Did He not find you an orphan and give [you] refuge?Those verses of the Qur’an carry several teachings: being both an orphan and poor was actually an initiatory state for the future Messenger of God for at least two reasons.
And He found you lost and guided [you],
And He found you poor and made [you] self-sufficient.
So as for the orphan, do not oppress [him].
And as for the petitioner, do not repel [him].
But as for the favor of your Lord, report [it].
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 Muhammad was six. This left him utterly dependant 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 the 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 in a positing teaching for one-self and for others. Muhammad's 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 had shared, since he knows from his own experience, better than anyone else, what they feel and endure.
An Education, and Nature
Life in the desert was to fashion the man and his outlook on creation and the elements of the universe. When Muhammad came to the desert, he was able to learn from the Bedouins' rich oral tradition and their renown as speakers to develop his own mastery of the spoken language.
Later on, the Last Prophet was to stand out through the strength of his words, his eloquence, and above all his ability to convey deep and universal teachings through short, pithy phrases (jawami al-kalim).
The desert if often the locus of prophecies because it naturally offers to the human gaze the horizons of the infinite. For nomads, forever on the move, finitude in space is allied to a sense of freedom blended, here again, with the experience of fleetingness, vulnerability, and humility. Nomads learn to move on, to become strangers, and to apprehend, at the heart of the linear infinity of space, the cyclical finitude of time. Such is the experience of the believer's life, which the Prophet was later to describe to young Abdullah ibn Umar in terms reminiscent of this dimension:
"Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a wayfarer." - Al-Bukhari.[...]
This relationship with nature was so present in the Prophet's life from his earliest childhood that one can easily come to the conclusion that living close to nature, observing, understanding, and respecting it, is an imperative of deep faith.
Many years later, when the Prophet was in Medina, facing conflicts and wars, a REvelation in the heart of night turned his gaze toward another horizon of meaning: "In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for all those endowed with insight," (Qur'an, 3:190). It has been reported that the Prophet wept all night long when this verse was revealed to him. At dawn, when Bilal, the muezzin, coming to call fo rprayer, asked about the cause of those tears, Muhammad explained to him the meaning and his sadness and added: "Woe to anyone who hears that verse and does not meditate upon it!"
Nature is the primary guide and the intimate companion of faith. Thus, God decided to expose His Prophet, from his earliest childhood, to the natural lessons of creation, conceived as a school where the mind gradually apprehends signs and meaning. Far removed from the formalism of soulless religious rituals, this sort of education, in and through its closeness to nature, fosters a relationship to the divine based on contemplation and depth that will later make it possible, in a second phase of spiritual education, to understand the meaning, form, and objectives of spiritual education.
Cut off from nature in our own towns and cities, we nowadays seem to have forgotten the meaning of this message to such an extent that we dangerously invert the order of requirements and believe that learning about the techniques and forms of religion (prayers, pilgrimages, etc.) is sufficient to grasp and understand their meaning and objectives. This delusion has serious consequences since it leads to draining religious teaching of its spiritual substance, which actually ought to be its heart.
In the Footsteps of the Prophet; Tariq Ramadan, pp. 11-12.
Image: Shining City Teens
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