The Life of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S.)
By Shadiah Hamza Sheikh, Ph. D.
(Dr. Shadiah Hamza Sheikh is the Dean of the English Department, King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She is one of the Wisdom Enrichment Foundation’s International Board of Advisers. An active da’iyah, the Author has been giving Islamic lectures to women expatriates from various countries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This brief account of the Prophet’s life is a summary of one of her public lectures, which she delivered in 1996 at the Riyadh Military Hospital Jaliat (Call and Guidance) Center for Women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.)
Birth and Prophethood:
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) was born of a noble family of Banu Hashim ancestry. However, he was not fortunate enough to have been born wealthy as he was born an orphan. His father, Abdullah bin Abdul Muttalib, died of sickness at the age of 25 on a trading journey to Syria, leaving his wife Amenah only a few months pregnant.
His birth was on the twelfth (12) of Rabiul Awwal 53 B.H. (570 A.D of the Christian era) was ordinary and has no significance in Islam and the celebrations on this occasion have nothing to do with shari’ah and some people consider it Bid’ah.
Abdul Mutalib, his grandfather who was the chief of Makkah at that time, showed pride in him as Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) compensated him for the loss of his son who died in the prime of his youth. His mother showed affection for her son as she awaited the best nurses to come and take care of him: The tradition at that time was that nurses would come from the desert seeking to be the custodians of the children of nobility in return for good pay and gifts. Giving that Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) was not wealthy all nurses turned away from him, Halimah of the Banu Saad tribe was one of them, but when she could not find any other child she was ashamed to return home empty handed, so she went back and took Muhammad (s.a.w.s.), and since then Allah showered his mercy on her; for instance animals started giving plenty of milk after they had been dried. Therefore, her and her husband felt they were blessed to have taken Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) and became very attached to him.
Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) spent five years with Banu Saad during which nothing out of the ordinary happened except one told incident which scared Halimah and became known as “the splitting of his chest.” When he was playing with the other boys Jibril held him, threw him down, split his chest, took out his heart and took out a clump from it and said: “this is Satan’s portion of you.” Then he washed him in a basin made of gold with the water of zamzam, then sealed his chest and returned him where he was. The boys ran to Halimah and said Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) has been killed. They came back and found him alive but pale. (Reported by Anas in the Hadith compilations of Muslim and Ahmed)
Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) returned to Makkah at the age of five to his mother and grandfather who took good care of him, but the days refused to allow him tranquility among those tender hearts, as his mother died during a visit to Madinah to visit her husbands grave. She took Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) and his maid Umm Aiman with her. On the way back, she fell very sick and died in Abwaa leaving Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) with Umm Aiman.
His grandfather always took good care of him and never left him alone, he took him to all public gatherings. However, at the age of eight, Abdul Muttalib died leaving him into his uncle Abu Talib’s care. Since Abu Talib had many children and was not wealthy, Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) insisted on sharing the burdens of life with him. He went with his uncle on a trading journey to Syria at the age of thirteen. He met a monk called Bahira during the journey, who looked at his face and the sign on his back (the sign of Prophethood) and asked Abu Talib: “What is this boy to you ?”My son he said.” “His father should not be alive.” Said Buhira. Abu Talib then said, “Yes, in fact he is my brother’s son “and told him the rest of the story. The monk said “Now you are telling me the truth. Take him back and be careful of the Jews over him.”
Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) then returned to Makkah and resumed his life, working as a shepherd in his early life. He did not acquire knowledge or education from a monk or a philosopher or sorcerer, as was the norm then. Instead he read through the pages of life and took what he found good. He combined the good qualities of discipline with spiritual purity, rightness and contentment.
In this manner, he entered his third phase of life and got acquainted with his first wife Khadija (r.a.) who was a merchant woman of nobility and wealth. She had heard of his truthfulness and trustworthiness, so she offered him to take her trade to Syria (before marrying him). He was 25 years old and she was 40 years old when they got married. Their marriage lasted until she died at the age of 65.
The Message of Islam:
Every year, Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) used to leave Makkah to spend Ramadan in the cave of Hiraa where he used to meditate and worship for self-purification away from the falsehood of Jahilia. In this cave, He met with the heavenly host and listened to the voice of the angel telling him to read. He knew that he had become a Prophet of Allah (s.a.w.s.) and that it was Jabril, the ambassador of revelation who came to him; then the mission’s struggle began.
Quraysh spared no efforts to fight Islam and persecuted those who embraced it. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) and his companions abused, ridiculed, humiliated, accused of indulging in magic, and the weak and oppressed believers were tortured until they disbelieved, died or swooned (as they had no clan to defend them).
In spite of all that Islam grew stronger, so Quraysh decided to change strategy and agreed not to buy, sell or intermarry with Muslims or those who approved of their religion, protected them or sympathized with them. They wrote this agreement which was called “The General Boycott” on a piece of parchment and hung it inside the Kaabah as a secret pact. Therefore, Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) and his followers were forced into confinement in the Vale of Banu Hashim where they were cut off of any assistance. This boycott lasted three long years during which only the bond of faith kept the hearts together and gave them strength. It ended after Hisham Ibn Amr (who felt very upset about the terrible plight of Muslims) gathered some clans around him and agreed to break the pact. They went to Makkah to tear the parchment and to their surprise they found that the worms had already eaten it up except the words: “In Your name O God.”
After ten years of suffering for the mission of Islam, Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) suffered the loss of his wife Khadijah and his uncle Abu Talib, in other words, he had lost his public life, as his uncle defended him and protected him from any calamity, and his private life, as Khadijah loved, supported and shared with him the miseries and pains of the Da’wah.
Muhammad ’s Attractive Leadership:
Muhammad led a very ordinary life yet the life style he practiced offered an example for others to follow. So this is an invitation to search through the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) lifestyle and adopt what he did in his daily activities.
To start with read what Al Hasan (son of Ali) said about the Prophet of Allah (s.a.w.s.) “Doors are not locked under him, nor do door keepers stand for him, and trays of food are not served to him in the morning or the evening. He sits on the ground and eats his food from the ground. He wears coarse (rough) clothes and rides on a donkey with others sitting behind him, and he licks his fingers after taking food.”
His regular deeds:
His habits were really simple in all aspects of his life as we see. He never started any activity without saying “In the name of Allah.”
Aisha (r.a.) said that the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) used to sleep during the earlier part of the night and stood praying during the later part. She also said that when he got up at night he started his prayer with two rakaat.
When Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) went to bed he “Used to lie down on his right side and said: O Allah I surrender myself to you, and seek protection in you, longing for you and fearing you; there is no protection and no escape from you except with you, I believe in your book which you sent down and your Prophet (s.a.w.s.) whom you sent down and your Prophet (s.a.w.s.) whom you sent.” (Bukhari)
Then he used to read Surah Al Ikhlas and Al Muawathatein (Surah Al -Falaq and An-Naas) three times. (Dawud and Tirmithi)
Ibn Omar (r.a.) said that at night, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) used to pray rakaat in two then finished with one, and he used to supplicate saying:
“O Allah, forgive me my sins and my ignorance, my excesses in my matter and what you know better than myself. O Allah forgive me the wrongs (I did) lightly and seriously, and my accidental and intentional transgressions and all that is with me.” (Bukhari)
For Fajr prayer, he used to pray two short rakaat between the call and the Iqama and also read Qur’an. According to him “Qur’an at dawn is always witnessed by the angels of the nights and the angels of the days.” (Tirmithi)
Bathing, Ablution and the Call of Nature:
Aisha (r.a.) said that the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) used his right hand for ablution and taking food, and the left hand for the toilet and the like.
When bathing from janaba, Aisha said, “he would begin by washing his hands, then he made ablution as for prayer, then he puts his fingers in water and runs them through the roots of his hair and then poured handfuls of water with his hands over his head and let the water flow all over his body .” (Bukhari)
The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) said: “It is an obligation on every Muslim to bathe at least once every seven days and wash both his head and body.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
As far as ablution is concerned, Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) said:
“He who makes ablution and makes it the best way, his sins leave his body, even from beneath his nails.” (Muslim). In the hadith compiled by Imam Bukhari it was narrated that when the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) got up from sleep for Tahajjud prayer, he cleansed his mouth with a tooth-stick (miswak).
As far as answering the call of nature is concerned the Prophet of Allah (s.a.w.s.) said “He who relieves himself should be concealed from the view of others .” (Abu Dawud) and “Two people should not go out together to relieve themselves, uncovering their private parts and talking to each other, for Allah abhors this.” (Ahmad and Abu Dawud) He also told Omar, “Do not pass water while standing.”
When he entered the toilet he used to say “O Allah I seek refuge in You from all kinds of evils.” (Bukhari) And when he came out of the toilet he used to say “Grant Your forgiveness.” (Tirmithi)
Umm Salama (r.a.) said “The piece of clothing best liked by Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) was the shirt.” (Tirmithi) When he put on a shirt, he used to begin with the right side and says “Praise be to Allah who clothed me with this.” And he forbade us to exaggerate in our clothing when he said: “Eat, drink and wear good clothes as long as these things do not involve excess, and arrogance.” (Ahmed) In another hadith it was narrated that Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) cursed the man who puts on woman’s clothes and the woman who puts on men’s clothes.” (Abu Dawud)
Eating and Drinking:
Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) used to invoke the name of Allah before eating and also before washing his hands before and after eating. He used to say, “The blessing of food is received by washing the hands before and after taking it.” (Tirmithi and Abu Dawud)
Muslim also reported that “Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) used to eat with three fingers and he licked his hand before he wiped it.” The Messenger (s.a.w.s.) told Abu Salma (r.a.) “Invoke the name of Allah, and eat with your right hand and eat what is near.” (Muslim) And he also said, “If dinner is served, and Iqama for prayer is (also), then take the dinner first.” (Bukhari)
Manners of Speech:
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) used to start his speech with salam. He says: “Saying salam comes before talking.” (Tirmithi) And he teaches us not to talk unnecessarily saying: “Do not talk without remembering Allah, for talking without remembering Allah hardens the heart.” (Tirmithi)
He never used obscene talk nor did he listen to it, nor did he listen to anything about anyone. Aisha (r.a.) said that “His speech was clear and distinct such that all those who listened to him understood him.” (Abu Dawud)
General Conduct in Living with People:
Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) used to say salam when he arrives where people are seated and when he wishes to leave, he also says salam as “the former is as appropriate as the latter.” (Abu Dawud)
He did not like people exalting him “He came out once leaning on a stick and a group of people stood up, he said: don’t stand up as foreigners stand up exalting each other therewith.” (Abu Dawud)
When visiting people, he used to ask permission to enter saying “Peace be upon you, may I enter.” (Abu Dawud) and when his guests are leaving he used to go with them to the door of the house.
Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w.s.) used “to receive gifts and to give gifts back.” (Bukhari) and he said “Make gifts to one another for a gift removes rancour from the chest.” (Tirmithi)
At home, he used to serve his family. Aisha was asked about what the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) used to do in his house, she said “He used to work for his family, that is to serve his family, and when prayer time came, he goes out for prayer.” (Bukhari)
Death of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.)
The pains of sickness attacked the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) since the ending of Safar of the eleventh year. Once he fainted and his family put medicine in his mouth. When he awoke, he showed his dislike of that. During his illness he would supplicate “O Allah help me in the pangs of death.” (Bukhari: narrated by Aisha)
He was warning Muslims — even when he was in the throes of death — that they should stay committed to monotheism by saying “Allah’s curse be upon the Jews and Christians, they took their Prophet (s.a.w)’s graves as mosques.” (He was warning them against the action.) (Al-Shaikhan)
The last thing the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) did before his death (according to Aisha):
“He lay down in my lap, brushed his teeth harder than he had ever done before ”, then his eyes were fixed and he was saying “Nay, the Companion on high from paradise.” I said to myself “You were given the choice and you have chosen, by Him who sent you with the Truth.” Then, he passed away.” (Bukhari)
This was a brief study of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.)’s way of life. It must be stressed that we will never really understand the Sirah unless we study the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Praise and Glory be to Allah, we seek Allah’s forgiveness and we turn to him in repentance.
Shadiah Hamza Sheikh, Ph. D.