Muhammad b. ‘Abdállah, the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca in 570 in the clan of Banu Háshim, which was part of the Quraysh tribe based in central-western Arabia. 1 Although respected by their fellow tribesmen, the Banu Háshim lacked the wealth of the more prosperous clans of the Quraysh, such as the Banu Umáyya and Banu Makhzúm. Muhammad’s father died before the birth of his son. When he was six or seven years of age, Muhammad’s mother also died, leaving him in the care of his grandfather ‘Abd al-Muttálib (see Table 2.1). His orphanage, mentioned in the Qur’an (93:6-8), was a major disadvantage in a tribal society in which man’s worth was often measured by the strength and numbers of his male relatives. After the death of his grandfather, Muhammad was brought up by his uncle Abú Tálib, who trained him as a caravan driver. 2 As legend has it, while in Syria with a Meccan caravan, a Christian monk reportedly recognized in Muhammad the future prophet predicted by the Judeo-Christian scriptures. 3
At some point in his life, Muhammad was recommended to a well-to-do widow named Khadíja, who employed him to trade for her in Syria. After some time, Khadíja, encouraged by her Christian cousin Wáraqa, proposed marriage to Muhammad. Khadíja gave birth to several female children. One of their daughters, Fátima, who later married Muhammad’s cousin ‘Ali, is by far the best known and revered, especially among the Shi‘ites.