At Sana, capital of Yemen, ruled Abraha, king of the southern province. He built a vast temple within its walls, and purposed to make Sana the pilgrim-city for all Arabia. But the old custom still clove to Mecca, and finding he could in nowise coerce the people into forsaking the Kaaba, he determined to invade Mecca itself and to destroy the rival place of worship. So he gathered together a great army, which numbered amongst it an elephant, a fearful sight to the Meccans, who had never seen so great an animal. With this force he marched upon Mecca, and was about to enter the city after fruitless attempts by Abd al Muttalib to obtain quarter, when God sent down a scourge of sickness upon his army and he was forced to retreat, returning miserably to Sana with a remnant of his men. But so much had the presence of the elephant alarmed the Meccans that the year (A.D. 570) was called ever after “The Year of the Elephant,” and in August thereof Mahomet was born.
Then Amina sent for Abd al Muttalib and told him the marvels she had seen and heard, and his grandfather took the child and presented him in the Kaaba, after the manner of the Jews, and gave him the name Mahomet (the Praised One), according as the angel had commanded Amina.
The countless legends surrounding Mahomet’s birth, even to the physical marvel that accompanied it, cannot be set aside as utterly worthless. They serve to show the temper of the nation producing them, deeply imaginative and incoherently poetical, and they indicate the weight of the personality to which they cling. All the devotion of the East informs them; but since the spirit that caused them to be is in its essence one of relentless activity, neither contemplative nor mystic, they lack that subtle sweetness that belongs to the Buddhist and Christian histories, and dwell rather within the region of the marvellous than of the spiritually symbolic. Neither Mahomet’s father nor mother are known to us in any detail; they are merely the passive instruments of Mahomet’s prophetic mission. His real parents are his grandfather and his uncle Abu Talib; but more than these, the desert that nurtured him, physically and mentally, that bounded his horizon throughout his life and impressed its mighty mysteries upon his unconscious childhood and his eager, imaginative youth.
“Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.”—Mahomet.
No more beautiful and tender legends cluster round Mahomet than those which grace his life in the desert under the loving care of his foster-mother Hailima. She was a woman of the tribe of Beni Sa’ad, who for generations had roamed the desert, tent-dwellers, who visited cities but rarely, and kept about them the remoteness and freedom of their adventurous life beneath the sun and stars.