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Prophet Muhammad – Peace Be upon him – Worked as a Merchant


Prophet Muhammad – Peace Be upon him – Worked as a Merchant

Published in August 26, 2017

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy



 We have received this question via email, and we quote it here followed by our reply:

 (... Why do not you ponder the Quran, dear Dr. Mansour, to infer what the profession of Prophet Muhammad was before and after his ministry of preaching the Quranic message of our Lord God, since we are not to believe anything written or said about the Prophet outside the Quran? ... Thank you...)


  Of course, our only source to answer this question is the Holy Quran. We tend to think that Muhammad worked a merchant; let us provide in the points below some details that support this view that we have deduced and inferred from some Quranic verses.   

1- As per the Quran, we know that Mecca is situated in a barren valley; Abraham said this as per this verse: "Our Lord, I have settled some of my offspring in a valley of no vegetation, by Your Sacred House,..." (14:37), and this means there is no agricultural lands nor areas for cattle to graze; yet, the situation of Mecca around the Sacred Kaaba Mosque made it the richest city in Arabia for centuries before and after Islam, as all caravans provide it with all kinds of merchandise and food items: "...Did We not establish for them a Safe Sanctuary, to which are brought all kinds of fruits, as provision from Ourselves? But most of them do not know." (28:57). Hence, the Qorayish tribe in Mecca felt safe before the advent of Islam as they enjoyed wealth and security, while other Arabian tribes outside Mecca in pre-Islamic era fought and raided one another: "Do they not see that We established a Secure Sanctuary, while all around them the people are being carried away? Do they believe in falsehood, and reject the blessings of God?" (29:67). Thus, prosperity was enjoyed by the Meccans for centuries; and they even received cattle and sacrificial animals slaughtered during the Hajj/pilgrimage season that lasts for four lunar months annually (the four sacred months are as follows: Zu Al-Hijja, Muharram, Saffar, and Rabei Awwal).  

2- The Qorayish tribe made 'good' use of its location around the Kaaba Sacred Mosque to engage in trade: they used caravans to transport merchandise of the Europeans in the Levant to Yemen (to be transported later by ships to Indian ports) and then to transport merchandise of India from Yemen to the Levant, where it would be shipped to European ports. Hence, Mecca was a center of trade in the ancient world, and these two journeys of caravans in winter and in summer are mentioned in the Quran in 106:2. On the margin of this world trade route, Mecca was the hub of trade and center for merchandise of all Arabs in Arabia all year long, not just during the pilgrimage season that lasted for the four lunar sacred months of Hajj, when all markets of Mecca flourished more; e.g., the well-known Souk Okaz (i.e., Okaz Market) in history of Arabia. Let us remember that in history, we read about the fact that Qorayish forced pilgrims to buy clothes and food only from Meccan markets at exorbitant prices and prevented them from bringing any food or using any of their own clothes during pilgrimage brought from outside, and those who could not afford such expensive pilgrimage clothes of Ihram used to circle the Kaaba in the nude! Thus, the Meccan society of Qorayish engaged in trade (and never in cattle-raising or agriculture), and each member of the tribe had shares in the capital of caravans of merchandise and had gained huge profits accordingly; let us ponder on the whole of Quranic Chapter 106, titled "Qorayish" (A Chapter which consists of only four verses) in light of what we have mentioned here: "For the security of Qorayish.Their security during winter and summer journeys. Let them worship the Lord of this House. Who has fed them against hunger, and has secured them against fear." (106:1-4).        

3- Since we know as a fact that Muhammad was born in Mecca and belonged to the Qorayish tribe before and after his ministry as a prophet of God, we can conclude safely that he was a merchant like the rest of them who bought and sold merchandise. We find evidence of his being a Meccan merchant in the Quran; some Meccan men of Qorayish used to ridicule him by asserting how come he was a prophet/messenger while he was eating food and walking through markets; this indicates that he was a merchant like them and he did not leave his profession after becoming a prophet/messenger: "And they say, "What sort of messenger is this, who eats food, and walks in the marketplaces? If only an angel was sent down with him, to be alongside him a warner."" (25:7). This means that the Qorayish tribesmen in Mecca assumed that being a prophet/messenger should have made Muhammad the richest man in Arabia who would own vast lands, gardens, palaces, etc. This is understood in the verse we read about their demanding miracles to be performed before their eyes by Muhammad: "And they said, "We will not believe in you unless you make a spring burst from the ground for us. Or you have a garden of palms and vines; then cause rivers to gush pouring through them. Or make the sky fall on us in pieces, as you claim, or bring God and the angels before us. Or you possess a house of gold. Or you ascend into the sky. Even then, we will not believe in your ascension, unless you bring down for us a book that we can read." Say, "Glory be to my Lord. Am I anything but a human messenger?"" (17:90-93). This means that they demanded that Mecca would be transformed into lush gardens with rivers and palaces. This stance and its response are found elsewhere in the Quranic text: "And they say, "What sort of messenger is this, who eats food, and walks in the marketplaces? If only an angel was sent down with him, to be alongside him a warner." Or, "If only a treasure was dropped on him." Or, "If only he had a garden from which he eats." The unjust ones also say, "You are following but a man under spell." Look how they invent examples for you. They have gone astray, and cannot find a way. Blessed is He who, if He wills, can provide you with better than that-gardens beneath which rivers flow-and He will give you palaces." (25:7-10).      

4- Thus, we infer that Muhammad had some wealth as a merchant; he has been commanded by God to announce to his contemporaries that he never asked any for any rewards or wages from them: "...Say, "I ask of you no compensation for it; it is just a reminder for all humankind." (6:90). This implies clearly that Muhammad never needed anyone financially and he had sufficient money that made him economically independent. Hence, Muhammad never made money by manipulating religion, unlike the case with clergymen in all eras and locations until now.     

5- When Muhammad immigrated to Yathreb and other early believers did the same, they left their money, houses, assets, and possessions as well as shares of profits of caravans of the winter and summer journeys, and Qorayish readily launched its military attacks against Yathreb. At first, they were commanded by God never to defend themselves, then the permission to engage into self-defense fighting comes in these verses while giving the reason: Qorayish drove them out of their houses and money and persecuted them even in Yathreb as they committed aggressions against them: "God defends those who believe. God does not love any disbelieving traitor.Permission is given to those who are fought against, and God is Able to give them victory. Those who were unjustly evicted from their homes, merely for saying, "Our Lord is God." Were it not that God repels people by means of others: monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques-where the name of God is mentioned much-would have been demolished. God supports whoever supports Him. God is Strong and Mighty." (22:38-40). This means that they had their capital and assets in Mecca and Qorayish confiscated them in the trade caravans of winters and summers; those immigrants became poor in Yathreb and God has ordained for them portions of the money that came peacefully (without being spoils of war) to the Treasury of the Yathreb city-state, as we infer from these verses: "Whatever God has bestowed upon His messenger from them; you spurred neither horse nor camel for them, but God gives authority to His messengers over whomever He will. God is Able to do all things. Whatever God restored to His messenger from the inhabitants of the villages belongs to God, and to the messenger, and to the relatives, and to the orphans, and to the poor, and to the wayfarer; so that it may not circulate solely between the wealthy among you. Whatever the messenger gives you, accept it; and whatever he forbids you, abstain from it. And fear God. God is severe in punishment. To the poor immigrants who were driven out of their homes and their possessions, as they sought the favor of God and His approval, and came to the aid of God and His messenger. These are the sincere." (59:6-8). 

6- We conclude then that the immigrants who dwelled in Yathreb and fled from Mecca and Qorayish had expertise in trade and this enriched the economy of Yathreb (by the way, Egypt has more than one million Syrian refugees settling there, and they have enriched the Egyptian economy with their expertise, in these times when the Egyptian economy is collapsing). Yathreb had is agricultural lands and gardens, and its original dwellers were not merchants at all, but ones Meccan immigrants who were merchants settled there, some caravans began to come to Yathreb, and this is part of unspoken-of history, but we infer it from the Quranic Chapter 62, within the context of verses rebuking believers for leaving Muhammad while he was preaching within a Friday sermon as they hurried to meet a trade caravan coming to Yathreb: "O you who believe! When the call is made for prayer on Friday, hasten to the remembrance of God, and drop all business. That is better for you, if you only knew. Then, when the prayer is concluded, disperse through the land, and seek God's bounty, and remember God much, so that you may prosper. Yet whenever they come across some trade, or some entertainment, they scramble towards it, and leave you standing. Say, "What is with God is better than entertainment and business; and God is the Best of providers."" (62:9-11). Hence, Yathreb became a flourishing market because of immigrants engaging in trade, and its dwellers enjoyed these profits and they were distracted from Friday sermon and prayers because of trade caravans coming to their city, and the riches of the affluent persons there increase among the two major tribes: Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj, and most of these affluent ones were among the hypocrites. God has warned Muhammad against admiring their progeny, assets, and wealth in 9:55 and 9:85. Those affluent hypocrites gained huge profits and this is why they never left Yathreb despite their hatred toward Islam and the city-state led by Muhammad, as they cared for their economic interests. This is the main reason, apart from their having complete political and religious freedom.        

7- Real, pious believers in Yathreb were never distracted by their trade and business away from performing prayers and paying zakat as well as performing good deeds of charity to please God and recommend themselves to Him. God says the following about them and about their houses of worship: "In houses which God has permitted to be raised, and His name is celebrated therein. He is glorified therein, morning and evening. By men who neither trading nor commerce distracts them from God's remembrance, and from performing the prayers, and from giving alms. They fear a Day when hearts and sights are overturned. God will reward them according to the best of what they did, and He will increase them from His bounty. God provides for whomever He wills without limits." (24:36-38). Thus, they were merchants who enriched Yathreb and made trade flourish there with their expertise and with their high moralistic level drawn from the Quran, as Muhammad was also a merchant and a role-model for them in honesty, honor, and integrity.      

8- Of course, as believers in Yathreb worked in trade as merchants, this has entailed certain Quranic sharia laws; for instance, about prohibiting usury which is lending charity-money for the poor (see 2:275-281) and allowing interest in trade and commerce within mutual consent of all parties involved (see 4:29 and 3:130), and other rules about never to engage in trade or any business with the aggressive disbelievers/polytheists so as not to ally oneself to enemies of the Yathreb city-state: "Say, "If your parents, and your children, and your siblings, and your spouses, and your relatives, and the wealth you have acquired, and a business you worry about, and homes you love, are more dear to you than God, and His messenger, and the struggle in His cause, then wait until God executes His judgment." God does not guide the sinful people." (9:24). Other rules include recording debts in writing (see 2:282) and urging donating money for alms/charity and jihad: "O you who believe! Shall I inform you of a trade that will save you from a painful torment? That you believe in God and His messenger, and strive in the cause of God with your possessions and yourselves. That is best for you, if you only knew. He will forgive you your sins; and will admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow, and into beautiful mansions in the Gardens of Eden. That is the supreme success. And something else you love: support from God, and imminent victory. So give good news to the believers." (61:10-13), and not everyone among believers paid the same amount for jihad endeavors for God's sake: "Not equal are the inactive among the believers-except the disabled-and the strivers in the cause of God with their possessions and their persons. God prefers the strivers with their possessions and their persons above the inactive, by a degree. But God has promised goodness to both. Yet God favors the strivers, over the inactive, with a great reward." (4:95). 

9- Of course, social legislations in the Quran come alongside the ones about economy, and this reflects strong social connections and people visiting one another and holding banquets as they engage in trade and business together: "There is no blame on the blind, nor any blame on the lame, nor any blame on the sick, nor on yourselves for eating at your homes, or your fathers' homes, or your mothers' homes, or your brothers' homes, or your sisters' homes, or the homes of your paternal uncles, or the homes of your paternal aunts, or the homes of your maternal uncles, or the homes of your maternal aunts, or those whose keys you own, or the homes of your friends. You commit no wrong by eating together or separately. But when you enter any home, greet one another with a greeting from God, blessed and good. God thus explains the verses for you, so that you may understand." (24:61).

10- Anyway, Yathreb turned into a new hub of commerce and trade alongside with self-defense jihad endeavors and long acts of worship at night, and God has lessened the latter for Muhammad and those with him as a result: "Your Lord knows that you stay up nearly two-thirds of the night, or half of it, or one-third of it, along with a group of those with you. God designed the night and the day. He knows that you are unable to sustain it, so He has pardoned you. So read of the Quran what is possible for you. He knows that some of you may be ill; and others travelling through the land, seeking God's bounty; and others fighting in God's cause. So read of it what is possible for you, and observe the prayers, and give regular charity, and lend God a generous loan. Whatever good you advance for yourselves, you will find it with God, better and generously rewarded. And seek God's forgiveness, for God is Forgiving and Merciful." (73:20). 

11- Amidst all these things, Muhammad was a pioneer in his success in his profession as a merchant and a pioneer in donating money for the sake of jihad for God's sake: "But the messenger and those who believe with him struggle with their possessions and their lives. These have deserved the good things. These are the successful. God has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the great victory." (9:88-89). In contrast, rich hypocrites were stingy and too reluctant to participate in self-defense jihad to protect Yathreb: "Those who stayed behind rejoiced at their staying behind the messenger of God. And they hated to strive with their wealth and their lives in God's way. And they said, "Do not venture out in the heat." Say, "The Fire of Hell is much hotter, if they only understood."" (9:81). 

12- Of course, Muhammad was also a pioneer at the time in applying and adhering to a high moralistic level, especially in his honesty and integrity, making him a very successful and wealthy merchant; we have deduced this from the Quranic fact that he had many houses, not just one house, for each of his wives. God has said the following to these wives: "And settle in your homes; and do not display yourselves, as in the former days of ignorance. And perform the prayer, and give regular charity, and obey God and His messenger. God desires to remove all impurity from you, O People of the Household, and to purify you thoroughly. And remember what is recited in your homes of God's revelations and wisdom. God is Kind and Informed." (33:33-34); let us remember how these houses of Muhammad had many guests who ate their meals there and lingered for more than lengthy periods as they took advantage of the tolerance and shyness of Muhammad, and God has rebuked such persons in this Quranic verse: "O you who believe! Do not enter the homes of the Prophet, unless you are given permission to come for a meal; and do not wait for its preparation. And when you are invited, go in. And when you have eaten, disperse, without lingering for conversation. This irritates the Prophet, and he shies away from you, but God does not shy away from the truth. And when you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a screen; that is purer for your hearts and their hearts. You must never offend the Prophet, nor must you ever marry his wives after him, for that would be an enormity with God." (33:53). 


Lastly: This is our own personal Quranist pondering on this question about the profession of Muhammad, and we sincerely hope that it will turn out to be a true one.

The views and opinions of authors whose articles and comments are posted on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of IQC.