2.8 Journey to Ash-Sham (Syria and Palestine)
When Mohamed was around twelve years old, Abu Talib decided to go on a trading expedition to Al-Sham. He did not think of taking the young boy with him for the journey was long, the desert route rough, with little water and full of dangers. But Mohamed yearned to go with his uncle whom he had grown to love as a father. Abu Talib hesitated but when he saw how the boy hated to be parted from him, he said,
"By Allah, Ill never leave you behind."
On the way, approaching Al-Sham, the caravan of Quraysh passed by the cell of a Christian hermit, Bahira, who lived and worshipped in a secluded spot in the desert. It was not the first time that the caravans of Quraysh had passed by his cell. He had never taken any notice of them before, but this time he prepared food for them and insisted that they all partake of his food. He watched them, carefully scanning each face, then he cried,
"But I insisted that none of you refuse my hospitality."
They assured him that they were all present, but he repeated his words. They replied that they were all there except a little boy who was playing by the camels. Bahira sent them to bring him. When Mohamed appeared, the monk asked whose son he was.
"Mine," said Abu Talib protectively.
"No, you are not telling the truth," replied Bahira.
"Very well, my brother's child. His father has passed away," said Abu Talib.
"Ah, this is as it should be,” said the monk, “This boy should have no father."
Then he began to urge Mohamed to answer his questions.
"By Al-Lat and Al-Uzza," he began. These were the two famous idols of Quraysh.
Mohamed stopped him, saying,
"Ask what you will, but do not mention them to me. I loathe them."
This Bahira noted was also as it should be. He asked some more questions, then he saw that between the boy's shoulder-blades there was a birthmark which those who knew about such matters, recognized as the seal of prophet hood. Bahira told his uncle that this child would be of very great importance in the years to come and advised him not to go further inland with him lest the Jews recognize in him the same marks he had recognized and harm the boy. Mohamed returned safely to Mecca with Abu Talib and did not make any more journeys to Al-Sham.