Written by Mateen A. Khan, NJ
A version of this article was first published in Al-Madania Magazine.
The trek from the cave of Ḥirā’ atop Mount al-Nūr snaked down the mountainside, through the valleys, and into Makkah. Our beloved Muhammad ﷺ began to frequent the cave and stay longer each time. There, he could contemplate and connect with His Creator. When he would leave, his footsteps temporarily imprinted themselves in the path’s shifting sands. The grains took their turns kissing his feet. The few bushes reached out to him. The rocks conveyed their salām. Having now reached the fortieth year of his life, the Prophet ﷺ, already known for his notable character and miraculous events, felt a guided shifting internally.
The love of Allah, the Exalted, for humanity is beyond the mind’s comprehension. He created Sayyiduna Ādam and gifted him with two unique traits, knowledge and choice, which composed humanity’s foundation. Sound belief and sincere obedience formed its structure. His progeny, however, introduced changes over time which weakened it. They added, changed, or removed divine commands. They grew further away from Him, whereas He always wished for them to choose closeness. He sent prophets and messengers to right the wrongs they had introduced out of His mercy; engineers to correct the flaws of the building of humanity. After Sayyiduna `Īsā, the structure grew increasingly unstable as people adopted attributes of polytheism and took to extremism in belief and practice. Until one day, the structure collapsed on itself, burying humanity in darkness.
The greatness of humanity is not measured by its dominance over the natural world or its understanding of it. Instead, it is measured by its closeness to the Creator and the ability to act in accordance with His commands. Humanity had buried itself in its own making. Thus, they blocked the light of divine connection and the fresh air of original purpose. As mentioned previously, it was never in the Creator’s plan to leave humanity in darkness. The match had been lit, and it was time to light the lamp.
Preparing the Prophet ﷺ
He ﷺ is the most beloved creation of Allah, the Exalted. We have already seen how his life was full of unique events. Now, Allah imbued a sense of unrest within the Prophet ﷺ. For his part, throughout his life, the Prophet ﷺ protected himself – with the help of divine direction – from that which displeased Allah, the Exalted. He detested worshiping anything which itself depended upon the Independent (al-Ghanī), be it stone or man. When one disconnects themselves from Allah, they detach themselves from morality. As he ﷺ remained connected to Allah alone, he stayed on a path of virtue. Thus, he never lied, cheated, drank alcohol, ate meat slaughtered on a name besides Allah’s, or any other action displeasing to his Lord.
However, there was that one time his humanity got the better of him. As a young shepherd, he resolved one night to attend a wedding wherein music and jāhilī merrymaking were taking place. No sooner had he arrived but sleep overtook him, and his ears muted the music. He awoke later the next day well after the event’s conclusion. The next night, he attempted the same, and his plans were similarly thwarted. Henceforth, he remained resolved to refrain from pre-Islamic rituals. Allah, the Exalted, protected him as He had protected His chosen Prophets before. After some time, he began to see pleasant and vivid dreams as if lit by the morning light. The visions would correspond with reality, i.e., they were true. He was given a taste of revelation’s embrace; a purification of the heart and soul and a preparation for what was to come.
The Prophet ﷺ would return from al-Nūr to his wife and household. His marriage to Sayyidah Khadījah blossomed into an impressive extended family. The mutual loyalty between him and his devoted foster mother Barakah continued as well. He ﷺ introduced Barakah to his wife as “the rest of his family.” Whereas Barakah looked after him from birth throughout his difficult childhood, as an adult, the Prophet ﷺ began to look after her. He arranged her marriage to a man named `Ubayd, and she left the Prophet’s side for a time. She and `Ubayd had a child named Ayman by which she gained the title of Umm Ayman, the mother of Ayman. As Allah’s plan for her would have it, `Ubayd died soon after. She, then, returned to the Prophet’s grateful company and welcoming home.
Years before this, the tribe of an Arab child named Zayd ibn Ḥārithah had been raided. Ripped from his parents, he was alone as an enslaved youth being transferred from home to home. His father mourned and recited poetry in his name, not knowing where he was taken. Like the Prophet Ya`qūb, he never gave up hope in finding him. Sayyiduna Zayd, like the Prophet Yūsuf, must have dearly missed the warmth of his home and father. Soon after the Prophet’s marriage, Allah, the Exalted, brought Zayd into their home. Although he entered as a slave, this family kept him as family. Around this time, the tears of Zayd’s father began to dry as he heard of the whereabouts of his son. He rushed to Makkah and located Zayd’s master ﷺ by the Ka`bah. “Free my son for money is no object.” However, the man he spoke to spoke in the language of affection and not of affluence. If Zayd wanted his freedom and family, it was his to ask, and he could return with his father. However, if he chose to stay, the Prophet ﷺ said, “By Allah, I am not one to abandon anyone who chooses me.” The father ran to his son and presented to him his freedom. Zayd replied, “I am not one to choose him over anyone else, ever.” One might imagine the father’s hurt for now he stood to lose his son for the second time. Amazingly, this was not the case for, one must conclude, he too understood Zayd’s adoration of the Prophet ﷺ. Instead of hurt and anger, he was pleased with his son’s decision and returned home content with Muhammad ﷺ as his guard. What an excellent example for every parent whose child chooses a path of prophetic learning?! Leave your child contently in their devotion to his ﷺ deen and Sharī`ah. There is no better company! For his part, the Prophet ﷺ, being one of utmost loyalty, reciprocated Zayd’s choice, freed him, and adopted him as his own son. He would affectionately say to him, “O Zayd, you are my companion. You are part of me and I am part of you. You are the most beloved of people to me.”
The Prophet ﷺ loved Zayd and he loved Barakah. He would fuse these two halves of his heart together in marriage to one another. The union would result in a child, Usāmah ibn Zayd. However, the words to describe the Prophet’s love for him escape me for now.
A similar thing occurred with Abū Ṭālib. He was a devoted sponsor and father-figure to his nephew ﷺ as he guided him into adulthood. He was there when no one else was. Likewise, the Prophet ﷺ reciprocated with great loyalty and concern at a time when financial hardship befell the Quraysh. The responsibility of taking care of many children weighed on Abū Ṭālib’s finances and caused him great difficulty. To lessen the burden, the Prophet ﷺ took in one of his sons, Sayyiduna `Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib. With this, `Alī also became a member of the household, and the Prophet ﷺ treated him as a son. Later, he would become the son-in-law of the Prophet ﷺ. He would be among the first to accept the Prophet’s message and among the first to pray in the name of Islam. One day, his father Abū Ṭālib, still unaware of the new religion, caught him praying in secret and confronted him about this practice. The young `Alī replied, “O my father, I have believed in Allah (alone) and His Messenger. I have affirmed what he has brought. I have prayed with him for the sake of Allah alone and have followed him.” In this instance, his love for his nephew overcame his devotion to his forefathers. He replied to his son, “In that case, he only calls you toward good. Remain dedicated to him.” He would say about the Prophet ﷺ:
Did you not know our son is not denied
By us, and he does not speak any falsehoods.
The flawless by which the clouds are asked for rain;
The refuge of orphans and the guardian of widows.
Sayyiduna `Ali’s inclination towards the deen and devotion to the Prophet ﷺ were not coincidental. Rather, it stemmed from the pure nourishing soil of Muhammad ﷺ and Khadījah’s house. He was also not the only child to benefit from its nutrients. The couple had four daughters: Zaynab, Umm Kulthūm, Ruqayyah, and Fāṭimah. Each one inherited the nobility of their parents. They were the apple of their father’s eye, the coolness of his heart, and the smile on his blessed face.
For countless millennia, Mount al-Nūr watched over the valley as a guard waiting patiently for their ward. It witnessed Makkah’s transition from empty desert to the home of the Ka`bah; its transformation from the visiting-place of Ibrāhīm to the birth of Muhammad ﷺ. It watched the child grow, suffer loss, and accumulate people’s endearment. Now, the stage had finally been set. Its cast, from people to angels, were all in position. The sun, moon, and heavens gazed enviously on the little Earth for what was to come. The Prophet had dreams sparking a light that lead him to isolation and reflection. Time in Ḥirā’ freed his mind from the dunya and focused it on the divine. Finally, the mountain’s perseverance paid off as the Prophet ﷺ climbed its side one more time.