[The following is adapted from Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali's masterpiece entitled Lata'if al-Ma`arif fi ma li Mawasim al-`Am min al-Waza'if ("The Subtleties of Learning Concerning the Devotions That Pertain to the Various Times of the Year"), ed. YaSin Muhammad al-Sawwas, Dar Ibn Kathir, 1996]
[p. 158] Imam Ahmad [in the Musnad 4:127-128 = 13:281-282 #17085 - sahih chain (Sh. Hamza al-Zayn)] narrated from al-`Irbad ibn Sariya al-Sulami - Allah be well-pleased with him - that the Prophet said - Allah bless and greet him: "I am Allah's servant (as written) in the Mother of the Book, and verily the seal of Prophets when Adam was still kneaded in his clay. I shall tell you of the meaning of this. (I am) the prayer of my father Ibrahim and the glad tidings proclaimed by `Isa to his people and the vision of my mother who saw that a light issued from her illuminating the very palaces of Syria, and so do all the mothers of Prophets see, Allah's blessings be upon them." Al-Hakim [also] narrated it [in al-Mustadrak 2:418], and said its chain is sound (sahih) [and al-Dhahabi concurred]. [Also Ibn Hibban in his Sahih 14:312-313 #6404 - sahih (Sh. Shu`ayb Arna'ut); al-Haythami in Majma` al-Zawa'id 8:223 - sahih chain. Also narrated from Abu Umama and other Companions with sound chains as stated by Ibn Kathir in al-Bidaya 2:275 and al-Arna'ut in Sahih Ibn Hibban 14:315.]
What is meant by the above hadith is that the Prophet's Prophetship - Allah bless and greet him - was renowned and well-known even before Allah created him and brought him forth into the world in his lifetime, and that this was written in the Mother of the Book before the blowing of the spirit into Adam - peace upon him. The "Mother of the Book" was explained to mean the Preserved Tablet.
[p. 159] In Muslim's Sahih [also al-Tirmidhi and Ahmad] from `Abd Allah ibn `Amr ibn al-`As, the Prophet said - Allah bless and greet him: "Truly Allah wrote the destinies (maqadir) of creatures before He created the heavens and the earth by fifty thousand years, and/when His Throne was above the water." Among what He wrote in that dhikr, which is the Mother of the Book, is that Muhammad is the Seal of Prophets, whence all creatures moved from the status of [Allah's] Knowledge to the status of [His] Writing which is a type of external existence.
[p. 160-162, he discusses the narrations and meanings of the sahih hadith: "I was Prophet when Adam was between spirit and body." Then he says:] Most of the Salaf hold that the bringing out [p. 162] of the seed of Adam from him was after the spirit was breathed into him, and this is what the majority of the reports indicate. So it is possible that Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him - was specifically brought out from the loins of Adam before the spirit was breathed into the latter, for Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him - is the purpose (al-maqsud) in the creation of the human species, he is its very essence (`aynuhu), quintessence (khulasatuhu), and core (wasita `aqdih). And it has been narrated that Adam - upon him peace - saw the name of Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him - written on the Throne and that Allah - Almighty and Glorified - said to Adam: "Were it not for Muhammad I would not have created you." Al-Hakim narrated it in his Sahih [see its documentation in the Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine 4:36-41].
[The above position is also that of Ibn Rajab's two teachers, Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim. Ibn Taymiyya said in his Fatawa al-Kubra (11:95-97):
"Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him - is the Chief of the Children of Adam, the Best of Creation, the noblest of them in the sight of Allah. This is why some have said that "Allah created the Universe due to him," or that "Were it not for him, He would have neither created a Throne, nor a Footstool, nor a heaven, earth, sun or moon." However, this is not a hadith on the authority of the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him -... but it may be explained from a correct aspect...
"Since the best of the righteous of the children of Adam is Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him -, creating him was a desirable end of deep-seated purposeful wisdom, more than for anyone else, and hence the completion of creation and the fulfillment of perfection was attained with Muhammad, may Allah Exalted bless him and grant him peace... The Chief of the Children of Adam is Muhammad, may Allah Exalted bless him and grant him peace, Adam and his children being under his banner. He, may Allah Exalted bless him and grant him peace, said: "Truly, I was written as the Seal of the Prophets with Allah, when Adam was going to-and-fro in his clay," i.e. that my prophethood was decreed and manifested when Adam - upon him peace - was created but before the breathing of the Spirit into him, just as Allah decrees the livelihood, lifespan, deeds and misery or happiness of the slave when He creates the embryo but before the breathing of the spirit into it.
"Since man is the seal and last of all creation, and its microcosm, and since the best of man is thus the best of all creation absolutely, then Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him -, being the Pupil of the Eye, the Axis of the Mill, and the Distributor to the Collective, is as it were the Ultimate Purpose from amongst all the purposes of creation. Thus it cannot be denied to say that "Due to him all of this was created", or that "Were it not for him, all this would not have been created," so if statements like this are thus explained according to what the Book and the Sunna indicate, it is acceptable." End of Ibn Taymiyya's words.
Similarly Ibn al-Qayyim wrote in his Bada'i` al-Fawa'id (p. 63): "Have you realized your value? I only created all the universes for your sake... All things are trees whose fruit you are."]
[Back to Ibn Rajab's Lata'if al-Ma`arif:]
[p. 185] The vast majority hold that he [the Prophet, Allah bless and greet him] was born on the Second Day of the Week (al-Ithnayn = "Monday") 12 Rabi` al-Awwal... in the Year of the Elephant. The episode of the Elephant was in preparation for his Prophetship and a preliminary for his appearance and messengership, Allah bless and greet him.
[p. 188] In the Musnad [of Imam Ahmad, 1:277] from Ibn `Abbas who said: "The Prophet - Allah bless and greet him - was born on al-Ithnayn; received Prophetship on al-Ithnayn; emigrated out of Mecca on al-Ithnayn; entered Madina on al-Ithnayn; died on al-Ithnayn; and raised the Black Stone to its place on al-Ithnayn." ... They differed on the month in which his Prophetship began. It was said: in Ramadan. Or: in Rajab - this is incorrect. Or: in Rabi` al-Awwal. It was said that he received Prophetship on Monday 8 Rabi` al-Awwal.
[p. 189] As for Isra', it was said that it took place in Rajab, but several scholars consider this position weak. It was said that Isra' took place in Rabi` al-Awwal; this is the position of Ibrahim al-Harbi and others.
[Note by Hajj Gibril on Ibrahim al-Harbi: Ibrahim ibn Ishaq al-Harbi (d. 285) was a prominent companion and student of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He authored: Gharib al-Hadith, Ikram al-Dayf, and Manasik al-Hajj (the last two were published) among other books. Al-Hakim relates that he was pre-eminent in Baghdad for four traits: his superlative manners, his knowledge of the Law, his knowledge of hadith, and his asceticism (zuhd). Al-Daraqutni said that in all these respects he compared to Imam Ahmad himself. Among his sayings: * "Not every separation is estrangement, nor is every reunion love; only the nearness of the hearts is love." * "The stranger is the one who once lived among saintly people who helped him when he ordered good and forbade evil, and supplied him when he had some worldly need, then they died and left him alone." * "I never wasted anything, nor ate twice in the same day." Ibrahim al-Harbi disapproved of `Ali ibn al-Madini because he once saw him going to pray behind the Jahmi judge and grand inquisitor of Ahl al-Sunna, Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad (d. 240). The latter was principally responsible for the 28-month-long jailing and flogging of Imam Ahmad who had declared him a disbeliever (kafir) for holding that the Qur'an was created. This is related by al-Khatib in Tarikh Baghdad (4:142-153 #1825), al-Dhahabi in the chapter on Imam Ahmad in the Siyar, Ibn al-Subki in Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra (2:37-51), and others. Al-Dhahabi relates that al-Harbi's grave in Baghdad is a place one visits for its blessings. Ibn al-Jawzi included himself in the number of those who performed this visitation and relates that al-Harbi himself used to say: "Ma`ruf al-Karkhi's grave is proven medicine." This is also related by al-Dhahabi who comments: "The supplication of those in need is answered at every blessed site." Main sources: Ibn al-Jawzi, Sifa al-Safwa 2:410, 2:214; al-Dhahabi, Siyar A`lam al-Nubala' 10:668-674 #2391; 8:219 #1425. End of note on Ibrahim al-Harbi.]
[p. 189] The Prophet's saying - Allah bless and greet him - when he was asked about fasting al-Ithnayn: "That is the day I was born, and the day in which Prophetship was sent down upon me" [Muslim and Ahmad from Abu Qatada] points to the desirability of fasting the days in which Allah's favors on His servants are renewed. For the greatest favor of Allah upon this Community is His causing to appear among them Muhammad - Allah bless and greet him - and sending him as His Prophet to them, as Allah said: “Allah verily hath shown grace to the believers by sending unto them a messenger of their own” (3:164). This favor is greater than the creation of the heaven and the earth, the sun and moon, the winds, night and day, sending down rain, causing vegetation to sprout, and other than that.... The fasting of a day in which those blessings of Allah on his believing servants are renewed is fine and well. It proceeds from the meeting of favors with thanks at the time these favors are renewed. The equivalent of this fasting is the fasting of the day of `Ashura' in which Allah saved Nuh from drowning etc.
Allah's Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.