The shepherd

He was 17 years old. His father had died a few months before he was born. His mother had died when he was a child of six. Brought up by his grandfather and his uncles, he had known early in life what it meant to have nobody in the world, to belong to no one and be attached to no place. A strange solitude had always been part of his being.

As an adolescent he had begun to assist his uncles in their work, to help their difficult finances. When business was slow, he would take up the work of a shepherd, taking the sheep of the rich cattle-owners to graze in the rocky hills that surrounded the city on all sides.

This was his favourite work. He would wake up much before dawn and absorb the still silence of the night. In those days, unlike today, hundreds of stars could be seen in the sky. He would then go to the cattle pen and take the sheep out. With a flock of twenty or thirty sheep, and a long stick in hand to steer them gently, he set out to the hills while the city slept.

As the young shepherd and the sheep walked up the low hills, leaving behind a cloud of dust, the first rays of the sun would reach the earth. The sky would slowly come to light. In the few sparse and dry trees there were on the hills, sparrows would wake up and sing their songs. On the horizon, the red sun would be visible.

Today was another such dawn. Like every dawn, it felt fresh, new, as if it was occurring for the first time in the history of the universe.

The shepherd let his sheep meander about. He had found a spot at the edge of a low cliff where he always sat when he came here. From there he watched the sun rise, a glowing ball of fire slowly rising up across an infinitely vast expanse of desert sand.

From there he thought of his mother, of who he had the most loving memories. From there he thought of the noise of the city he had come from, the fights between the tribes who lived there, the haranguing in the marketplace, the greed of the rich, the poverty of the less fortunate – a society build on self-centredness. He also thought of Bahira, the monk who had left society and who, on seeing him as a child had remarked at the unusual destiny that lay ahead of this boy. He looked at the sun and all these thoughts passed on, leaving his mind still.

There must be another way of life, he wondered. He marvelled at the splendour of the rising sun, at the terrible beauty of the desert all around with no end in sight, and at the unending sky above him. Where did it all come from? By who was it made? And where was it all destined to go? He was haunted by these questions.

Despite the unusual events of his life so far, he did not know that many years later, at this very hillock, he would be overwhelmed by a power that would shatter everything in him that was small and mediocre. It would illuminate the answers to his questions with such blinding light that all else would cease to matter. This revolution in him would transform his life and that of his community for all time to come. The whole world would change as a result of the revolution in his heart. He only had faint indications of all this that awaited him.

That day, sitting on the cliff, he wondered at those basic questions of life and sensed premonitions of the fire that was to arise in his being. He knew something was coming, but he knew not what it would be and what it would do to him and his world.

His heart pregnant with these premonitions, deeply moved by the nature all around, and dismayed by the pettiness of the society he was born into, Muhammad sat that morning staring at the sun.

His name meant ‘praise worthy’. The revolution to come would transform him in such a way that all creatures would praise him, not only men and women, but the sky, the stars, the sun. He would be recognised as an illustration of what man was truly meant to be, the fulfillment of all existence, and the culmination of the self-revelation of God through creation.

All over the world, for centuries after he died, the reverberations of the life of this illiterate shepherd from the desert would be felt. For centuries, men and women across the world would love him deeply as their prophet. After taking his name, they would say, “sallalaahu alayhi wassalam“,  “may prayers and peace be upon him”, an expression of the deep mark he had left on their hearts, a reminder of the goodness and nobility of human nature, a portrait of the greatness of human destiny, for all time to come.


~ by tdcatss on April 24, 2016.

3 Responses to “The shepherd”

  1. Thanks for posting this. There’s hardly any information available on the life of Prophet Mohammed unlike other religious world. Recently I came across a blog where a muslim woman wrote that she drew inspiration from Khadija, Mohammad’s first wife, to propose her husband for marriage.

  2. Shruti, the purpose of this writing is not to provide information but to first, offer a glimpse into the experiential reality of Muhammad as a contemplative, and second, to convey a feel of the devotional life of a Muslim that is based on loving and listening to the reality of the prophet as a living presence in one’s life at present, rather than a man who lived and died 1500 years ago.

    If this post comes across as another addition to the list of so-called good things that Muhammad and his companions did – social reform, women’s rights, economic restructuring, I think it fails in its purpose. To me it is a gross distortion of the messenger’s life to look at it as a project of social reform rather than the story of an inner mystical transformation of the heart, a distortion which is very prevalent in contemporary Islam, not the least in the extremists for who only outer things matter.

  3. Of course. This is a contemplative piece of writing, rather than a historical one. I see it rather as an addition to what we were discussing yesterday.

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