Muhammad (S) – The Prophet of Islam – Part 6
by Habib Siddiqui
It is said that a great leader always leaves behind a great leadership cadre. Muhammad (S) was definitely very successful in generating some of the best leaders ever to emerge in human history. For our purpose here, the examples of Abu Bakr Siddiq, Umar ibn Khattab and Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA) may be sufficient.
Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (RA):
When Muhammad (S) died at the age of 63 in 11 A.H. (632 C.E.), the news of his death was shocking to all Muslims. He occupied a unique place among the nascent community of believers in Islam. He had transformed them from warring pagan Arabs to an Ummah (nation) of God-fearing, trustworthy, truth-seeking, honest people. Some people did not want to believe that he had died. Realizing the somber grief-stricken mood of Muslims, Abu Bakr (RA) – a very close Companion of the Prophet (S) – gave a speech at the Mosque of the Prophet (Masjid an-Nabi) in Madinah, where he said:
“O people! If anyone among you worshipped Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead. But those who worship Allah, let him know that He lives and will never die. Let all of us recall the words of the Qur’an. It says, `Muhammad is only a Messenger of Allah There have been Messengers before him. What then, will you turn back from Islam, if he dies or is killed (Qur’an 3:146)?”
This was a very short but a very powerful speech that brought the people back to their senses.
The day after he was elected as the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (RA) went to the Prophet’s mosque where people took the general oath of loyalty. When this was over, Abu Bakr (RA) mounted the pulpit. Then he spoke to the gathering as follows:
“O people, I have been elected your leader, although I am not better than anyone from among you. If I do any good, give me your support. If I go wrong, set me right. Listen, truth is honesty and untruth is dishonesty. The weak among you are powerful in my eyes, as long as I do not get them their due, Allah willing. The powerful among you are weak in my eyes, as long as I do not take away from them what is due to others, Allah willing.
“Listen, if people give up striving for the cause of Allah, Allah sends down disgrace on them. If a people become evil doers, Allah sends down calamities on them.
“Listen, you must obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you are free to disobey me.”
Such was the Magna Carta granted by the first Caliph of Islam to his people on the very first day of his rule without their solicitation. What is also amazing about this speech is that he laid down the foundation of a government where people (demos) matter – some 1240 years before such words stoked up popular imagination in the West.
Abu Bakr’s (RA) Caliphate had to tackle many problems, including rebellion, civil war and hostility from the Byzantine Empire in the Syrian front. He sent Usama bin Zayd (RA), a very young Companion, as the General of the Muslim army with clear instructions on rules of war:
“Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child nor a woman or an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”
Abu Bakr’s (RA) instructions were in keeping with those of the Prophet (S), who had prohibited the killing of non-combatants and prisoners of war. (Abu Dawud and Musnad-e Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal)
Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA):
Umar (RA) became the second Caliph after the death of Abu Bakr (RA). He was born in 40 BH. He embraced Islam in the sixth year of Prophethood and became a close companion of the Prophet. During his reign, Jerusalem, Egypt, Iraq and Persia were brought under the Islamic rule. He was the first who was given the title of Amir-ul-Mu’meneen (Prince of the Faithful).
In 636 CE, at the battle of Yarmuk, the Byzantines were defeated by the Muslim Army. Christian Patriarch Sophoronius offered to surrender the city if Caliph Umar (RA) himself would come in person to ratify the terms of surrender. Umar (RA) agreed to the suggestion. The encounter between these two men was very dramatic.
Umar (RA) took to the road immediately, accompanied by a guard, and leaving Ali ibn Talib (RA) as his deputy in Madinah. Traveling by camel is a slow process. Umar (RA) and his guard would alternate mounting on the camel. So, it took few weeks before Umar (RA) arrived in Jerusalem. The crowd had gathered, and the eyes were wide open with curiosity. The Patriarch had prepared himself to meet with the most powerful ruler of his time, Caliph Umar, who had just defeated the Byzantines. From where he was standing, he saw a tall man walking, dressed in ordinary clothes, while holding the rope of a camel, and surrounded by Muslim generals; another person was riding on the camel. For a moment, the high priest, used to the pompous way Heraclius had carried his affairs, was confused as to who the Caliph was. Was the Caliph the man riding on the camel or the one pulling the camel? Eventually, recognizing the Caliph, he surrendered the key of the city. In the words of a Christian historian, Anthony Nutting, “Umar taught the caparisoned throng of Christian commanders and bishops a lesson in humility by accepting their surrender in a patched and ragged robe and seated on a donkey.” [The Arabs, New American Library, N.Y. (1964)]
Umar (RA) used to walk out of his house covertly at night to look at conditions of his people. One night Talha, a Companion of the Prophet (S), followed him. Talha (RA) saw Umar going to one house, and spending some time there before coming out, and then to proceed to another house before returning to his own house. In the morning, Talha went to one of the houses he saw Umar entering at night. He knocked on the door. A blind old woman opened the door for him. Talha inquired, “Who is the man that visited you last night?”
She replied, “He has been taking care of me for a long time. He brings me whatever I need, and removes my difficulties.”
Talha (RA) excused himself and left, adding: “I blamed myself for spying on Umar and said to myself, ‘May your mother mourn you and be bereaved of you, O Talha, are you spying on Umar and questioning his deeds?’” (Hilyat ul-Auliya wa Tabaqat ul-Asfiya by Imam Abu Na’im al-Asfahani)
Umar (RA) was so concerned about safety and security of his subjects and their possessions that he used to say, “Should a lost goat die in the Shat al-‘Arab I tend to think that Allah, the Most Exalted, will question me about it on the Day of Judgment.” [Hilyat’ul Awliya wa Tabaqatul Asfiya: Abu Na’im al-Asfahani] No wonder that in Islamic history, Umar (RA) occupies a very respectable position as one of the best administrators.
Umar (RA) was murdered by a Persian Christian by the name of Firoz (Abu Lulu). The latter was very unhappy about a judgment that Umar (RA) had given in a matter of tax levied on him as a painter, carpenter and ironsmith. One day, Umar (RA) told Firoz, “I understand that you make windmills; make one for me as well.” In a sullen mood, Firoz threatened him by saying, “Verily I will make such a mill for you that the world would talk about it.”
Firoz would tell other Persians living in Madinah that he would take Umar’s heart out. He made for himself a dagger with a very sharp edge and smeared it with poison.
Interestingly, Umar (RA) was told by Ka’b al-Ahbar, a Jewish convert to Islam, that he had read in the Torah that Umar would die as a martyr. Umar (RA) also dreamt of his martyrdom. In spite of his knowledge that Firoz would assassinate him, Umar (RA) did not arrest or punish the would-be assassin since no crime was yet committed.
On the 1st of November 644 C.E. (23 A.H.) at the time of the morning prayer, Firoz went with his dagger to the Prophet’s mosque and struck Umar six consecutive blows with his dagger as Umar (RA) was taking the position of leading the prayer. Umar fell on the floor profusely bleeding and later died of the fatal injury.
Simplicity and devotion to Islam were the main characters of Umar (RA). He used to wear clothes that had many patches. He used to visit the old people and sick and even do their house work. He used to visit the houses of the soldiers and inquire about their families. In his last moments, he asked his son Abdullah ibn Umar (RA) to prepare a statement of his debt, almost all of it borrowed as allowances from the State Treasury (Bait al-Maal) to have a simple meal and wear simple clothes. He ordered that the debt be paid off by his family.
Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA):
Ali (RA) was reared by the Prophet (S) and embraced Islam when he was only 10 years old. He was called the Lion of God, for he was manlier than most Muslims in two ways: externally in society and on the battlefield where he could overpower or defeat his strongest opponents; and more importantly, internally he was in perfect control of himself or his ego (nafs).
Ali’s (RA) humility, austerity, piety, deep knowledge of the Qur’an and his sagacity gave him great distinction among the Prophet’s Companions. Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and Uthman (RA) consulted him frequently during their caliphates. Many times ‘Umar (RA) had made him his vice-regent at Medina when he was away. Ali (RA) was also a great scholar of Arabic literature and pioneered in the field of grammar and rhetoric. His speeches, sermons and letters served for generations afterward as models of literary expression. Many of his wise and epigrammatic sayings have been preserved. Ali (RA) thus had a rich and versatile personality. In spite of these attainments, he remained a modest and humble man.
Once during his caliphate when Ali (RA) was going about the marketplace, a man stood up in respect and followed him. “Do not do it,” said Ali (RA). “Such manners are a temptation for a ruler and a disgrace for the ruled.”
In one of the battles for defense of Islam, Ali (RA), as a young man in mid-twenties, overpowered his adversary and sat down on his chest, about to kill him. At that moment, the man spat on his face. Annoyed, Ali (RA) left the man bewildered. The man was surprised by Ali’s instant reaction and asked why he had left him. Ali (RA) replied, “When I put you down, I was about to kill you for the sake of Allah. But when you spat on my face, I was annoyed. So, I left you. If I had killed you then, it would have been due to my anger and not for the sake of Allah.” (Mathnavi: Rumi)
When Ali (RA) had become the Caliph, he often went through the city in disguise in order to see that everything went well and the people could live in justice and peace. One day he met a woman who was carrying a heavy water skin. He took it on his own shoulders and carried it for her until they came to a miserable little cottage where several young children were waiting for their mother. They were crying from hunger, but the woman said, “I have nothing to give you, only a drink of water.” Ali (RA) who had put down the water skin in the meantime asked, “Isn’t there anyone to look after you?” “No,” the woman said, “My husband died some time ago, and now I am all alone with my children.”
Ali (RA) felt ashamed and went away, his head hanging down. In the next day, he came back and brought a basket with grain, fruits and meat. He looked after the children, while the mother prepared a meal, and then he gave them to eat with his own hands. The woman thanked him warmly and said, “The Caliph should follow your example. He lives in his house quietly, forgetting the widows and orphans who have worked for him.” Ali (RA) kept quiet.
The next day he came back again, brought food and helped the woman with her work. While he was doing that, a neighbor came in. She saw the strange man, recognized him and said, “Alas, Sister! You are letting the Caliph Ali (RA) work for you!?”
At this the woman was deeply scared and wanted to apologize, but Ali (RA) said, “No, but I have to apologize because it is my duty as a Caliph to care for your welfare.” (See this author’s – Book of Devotional Stories)
Like his predecessors, Ali (RA) also set out strict rules of engagement in war. These are:
1. Never begin a war yourself, God does not like blood-shed; fight only in defense.
2. Never be the first to attack your enemy, repulse his attacks boldly, bravely and courageously.
3. Never follow and kill those who run away from the battlefield.
4. Never kill wounded persons who cannot defend themselves.
5. Never strip naked a dead soldier for his coat of arms or dress.
6. Never cut nose or ears of dead men to humiliate them.
7. Never take to looting and arson.
8. Never molest or outrage the modesty of a woman.
9. Never hurt a woman even if she swears at you or hurts you.
10. Never hurt a child.
11. Never hurt an old or an enfeeble person.
Ali’s (RA) regime was marked by internal dispute and terrorist activities of the Khawarij (a dissident group that left his camp after the battle of Siffin). One of those Khawarij dissidents by the name of Ibn-e-Muljim volunteered to assassinate Ali (RA) and came to the city of Kufa where Ali (RA) was living.
Muhammad (S) foretold about Ali’s martyrdom. [Tabaqat: Ibn Sa’d] Ali (RA) also saw in dreams of his martyrdom. One day Ali (RA) came across ibn Muljim in the streets of Kufa and told him, “I know for what purpose you have come to Kufa.”
As soon as Ibn-e-Muljim heard these words, he trembled and said to Ali (RA): “Oh Ali, when it is so (that you know) release the orders of my being killed or put me in the prison or banish me off.” Ali (RA) replied, “Although I can put into practice each one of your suggestions, but Islam does not deem pre-crime punishment as fair. So I am obliged to let you go free. Perhaps you may repent upon your decision.”
Some of Ali’s (RA) companions also heard of the conspiracy of the Khawarij. They requested him to name the would-be assassin. He observed: “How could I condemn a person who had not yet committed the murder.” When Ash’ath, a close companion of Ali (RA), met ibn Muljim and found out that he was preparing to murder Ali with a sword, he hastened to apprise Ali of the matter. Ali (RA), however, replied that he couldn’t do anything against ibn Muljim since the latter had not committed the crime by then.
At last, on the 19th of Ramadan of 40 A.H., ibn Muljim’s sword struck Ali’s (RA) forehead when he was entering the Masjid for the dawn (Fajr) prayer. The assassin was captured and Ali (RA) was carried to his home. When Ali (RA) was informed by his son Hassan (RA) about the capture of ibn Muljim, he told his son, “Oh Son! He is a prisoner. Treat him well and look after his comforts. If I survive I myself shall bring him to justice and if I die dispatch him after me. I shall question him before the Divine Court.” He also instructed his family not to take revenge on anyone for his death except the murderer. [Tabaqat: Ibn Sa’d]
Ali (RA) did not survive the injury and died on the 21st of Ramadan, 40 A.H. at the age of 63 years. He was buried in Najaf, Iraq. [Note: As can be seen from the above historical facts, there was no pre-emptive strike against known enemies, much in contrast to criminal actions of the so-called civilized nations of our time against their perceived foes!]
Ali (RA) lived a very simple austere life. When he died he left behind no gold no silver, but only 700 dirham out of his allowances apportioned for his family. He was a vast ocean of knowledge. The Prophet (S) said, “I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gate.” (Ar. “Ana madinatul ‘ilm wa ‘Ali ba’buha.”) His maxims are well-known in the Arabic language. [See this author’s “Wisdom of Mankind” for a collection of his maxims.]
Writing about Ali (RA), Justice Amir Ali observed: “Seven centuries before this wonderful man would have been apotheosized, and thirteen centuries later his genius and talents, his virtues and his valor, would have extorted the admiration of the civilized world. Chivalrous, humane and forbearing to the verge of weakness, as a ruler he came before his time.” [The Spirit of Islam]
(To be continued)
[About the author: Dr. Habib Siddiqui has authored seven books. His latest book: The Counsel – is now available in Malaysia from the Islamic Book Trust.]