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The Story of Splitting Muhammad's Chest

7539 2008/05/16 2024/04/16

it was in this period and before muhammad reached the age of three that the following event is said to have happened. it is told that muhammad was playing in a yard behind the encampment of the tribe with halimah's son when the latter ran back to his parents and said, "two men dressed in white took my qurayshi brother, laid him down, opened his abdomen, and turned him around." it is also reported that halimah said, -"my husband and i ran towards the boy and found him standing up and pale. when we asked what happened to him, the boy answered, "two men dressed in white came up to me, laid me down, opened my abdomen and took something i know not what away." the parents returned to their tent fearing that the child had become possessed. they therefore returned him to makkah to his mother. ibn ishaq reported a hadith issuing from the prophet after his commission confirming this incident. but he was careful enough to warn the reader that the real reason for muhammad's return to his mother was not the story of the two angels but, as halimah was to report to muhammad's mother later on, the fact that a number of abyssinian christians wanted to take muhammad away with them once they had seen him after his weaning. according to halimah's report, the abyssinians had said to one another, "let us take this child with us to our country and our king, for we know he is going to be of consequence." halimah could barely disengage herself from them and run away with her protege. this story is also told by al tabari, but he casts suspicion on it by reporting it first at this early year of muhammad's age as well as later, just before the prophet's commission at the age of forty.

orientalists and many muslim scholars do not trust the story and find the evidence therefore spurious. the biographies agree that the two men dressed in white were seen by children hardly beyond their second year of age which constitutes no witness at all and that muhammad lived with the tribe of banu sa'd in the desert until he was five. the claim that this event had taken place while muhammad was two and a half years old and that halimah and her husband returned the child to his mother immediately thereafter contradicts this general consensus. consequently, some writers have even asserted that muhammad returned with halimah for the third time. the orientalist, sir william muir, refuses even to mention the story of the two men in white clothes. he wrote that if halimah and her husband had become aware of something that had befallen the child, it must have been a sort of nervous breakdown, which could not at all have hurt muhammad's healthy constitution. others claim that muhammad stood in no need of any such surgery as god had prepared him at birth for receiving the divine message. dermenghem believes that this whole story has no foundation other than the speculative interpretations of the following qur'anic verses

"had we not revived your spirit [literally, "opened your chest"] and dissipated your burden which was galling your back."[qur'an, 94:1-3]

certainly, in these verses the qur'an is pointing to something purely spiritual. it means to describe a purification of the heart as preparation for receipt of the divine message and to stress muhammad's over-taxing burden of prophethood.

those orientalists and muslim thinkers who take this position vis-à-vis the foregoing tradition do so in consideration of the fact that the life of muhammad was human through and through and that in order to prove his prophethood the prophet never had recourse to miracle-mongering as previous prophets had done. this finding is corroborated by arab and muslim historians who consistently assert that the life of the arab prophet is free of anything irrational or mysterious and who regard the contrary as inconsistent with the qur'anic position that god's creation is rationally analyzable, that his laws are immutable, and that the pagans are blameworthy because they do not reason.


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