We began encroaching upon the Sahara Desert. It makes up nearly 10% of the African continent and is often cited as the world’s largest desert. It is believed that people have inhabited the Sahara Desert since 6000 BCE and earlier. Since then, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Europeans have been among the peoples in the area. Today the Sahara’s population is around 4 million with the majority of the people living in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania and Western Sahara.
As we made our way across, our minds went to another time and place in history; The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) was then still a child, his mother Aminah and grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib entrusted Him to Halimah. It was customary to entrust infants to wet nurses belonging to the nomadic Bedouin tribes living in the desert. Because he was fatherless, one nurse after another refused to take the child into care, fearing that his ambiguous status would bring them no profit.
Eventually, for four years, Halimah looked after the orphan and lived with the Banu Sad Bedouins in the Arabian Desert. This was all divinely ordained: he shared in the nomad’s life in the most barren and difficult environment, surrounded, as far as the eye could see, with horizons bringing to mind fragility of the human being and spurring contemplation and solitude. Although he did not yet know it, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was going through the first trials ordained by The One, Who had chosen him as a Messenger and was, for the time being, his Educator, his Rabb.
There is much to be gauged from this particular situation as an orphan as well the spiritual teachings associated with the experience of life in the desert.
The Qur’an later recalls:
Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter?
And He found you wandering and guided you.
And He found you in need and made you self-sufficient.
So as for the orphan, do not treat him with harshness,
Nor chide him who asks.
But as for the favor of your Lord, Proclaim!
(Qur’an 9: 6 -11)
There are several teachings here: being an orphan and poor was actually an initiatory state for the future Messenger of God, for at least two reasons. The first teaching is obviously the vulnerability and humility he must naturally have felt from his earliest childhood. This state was intensified when his mother, Aminah died when he was six. This left him utterly dependent on God, but also close to the most destitute among people. The Qur’an reminds him that he must never forget this throughout his life and particularly during his prophetic mission. He was orphaned and poor, and for that reason he is reminded and ordered never to forsake the underprivileged and needy.
Considering the exemplary nature of the prophetic experience, the second spiritual teaching emanating from these verses is valid for each human being: never to forget one’s past, one’s trials, one’s environment and origin, and to turn one’s experience into a positive teaching for oneself and for others.
Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) past, The One reminds him, is a school from which he must draw useful, practical, and concrete knowledge to benefit those whose lives and hardships he has shared, since he knows from his own experience, better than anyone else, what they feel and endure.
We ask that just like Our Messenger (Peace Be Upon Him), that God make us from them who serve the underprivileged and needy in our society.