From Merchant to Messenger

The Prophet Muhammad's struggle for legitimacy as revealed in the Koran


Son of a Drop-Dead Handsome Man

From Merchant to MessengerAn often-quoted eyewitness description of Muhammad is that of Umm Ma`bad, who gazed upon his unavoidable brilliance as he passed by her tent.

Muhammad was imposing and majestic. His face was luminous like a full moon. I saw a man who is handsome, of glowing countenance, and of good proportions, with neither a large stomach nor a small head. He is smart of appearance, with balanced features, deep black eyes, and long eyelashes. His voice is not coarse. He has a long neck, a full rounded beard, and thick eyebrows that meet each other.

Muhammad came by his good looks honestly. He may have been good-looking but his father was literally to-die-for gorgeous.

Not only does Arab tradition laud how handsome was Muhammad, but how exceptionally attractive was his father and the women they married. It was said that when the breathtaking Abdulla married Amina the Prophet’s mother, 200 virgins of Mecca died of a broken heart, not only because the handsome Abdulla had not picked them, but because they would not be the mother of Muhammad the future Prophet.

From La Vie de Mahomet, Virgil Gheorghiu (my translation), Robert Laffont, 1962

Grandpa Strikes a Deal With God

Muhammad owes his very existence to a promise his grandfather made to God, which was later amended with far-reaching consequences. Abd al-Muttalib was a man without sons. In another variation of an old story, he promised to sacrifice his tenth son if Allah gave him ten male heirs. Ask and you shall receive. When the time came for Muttalib to keep his side of the bargain, he consulted a dervish to find out if he could fulfil his promise to God in some manner that did not involve killing his tenth son, Abdullah, the future father of Muhammad, of all people.

The dervish that Muttalib consulted was no ordinary soothsayer; he was a dervish with jinn in his employ; jinn who specialized in eavesdropping on God’s conversations with His angels. They would fly as close as possible to the lowest of the seven levels of heaven, the one closest to the earth— dodging rocks, i.e., meteorites thrown by the angels to keep them away—to find out what Allah had to say about what was happening down below (see Getting to Know Allah: "Allah and the Jinn," Boreal Books).

To address his client’s question, the dervish, in a time-honoured tradition, sent his jinn to listen in on God. One reported that Allah, conversing with an angel, had indicated that He would be happy with a sacrifice of camels. But how many camels? The dervish then threw some dice (bone fragments of some type) to find out. The answer provided was one hundred camels as the price of a human life, an equivalent price that is still in effect today in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Muttalib paid and avoided having to sacrifice Abdullah, as promised.

A Birth Spectacular

John the Baptist announced the coming of Jesus; Jesus would announce the coming of the Prophet Muhammad.

61:6 And when Jesus, son of Mary, said: “O Children of Israel, I am Allah’s Messenger to you, confirming what came before me of the Torah, and announcing the news of a Messenger who will come after me, whose name is Ahmad.” Then when he (Ahmad i.e. Mohammad) brought them the clear proofs, they said: “This is manifest sorcery.”

In an account by ibn Sa'd [784 – 845], Amina, like the Virgin Mary, was informed that the child she was carrying was special, with a disembodied voice adding that she should be wary of Jews.

The child to whom you will give birth will be a prophet and a law promulgator to the Arab people. Be wary of the enmity and the jealousy of men; especially the Jews. Seek refuge with God.

The birth of Muhammad in Mecca, like that of Jesus, was announced by a star first noticed by the Jews of Medina.

I was a child of about seven or eight years when I heard the Jews of Medina who had gathered in the street speaking loudly. One of them climbed onto a roof and called over his coreligionist, telling them to come together. Once they had assembled in the street, the one who had climbed on the roof shouted: "This night, the star which announced the birth of Ahmed appeared in the sky. Ahmed is born!”

Hassan ibn Thabit d. 674

Another alleged spectacular and widespread phenomenon that heralded the birth of God’s ultimate spokesman, which traditional historians then overlooked, was a blinding light that illuminated much of the then known world.

At the moment of Prophet's [birth] a blinding light floods the planet. Amina spots the silhouettes of camels in Bosra more than a thousand kilometers away and the streets of the souks of Damascus as if she was there. The Palm trees of Yatrib (Medina) are lit up as if by giant projectors. The fires of in the temples to Zoroaster in Persia go out.

ibn Sa'd

The birth of the last and greatest of them all is said to have occurred during the year Mecca was attacked by an army that was defeated by squads of sparrows. It is reported in the Traditions that in 570, the year of Muhammad’s birth, Abraha, the Christian ruler of the principality of Saba' in Yemen (then part of the Abyssinian Empire), marched on Mecca after the Meccans allegedly tried to burn down a church he had built, which the Meccans feared would attract more converts to Christianity.

On the approach to Mecca, the elephant Abraha was riding stopped, knelt on the ground and refused to go any further. Suddenly, out of the sky appeared squadron after squadron of sparrows armed with tiny stones with which they bombed the army of Abraha, killing all the estimated 60,000 men, their elephants, camels, and horses. This unlikely defeat of a large assembly of armed men by flocks of small birds is mentioned in the Koran.


105 Al-Fîl

In the Name of Allah,

the Compassionate, the Merciful

105:1 Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with the Companions of the Elephant?

105:2 Did he not turn their cunning into perdition?

105:3 And send upon them swarms of birds;

105:4 Hurling upon them stones of clay;

105:5 And so He reduced them to munched blades of grass.

The Cleansing

Like all those who came before him, except for Jesus, the devil touched the future Prophet Muhammad while he was in the amniotic sac shortly before he exited through the birth canal, leaving a mark on his heart the size of a ‘pepper grain’.

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "When any human being is born. Satan touches him at both sides of the body with his two fingers, except Jesus, the son of Mary, whom Satan tried to touch but failed, for he touched the placenta-cover instead."

Bukhari 54.506

You would need a magnifying glass to see it even if you knew where to find this still-elusive mark. Muhammad had the blemish removed while still a boy so that God could, decades later, communicate His final instructions for mankind via a flawless human being. How Allah got rid of this apocryphal mark enthralls believers to this day. Virgil Gheorghiu's account of the cleansing, as revealed in ibn Hisham's biography of the Prophet:

Halima (the Prophet's foster mother):

Muhammad was among the sheep and lambs in our tents, when Mesrouth came running to tell us "my brother the Quraysh, two men dressed in white robes took him. They threw him to the ground. They opened his body and are right now searching inside it with their hands."

His father[7] and me ran towards him. We found him standing up all pale.

I held him close. His father held him close. We asked him, "did they hurt you my son?"

"Two men dressed in white came," answered Muhammad, "they opened my body looking for I don't know what."

Halima and her husband, history has not revealed his name, are afraid.

Later in life the Prophet would elaborate on what actually happened.

He said: "I was first taken from the clan of Sa'd-ben-Bakr, on a day when I was with my brother in a tent sheltering sheep when two men dressed in white approached with a bowl filled with snow. They seized me, opened my body, took out my heart and extracted a black pebble which they threw away then washed my heart and body with the snow, purifying both."


[7]  This was before God changed established customs (made it illegal to claim your adopted sons as your own) to allow Muhammad to wed Zaynab b. Jahsh, the wife his adopted son Zaid prudently divorced after God’s Messenger expressed an interest in her (see Appendix: Wives of Muhammad - Zaynab b. Jahsh for the relevant revelations).