Mercy Proven or Disproven? Timelining Moḥamad’s Life

By: Osama M. Raslan, Ph.D.

  • | Tuesday, 31 October, 2023
Mercy Proven or Disproven? Timelining Moḥamad’s Life

     According to modern behavioral sciences, childhood and life traumas may well cause children and adults to exhibit asocial signs later on. Such traumatic events can include child abuse, neglect, natural disasters, wars, hard living conditions, and severe orphanhood. But what if these traumas bring out the best in a person? Would it be a divine touch like the one Muslims believe their Prophet, Moḥamad, received at early childhood? As this article coincides with the birth month of Prophet Moḥamad (PBUH), it seeks to draw a timeline of the key events and responses thereto over his life. After all, those responses have been translated into applicable guidance and legislations.

Speaking of severe orphanhood, the Prophet became a parental orphan prenatally and then a maternal orphan at six. Orphanhood did not only cost little Moḥamad his parents, but also threw him into a life of subsistence at both his grandfather’s and paternal uncle’s households. Starting with his grandfather’s, some historical resources said that it was a household with 13 boys and seven daughters! The grandfather had six wives, not to mention the servants and housemaids. The grandfather passed away when Moḥamad was only eight. Finding another care provider was a must. For the latter care-providing household, the uncle had 10 children and a wife. Considering how difficult man’s life used to be in the early 6th  Gregorian century, it is easily imaginable what hard life the non-sibling orphan had back then. Propelled by the low living conditions, little Moḥamad had to tend livestock for others to make a living. Few years into younghood, Moḥamad had to work as a trader for others. An unmistakable trait of Moḥamad was that he endeavored to clear obstacles reasonably, even turning challenges and threats into noble chances of learning life lessons and adopting great attitudes. His perseverance, honesty, patience, and mercifulness have come to make him known among his people as Moḥamad the truthful, the honest, long before coming to preach any divine message.

To highlight war-like events in his pre-divine revelation life, the year of the Prophet’s birth is historically known as the Year of the Elephant. The then Ethiopian governor of Yemen, ᵓAbrahā ᵓal-ᵓAshram, envied the reverence and respect in which the Kaᶜbah was served and benefited from by the Arabs. Being a staunch Christian, al-ᵓAshram built a big cathedral in  Ṣanᶜāᵓ (presently, capital of Yemen) and ordered the Arabs to head for it for pilgrimage, instead. The imperial order was ignored. Wrathfully, ᵓal-ᵓAshrām marched to demolish the Kaᶜbah, advancing with a massive elephant-equipped army towards Makkah. Arabs were not familiar with elephant military uses, hence the name of the year. Arabs had the habit of event-based nomenclatures and reckoning. To Muslims, the massive army was destroyed by divine power. Squadrons of birds overshadowed the entire invading army with showers of fiery pebbles pouring down on it into full defeat. The Qurᵓān reads, “1. Have you not seen how your Lord performed with the companions (i.e., owners) of the elephant? 2. Did He not make their plotting go into great error? 3. And He sent upon them baleful birds (in flocks), 4. Throwing against them stones of baked clay; 5. So He made them like green blades eaten (up).” (Qurᵓān: 105)

Another war witnessed by the teenager Moḥamad was ᵓal-Fijār (The War of the Sacrilegious), the pre-Islam late 6th century several-day war between certain alliances across Arabia. The Quraish, the Prophet’s tribe, sought to put an end to the violations of the sanctified annual pre-Islamic four-month truce. This was when the teenager’s uncles summoned him to the tribal and correctional duty of assisting in putting an end to the nefarious war. In response, the developing child chose to express a personality that would come to characterize his message later on. Instead of engaging into conventional acts of war, he chose to protect his uncles from the arrows of the enemy. An unequivocal belief in peacefulness and mercy was about to emerge as a distinct characteristic despite unconducive environment.

Following divine revelation, according to Moḥamad Ḥusayn Haykal’s The Life of Moamad, the Quraysh threatened Moḥamad and his next of kin, especially his ardent defenders – his paternal uncles. It ridiculed him, his message, and followers; even commissioned its poets to parody him and to direct their most caustic stings against his teachings. Physical targeting and injury were also exercised. Alternatives were also sought with bribes of money, kingship, and power offered to Moḥamad at a magnitude that would have satisfied the most gluttonous of men. The Quraysh impoverished the nascent Muslim community by destroying their commerce and trade, and it banished and dispersed them from their own country. For a seemingly all-out solution, the Quraysh thought of and proceeded with displacing and boycotting Muslims into starvation. For the following three years, the Prophet was shut up with all his followers in one of the gorges that run down to Makkah. The new carefully written siege pact was remarkably observed. In a society where blood shedding, tribal wars, raiding, and other forms of aggression were normal acts of daily life, a war-like response could have been expected. But that expectation was never a reality.

Following thirteen years of sustaining endless aggressions of all forms, Muslims were not allowed to start a war; but only to fight back. This was how the Islamic rules of engagement, to quote modern military terms, were formulated and legislated. This remains the situation by virtue of the eternally applicable Islamic teachings. When the Battle of Badr came to an end between Muslims and the Quraysh, the 950-strong Quraysh army was defeated by the 314-strong Muslim army. Seventy high-profile community-leader prisoners of war were taken by the Muslims. No vengeance was served. Islam does not approve the notion of vengeance as a dish that is best served cold! Rather, it promotes the warmth of tolerance and forgiveness as the values that are best kept in high esteem. This is the reason why a literacy-based ransom was required.

In 628 AD, a peace pact was concluded by and between the Muslims and the Quraysh. Several tribes joined the pact as followers of the two main concluding high parties. Within a matter of two years, the Quraysh violated the pact by assaulting and nearly annihilating a Muslim-ally clan. The survivors from the wronged clan demanded the Prophet to operationalize the mutual defense duties of the alliance. Failing to honor contractual obligations did not go unnoticed, nor was it to go unpunished. By early 630, the Muslims marched to the stronghold of the Quraysh, Makkah. In response, the violators did not seek any form atonement or redress for the infringements of theirs and their allies, but rather sought to haughtily maintain their stance. A fierce war was about to break out. With their memories simmering with fury for their lost ones and property and for the persecution they underwent at the hands of the Quraysh, some of the Prophet’s companions shouted upon arriving at the gates of Makkah, “Today is the day of the destined epic battle.” The war-mongering tinged saying irked the Prophet, who replied, “It shall rather be the day of merciful huddle.” Emerging as the triumphant party, the Prophet granted a general amnesty to everyone in Makkah. No scores were to be settled, but a new message and a way of life were being preached.

Ordinary persons and great figures, alike, tend to conclude their lives with wise wills and great focus on the key messages that best epitomize their life missions. Proceeding to Prophet Moḥamad’s Farewell Sermon, 632 AD, he epitomized his message in a manner that has been used ever since to highlight the overarching objectives behind the Islamic faith. Most notably, no transgression may ever be perpetrated against a person’s body, feelings, property, reputation, kinship, or any other belonging of any nature. If a title is proposed for the Sermon, it would be justice and conscientiousness.

What a paradox this timeline suggests between the true self, mission, and message Prophet Moḥamad had, undertook, and communicated on the one hand; and the generally persistent case of disinformation against Islam nowadays as a religion of the sword, inhumanity, and terrorism, on the other. It is a paradox that misses out on the whole purpose of the powerhouse of humaneness built by Islam. If God is love is the core of Christianity, justice and mercy are the corresponding characteristics of Islam. When I was a young child, I came across and learned by the heart the following  Qurᵓānic verse, “And in no way have We sent you [Moḥamad] except as a mercy to the worlds.” (Qurᵓān: 21, 107) I was wondering, what proof may I ever stumble on when reading about the Prophet’s life to drive this notion home? Admissible proofs are myriad. But the following one speaks volumes. When the Battle of ᵓUhud (625 AD) was raging, the Prophet himself was badly hurt. He was hit in the face with a rock, causing his helmet to break and his face to bleed. He also suffered other injuries, including a cut on his forehead and a broken tooth. Swords were heavily clattering, and a column of the Quraysh fighters were ferociously advancing towards the bleeding Prophet to finish him. In such a moment where death was almost certain, the Prophet did not use his unequivocal power of prayer against them. Instead, he started praying as saying, “O Allah, I implore You to guide my people to the straight path, for simply they do not know the truth.” What a proof! A special power of his was used not to survive the dire situation or afflict a punishment against the attackers, but rather to pray for the enemy. To him, the people with whom he was undesirably at war were still regarded as ‘my people’; not an enemy. Further, he cudgeled his brain to find them an excuse before Allah; ‘they do not know the truth’.

Going through the timeline of the Prophet’s life yields the image of an extraordinary man with an extraordinary message that has truly taken a path that came literally against all the odds. Another person in similar situation would have wreaked havoc and preached a faith of vengeance, injustice, and hegemony rather than a faith of mercy and justice. This propelled me to study the Prophet’s Sunnah. As an unescapable long-established requirement for anyone to proceed with studying Sunnah, the first Ḥadīth to learn must be, “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on earth and the One in the heaven will be merciful to you.” (Abū Dawūd: 4941) What yet another conclusive proof!


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