In what kind of an environment was Muhammad raised as a
Every period of human history during which people associate partners with
God in any way – whether by worshipping idols and ascribing to them some
divine functions or by deifying some persons or attributing creativity to
nature and material causes – is wholly dark. This is so because when belief
in the Unity of God is removed from the heart, the mind and soul ‘darken’,
all standards change and things and the world are judged from false points
of view. This moral, spiritual, social and even economic and scientific
state of a community is defined by the Qur’an as jahiliya, and
described as follows:
Or like darkness on a deep sea obscure, covered by a wave,
above which is a wave, above which is a cloud. Layers of darkness one upon
the other. When he holds out his hand, well-nigh he cannot see it. And he
for whom God has assigned no light, for him there is no light. (al-Nur,
I do not like describing falsehood. Besides, it is wrong for me to
describe falsehood where the truth may be described. In the words of God,
What is there, after truth, but misguidance?
(Yunus, 10:32). However, in order to clarify the subject, I feel it
necessary to say a few words concerning the pre-Islamic era, that is, the
age of jahiliya.
The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, appeared at a time
when people had no knowledge of the true religion and therefore worshipped a
great number of idols. As stated in the Qur’an:
They were serving, apart from God, what hurts them not,
neither profits them, and they say: These are our intercessors with God. (Yunus,
They shaped idols of stones, earth, bread, even cheese, and then said:
‘These are our intercessors with God.’ They were so degraded in thoughts and
morals that, as reported by Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, they would sit at
meal-time, cut their idols into pieces and eat them. The only excuse offered
was that they were following in the steps of their forefathers.
When it is said to them, ‘Follow what God has sent down’,
they say, ‘No; but we follow that wherein we found our fathers.’ (al-Baqara,
They buried their daughters alive. In the words of the holy Qur’an:
When any of them is given the good tidings of a girl, his
face is darkened and he chokes inwardly, as he hides himself from the people
because of the evil of the good tidings that have been given to him, whether
he shall preserve her in humiliation, or trample her into the dust. (al-Nahl,
Women were despised, not only in pre-Islamic Arabia but also in the Roman
and Sassanid lands. The Qur’an openly declares that they will be questioned
When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned – for
what crime was she killed? (al-Takwir, 81.8-9)
One day, after Muhammad’s declaration of his Prophethood, one of his
Companions came to him and narrated what he had done with his little
O Messenger of God, I had a daughter. One day I told her
mother to dress her as I was taking her to her uncle – the poor mother knew
what this meant, but she could do nothing but obey and weep. My wife dressed
the infant, who was rejoicing at the news of going to the uncle. I took her
near a well, and told her to look down into the well. While she was looking
into the well, I kicked her into it. While she was rolling down, she was
shouting ‘Dad, Dad!’
As he was recounting this, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings,
sobbed as if he had lost one of his nearest kinsfolk.1
Hearts had become hard. Every day a pit was dug in the corner of the
desert for an innocent girl to be buried. Human beings were more brutal and
cruel than hyenas. The powerful crushed the weak. It was a time when
brutality was taken for humanity, cruelty received approval, the
bloodthirsty were exalted, bloodshed considered a virtue, adultery and
fornication were more common than legal marriages. Family structure had been
This dark period would be followed by Islam, and, besides eradicating all
other evils, God would also declare in the Qur’an concerning infanticide:
Do not slay your children because of the fear of poverty: We
provide you and them. (al-An‘am, 6.151)
1. Darimi, Sunan, Muqaddima, 7-8.
Were the ancestors of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings,
devoted to a certain religion during the interregnum
– the period when no Prophet came?
There are traditions that they acted according to what survived of the
religion of the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, which continued in some
particular persons under the veils of heedlessness and spiritual darkness.
It is certain that the members of an illustrious lineage beginning with the
Prophet Abraham and resulting in God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and
blessings, cannot have been indifferent to the light of the true religion,
or been overcome by the darkness of unbelief. Besides, those who lived in
the interregnum will not be called to account for their faults in the
secondary commandments of religion and, as stated in the verse, We do not
torment unless We send a Messenger9, be exempt from Hellfire. Further,
according to Imam Shafi‘i and Imam Ash‘ari, they will be saved from the
torment of Hell even if they were in unbelief, unaware of the pillars of
faith, since God holds His servants responsible for His Commandments only
after He has sent a Messenger and, what is more, responsibility is
established after people become aware of belief and Divine Commandments. So,
because the passage of time had covered the religions of the preceding
Prophets, the people of the interregnum can not be held to account for not
following those religions. How-ever, those who carried out some commandments
of those religions consciously or unconsciously will be rewarded, while the
others who did not will not be tormented.
Did a Prophet appear among the ancestors of God’s Messenger, upon him be
peace and blessings?
It is not traditionally certain whether there appeared one after the
Prophet Ishmael, upon him be peace. There were however, two Prophets named
Khalid ibn Sinan and Hanzala, but not from the lineage of God’s Messenger.
Nevertheless, the couplet of Qa’b ibn Luayy, who was from that lineage,
The Prophet Muhammad will appear in the time of
He will give tidings, in all of which he is truthful.
seems to be miraculous and therefore belonging to a Prophet. Imam Rabbani,
based on both evidence and spiritual discovery, said: ‘Many Prophets
appeared in India, but, since no one or only a few followed most of them,
they either did not become famous or were not recognized as Prophets.’
Thus, from the viewpoint of that illustrious Imam, some Prophets
resembling those of India, might have appeared among the lineage of God’s
Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings.
What is the most true and acceptable opinion concerning the belief of
the parents of God’s Messenger and of his
grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib?
I have had no books, except the Qur’an, with me for ten years, and I do
not have enough spare time to make a thorough search in the books of Hadith
to find the most acceptable opinion on matters like this one, relating to
the details of the religion. What I can here say on this point is that the
parents of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, are among the
people of belief and Paradise. God Almighty will certainly not hurt the
feelings of His most noble beloved of filial affection towards his parents.
If you ask why they were not allowed to live long enough to witness the
Prophethood of God’s Messenger to be able to believe in him, I will give
In order to please the filial feelings of His most noble beloved, God
Almighty may have willed not to make his parents indebted to him. Since His
Compassion required, in order to please both His noble beloved and his
parents, that the parents of God’s Messenger should not be reduced from
parental rank to the position of being his children-in-religion, and that
they should only be indebted to His Lordship, not to any created being, God
Almighty did not make the grandfather and parents of God’s Messenger among
his community, but He granted to them the virtues, merits and happiness
shared by the community. If, for example, a noble marshal’s father, who has
the rank of a captain, enters the presence of his son, that son will be
under the influence of paradoxical feelings. So, the monarch does not
include his father in the company of the marshal, who is his honourable
aide-de-camp, because of his compassion for him.
What is the most accurate opinion about the belief of Abu Talib, the
uncle of God’s Messenger?
The Shi‘ites are of the opinion that he believed, while the majority of
the Ahl al-Sunna hold the opposite. It occurs to me, however, that Abu Talib
sincerely loved God’s Messenger for his per-son, not on account of his
Messengership. That sincere and solemn love and affection will certainly not
go to nothing. Even if Abu Talib would go to Hell because he did not
actually believe for such feelings as shame and tribal zeal, not for wilful
denial and sheer obstinacy, God Almighty could create a particular paradise
in Hell for him in reward for his good deeds, as he loved God’s noble
Messenger and protected and supported him. As He sometimes makes people live
in mid-winter a weather of spring or even creates spring in some places, or
He changes a dungeon into a palace for some by means of sleep, He may change
a particular abode in Hell into a particular paradise.
Knowledge is with God. No one but God knows the Unseen.
Glory be to You! We have no knowledge save what You have
taught us. Surely, You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.