20 Nov, 2005
(Author’s note: Though Muhammad took birth in
the full light of history, but we do not know much about his
childhood or how he grew up. Nor do we know for sure if he was the
actual author of the Quran. We have, therefore, been depending on
conjectures, all of which have came to us from different sources to
make ourselves familiar with what he had, or had not, done in his
lifetime. We ask readers to read this presentation keeping this fact
in their mind).
City of Mecca and the Ka’aba
Long time ago, a tiny spot in the sandy soil of the Arabian Peninsula , became the focal point of the Pagan nomads of the desert: known to them as Bakka,  it had a well, they called Zumzum, which supplied them with water throughout the year. Water was one of the rarest commodities in the lives of the desert dwellers. To find it so easily was a miracle to them. Believing that the miracle was worked by Allah, they built nearby the well a House to Him so that they could thank and worship Him for His favor. They named it Ka’aba, or the House of Allah.
The Pagans were a deeply religious people. They believed that there was a god to look after every aspect of their lives. Consequently, they believed that there was a god who gave them life. They also believed that the same god, whom they called Allah, gave them sustenance and protected them from all hazards of earth. They further believed that there were other gods who, apart from carrying out their respective duties, rained water from the sky and made them successful in their battles.
Lesser gods were worshipped because they had the power, and the ability, to intercede, on behalf of their worshippers, with Allah. Notable among them were called al-Lat, al-Manat and al-Uzza. The Pagans worshipped them, because they believed they were the daughters of Allah.
The number of gods the Pagans believed in, and worshipped, stood at three hundred and sixty. All of them were represented by their idols. These idols were kept inside and outside of the Ka’aba, a cubic shape structure that was built by the founding fathers of paganism to protect them from the hostile and unpredictable climate of the desert.
The founders of paganism worshipped idols not because they were idol worshippers, but for the reason that by worshipping them, they hoped to draw nearer to them the living gods, who the idol represented.  The Quran confirms this belief of the Pagans. Their descendent followed their footstep and over a period of time, paganism became a part of their life.
One of the major tribes, known as Quraish, dominated the city at the time it was called Mecca by the people of the Arabian Peninsula . The Quraish tribe consisted of three groups of people. One was the priestly group, which controlled the House of Allah, and sustained itself on the income that the House generated from the pilgrims. The second group consisted of a small number of the Quraish people who engaged themselves in trade. The third group was large, and it consisted of the people who earned their livelihood by supplying water and other services to the pilgrims. Their occupation did not guarantee them a regular income; when they had a large number of pilgrims, they earned a good living, but when the number of the pilgrims declined, so did their income. Those people can be compared with our modern-day day laborers; they get paid only when they are employed for an active service.
Birth of Muhammad
Over 1,400 years ago, there lived in this city a man by the name of Abdullah. He belonged to the third group of the Quraish people. Amina was his wife. Because he did not have a consistent and good income, his household often suffered from deprivations. Many a times, the couple had to go to bed without food. Recurring poverty had its impact on them; the couple fought frequently and argued on their financial condition as well as on what was going to happen to them in future.
Recognizing the fact that she and her husband did not have enough means to feed another mouth, Amina did not want to have any children. Her husband helped her avoid pregnancies by adopting the process the Arabs called ajal, which stands for the term ‘coitus interruptus’ we use for it in our time. But once he failed and as its result, Amina ended up being a pregnant woman.
Amina was angry. She tried her best to destroy the pregnancy, but failed. Unable to do anything else with her conception, she resigned to her fate and decided to carry her pregnancy to its full term. Abdullah, her husband, felt for her discomforts and sought to help by providing her with the services of a slave-girl, named Barakat.
But as misfortune would have it, Amina’s husband died when she was about six months into her pregnancy. This tragedy increased her hatred towards the child she was carrying in her womb. She considered it to be the harbinger of bad luck. She feared that many more mishaps would befall her after she delivered the jinxed baby.
At the time of his death, Abdullah is believed to have owned five camels, a few sheep, and a female slave of Ethiopian origin, named Barakat.
In time Amina gave birth to a baby boy. She named him Kothan, but his grandfather changed it to Muhammad at a later date. 
Contrary to general belief, Muhammad is not a Muslim name; rather, it is an Arabian pagan name that was in use even before the birth of Islam and its founder.
Genealogically, it is claimed, Muhammad was a descendent of Ismail who, as the Bible implies, was an illegitimate son of Abraham, born of Hagar, an Egyptian handmaid of his wedded wife, Sarah.  It was this son, the majority of Muslims believe, whom Abraham attempted to sacrifice upon Allah’s command in a dream, and who, as a consequence, earned the heavenly title of “Zabi-Ullah,” i.e. “the one to be sacrificed in the name of Allah” - - - not his legitimate son Isaac, as claimed by the Book of Genesis.
The actual date of Muhammad’s birth is not known, nor can it be ascertained now. The scholarly hypothesis on this issue is at some variance. Philip K. Hitti says that he was born in or around 571 A.D.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali maintains, “The year usually given for the Prophet’s birth is 570 A.D, though the date must be taken as only approximate, being the middle figure between 569 and 571, the extreme possible limits.” 
The discrepancy in the year of Muhammad’s birth notwithstanding, some Muslims categorically maintain that he was born in the early hours of Monday, the 29th day of August, 570 A.D - - an occasion that they observe each year with great fanfare. Contrary to this, and as is the case with Jesus Christ, the year of Muhammad’s birth has remained, and it would continue to remain, unknown to scholars as well as to the students of Islam. The celebrations that are held now to celebrate Muhammad’s birth, therefore, have no Islamic basis and these are mere traditions only.
At the time of Muhammad’s birth, the Arabs lived in a state of moral decadence. Though the institution of marriage existed among the Arabs for its namesake, they pursued extramarital sex at whim. On the subject of the Arabs’ fornication, Maxime Rodinson quotes Rabbi Wathan:
“Nowhere in the world was there such a propensity towards fornication as among the Arabs, just as nowhere was there any power like that of Persia, or wealth like that of Rome, or magic like that of Egypt. If the entire sexual license in the world were divided into ten parts, nine of these would be distributed among the Arabs and the tenth would be enough for all the other races.” 
R. V. C Bodley tacitly concurred with Wathan, saying:
“There was Amr Ibn al as, the son of a beautiful Meccan prostitute. All the better Meccans were her friends, so that anyone, from Abu Sofian down, might have been Amr’s father. As far as anyone could be sure, he might have called himself Amr Ibn Abu Lahab, or Ibn al Abbas or Ibn anyone else among the Koreishite upper ten. According to Meccan standards of that time, it did not matter who had sired him.” 
According to historians, Muhammad was born during this period of time, and in one of the ten upper class Quraish families of Mecca . To those people, it did not matter who had fathered whom. All children, including Muhammad, born under that condition, however, always faced the question that challenged the legitimacy of their paternity.
In spite of becoming the mother of a son, whom her society greatly valued, Amina continued to maintain her hatred towards the newborn boy. In expression of her hatred toward the child, she refused to suckle him, even when she knew he was very hungry.
Seeing the child’s suffering and to help him survive, Thuwaibah, a slave-girl of the child’s uncle Abu Lahab, took upon herself the responsibility to breastfeed him until someone else was found to take him into her permanent care.
Infant Muhammad in the lap Haleema
In the period Muhammad was born, poor Bedouins from the desert flocked, from time to time, to Mecca to collect alms from those few who could afford to give it. Following the tradition, Haleema, a poor Saadite shepherd woman, came and knocked at Amina’s door. Being herself a poor and widowed woman, Amina had nothing to offer Haleema; instead, she wished to unload her own burden by putting her newborn son into her lap.
The assertion that Muhammad was given in Haleema’s care in keeping with the tradition of the noblemen of Mecca for breastfeeding by a Bedouin wet nurse is not based on fact and, as such, it is a lie. We do not have any record that tells us that either his grandfather or any of his uncles and even his own father- all of whom were noblemen of Mecca- was ever nursed by any Bedouin wet nurse. Muslim historians made up the story of a “tradition” that never existed in the Arabian Peninsula in order to hide a truth of gigantic proportion from Muslims as well as from other people of the world. We will talk about it shortly.
Haleema was dumbfounded, for, in her judgment, no mother would ever dispose of her baby in the manner Amina wanted hers disposed. Knowing well her own situation, Haleema, at first, hesitated to accept the custody of the child, but when she considered the fact that she would have, in due course of time, two more hands to help her family out in its dire circumstances, she took the baby and left for her home.
Haleema’s tribe lived in one of the pastoral valleys of Northern Arabia . Though they were poor, yet they always maintained their industrious and bold characters. Unlike the people of the Quraish tribe, the people of the Saadite tribe excelled in the use of sword and lances. Their dexterous use of the sinews of war always earned them triumphs in the struggles that they had to face almost regularly, and perpetually, in order to survive in the harsh conditions and environments of their surroundings.
The people of the Saadite tribe were also renowned for speaking the most refined Arabic in all of Arabia . The similarity of the Quran’s language with that of the Saaditic Arabic is the indication that the writer of the Quran must have been one of the Saadites, or he must have been influenced to an extent by the quality of their spoken Arabic.
The entire population of the Arabian Peninsula believed in the existence of angels. They also believed that angels pay visits to those people who were destined to receive special favors from Allah. This deity lived in and around the Ka’aba along with other 359 gods. Because the Arabs believed in the angels’ closeness to Allah, many of them took up their worship with the hope that once pleased, the angels would have no difficulty in convincing Allah to grant them relief from their endless sufferings.
Infant Muhammad Switched
Haleema’s son, Masroud, was almost of Muhammad’s age. She began rearing up both the infants to the best of her ability. She suckled both of them and cared for them equally. She looked forward to the day when those two infants would grow up and provide her with the help she always aspired for to make her life somewhat easy.
During the interlude that she rarely enjoyed, Haleema, being a loving and caring mother, often used to mull over the future of Masroud, her own son. She was the product of the Bedouin life; she herself had been living the life of a Bedouin. Her long experience convinced her that no matter how industrious and brave her son may turn out to be, the bareness of the desert and the conditions that obtained in it, would never afford him an opportunity to live a life that could even distantly be compared with the one that some people of Mecca lived. She, therefore, wanted her son to go to Mecca to live there a comfortable life. But how was she going to send her son to Mecca ? This was the question she consistently asked herself?
Haleema thought and thought. Lost in it, she spent many, many nights without sleep. Even during the day, her mind remained occupied with her only thought: how to induct Masroud, with a secured base, into the life of Mecca ?
Her constant and persistent exploration of possibilities eventually paid the dividend. It dawned on her that she could achieve her ambition easily, if she switched her son, Masroud, with Muhammad and sent him to Mecca , to live with, and grow up in Amina’s house. This was purely a selfish instinct of a biological and caring mother. It was also a simple and easy plan, and safe as well, for she was confident, there was none who could ever suspect or question her son Masroud’s identity.
Pleased with her plan, Haleema began working on its implementation. First of all, she needed to call Muhammad Masroud, and Masroud Muhammad. For a fleeting moment, the infants appeared a little confused, but then they got used to the change. And this change proved hugely instrumental in turning around the destinies of two innocent infants; one of them was going to change the face of the earth; the other was going to live, undeservedly, the life of an anonymous Bedouin!
The second step of the plan required Haleema to create a situation that would facilitate her son’s induction to Amina’s house. This step required her to conceive a scenario that would not only fit in the Pagans’ age-old belief, it would also soften Amina’s attitude towards her son whom she despised from the day he was born. And what could be a better scenario than the following, which she made use of, in order to convince Amina that her son was actually a prodigious child.
No sooner had Muhammad stepped into the fifth year of his life, Haleema began telling everyone about the prodigious nature of her adopted son. She took special pleasure in narrating the child’s encounter with two angels whom, she claimed, her son Masroud, had seen with his own eyes, surrounding Muhammad in a broad daylight.
Pressed for details, she would tell her listeners that one day, Masroud and Muhammad were playing in the field. While they were engrossed in their play, from nowhere two angels appeared before Muhammad.
They laid Muhammad on the ground, and Gabriel, one of the two angels, opened up his heart. He cleansed it from impurity; wrung from it those black and bitter drops of the sin that all humans inherit from their forefather Adam, and which lurk in the hearts of the best of his descendents, inciting them to the commission of sin. When infant Muhammad had been thoroughly purified, Gabriel filled his heart with faith, knowledge and prophetic light, and then he replaced it in his bosom.
During this angelic visitation, Haleema would tell her listeners, the angels also impressed between Muhammad’s shoulders the seal of prophecy. To prove her claim, she would make Muhammad bare his body so that those people who doubted her sanity could see with their own eyes the mark that existed between his shoulders.
Haleema had to resort to this cunning tactic in order to hide a serious problem: Muhammad, the child that was born to Amina had no mark at the back of his body; whereas Masroud had a prominent birth mark between his shoulders. Now, if Haleema had not invented the story of the angels who, she had to claim, impressed Muhammad’s body with “the seal of prophecy,” her entire scheme would have been jeopardized, and her desire to plant her son in Amina’s house, frustrated.
The ground thus prepared for his return to his mother, Haleema carried Masroud- turned-Muhammad to Mecca and sought to deposit him on Amina’s lap. Seeing her reluctance, Haleema narrated to her all that that had happened to her child, and also the affixation of the seal of prophecy by the angels on his back. Fully mellowed down by Haleema’s account of the child’s supernatural expositions, Amina relented and took her son back.
Haleema returned to her tent in the desert, with the satisfaction that she succeeded in placing her son in a Meccan home, where he would grow up into a man and then find for himself a place in the city to lead a life, filled with relative abundance and peace.
Muhammad remained with Amina until his sixth year, missing intermittently Haleema, his biological mother. He played with the local children; joined them in their merrymaking games; watched pilgrims praying at the temple of Ka’aba and welcomed and said goodbyes to the caravans that halted at the city before departing for their trading destinations. All the activities of the city fascinated him; for he found them to be quite different from the ones he saw and grew up with in the desert of his birth.
All the misconceptions that Amina had about the child following his birth slowly disappeared, and she took all possible measures to treat him as nicely as was expected of a loving and caring mother. She fed him to the best of her ability; clothed him to the extent it was possible and took care of his well being as well. She also took him around in the city and introduced him to his near as well as the distant relatives.
After a few months of his return to Mecca , Amina took Muhammad to Medina and introduced him to her maternal relatives there. On her journey homeward, she died and was buried at Abwa, a village that lied between Medina and Mecca . Barakat, the slave-girl, now acted as mother to the orphaned child and delivered him to his grandfather Abd al Mutallib in whose household he was destined to spend three years of his life.
Child Muhammad’s Ordeals Begin
Abd al Muttalib was the guardian of the temple of Ka’aba and from it he had a good income. But as his family consisted of a large number of people, he often found it difficult to meet all of their needs. As a result, tension prevailed, most of the time, among his family members, even though they always put up a smiling face while outside their home.
Muhammad’s inclusion in Muttalib’s family did not help the situation; rather, it brought about an additional load. All the members of the family wanted him gone, but as he was under his grandfather’s protection, none dared ask him to leave. Unable to get rid of him, they began to hate and him. They missed no opportunity either to harass him or to deprive him of food. They might not have inflicted bodily injuries, but they almost certainly harmed him emotionally and psychologically.
When he suffered in his grandfather’s home, there was none among its female members to console him afterwards. Their attitude brought to his mind his mother’s memory. He longed to be with her; wanted to be loved and hugged by her. Despite his moaning and cries, he did not find the comfort of his mother’s bosom, for she had gone back to where she belonged, after abandoning him in the midst of those strange people. He began developing in him hatred towards his mother.
About three years after Muhammad joined his so-called family, Abd al Motallib found his end approaching. He, therefore, handed him over to his eldest son, Abu Talib, in whose household he lived several years.
The Mecca of Seventh Century
The little town of Mecca acquired great importance by the sixth century for two different reasons: It had not only become the center of idol worshipping, to which many of the nomadic tribes of the entire Peninsula made pilgrimages on a regular basis, and which had greatly enhanced the prestige and well being of the Quraish, it had also become an active center for commerce, from where caravans - both seasonal and occasional - departed to various destinations on their trading missions.
Mecca was then a tiny township and its population did not exceed more than few thousand. It was an arid and inhospitable land incapable of producing anything to support the lives of its inhabitants. Its pathways were dusty, with no civic facility worth its name existing therein. Its inhabitants knew nothing about personal health or hygiene. Dwelling in tiny roofless homes built of clay, they survived in extreme poverty, which forced many of them to use goat and sheep skin to cover their bodies. No school of any kind existed in Mecca . In contrast to the Meccans, the Jews of Medina are believed to have run their own schools in which they instructed their children, primarily, in the matters of their religious disciplines. They were more enlightened and prosperous than their Pagan neighbors.
Because the Arabs could hardly ignite fire, both for cooking and illumination, they ate dates, locusts and lizards, and depended on camel’s milk as a substitute for water. However, the Quran says that Allah had provided them with some kind of a “green tree” from which they obtained fire to meet their needs.  During nights, the Arabs stayed inside their tents and homes, fearing mischief from capricious Jinns, which they believed, attacked mankind in the darkness of the solitary places.
Having nothing worthwhile to do either during the day or night, most of the people spent their time gossiping, drinking, gambling or narrating the fables of the past. Their other main pastime was an inordinate obsession with sex, both hetero-and homosexual, for they were reputed to have been endowed with great sexual virility.
The Arabs practiced pederasty, an act they considered to be a normal part of their sexual conduct. Their womenfolk are also believed to have led a highly licentious life, engaging themselves in sexual acts with any men they felt attracted to. Men recognized this conduct as being normal on the part of their women.
On the death of Abd al Mottalib, his son, Abu Talib succeeded to the guardianship of Ka’aba, assuming the religious functions performed by all his predecessors. The priestly office held by him required his sacerdotal household to observe rigidly all the rites and ceremonies of the sacred House of Allah. This afforded young Muhammad the opportunity to observe them closely and to record them in his memory, enabling him later to incorporate most of them, sans the idol worship, into his own religion.
The rites and ceremonies practiced by the Pagan Arabs before the advent of Islam consisted, among others, of the following:
-The Pagans observed three principal fasts within the year; one
of seven, one of nine, and one of thirty days. During their fasts,
they ate and drank, but did not talk.
-They prayed three times each day; about sunrise, at noon , and about sunset, turning their faces in the direction of Ka’aba. 
-They performed a yearly pilgrimage or hajj, which required them to circumambulate the Ka’aba seven times; to run between the two hills of Safa and Marwa on each of which was installed a male and a female idol; to sacrifice animals in the name of the deities; and then to shave the heads of all male pilgrims. Female pilgrims satisfied the later commandment simply by having a few locks of their haircut off.
The Allah the Pagans worshipped was believed to have all the characteristics of a man. This deity was also known as Al-Rahman-an (the merciful) and Al-Rahim (the compassionate) to the people of Northern and Southern Arabia .
The inscription (542-3) of Abrahah dealing with the break of the Ma’rib Dam bears testimony to this historical fact. The inscription begins with the words: “In the power and grace and mercy of the Merciful ((Rahman-an) and His messiah and of the Holy Spirit.” The name Al-Rahman-an is especially significant because al-Rahman became later a prominent attribute of Allah, and one of His ninety-nine names in the Quran. Sura or chapter nineteen of the Quran is dominated by the word al-Rahman. Though used in the inscription for the Christian God, yet the word is evidently borrowed from the name of one of the older South Arabian deities. 
In truth, Muhammad, at the beginning of his career as a prophet, had required his followers to worship this same statuary Allah. He changed this commandment later to suite his concept of an Allah who, he came to believe, had no form or shape, thus separating his concept from that of the Pagans and other polytheists of his time.
Apart from the stated rites, the Pagans had many other religious traditions, some of which they acquired in early times from the Jews. They are also said to have nurtured their devotional feelings with the books of Psalms, as well as with a book filled with moral discourses, supposedly written by Seth who, according to the biblical stories, was one of Adam’s many sons. Adam was the first human being whom Allah had created, by using his own hands, out of mud, which He made by mixing dust with water.
 The Quran; 3:96.
 The Quran; 46:28.
 R. V. C. Bodley, The Messenger, p. 5
 Genesis, 16:1-15
 Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, p. 111
 The Holy Quran, vol.2, p. 1071.
 Gulam Mustafa, Vishva Nabi, p. 40
 Muhammad, translated by Anne Carter, p. 54
 The Messenger, p. 73
 Adil Salahi, Muhammad: Man and Prophet, p. 23
 The Quran; 36:80.
 Washington Irving, Mahomet & His Associates, p. 31
 Phillip K. Hitti, op. cit. p. 105.