Years with the Foster Mother, Halima
It was the custom in Mecca to send children to wet nurses in the villages so that they may grow up to be strong and that they may learn a pure Arabic since Mecca had a very hot and tiring atmosphere. Some tribes who lived away from the city were able to preserve their pure culture unadulterated by the inequities witnessed in the cities at the time of the Period of Ignorance. It was common practice for children to be sent away to have a healthier upbringing, and this practice had turned into a trade. There was a market for wet nurses in Mecca, people would gather here at particular times, the wet nurses and the parents of children would meet there and then the children would go with the wet mothers to the desert.
Likewise, Harith ibn Abduluzza and his wife Halima bint Abdullah ibn Harith had come from the land of the Banu Sad with ten other women. The drought had been going on for some time, and there was nothing left at hand. The children in their entourage cried for a morsel to eat, but the mothers had no means to feed them. Because they themselves had not been able to eat for some time, their milk had dried up, and they were desperate for a little drop of anything in order to calm their children. Their only hope was for rain to fall. The way to Mecca had seemed endless. The thin donkey that Halima was riding and Harith’s old camel had trouble walking, and they kept falling behind their friends. When they finally made it to Mecca, their friends had already done their trade and each of them had taken a child to look after for a while and was now getting ready for the journey back. Halima and Harith started to look for children to wet nurse too. Only Muhammad, Abdullah’s fatherless son, was left in the town. Those who had knocked upon their door had decided not to take him when they learnt that his father was dead for fear that the family would not be able to pay the wet nurse’s wages. Of course they were unaware that he was the person to whom everybody would turn to soon.
Halima and Harith came to the door as well, and like the others, they also went to look for another baby, in fear of not getting paid. But they found none, and they did not want to return empty handed after their long journey. Halima said to her husband: “I don’t want to go back among my friends without having taken a child to breast-feed. Let’s go and take that orphan and then return.”
“Do so if you want to, maybe Allah will give us plenitude and good fortune through him,” said Harith, and so they returned to Abdul Muttalib’s door.1
When Amina saw that they had returned, she first told them that the boy they wanted was no ordinary child. She then spoke about the ease she experienced during her pregnancy, her dream and what she had been told to be the meaning of this dream, for he was entrusted to Amina to keep not just for herself but for the whole of humanity till the end of time. That’s why he had to be shown extra care, and not a single hair strand on his head could be injured.
The family of Harith felt great contentment when they took the child from Amina. When Halima as-Sadia took him in her arms, she wanted to breast-feed him immediately. She was surprised to see that her breasts that had dried up were now filled with milk! First the Messenger of Allah and then the son of Halima, Abdullah, suckled from the breast. Then they both went to sleep. Normally, Abdullah was a restless child who would be impossible to put to sleep.
When they came near the old camel, they saw that the camel’s udders were also full of milk, for even it had benefited from this good fortune. They milked the camel and drank, and the night they spent in Mecca was the happiest ever in their lives. The next morning Harith had turned to Halima to say: “Know this well Halima, you have chosen your suckling child very wisely, from a very auspicious family.”
Just like her husband, Halima had also realized the plenitude bestowed upon them. She said: “I swear by Allah, that is what I believe as well.”
They finished their business in Mecca, and having found a suckling child, they set off for their homeland. Amina looked at her son affectionately as he departed for a long while, and she entrusted him to the hands of the Gracious Lord who has all the power and honor, so that nothing bad should befall him.
When Halima as-Sadia mounted her donkey with the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him in her arms, she realized that the thin and weak animal that she had come to Mecca with had somehow changed and now was walking very briskly. Such was their pace that they had caught up with their friends who had left Mecca a day earlier, and it was clear that they would not be left behind this time. Their friends were trying to understand how it was that they did not seem to have any sign of tiredness while they themselves were exhausted from the journey. The called out to Halima: “O daughter of the Zuayb tribe, what is going on with you? Were you not the one who was always left behind? Or is this not the same donkey you rode when coming to Mecca?”
The now self-assured Halima answered with the joy of the grace she had been bestowed: “I swear it is! It is the very same donkey I came to Mecca with.”
And then she added: “I have verily chosen the most auspicious suckling baby ever.”
They asked: “Is that the son of Abdul Muttalib?”
Yes, there was true goodness in this event and Halima and Harith, who were always after good deeds, were now experiencing the goodness they had always hoped for.2
The grace they had attained was not limited to the easing of their journey; on their return they would see that their land which was normally dry and not very fertile, would start to yield much better, and their sheep, whose stomachs would be full with the good produce of their land would produce much more milk. The owners of other herds would chastise their shepherds: “Woe to you! Go graze the sheep where Halima grazes hers so that our sheep also return with their bellies filled with milk.”
Halima as-Sadia was now someone whom everyone viewed with envy due to the plenty she was experiencing.
Two years passed in this manner, with visits to Mecca every six months. The Pride of the Universe had thus grown up. He was no longer suckling; the time that had been agreed upon had come. Although they were reluctant to do it, they had to bring the little Muhammad back to his mother. It was very difficult for Halima as-Sadia, who had become like a real mother to him, to part from little Muhammad it was as if her own flesh was being torn away from her. She wanted to keep him a little longer by her side. This made her contemplate to say the following to Amina: “I fear he may catch the Meccan plague, so let him stay with us for a little longer.”
And so she made the offer to Amina. This was a difficult thing to accept for Amina as his real mother so she didn’t think favorably of this offer at first. But on the other hand the plague was really taking its toll in Mecca, and in order to protect him she accepted the offer. Happily, the Harith family returned to the land of the Sad tribe once again with little Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
The Miracle of Opening up the Chest
A little more time passed. The Pride of Humanity, peace and blessings be upon him, was playing with his milk siblings and the children of the Sad tribe, and was looking after the sheep as well. On such a day when they were playing with the sheep at the back of the house, his milk brother came running to Halima excited and short of breath: “My brother from the Quraysh was taken by two men in white dresses; they opened up his chest and then put everything together again.”3
The two men that the child saw were two angels, one of them Gabriel and they had opened up the heart of Allah’s Messenger whose message would later embrace the whole world, and had washed it with Zamzam water.
The parents were in anguish. They ran to the place described. Little Muhammad was waiting there with a pale face. Halima and Harith had been terribly frightened. First Halima and then Harith hugged him and then asked: “What happened to you son?”
“Two men in white robes came. One of them had a golden bowl filled with snow. Then they laid me on the ground. They opened up my chest, took out my heart, cut it into two. They took out a black thing out of it, threw it away and then washed out my insides with snow till my heart became completely clean. Then one said to the other: ‘Weigh this with ten of his followers.’
They weighed me with ten people and I was heavier. He repeated: ‘Weigh him with a hundred people.’ I was weighed and then I was the heavier. They said: ‘Weigh him with a thousand from his followers; so I was and I was still the heavier. Upon seeing that the man said: ‘Leave him be, I swear by Allah that if you weighed him against all his followers, he would still come on top.’”4
These developments put fear into the parents’ hearts. When they returned home, Harith said:
“O Halima! I fear something will happen to the boy. Maybe you should take him back to his family.”
Halima was thinking the same thing. Yes, they had attained a blessing and plenitude like they had never experienced before through his coming, but now things were taking an unexpected turn and people whom they did not see or know had started to take care of him. It was not possible to guess what things may lead to. The best decision was to give what had been entrusted to them back to his family without taking any further risks. They set on their journey without wasting time. When Amina saw Halima at her door, she said: “What could have brought you here? It was only yesterday that you were insisting for him to stay a little longer with you,” expressing her surprise at Halima’s behavior.
“Yes, I have been blessed with richness and bounty due to the presence of this son of mine, and I did my best to perform the duty entrusted to me. But I have certain fears concerning him so I brought him back to you thinking it would make you happy as well,” answered Halima.
But this was not an answer that would satisfy a mother like Amina: “Tell me truly what is with you, tell me the truth! I will not let you go until you have told me what has happened. Is it that you fear the Devil for him,” she said trying to open up the conversation.
“Yes,” said Halima.
Amina first said: “No, that is not possible. I swear the Devil cannot harm him. It is true that my son’s condition is very serious. Did I not already tell you about the news and tidings that came with him?”
“Yes you did,” said Halima.
However, Amina felt the need to repeat what had happened: “When I was pregnant with him, I dreamt that a light emanated from my body and with the clarity of this light I saw the palaces of the lands of Damascus and Basra bathed in light, and when I was pregnant with him, I did not experience any of the difficulties that are common to pregnant women. When I gave birth to him, he put his hands on the ground and lifted his head up to the sky. If this is what you feel, leave him with me and return to your homeland safely.”5
Thus ended the life that the Messenger of Allah lived among the Sad tribe.
- Author’s Name
- Ibn Hisham, Sirah, 1/300; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, 1/110, 111
- Anas ibn Malik, the Prophet’s Companion, says that this cutting up of his heart left a scar in the shape of a line on the Prophet’s chest. See Muslim, Sahih, 1/147 (162).
- Ibn Hisham, Sirah, 1/301; Tabari, Tarikh, 2/128. This quote is the amalgam of two accounts, one that the Prophet has given as an answer to the question of one of his Companions, and the other the account given by Halima and Harith on the day.
- Ibn Hisham, Sirah, 1/301, 302; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, 1/112; Tabari, Tarikh, 2/128