About the time of Mahomet’s birth a famine fell upon the Beni Sa’ad, which left nothing of all their stores, and the women of the tribe journeyed, weary and stricken with hunger, into the city of Mecca that they might obtain foster-children whose parents would give them money and blessings if they could but get their little ones taken away from that unhealthy place. Among these was Hailima, who, according to tradition, has left behind her the narrative of that dreadful journey across the desert with her husband and her child, and with only an ass and a she-camel for transport. Famine oppressed them sorely, together with the heat of desert suns, until there was no sustenance for any living creature; then, faint and travel-weary, they reached the city and began their quest.
Mahomet was offered to every woman of the tribe, but they rejected him as he had no father, and there was little hope of much payment from the mothers of these children. Those of rich parents were eagerly spoken for, but no one would care for the little fatherless child. And it happened that Hailima also was unsuccessful in her search, and was like to have returned to her people disconsolate, but when she saw Mahomet she bethought herself and said to her husband:
“By the God of my fathers, I will not go back to my companions without foster-child. I will take this orphan.”
And her husband replied: “It cannot harm thee to do this, and if thou takest him it may be that through him God will bless us.”
So Hailima took him, and she relates how good fortune attended her from that day. Her camels gave abundant milk during the homeward journey, and in the unfruitful land of the Beni Sa’ad her cattle were always fattest and yielded most milk, until her neighbours besought her to allow them to pasture their cattle with hers. But, adds the chronicler naively, in spite of this their cattle returned to them thin and yielding little, while Hailima’s waxed fat and fruitful. These legends are the translation into poetic fact of the peace and love surrounding Mahomet during the five years he spent with Hailima; for in all primitive communities every experience must pass through transmutation into the definite and tangible and be given a local habitation and a name.
When Mahomet was two years old and the time had come to restore him to his mother, Hailima took him back to Mecca; but his mother gave him to her again because he had thriven so well under desert skies, and she feared the stifling air of Mecca for her only son. So Hailima returned with him and brought him up as one of her children until he was five, when the first signs of his nervous, highly-strung nature showed themselves in a kind of epileptic fit. The Arabians, unskilled as they were in any medical science, attributed manifestations of this kind to evil spirits, and it is not surprising that we find Hailima bringing him back to his grandfather in great alarm. So ended his fostering by the desert and by Hailima.