he was shyer than virgin girl [Bukhari, Book of Good Manners].
Tyranny and bloodshed was a common feature of Arab life during those days. However, there was one soul among them who was untouched by all that unjust bloodsheds. Well, who could be that personality except the Prince of peace and security (PBUH)?
The messenger of peace and harmony
It is worth noting how the Prophet’s visionary thinking and practical strategies diffused tensions among different tribes even before his prophetic life, which otherwise would have led to bloodshed as they usually did on these occasions. One striking example of this is the occasion when, in the repair of the Kaaba, all the tribes were participating. Although its custody was under the jurisdiction of Quraysh, but in matters related to Kaaba they usually involved other tribes, as it was a sacred House to all. Therefore, when, after the repair, the question came up to fix the black stone (اسود حجر) the tribes started fighting among themselves as to who should put the black stone in the wall of the Kaaba. This issue was worth fighting for – and even dying for – since the black stone represented every tribe’s ultimate sublime connection to Kaaba. Therefore, the swords were drawn out. This dispute went on for four days. On the fifth day, it was decided that whoever would enter Kaaba the next morning first, he will be accepted as the arbiter of this issue. The next morning the Prophet (PBUH) happened to be the first one to enter the Kaaba. He was the one to resolve this dispute – and in due course was destined to resolve the disputes of broader humanity. Here is how he resolved the dispute at hand: He spread his blanket on the ground and put the black stone in its middle. He asked the leaders of all the tribes to lift the blanket and carry it to the Kaaba. Then he picked the black stone and fixed it in the wall of the Kaaba. Thus, the bloodshed at hand was avoided with this beautiful strategy of the Prophet (PBUH); and every tribe was happy that they participated in this sacred duty.
Sound and honest dealings
The economy of Quraysh was based on commerce. So, when the Prophet (PBUH) reached adulthood, he became involved with commerce. In a very short time, his fame as an honest and trustworthy person spread in the community. Everyone wanted to involve him in business. The books of narrations and history are full of reports of his honesty and trustworthiness. This was the reason he was given the nickname of “Amin (امین)” or trustworthy by the people. At that time, there were no banks. Therefore, people were in search of someone trustworthy and honest to entrust their holdings; and they looked up to him for this task for safekeeping of their trust.
Khadijah (May Allah be pleased with her)
This was the pre-prophetic character attribute of the Prophet (PBUH) that attracted the attention of Khadijah, a highly respected and pious lady of Quraysh; so much so that she was called Tahira (meaning pious) even during the period of Jahiliyyah (ignorance). She sent her marriage proposal to the Prophet (PBUH). She had already been married twice and was a widow. There was no shortage of young beautiful woman for a handsome young man with such wholesome and pure character from the elite family of Hashim. However, the Prophet (PBUH) accepted this proposal based on Khadijah’s pious character. Thus his married life began, which remained an unparalleled and unique model of beautiful companionship of peace and harmony until the end. Khadijah was already wealthy businessperson before her marriage. Since the Prophet (PBUH) was recognized for his honesty and integrity among the entire community, Khadijah’s business flourished even more. The Quran has pointed this out when it says: وَوَجَدَكَ عَائِلًا فَأَغْنَىٰ (93:8) – He found you needy and gave you much, thus making you secure, independent, and self-sufficient. However, in spite of this wealth, the Prophet (PBUH) lived an average life of a common family. He was never counted as elite among his people. That is why when he became the Prophet (PBUH), one of the criticisms from the opponents was: why God did not choose a wealthy elite person for this mission? وَقَالُوا لَوْلَا نُزِّلَ هَـٰذَا الْقُرْآنُ عَلَىٰ رَجُلٍ مِّنَ الْقَرْيَتَيْنِ عَظِيمٍ (43:31) – Now consider the objection they raise against him. They say why the Quran was not revealed to some leading man from either of the two cities (Makkah or Taif). How can we accept the choice of a poor orphan as Messenger, which bypasses all our influential and wealthy leaders? How can we obey such a non-elite person?
Life itself as proof of truth
These are briefly some of the important events of pre-prophetic life of the Prophet (PBUH). Books of hadith and history are full of descriptions and details of his previous life. However, the Quran, instead of providing details, has provided such a clear and comprehensive answer about his previous life that there is really no need for details for reaching a conclusive evidence about the truth of his pre-prophetic life. After the Prophet (PBUH) declared his Prophethood, a huge storm of opposition arose from all corners. People started asking for proof that he was indeed a Messenger of Allah. The proof the Prophet (PBUH) gave them was very direct and succinct. The Prophet told them: فَقَدْ لَبِثْتُ فِيكُمْ عُمُرًا مِّن قَبْلِهِ ۚ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ (10:16) – Indeed, a whole lifetime have I dwelt among you before this revelation came unto me: will you not, then, use your intellect and reason? If this revelation had not been from Allah, I would have neither conveyed it to you, nor brought it to your knowledge. Moreover, in order to prove that I am not telling a lie and to show what kind of a person I am, I produce a proof that is so powerful that there is no need to say anything else after this. I have lived amongst you all my life before this revelation came to me. My entire life is an open book in front of you. At least you can know this much. Is my life not a living proof of my truth? Could you point out even a single incident from my life that its truth you doubt in my entire 40 years of life; of which every moment has been spent in front of you? Can you find even a trace of malevolence in my entire life?
This challenge was to the entire Arab nation consisting of all the tribes and no one said anything against it. What could be better proof than to present his life’s entire record as a proof of the truthfulness of his claim about which his opponents could not point any fingers against him? This proof was not just to Arabs of that time, but it is in front of the whole world since 1400 years ago. The proof of truthfulness of Prophet’s claim stands vindicated because until today no one – not even his enemies – could dismiss it. Instead, they had to accept the piety and integrity of Prophet’s character. Even the highly prejudiced orientalist Sir William Muir acknowledged: “Our authorities all agree in ascribing to the youth of Muhammad a correctness of deportment and purity of manners rare among the people of Mecca.” Page 19, The Life of Mahomet, Abridged New Edition, London; Smith, Elder & Co., 1877.