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This is the month of Rabi-ul-Awwal when we specially remember our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with a renewed fervour and zeal. It is our duty to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). I have read many books on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which are very comprehensive, however in all the books that I have read (at least in Urdu and English) there is a very short description about the economic life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). I have done research for over thirty years on this subject as my field is finance and economics. My study tells me that there are many misperceptions about the economic life of that time and that person. A life away from worldly affairs is not at all prescribed in the preachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The observations and comments in the following paragraphs are wholly based on the study of economic history of that time. It may have some shortcomings, however, it is an attempt to narrate this important aspect of any human life.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born in the year 570 A.D. in a mercantile family of Mecca. It is important to see the economic life of Mecca at that time. This can be summarised as under:

Mecca, Muhammad’s (PBUH’s) home for half a century, as we have observed earlier was not fit for agriculture: “The town that had grown up around the well of Zamzam and the sanctuary of Ka’bah, was advantageously placed” at the extreme ends of the Asia of the whites and the Africa of the blacks, near a breach in the chain of the Sana, close to a junction of roads leading from Babylonia and Syria to the plateaus of the Yemen, to the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.1

To Mecca, therefore, the nomads came for the goods brought from the four points of the compass by caravans. Originally, the Meccans themselves were probably only middlemen and retailers and not the importers and entrepreneurs who organised caravans. But by the end of the sixth century A.D. they had gained control of most of the trade from Yemen to Syria - an important route by which the West got Indian luxury goods as well as South Arabian frankincense.2

Various charges were levied upon the traders who passed through the route of Mecca; for example, tithes were paid for entering the city, a special tax for securing permits to stay there, and a departure tax while leaving the town. In short, foreign merchants were entangled in a very intricate fiscal system, whether they settled in Mecca, or only passed through it, especially those who did not obtain the jiwar or guarantee of a local clan or notability.3

Mecca may rightly be called a merchant republic. The financial operations of considerable complexity were carried on in the city. The nobility of Mecca in Muhammad’s (PBUH) time besides the religious heads, and Sheikhs of clans, comprised of “financiers, skilful in the manipulation of credit, shrewd in their speculations, and interested in any potentialities of lucrative investment from Aden to Gaza or Damascus. In the financial net that they had woven not merely were all of the inhabitants of Mecca caught, but many notables of the surrounding tribes also. The Holy Quran appeared not in the atmosphere of the desert, but in that of high finance.4

The women shared these commercial instincts: Abu Jahl’s mother ran a perfumery business. The activities of tadjjra [Hazrat] Khadijah are well-known. Hinda, the wife of Abu Sufyan, sold her merchandise among the Kalbis of Syria.5

This subject has been well discussed in the book ‘The Last Prophet’ by Laslie Hazelton. This reveals that Mecca of that time was a very well organized commercial centre and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born in a family reasonably well established. His father was directly engaged in trading and died during his way back from a trade journey to Gaza. When the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) grew up, he was engaged as an apprentice by his uncle Abu Talib for his trading. This family mostly dealt in perfumery and other such products. This aspect is clearly referred to in all the histories in relation to the meeting of Abu Talib with Christian priest (Bahira) in Syria where they predicted greatness about the boy accompanying Abu Talib.

When the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) grew up, in around 594 at the age of 24 he joined the trade establishment of Hazrat Khadijah as her manager and there are detailed descriptions of the manner in which the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived his life during this period. In around 595, he married Hazrat Khadijah and continued with the business along with Hazrat Khadijah. There are detailed descriptions about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from 595 till 613 when the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was directed to preach. In this intervening period of 15 long years with youthfulness of the person, wealth of Hazrat Khadijah multiplied; however, unlike other traders of Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) started charitable work which was usually conducted during the Hajj days. This is all referred to descriptions about the market of ‘Akkaz’ that usually was established near Mecca. It was also during that period that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had preliminary discussion with people of Yasrab (Madina) as it was then called. He [Muhammad (PBUH)] established himself as a successful person in an economic sense with high attributes of charity and welfare.

In 613, public preaching began. This led to financial problems as there was an effective social boycott. This ultimately led to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his family’s concentration in a hillock called ‘She’eb-Abi-Talib’ for three long years from 618 to 621. During this period there was complete ban on any kind of commercial or social relationship with the clan of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used his savings in living there with his immediate family which consisted of over 25 people. This led to economic crises for the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which continued till his migration to Yasrab in late 622.

The objective of the aforesaid discussion is to identify that Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) message and life cannot be properly understood and treated as an ideal unless there is complete trace of the economic part of his life.

(To be continued on Saturday)

  1. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III, Article ‘Mecca’ (1936).

  2. W. Montgomery Watt, op. cit., p. 3.

  3. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III, Article ‘Mecca’ (1936).

  4. W. Montgomery Watt, op. cit., p. 4.

5 Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. III, Article ‘Mecca’.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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