The advent of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) changed the face of the history of mankind in a manner that this world has never seen before. Since the first man and prophet Adam (AS) was sent down to Earth, Allah sent many prophets and messengers to guide mankind to the Truth and to the Straight Path. Soon after the deaths of these prophets, their followers deviated from the teachings and corrupted the religion of Allah. He rejuvenated the Truth as taught by the previous prophets and messengers, and re-established the Law of Allah on Earth through the teachings of the Qur'an and the practice of the Sunnah.
At the time of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), two great prophetic religions were practiced in the environs of Arabia - namely Judaism and Christianity. Both of these religions were born from the basic teachings of Islam as taught by Musa (AS) and Isa (AS). However, the original teachings were lost, and these religions were born.
Though the Arabs believed in the concept of a supreme deity as originally taught by their progenitor Ibrahim (AS), most of the Arabs had become polytheists while a minority amongst them turned towards the religions of their cousins, i.e. Judaism and Christianity. The Bait-Al-Haraam in Makkah, which had been reconstructed by Ibrahim (AS) for Allah's worship had been filled with 360 images and idols by these polytheists.
Most of the Arabs at that time were illiterate and drenched in pagan practices. The society was oppressive and full of vice. Women had no place in society. They did not inherit any wealth, and were used by the men merely for their pleasure. In fact, upon the death of a man, his sons used to inherit all of his wives as well along with his wealth. Birth of girls in a family was considered to be a curse, and below the dignity of the family. Thus, the "honourable" Arabs used to bury their new born baby girls alive. The Arabs used to indulge excessively in wine, gambling and poetry. Having mastery over the language was considered to be one of the greatest pastimes. And the best form was poetic.
The Arabs led immoral and oppressive lives. Slavery was rampant, and the slaves were treated worse than animals. The weak and poor were oppressed by the strong. There was no security of life, property and honor. The tribes would fight till death over the smallest problems.
Besides all these defects in their society, the Arabs possessed some good qualities too. They were courageous, wise, and especially generous towards their guests. They honored them and were very hospitable towards them. They were also great horsemen.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a direct descendant of the Prophet Ibrahim (AS) through his eldest son Isma`il (AS). Makkah continued to be a thriving city thereafter, and the House of Allah - the Ka`bah - continued to be the center of worship in Arabia. It also attracted traders from all over the region. The descendents of Isma`il (AS) - the Arabs - thus settled in Makkah, and then spread out all over Arabia. With the passage of time, the worship of the one Allah was contaminated and the Ka`bah was filled with other idols who were considered to be the daughters of Allah. Even the well of Zamzam was forgotten.
Eventually, an Arab tribe called the Khuza`ah took over the control of Makkah. They had migrated north from the Yemen. One of the noblest tribes of that time was the Quraish who occupied a prominent place among the tribes of Arabia. Around four hundred years after Prophet Isa (AS), a Quraishi called Qusayy was married to the daughter of Hulayl, the chief of the Khuza`ah tribe. Hulayl preferred Qusayy over his two sons to succeed him as chief of Makkah, for Qusayy was an outstanding personality among the Arabs of his time. Thus, on the death of Hulayl, there was a fierce battle, which ended in arbitration. It was agreed that Qusayy should rule over Makkah and be the guardian of the Holy Ka`bah.
Upon his death, Qusayy's mantle was transferred to his eldest son `Abd al-Dar, although his younger son `Abdu Manaf was considered to be a more honored person even during the lifetime of Qusayy. The younger brother `Abdu Manaf continued to honor his elder brother `Abd al-Dar. However, the next generation of the Quraish transferred the leadership of the tribe from `Abd al-Dar to Hashim, the son of `Abd Manaf. The Quraish were divided, and this almost led to a battle to death between the two sides. Eventually a compromise was worked out, allowing the children of `Abdu Manaf to the rights over levying taxes and providing food and drink to the pilgrims, whereas the sons of `Abd al-Dar would retain the keys of the Ka`bah and their house would continue to be the House of Assembly. Thus peace was restored.
Hashim was the son of `Abdu Manaf. Thus he gained power and great respect. It was he who established the two great caravan journeys from Makkah - the Caravan of Winter to the Yemen and the Caravan of Summer to north-west Arabia and beyond to Palestine and Syria (see al-Qur'an, Surah 106). He was married to a woman from Yathrib name Salma. His clan was known as the Banu Hashim. The Banu Hashim were, in particular, held in high esteem. They were respected greatly by all.
However Hashim did not live long. He had two full brothers, `Abdu Shams and Muttalib, and one half-brother, Nawfal. `Abdu Shams and Nawfal were extremely busied with trade, so the rights of watering and feeding the pilgrims and also levying taxes fell in Muttalib's hands. However, more than anything else, the question of his own successor worried him most. Hashim had three sons from wives other than Salma, and Muttalib himself had sons himself, but from what he had heard, none could be compared with Shaybah, Hashim's son from Salma. Muttalib had received impressive reports about Shaybah, who lived in Yathrib (now Madinah) with his mother. Therefore, he went to see for himself, and was thoroughly convinced that Shaybah had great qualities of leadership and wisdom. He convinced Salma to allow Shaybah to go back to Makkah with him, so that he would have a chance to succeed him.
Shaybah came to be known as `Abdul Muttalib, meaning "Slave of Muttalib". `Abdul Muttalib impressed the Makkans greatly, and when Muttalib died, there was no dispute over the fact that `Abdul Muttalib was the best candidate for the job. Thus, he became the leader of the Banu Hashim, and was now responsible for feeding and watering the pilgrims.
`Abdul Muttalib had ten sons. The youngest, `Abdullah, was his favorite son. He was married to Amina, the daughter of Wahb ibn `Abd Manaf ibn Zuhrah. A few days after his marriage, `Abdullah had to proceed on business to Syria with a caravan. While returning he fell seriously ill and breathed his last at Madina. Thus, Amina became a widow. Unfortunately `Abdullah did not live long enough to enjoy the happiness of seeing his expected offspring.
Over fourteen hundred years ago, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born to `Abdullah and Amina. He was born in Makkah, the famed town of the Arabian Peninsula. According to the local calendar, it was Monday, 12th Rabi-ul-Awwal, 571 (there are, however, some differences with the dates, although this date is widely accepted by most people) of the Christian Era (C.E.). This year is also known as the Year of the Elephant.
The Year of the Elephant was celebrated in Arabian history. It was known as the Year of the Elephant because that year, Abraha, the vice-regent of Ethiopia in Yemen attacked Makkah with an elephant with the intention of destroying the Ka`bah. Abraha had made a grand temple in Sana`a. He wanted to divert all the attention from the Ka`bah to him Cathedral. When the Arabs heard of this, they were angered, and a man if the tribe of Kinanah secretly defiled the church one night.
When Abraha heard of this, he was enraged, and immediately began planning an attack on the Ka`bah. He assembled a huge army, which was to be lead by himself, on the back of an elephant. On the way to Makkah, some tribes attacked Abraha's army, but were easily defeated, and one of their chiefs, Nufayl was captured. As a ransom for his life, he was told to guide the army to Makkah.
When Abraha reached Ta'if, it's inhabitants rushed out to meet the army, afraid that Abraha might mistake their temple of al-Lat is the Ka`bah and destroy it. They told Abraha that he had not yet reached his destination and offered him a guide, which Abraha accepted. However, the guide died at a place called Mughammis, about two miles south go Makkah, and was buried there. From Mughammis, Abraha first sent a detachment of horse to the outskirts of Makkah. They plundered the inhabitants there and sent everything back to Abraha. This included 200 camels that belonged to `Abdul Muttalib. Abraha then sent a messenger to Makkah with the message that the Abyssinian army had not come for war, but only to destroy the Ka`bah, and if bloodshed was to be avoided, the inhabitants of Makkah should to send their leader to the Abyssinian camp. Although Makkah had no leader after division of responsibilities between the two clans, `Abdul Muttalib was considered the greatest authority n Makkah. Therefore, `Abdul Muttalib and one of his sons went to the Abyssinian camp. When Abraha saw him, he was so impressed by his appearance, he rose from his seat to greet him. He sat beside him on the carpet and asked the interpreter to inquire if he had any favor to ask. `Abdul Muttalib replied that he wanted that his camels be returned to him. This answer surprised Abraha, and said he was disappointed that the camels meant more to `Abdul Muttalib than his religion. `Abdul Muttalib replied: "I am the lord of the camel, and the temple likewise has a Lord who will defend it." "He cannot defend it from me," replied Abraha. "We shall see," said `Abdul Muttalib, "But give me my camels." The camels were returned.
`Abdul Muttalib went back, and along with the other Makkans, prayed to Allah (SWT) to help them and to protect the Ka`bah. He then advised the Makkans to take safety on the hills surrounding the city. The next day, Abraha and his army go ready to march towards Makkah. The elephant was to lead the army from the front. However, Nufayl, the reluctant guide, had learnt some of the words used to command the elephant, and when Unays (keeper of the elephant) was unaware, he commanded the elephant to kneel. When Unays saw this happening, he ordered it to get up. But Nufayl's command had coincided with a command more powerful the any man's -- Allah (SWT)'s command. They beat the elephant with iron bars, poked hooks in his belly, but the elephant would just not move. Finally, they decided to first march toward Yemen then turn back. At this, the Elephant rose immediately, but no sooner were they facing Makkah that the elephant once again knelt.
This was a clear sign for Abraha to turn back, but he was blinded by his personal ambition. It was too late now. Above, a great wave of darkness swept over them from the direction of the sea. The air above their heads, as high as they could see was full of birds. These birds moved like swifts, each carrying three pebbles, one in its mouth and one between the claws of each foot. The birds pelted the army of Abraha with these pebbles, piercing even their coats of armor. Each pebble killed the man it struck, and the flesh began to rot. The plan was a complete disaster. Abraha's army was routed. Some men survived including the elephant. Thus, Makkah and the Holy Ka`bah were saved by Allah (SWT). This incident gave the Makkan's more respect than before. They came to be known as "the people of God".
The same year, one of the greatest event of history took place. During Abraha's attack on the Ka'bah, `Abdullah, son of `Abdul Muttalib, was away on a trade journey. On his way back to Makkah, he stopped over in Yathrib. There he fell ill. The caravan returned to Madinah without him. `Abdul Muttalib sent his son Harith to Yathrib to accompany his brother home. But when Harith got to Yathrib, there was great grief among his family, for `Abdullah had passed away. The grief in Makkah was even greater when Harith returned. Amina was left a widow, and the only consolation for her was her unborn child. She was aware of the intense light within her. One day she heard a voice say to her:" You carry in your womb the lord of this people, and when he is born, say: "I place him beneath the protection of the One, from the evil of every envier"; then name him Muhammad." Some weeks later, the child was born, and named Muhammad. `Abdul Muttalib took the baby to the Holy Ka'bah, and thanked God for this gift. A few days later, `Abdul Muttalib held a feast. When everyone had eaten, he brought out his grandson and told them he had named him Muhammad. A man asked in surprise why he had named him Muhammad, for this name had never been used to name a person before. `Abdul Muttalib replied: "I wanted Allah to praise him in Heaven and I wanted people to praise him on Earth."
576 AD: Death of Amina, Muhammad's (SAW) mother. He was barely 6 years old then, and became an orphan. His grandfather, `Abdul Muttalib becomes his guardian.
578 AD: Death of his grandfather `Abdul Muttalib. His uncle Abu Talib becomes his guardian.
582 AD: Travels to Syria where a Christian monk foretells his Prophethood.
595 AD: At the age of 25, Muhammad (SAW) marries Khadija (RA), a noble widow and a wealthy woman, 15 years his senior.