Sīrat al-Ḥabīb ﷺ: In the Shade of the Ka`bah
Written by Mateen A. Khan, NJ
A version of this article was first published in Al-Madania Magazine.
A stoic structure, the Ka`bah has been a silent witness to many important events. For this, it has my envy. It has stood as the base of a pillar that stretches far into the heavens; a building constructed upon divine command as a source and direction of spiritual light. Like comets, people from across Arabia have endured unforgiving empty expanses to simply circumambulate it before returning home. Even the surrounding houses stood like stationary satellites caught in its gravity. It is a Sun, and they its solar system.
Decades before, the noble child Muhammad ﷺ, like the Ka`bah, began to attract many into his orbit. From family members, hermitic monks, and townsfolk to close companions, they observed his impeccable character and bore witness to it in word, deed, and life. All this well before he was proclaimed a Messenger. This chapter briefly outlines some personalities that coalesced around him before prophethood.
The Uncle Abū Ṭālib
After `Abdul Muṭṭalib’s burial, the eight-year-old Muhammad ﷺ and his foster mother returned to the house of his uncle, Abū Ṭālib. `Abdul Muṭṭalib did not leave this world without arrangements for his dear grandson. He instructed Abū Ṭālib, who was the full brother of `Abdullah and closest living relative, to look after the child. Obedience to his father’s last wishes and a strong blood relationship brought the child into his house. However, undying affection and fierce life-long devotion kept Abū Ṭālib attached to his beloved nephew, favoring him over his own sons. In any other household, the horns of jealousy would bludgeon hearts and destroy families. However, his ﷺ presence was such that no matter how many sought his attention, they all walked away satiated. In those days, Abū Ṭālib and his sons, `Alī, Ja`far, and `Aqīl sought his attention. In later days, it would grow to hundreds of thousands, and miraculously, none envied the other in the least.
The Loyal Monks
One day and a thousand miles away, the nine-year-old child ﷺ emerged with a caravan through scattered air and dust from a desert valley in the mountains near Buṣrā in Shām. The secluded monk Baḥīrah had lived there for some time among the boulders and trees as his companions. He cared little for the world or the oft-traversing caravans which sought it out. This time, however, he noted something extraordinary – those boulders and trees leaned into the path as if to reach out in yearning towards a group of travelers. Baḥīrah knew that just as these objects remember their Lord, they also long for His Emissaries. He also knew the time was close for the arrival of the last Messenger. Frantically, he searched through the group until he beheld the young boy ﷺ, shaded by a tree and a cloud with the mark of prophethood on his back.
Abū Ṭālib was among the group and like most Qurayshī men, he was a trader traveling to Shām in search of profit. Before his departure, his young charge ﷺ fearing separation, came close to him – for an uncle is like a father. He had already lost too many of those. It was not an expedition for children. Despite this, Abū Ṭālib also not wanting to separate from him, relented. The two endured the desert with the caravan until they reached Baḥīrah’s locality.
Enmity against prophets was a recurrent trait of the People of the Book. At the time, the Christian Romans were already searching with ill-intent. However, there have been some like Baḥīrah that protected those beloveds of Allah. “Return him home safely and protect his identity,” Baḥīrah urged Abū Ṭālib. “This is the master of the worlds. This is the messenger of the Lord of the worlds. Allah will commission him as a mercy to the worlds.” Not knowing what to make of this exactly, but not wanting to tempt fate either, the child ﷺ was sent back to the safe obscurity of Makkah. Nine years later as a business partner of his future wife, he would meet another loyal monk, Nasṭūrā. He, too, would recognize the young man ﷺ and proclaim, “This one! He is a prophet. He is the last of them.”
Those episodes were just two signs in a long series of events. Allah, the Exalted, was preparing people for a predicted and long prophesized point in history. Prior to this, the Prophet Ibrāhīm requested Allah for a purifying Prophet, and the Prophet `Īsā foretold of one most praised. The most telling yet subtle sign was the tar-like coating of evil and immorality that had covered the hearts. They had become deaf to advice, ignorant of the divine, and blind to uprightness. However, Allah, the Exalted, is not One to leave man neglected. He intended to send a light, both enduring and guiding, to vaporize darkness until the world’s end.
Meanwhile, the Makkans increasingly gravitated towards the young man ﷺ. He was unlike other men that were universally tainted with Jahiliyyah maladies. For them, he was a humble and patient shepherd; a kind and noble caretaker; an honest and reliable trading partner; a strong and pure desert Arab. When he spoke, he always spoke the truth. When he was entrusted, he always fulfilled his trust. Unusually, he seemed unable to do otherwise. Thus, people made a note of it and referred to him as al-Ṣādiq and al-Amīn, the Truthful and Trustworthy.
Abū Ṭālib verbalized this in a beautiful way at the occasion of the Prophet’s ﷺ marriage, “Indeed, Muhammad is such, if other Qurayshī youth were to be weighed against him, he would be greater in nobility, generosity, grace, and intelligence. Although he has little wealth – for it is a passing shade and a trust to be returned – he possesses a desire for Khadījah bint Khuwaylid and she possesses the same for him.”
On another occasion, the Quraysh, as the custodians of the Ka`bah and those nearest to it, began rebuilding its dilapidated structure. Building the Ka`bah was an enviable event having only taken place a few times in the course of world history. The subtribes worked together until only the Black Stone (al-ḥajar al-aswad) remained. Egos inflamed over the right of its placement. Swords of pristine metal and hands of dripping blood were advanced by all involved. If rebuilding the Ka`bah was a tribal and a once in a millennia honor, placing the Black Stone was the ultimate privilege. For several days, the threat of a long war and hostility grew, and the air around the Ka`bah became thick. Eventually, they agreed the first to enter the sanctuary the next day would have the choice in the matter. In the morning, they raced through cool streets and settled sand only to find the innately pious 35-year-old Muhammad ﷺ already there for his morning visit. Voices went out saying, “This is Muhammad, the trustworthy (al-Amīn). We are pleased (with him). This is Muhammad, the trustworthy.” In an act of wisdom and generosity, which endeared him even further, he set the stone in a sheet to be carried by all the chiefs as he guided it gently into its resting place.
The Wife Sayyidah Khadījah
Among the Makkans was a Qurayshī widow, Sayyidah Khadījah. One day, she looked out anxiously over the terrain from her upper floor. Through the arid mirages and refracted air, she saw her latest business venture come into view. After her last husband died, she began to invest her wealth with trading partners. As an astute yet modest and desirable woman, she would remain in her Makkan home as they traveled and engaged on her behalf. This time, the returning venture was different. Her investment was in the hands of the highly lauded yet inexperienced Muhammad ﷺ. However, it was not the investment that concerned her, but rather, she wanted to hear about him. She had sent her slave and agent, Maysarah, to observe her business partner. Upon returning, Maysarah burst with stories of honesty, purity of faith, fortune, and supernatural events. Afterward, she was, no doubt, divinely inspired to propose marriage to the Prophet ﷺ. It was a perfect marriage of immeasurable mutual love. Together, they would form a binary star – two separate individuals about a common point acting as one – unlike any birthed by the universe. She of forty years old would prove to be a devoted wife and an embodiment of purity, intelligence, and dedication to her husband. She would bear witness to the innermost perfection of her husband as only a spouse could. He, now 25-years-old, would reciprocate a loyalty that lasted well beyond her passing.
The Companion Sayyiduna Abū Bakr
One day, the Ka`bah bore the brunt of a white sun’s scorch and cast a shade over an immensely important individual. Possessing a deeply inquisitive nature and extensive experience, you would have thought he had heard all that people usually speak of. However, he now sat surprised in thought with the blacks of his eyes dilated. He had just heard for the first time about a foretold prophet to come.
Sayyiduna Abū Bakr was another Makkan and universally respected for his intelligent inquiries, noble traits, and acumen in trade. He was an expert in the genealogy of people and an excellent judge of character. Hence, he would often say about the Prophet ﷺ when he saw him approaching:
The Trustworthy, the Chosen who calls to virtue,
ike the full moon from which the darkness flees.
He distinguished himself as one who vehemently stood for the truth and inclined towards purity in belief and thought. So long before Islam, he shunned idol worship and kept his mind free of intoxication. In traits, he was much like a twin to the Prophet ﷺ. How extraordinary?! While the Prophets are preserved upon an innate purity (al-fiṭrah) and divinely protected from sin (al-`iṣmah), Sayyiduna Abū Bakr cultivated his nature without divine protection to a degree no other common man would. Hence, it comes as no surprise that a soul of such stature would befriend the noblest of creation ﷺ. He became a close companion to the Prophet ﷺ and intimately witnessed his intrinsic honesty, beautiful nature, and noble character even before his prophethood. This was a perfect companionship of immeasurable mutual benefit. The Prophet ﷺ would have a friendship he could not alone repay, and Sayyiduna Abū Bakr would be elevated to a stature no common man may claim.
Indeed, the Ka`bah is worthy of every envy. It looked over the two spouses when they prayed together, shaded the two companions when they gathered, and beheld the gaze of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon them all.