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Muhammad's Life Before His First Revelation: Part Two

Both Muslim and non-Muslim writers have long been fascinated by the life of Muhammad. If you share Islamic beliefs, Muhammad's life is the life of a prophet, and not just any prophet. It is the life of Allah's final and most beloved messenger. If you do not share Islamic beliefs, Muhammad's life is the life of perhaps the greatest military leader in history, as well as that of the man responsible for a moral code which has inspired some of the most important civilizations of the common era.

Regardless of your beliefs, there is no denying that Muhammad's life is immensely interesting. We're not just talking about Muhammad's life as a prophet when we say that. Although Muhammad's prophethood is certainly the most important period of his existence, his life before he was chosen as Allah's messenger is just as interesting. In fact, if we are to fully appreciate Muhammad's time as the Messenger of Allah, we must first familiarize ourselves with the first 40 years of his life. This article is the second in a series dedicated to examining Muhammad's life before his first revelation. Let's begin.

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Muhammad's Success As A Caravan Trader

In the first article of this series, we discussed Muhammad's beginnings as a caravan trader. Accompanying Abu Talib, his uncle and an experienced caravan trader in his own right, the teenage Muhammad was introduced to the world of buying and selling. He traveled with Abu Talib throughout Arabia, often stopping and conversing with interesting individuals the caravan encountered on its journeys. On one such occasion, a hermit monk is said to have predicted Muhammad's rise to prophethood. 

As Muhammad grew older, he began to establish his own identity as a caravan trader. He separated from his uncle and became an independent merchant, dealing in a variety of products as a means of avoiding the risks which come with focusing on a single commodity. Not a whole lot is known about the young adult Muhammad's early years as an independent merchant. Although this may seem suspicious at first, it is, in fact, a testament to his dedication to his work. During this time, Muhammad kept his head down and worked diligently in order to build his business. He was concerned with little else beyond worshipping a single God and providing his customers with the best quality products he could. It seems he did just that, as the next corroborated accounts of the merchant Muhammad praise him for his trustworthiness and fairness as a trader.

But despite Muhammad's determination to provide his customers with quality products at non-exploitative prices, he displayed a remarkable ability to turn a profit. In fact, on one particular occasion, Muhammad returned from a trading excursion to Syria with a markedly larger profit than anybody had witnessed before. With this rarely seen combination of honest and business acumen, Muhammad attracted the eye of the wealthiest widow in all of Mecca. Together, they would build a business empire and lay the foundation for the Muslim world.

Meeting Khadijah

The aforementioned unusually profitable trading trip Muhammad mad to Syria was orchestrated by a woman named Khadijah. In a break from the norm of pre-Islamic Mecca, Khadijah was involved in business ownership, an activity typically reserved for men. Not only was Khadijah involved in business ownership, but she was immensely successful at it. She controlled perhaps the largest fleet of camels in all of Mecca, allowing her to deal in a wide variety of goods.

Unlike most caravan traders, Khadijah did not take part in trading trips. Instead, she chose to conduct her business from afar, employing traveling merchants to sell her goods on her behalf. They would receive a commission on their sales, which, given the immense value of Khadijah's stock, often exceeded the money they would earn by selling their own goods. As such, working for Khadijah proved an extremely alluring prospect for many merchants of the time, including Muhammad.

When Muhammad agreed to sell goods on behalf of Khadijah on a trip to Syria in 595, he was just 25 years old. Khadijah assigned one of her slaves to assist him on his journey and protect her stock as it crossed the treacherous Arabian desert. However, she had an additional motive for assigning her slave to accompany Muhammad. Like many in Mecca, Khadijah had heard tales of Muhammad's honesty and humility. Having been twice widowed and living in a society where the unmarried were very much looked down upon, Khadijah was searching for a husband and Muhammad, if these stories of his upright personality checked out, seemed to be the perfect candidate. Upon returning from the trading trip, Khadijah's slave reported to her that not only was Muhammad the most truthful and admirable man he had ever encountered, but he was also a skilled trader and had more than doubled the profit she had expected to make from the journey. Khadijah was so immensely impressed upon hearing this that she proposed marriage to the young Muhammad, who accepted and made a formal proposal of his own, as was customary in Meccan society at the time.

Marriage To Khadijah  

As we mentioned in the previous section, Khadijah had already been married - and widowed - twice by the time she first encountered Muhammad. It should come as no surprise, then, that she was considerably older than Muhammad. At the time of their marriage, the future prophet was just 25 years old, while Khadijah, 15 years his senior, was 40. Despite this age gap, the two enjoyed a blissful marriage, living as equals in defiance of the social convention that a woman should be a slave to her husband. 

Muhammad relied upon Khadijah for guidance in both his business and professional life. In fact, when he received his first revelation more than a decade after marrying Khadijah, he immediately ran to her for comfort. Along with providing the comfort that her husband sought, Khadijah helped Muhammad determine that the revelation he received had indeed come from Allah and not from demonic powers. As such, she is today recognized as the very first follower of Muhammad and is often dubbed "The Mother of the Believers".

Muhammad and Khadijah remained together throughout the early days of Islam. Their marriage lasted a total of 25 years, ending with her death in November of 619. Throughout their marriage, Muhammad and Khadijah practiced monogamy. The Prophet would not take multiple wives until after Khadijah's passing and, even then, refused to father children with any wife other than his beloved Khadijah.

Children With Khadijah

Although Muhammad was unwilling to start a family with any of the women he married after Khadijah's death, he fathered several children during his lifetime. Together with Khadijah, the Prophet had six children; four daughters and two sons. Tragically, both of Muhammad's sons died in infancy. Additionally, three of his four daughters died before him. His surviving daughter, Fatimah, is Muhammad's only daughter to have lived into adulthood. She eventually married Ali, who Muslims revere as the last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Together, Fatimah and Ali raised five children, two of whom would go on to become the second and third Shia Imams respectively. Today, the Muslim world recognizes a number of esteemed individuals as having descended from the Prophet Muhammad via Fatimah and Ali. They carry the title of "Sayyid", the Arabic equivalent to "Lord", and are highly respected in all strains of the Islamic faith.

Muhammad As A Community Leader

Muhammad displayed remarkable leadership skills throughout his prophethood. He led the Muslims out of the dangerous climate of Mecca and into the safety of Medina. Later, he led an army of believers back to Mecca, where they defeated the anti-Muslim polytheists and claimed the Kaaba as their own. He also guided the Muslims to success in a number of additional battles and ensured the spread of Islam throughout the world. Although Muhammad never served as the official leader of any group before his prophethood, the important role he played in the pre-Islamic Meccan society undoubtedly prepared him for the duties of a military and religious chief. 

Because he was famed for his honesty and fair judgment, Muhammad was regularly called upon by Meccan higher-ups to settle disputes within the community. Arguably the most famous example of Muhammad as an arbitrator is the story of the Black Stone. The Black Stone is, of course, the sacred stone which sits in the eastern corner of the Kaaba. Even in pre-Islamic Mecca, the Black Stone was considered a sacred object, fit to be handled by only the most respectable members of society. In 605, the stone was briefly removed from the Kaaba in order to facilitate a number of renovations to the structure. The removal of the Black Stone and the subsequent renovations passed without issue. When it came time to return the stone to the Kaaba, however, conflict arose. The clan leaders charged with overseeing the renovations could not come to an agreement as to which clan elder should have the honor of setting the stone back in place.

In an attempt to resolve the dispute, the elders enlisted Muhammad. Although just 35 years of age and five years away from receiving his first revelation, Muhammad was recognized by the clan leaders as a man of great knowledge and justice. Sure enough, the future prophet displayed this knowledge and justice in crafting an acceptable solution to the problem of the clan elders. He instructed the elders to place the Black Stone on a sheet and, from there, commanded each to take a corner of the sheet and raise the stone to the Kaaba. Muhammad himself returned the Black Stone to its sacred spot, preserving the honor of all the clan leaders. This event marked Muhammad's first significant encounter with the Black Stone. Little did he know, pilgrims would be visiting the Black Stone more than a thousand years later in memory of his moral and theological teachings.

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