Prior to Prophethood

by Zainab Nazir

Lighthouse Magazine, April to May 2022 Issue (pp. 4–6)

What do you know about the life of the Prophet Muhammad before he became a prophet at the age of 40? When we study the Messenger of Allah’s life before his prophethood, we are able to see that his upbringing resulted in him having honourable traits and noble qualities which prepared him for prophethood. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was the best of his people with regard to his manners, and the kindest and patient, the most distanced from committing immoral acts which were rampant in Arab society at the time. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was also the most helpful of his people, the best neighbour, the most respectful to people, and the most righteous in all his dealings with others.

One interesting pattern seen in all prophets is that at one point in their lives, every messenger of God had the occupation of being a shepherd. Before joining his uncle Abu Talib in trade, the 25-year-old prophet worked as a shepherd too. In Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, it is written that

“serenity and solemnity follows shepherds.”

Being a shepherd in his young age was very important, because it teaches one many lessons and virtues. There are also many parallels between being a shepherd and being a prophet. For example, being a shepherd requires that you are patient, as you will be spending all your time, from sunrise to sunset with the flock in all sorts of weather, constantly caring for them and protecting them.

Later in his life, the blessed Prophet and his companions had to be incredibly patient when coping with the abuse from the polytheists. It also instils humbleness within you. As you will be spending time in close proximity with the sheep, you will be involved in cleaning them, doctoring them and delivering baby sheep. As is mentioned in the Quran,

“whoever has an atom’s weight of pride in his heart will not enter paradise.”

Finally, it requires you to become responsible. As a shepherd, you cannot let a single sheep stray from the straight path. You are held accountable for the wandering sheep. Therefore, as the Prophet of Islam, the blessed Prophet’s duty was to ensure that he guided as many people to the straight path. It is reported by Ibn Umar that the Prophet stated later in his life that,

“All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for your flock.”

These qualities that were learnt and then emulated in the blessed Prophet’s journey should also be mirrored by us, as we are all responsible for those in our care.

Then, the blessed Prophet worked as a merchant with his uncle. As he travelled to different places, he dealt with many different people from many different backgrounds. This sort of work gave him experience in how to deal with the different natures and manners of people. Through trade, the blessed Prophet became quickly recognised as honourable and truthful, “Al-Sadiq” and “Al-Amin.” Being a businessman sometimes becomes synonymous with dishonesty, due to the materialistic nature of humans, however, the blessed Prophet was perfectly honest. It was also during this time that Khadija RA learnt of the blessed Prophet’s good traits and skill in business, and sent a proposal to him.

There is the well-known story about the blessed Prophet being asked to mediate a situation among the clans. As the black stone had been removed to facilitate building work, an argument arose about which leader of the clan would replace the stone. The blessed Prophet suggested that the black stone should be laid on a cloth, and then each clan leader should hold the corner of the cloth to place it. Then Muhammad set the stone in place, satisfying the honour of all the clans.

This story shows how the blessed Prophet was a peacemaker and brought equality between clans who were prone to arguing over the most trivial matters.

Later in his life, the blessed Prophet unconditionally forbade retaliation and enjoined a complete commitment to nonviolence, while being economically and physically pressured by the polytheists. When the persecution became too great, the blessed prophet dealt with it by migrating to Medina.

Finally, it is important to note that though Arab society was very corrupt at the time, with drinking and gambling being rife, the blessed Prophet found no pleasure in these activities. Instead, he would spend his time meditating in the cave of Hira, to reflect on his life and the state of the world around him.