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The biographies of Muhammad that I am reading talk only generally about it being problematic to be an orphan. They mention very few specifics. There seems to have been a stigma about orphans, but the biographies are not clear on the nature of the stigma, what people actually thought about orphans that was stigmatic. Also, there is some talk of his uncle Abu Talib being unable to divide his sons' inheritance with Muhammad. But I don't see how that would matter: in the mercantile environment of Mecca, couldn't an enterprising young man like Muhammad have built up his own fortune with the caravans?

In the Qur'an, Muhammad frequently admonishes guardians not to misuse the inheritance of orphans, but he himself had no inheritance that could have been misused (or very little -- one account says his father was able to leave him a couple of camels and a slave girl). Also it seems very unlikely that Abu Talib would have misused any inheritance belonging to Muhammad. So I'm guessing that his stress on managing orphans' inheritance properly had more to do with seeing other orphans being cheated rather than himself.

What exactly were the problems that made life hard for orphans in general, and the orphan Muhammad in particular, in Mecca?

  • Might be a better fit for History. – G. Bach Feb 3 '17 at 16:34
  • In general, yes, but I was looking for a Muslim perspective, in that I'm trying to understand Muhammad's particular difficulties. Maybe I should edit the intro question to emphasize that point. The body of the question seems ok, I hope. Your thoughts? – SaganRitual Feb 3 '17 at 19:06
  • I've edited the intro question. Please let me know if it's not a meaningful improvement. – SaganRitual Feb 3 '17 at 19:13
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    I don't think you will find the answer you are looking for here. Because when looking for the muslim point of view, I do not think the muslims will list Muhammeds problems experienced being an orphan, just because of orphans are mentioned in the Quran, but rather orphans problems in general. This because a muslim do believe the Quran is from God and not from Muhammed. Therefore, the statement would not be so helpful in this forum: "In the Qur'an, Muhammad frequently admonishes guardians" Anyway, that does not neglect the fact that the Prophet might had have problems as an orphan. – Kilise Feb 3 '17 at 21:08
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In general, orphans face many obstacles such as uncertainty about their future in terms of shelter & who will take care of them, their property being misused, they themselves being mistreated, etc.

It's true Prophet Muhammad's (ﷺ) situation was different. He started off life in poverty and Allah (ﷻ) gave him shelter through Abu Talib.. who was also a great support for him.

But he did face being treated differently. If you go back to the biographies particularly on the parts mentioning Haleemah As-Sa'diyah, you will see them mention how [in the context of the custom of beduouins taking Meccan children to raise/teach for a few years], all the other bedouin women turned down Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) due to his father being dead. Specifically because they assumed that him not having a father meant that they would not get paid as generously for the services they provide. [This was one social stigma].

Not even a single woman amongst us accepted the Messenger of Allâh sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam (may Allah exalt his mention) offered to her. As soon as they were told that he was an orphan, they refused him. We had fixed our eyes on the reward that we would get from the child’s father. An orphan! What are his grandfather and mother likely to do? So we spurned him because of that. (Islamweb)

Haleemah herself could not find any other child but didn't want to leave empty-handed. So she ended up taking up him into her care (and what a great decision that turned out to be for her). But anyway, that was one of the thought processes that lead those women to treat children who are orphans/fatherless differently.

@"in the mercantile environment of Mecca, couldn't an enterprising young man like Muhammad have built up his own fortune with the caravans?" - In general, not everyone (not even most people, even in today's times) build great fortunes even in cities that are rich in terms of economy/trade. That happens for few. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) himself worked as a shepherd for humble earnings (small sum).

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