By Mohamad Jebara
Muhammad, the World-Changer is an accessible and fresh biography boldly arguing that Muhammad’s entrepreneurial mindset helped unleash the modern world. Read on for an excerpt.
Throughout his life, Muhammad remained deeply conscious that he had nearly never been born.
Every Monday, he would refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. When asked why he fasted, Muhammad replied, “That was the day on which I was born.” In sixth-century Arabia, many people did not even know the year of their birth, let alone the day of the week.
Yet Muhammad not only held on to this fact, he reminded himself of it every week.
The details of Muhammad’s unlikely birth were well known to him, thanks to the eyewitness testimony of his lifelong foster mother, Barakah.
When Thuwaibah burst through the door of the delivery room at dawn on that Monday morning, it was Barakah who took the date platter from her and passed it to the midwife. Like Thuwaibah, Barakah was a slave. She had been abducted as a child in Abyssinia, ripped from her elite family and sold into bondage thousands of miles from home. Muhammad’s grandfather ‘Abdul-Muttalib purchased her as a gift for his beloved son ‘Abdullah. But ‘Abdullah had died just two months earlier, leaving Barakah to take care of her widowed mistress, Aminah.
In the lantern-lit delivery room, Aminah lay on the floor atop a palm-fiber mattress. The frail twenty-year-old struggled to push the baby out.
At her side, an experienced midwife named Ash-Shifa (healing) took the fresh dates and squeezed their juices into Aminah’s mouth, smearing her lips and urging her to swallow. From the other side, Barakah poured water from a flask into Aminah’s mouth to help wash down the date juice as the woman struggled to drink amid painful contractions.
No one expected Aminah to live. Tension filled the room as the three attendants braced for what they expected would be the last moments of this poor woman’s life and hoped at least to avoid a stillbirth. Lingering unspoken was the misfortune Aminah had endured over the past few weeks.
Less than a year after marrying her childhood sweetheart, Aminah had bid ‘Abdullah farewell as he departed on his trading trip to the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, hundreds of miles to the northwest. Every morning Aminah stood with Barakah on the outskirts of Mecca awaiting the return of ‘Abdullah’s caravan while a growing baby kicked inside her. At last, on February 15, the women sighted a lone rider advancing on the horizon wearing ‘Abdullah’s distinctive indigo cloak—another gift from his father. Drawing near, the horseman uncovered his face; he was Aminah’s cousin Sa‘ad.
“Where is ‘Abdullah?!” Aminah cried. Barakah watched as Sa‘ad broke the news of ‘Abdullah’s unexpected death from the plague during the caravan trip. Aminah’s knees buckled as she fainted.
For two weeks, a heartbroken Aminah cried on Barakah’s shoulder. Fearing that the trauma would induce a miscarriage, Barakah tried to soothe her mistress, who struggled to eat. As the two young women huddled at dusk in a dimly lit room, Aminah’s brother-in-law Al-‘Abbas dashed into the room to warn them that an Abyssinian general was marching up from Yemen to besiege Mecca with a massive army headed by thirteen colossal war elephants. Barakah had to escort her feeble mistress through treacherous terrain to a refuge on a mountaintop outside the city. When the siege subsided several weeks later, the beleaguered Aminah returned to her bedroom even frailer than before.
In her weakened condition, Aminah could sense mounting pressure from ‘Abdullah’s family, who expected her to deliver a male heir. Her in-laws were no ordinary Meccan family. ‘Abdul-Muttalib was the city’s chief elder, and ‘Abdullah had been his favorite among seventeen children. The entire city awaited the outcome of her pregnancy.
Amid all this stress, Aminah was without the support of her own family. She was an only child and not a Meccan native but rather a recent transplant from the distant oasis of Yathrib. Her parents remained several hundred miles away, oblivious of their daughter’s tragic condition.
Aminah pushed with every ounce of her remaining strength. Against all odds, she suddenly heard the cries of a baby, delivered into the capable hands of Ash-Shifa. The baby was frail, but he had made it. ‘Abdullah had a male heir!
Barakah immediately took the boy and bathed him in a basin of warm water she had prepared with myrrh and sage. She patted him dry with a cotton cloth, then wrapped him in an emerald-green silk shawl, a gift from his grandfather, who had ordered it from Persia to serve as an omen that the baby might lead a comfortable life. Barakah handed the infant to Aminah, who cradled the boy with tears in her eyes.
Thuwaibah rushed out of the room to herald the news. She sprinted through the alleyways to Mecca’s main square and rushed up to ‘Abdul-Muttalib, who was sitting outside the Ka‘bah with a group of city elders.“It’s a boy!” she gushed, before dashing off again to her master’s house. Overjoyed at the great news, a beaming ‘Abdul-‘Uzza declared, “Thuwaibah, you are now a free woman!”
Meanwhile, ‘Abdul-Muttalib had immediately set off to meet his new grandson. In the home of his late son, he approached his daughter-in-law, who was still lying on the mattress. Aminah struggled to raise the baby toward his grandfather. Barakah stepped in to pass the infant to him. ‘Abdul-Muttalib lifted the boy and gazed at him silently. ‘Abdul-Muttalib, as Mecca’s leading elder, had named hundreds of the city’s newborns over the years, but now it was time to name the surviving grandson who would carry on the lineage of his beloved ‘Abdullah.
After a long pause, ‘Abdul-Muttalib looked into the boy’s eyes and declared, “I name him ‘Muhammad’!”
The midwives turned in shock. They had never heard this name before. The women were confused by an archaic Semitic root, H-M-D, not commonly used in Mecca, and asked, “Why did you choose a new name?”
‘Abdul-Muttalib explained, “I named him ‘the exemplary role model’ so that his example would be exulted in the highest places and his name would come to be known among the nations.”
The women responded with joyful ululations welcoming little Muhammad into the world.
Mohamad Jebara is a scholar of the Islamic arts with a focus on Semitic languages, including Classical Arabic and Biblical Hebrew. Jebara, who’s from Ottowa, Canada, has lectured to diverse audiences around the world. A visual artist and acclaimed calligrapher, he blends a wide array of artistic modes of expression in a unique fusion of historic and modern cultural styles. A passionate enthusiast for physical fitness, Jebara has cycled annually to raise awareness about various health and social causes.
Tags: Historical Figures, Mohamad Jebara, Muhammad the World-Changer, World History