Sīrat al-Ḥabīb ﷺ: the Prelude
written by Mateen A. Khan, Piscataway, NJ
A version of this article was first published in Al-Madania Magazine.
She sat erect on the floor cognizant of her heart which had already ceased its motion. An elderly Black woman at this point, her tears streamed behind her veil through the crevices of her face. In front of her sat the two most important men of the time. They came to mimic the memory of their mutual master visiting his “mother.” Unexpectedly, the two contracted her sorrow and joined her in weeping softly. They thought they shared tears over the loss of a mutual beloved and hoped to console her. Instead, Barakah said, “I only cry over the end of heavenly revelation.” She had begun her life a single cereal grain in an Abyssinian field, but then fate would bring her to the arid soil of Arabia. She would witness incredible events and form a bond that would draw the new khalīfah and his successor to her side.
This story, however, started long before her.
The Creation (al-Khalq)
With absolutely nothing else in existence, Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, was alone. He glanced upon creation bringing something other than Himself into existence as a supreme favor to it, an act of love and mercy. It was an act of selfless love because He gained nothing by its creation, but His creation gained everything. He wished a requited love, even if minuscule in comparison, to complement His own. Within the unending expanses of Space, He placed an inconsequential speck of dust that would become the stage for His most incredible mercy. He cast the sun’s yellow upon it and poured the water’s blue into it. Among its lush green and soil brown, He planted some creatures and animated others. Soon, Allah would mold a group with the potential to be the best of creation and also the worst. A group that would voluntarily be able to recognize and acknowledge that divine love or reject it. Thus, He created Sayyidunā Ādam and his progeny, creatures of earthly shades, intellectual contrasts, and spiritual hues, with His own Hands.
The Signs (al-Āyāt)
Allah’s love is vast. He meticulously created the distant galaxies in all their complexity and grandeur to appear simply as a twinkle in the sky for people of contemplation. Whether they looked up at the sky, out towards the horizon, down at the earth, or into themselves, all of it pointed towards their Maker. Like an anonymous admirer who leaves a rose to garner recognition, Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, created the micro and macro spaces and granted the faculties by which we could recognize Him.
الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا
“They remember Allah while standing, sitting, and on their sides. They contemplate over the creation of the heavens and earth saying, ‘Our Lord, you did not create this uselessly. Glorious are You!’”
Despite that, there would, unfortunately, be some of us, too indulged in other activities, to have contemplated.
The Glad Tidings (al-Bishārah)
Allah’s love is vaster still, and so, He did not give up on us. One by one, He sent over 124,000 of his chosen slaves to warn us and awaken us. Like beads on a misbaḥah, they remembered the Creator and reminded others, one after another. As divine mouthpieces, they spoke to people in a language the signs could not. They were examples to be emulated. They were lovers of Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, that exuded a divinely intoxicating aroma. And we, our personalities soak in their scent, simultaneously intoxicated and intoxicating others.
Knowing their message would be ignored by most, each was commanded to tell whoever would listen about the last messenger. He would be the highest-ranking and a glad tiding and fail-safe for anyone seeking the Truth. After Sayyidunā `Īsā ibn Maryam was taken from this earth, corruption spread into the beliefs and actions of people and further into the lands: the Byzantines and Persians in their oppression and decadence, the Hindus in their caste bigotry and degeneration, the Europeans in a squalor of physical and intellectual filth, and the Arabs in polytheism’s spiritual darknesses. Yet, in this blackness, a favored few among their followers carried lanterns of hope as they traversed far distances and longingly waited generations for the promised messenger. These were the likes of Zayd ibn `Amr from the Arabs, Waraqah ibn Nawfil and the monk Baḥīrah from the Christians, `Abdullah ibn Salām and a few Yathrib yahūd from the Jews, and Salmān al-Fārisī from the Zoroastrians. Most people, however, could not find the motivation to do the same.
The Precedence (al-Irhāṣāt)
Allah’s love is most vast. Not wanting the unmotivated to miss the greatest of His mercies to come, Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, sent specific signs as a prelude, announcements for amazing things to come. For He had chosen the last one from the noblest group, tribe, household, and lineage as a final Messenger with a lasting Message, may Allah’s blessings and peace be on him. The Roman Christians and the Yathrib Jews saw the signs as foretold by their prophets and mobilized in hopes of finding him. On that minuscule collection of dirt and water afloat in the expansive universe was a strip of desert in which a seemingly unnoteworthy collection of people lived. Through them passed that noble lineage from Sayyidunā Ādam to Sayyidunā Ibrāhīm to one called Adnān. From him, the lineage ran through the following: Ma`d, Nizār, Muḍar, Ilyās, Mudrikah, Khuzaymah, Kinānah, al-Naḍar, Mālik, Fahr, Ghālib, Lu’ayy, Ka`b, Murrah, Kilāb, Quṣayy, `Abd Manāf, Hishām, and then Abdul Muṭṭalib.
Abdul Muṭṭalib, a nobleman of Makkah from the Qurayshī tribe, was gifted with intelligence and wisdom. He was unique among men. The well of Sayyidah Ḥājir, the wife of Sayyiduna Ibrāhīm and mother of Sayyidunā Ismā`īl, had been lost for some time. Abdul Muṭṭalib successfully dug up the well of Zamzam after having its location shown to him in a dream. When the large army of the Yemini king, Abrahah, showed up at the footsteps of his defenseless town, Abdul Muttalib handed over its protection to Allah and hid in the surrounding hills. Despite the Makkans largely being a group of polytheists and the Yemeni army monotheists, Allah sent a large flock of small birds to annihilate them. Imagine a flock large enough to blacken the sky with each bird carrying a beak-sized stone. The stones rained down from above, decimating the army and leaving the survivors to succumb later. Those with insight realized an evident miracle had occurred, not in support of the polytheistic Makkans but in preparation for something astounding to come. So remarkable was this event, the entire year of its occurrence would be henceforth known as the year of the elephant, referring to the massive beasts which accompanied the Yemeni army.
Abdullah, the tenth and last son of Abdul Muṭṭalib, was a handsome, well-mannered youth beloved by his father and all who met him. He was married to Āminah, a Qurayshī resident of Yathrib and the most honorable of her tribe. Having chosen the two most perfect of the noble lineage and creating love between them, Allah caused Āminah to become pregnant with the most perfect and noble of human beings, may Allah’s blessings and peace be on him. However, tragedy struck when husband and wife were separated abruptly by death. During a return caravan trip from the Levant, Abdullah became ill and stopped in Yathrib at his in-laws. He passed away there while his still pregnant wife awaited him in Makkah. Devastated, she remained committed to his memory as a mother to their not-yet-born son.
Her pregnancy was extraordinary by all accounts. It and the delivery were easy without any pangs or difficulties. During this time, she and those around her were shown a heavenly light (nūr) which illuminated the room and gave visions of the palaces of distant lands. Even then, there were those with eyes and hearts like hawks scanning the terrain for the promised last messenger. After recognizing signs for the arrival of the divine courier, Najāshī, the Christian scholar and king of Abyssinia, queried two visiting Qurayshī men about a special birth. Some of the yahūd of Yathrib and Makkah made note lamenting, “Prophethood has vanished from Banī Isrā’īl!” The Zoroastrians would see the turrets of their palace crumble and the ancient fire extinguished. These were not coincidences. The Prophet ﷺ would later explain, “I am the answer to Ibrāhīm’s supplication, the glad tidings of Īsā, and the vision of my mother.”
Sayyidunā Muhammad ﷺ
Barakah, then a young handmaiden, assisted the widowed Āminah in delivering a young boy into the world. It was the 9th or 12th of Rabī al-Awwal in the year of the elephant. Through him, Makkah, a tiny town of overlooked importance, would become a guiding light that would bathe the globe in years to come. His grandfather, Abdul Muṭṭalib, received him with teetering delight. He announced the child’s name hoping it would continue to echo through land and time: Muhammad ﷺ. As this was not a name well-known to the Quraysh, a poet explained:
[Allah] extracted his name from His own so he may be exalted.
Thus, the Owner of the throne is Maḥmūd, while this is Muhammad.
For his part, Abdul Muṭṭalib answered, “I want Allah and everyone on the Earth to praise him.”
And so, it would transpire.