9 – Two Bereavements

Halimah and Harith were convinced that the boys had been speaking the truth, and they were exceedingly shaking in consequence. Harith feared that their foster-son had been possessed by an evil spirit or smitten by some spell, and he told his wife to take him with all speed to his mother before the harm he had suffered became apparent in him. So Halimah took him once more to Mecca, intending to say nothing about the real reason for her change of mind. But the change was too abrupt and Aminah, not to be deceived, finally compelled her to recount the whole story. Having heard it, she dismissed Halimah’s fears, saying: “Great things are in store for my little son.” Then she told her of her pregnancy, and of the light she had been conscious of carrying within her. Halimah was reassured, but this time Aminah decided to keep her son. “Leave him with me,” she said, “and a good journey home.”

The boy lived happily in Mecca with his mother for about three years, winning the affection of his grandfather and his uncles and aunts, and his many cousins with whom he played. Particularly dear to him were Hamzah and Safiyyah, the children of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s last marriage which had taken place on the same day as that of Muhammad’s parents. Hamzah was his own age, Safiyyah a little younger -his uncle and his aunt through his father, his cousins through his mother- and a powerful and lasting bond was formed between the three of them.

When he was six years old, his mother decided to take him on a visit to his kinsmen in Yathrib. They joined one of the northbound caravans, riding on two camels, Aminah on one of them and he on the other with his devoted slave girl, Barakah. In later life he recounted how he learned to swim in a pool which belonged to his Khazrajite kinsmen with whom they stayed, and how the boys taught him to fly a kite. But not long after they had set out on their return journey Aminah fell ill and they were obliged to halt, letting the caravan go on without them. After some days she died -it was at Abwa’, not far from Yathrib- and there she was buried. Barakah did what she could to console the boy, now doubly an orphan, and in the company of some travelers she brought him once more to Mecca.

His grandfather now took complete charge of him, and it soon became clear that his special love for ‘Abd Allah had been transferred to ‘Abd Allah’s son. ‘Abd al-Muttalib was always happy to be near the Ka’bah, as when it had been his wont to sleep in the Hijr at the time when he had been ordered to dig Zamzam. So his family used to spread him a couch every day in the shadow of the Holy House, and out of respect for their father none of his sons, not even Hamzah, would ever venture to sit on it; but his little grandson had no such scruples, and when his uncles told him to sit elsewhere ‘Abd al-Muttalib said: “Let my son be. For by God, a great future is his.” He would seat beside him on the couch, and stroke his back; and it always pleased him to watch what he was doing. Almost every day they could be seen together, hand in hand, at the Ka’bah or elsewhere in Mecca. ‘Abd al-Muttalib even took Muhammad with him when he went to attend the Assembly where the chief men of the town, all over forty, would meet to discuss various matters, nor did the eighty-year-old man refrain from asking the seven-year-old boy his opinion on this or that; and when called to question by his fellow dignitaries, he would always say: “A great future is in store for my son.”

Two years after the death of his mother, the orphan was bereaved of his grandfather. When he was dying, ‘Abd al-Muttalib entrusted his grandson to Abu Talib, who was full brother to the boy’s father; and Abu Talib prolonged the affection and the kindness that his nephew had received from the old man. Henceforth he was as one of his own sons, and his wife Fatimah[1] did all she could to replace the boy’s mother. In after-years Muhammad used to say of her that she would have let her own children go hungry rather than him.


[1] Like Abu Talib she was a grandchild of Hashim, the daughter of his son Asad, half-brother of ‘Abd al-Muttalib

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