Muhammad (S) – The Prophet of Islam – Part 7
by Habib Siddiqui
Muhammad (S) holds a unique position among the founders of world’s major religions. Unlike Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Rama and Krishna, his life is not shrouded in myths and legends, conjectures or hearsays. He lived in the limelight of history. From his birth to death, everything was documented and preserved with a trustworthy chain of narrations that trace such information back to the original sources.
Muhammad (S) was born 53 years before the Hijri (BH) of the Islamic calendar (570 CE) in the illustrious family of the Quraysh that claimed as its ancestors several apostles and prophets of God. He was a descendant of the Prophet Isma’il (Ishmael) alayhis salam (AS), the son of the Babylonian Abraham (Ibrahim (AS)) and the Egyptian Hagar.
He was born in the Holy City of Makkah that housed the Ka’bah, the oldest House of Worship of God on earth. His family was the custodian of the Ka’bah.
He came in an age of truth-defying Ignorance (Jahiliya) when the worship of one True God (Allah) in what is now called the Middle East - the very land that had produced a multitude of Prophets from Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus - was replaced by idolatry – the worship of myriads of demigods. There was a dim flash of light here and there, but overall mankind was bereft of spiritual light. Irrational ambitions and inordinate desires had fascinated them. Arrogance and pride had kept them away from truth and justice. Overall, the period was ripe with expectations of a Messiah-like personality through whom all the tribes of the world could attain salvation.
Historically, Muhammad (S) came after the fall of the Roman Empire and the collapse of what is commonly called the ‘dark ages.’ In the nearby Persian Empire, there was a lot of political bickering for power and in far-away Roman Empire, there were signs of decadence everywhere, and in Arabia, the land that was supposed to reshape the destiny of mankind, its people were devoid of compassion and moral values.
Faith in One God:
In the 6th century (C.E.) Middle East, people were divided into four major categories: some people compared God to His creatures and thus tried to personify Him; some people tried to impart His attributes to others and thus gave away to infidelity; some people considered that God’s message and mercy is exclusively locked up among their tribes; some people had no faith in either God’s attributes or His person. Coming into this world of confusion about the attributes of God, Muhammad (S) preached faith in one God (Allah) without partners or associates – the same God that was worshipped by all other Prophets that came before him from Adam to Jesus.
Muhammad (S) proclaimed:
O my people! worship Allah! you have no other god but Him. (Qur’an 7:59)
He preached that Allah has the aspect of YHWH, the God of the Children of Israel, who interests Himself in human society, in the affairs of this world, who is stern and severe in punishment, and also the aspect of the God of Jesus, who is compassionate, merciful and forgiving. To clear any confusion about God, the Qur’an proclaims:
“The Forgiver of sin, the Accepter of repentance, the Stern in punishment, the Bountiful. There is no Allah save Him. Unto Him is the journeying.” (40:3)
“He is Allah; there is no god but He, He is the Knower of the unseen and the visible; He is the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. He is God, there is no God but He. He is the King, the All-Holy, the All-Peace, the Guardian of Faith, the All-Preserver, the All-Mighty, the All-Compeller, the All-Sublime. Glory be to God, above that they associate! He is God the Creator, the Maker, the Shaper. To Him belong the Names Most Beautiful. All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies Him; He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.” (59:22-24)
“God is the Creator of everything. He is the guardian over everything. Unto Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth.” (39:62, 63)
“No creature is there crawling on the earth, but its provision rests on God. He knows its lodging place and it repository.” (11:6)
The Christian notion of Godhood was challenged in the Qur’an:
“Say: He is Allah, the One. Allah, the eternally besought of all! He begetteth not nor was begotten. And there is none comparable unto Him.” (112:1-4)
No Distinction Between Prophetic Messages:
Muhammad (S) proclaimed that there was no monopoly in God’s message. The Qur’an says: “And for every nation there is a messenger” (10:47); “And there is not a nation but a warner has passed among them” (35:24). That is, Allah, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, had sent a multitude of prophets from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Jacob to Moses to David to Jesus (AS) to Muhammad (S) for guidance of mankind. The Qur’an says:
“Mankind were one community; and Allah sent (unto them) Prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and revealed therewith the Scripture with truth that it might judge between mankind concerning that wherein they differed.” (2:213) [See also Qur’an 10:37]
Muhammad (S) preached that as carriers of the Divine message the Prophets formed one brotherhood. They were men of such strength of character and courage that though they were often in minority and those who opposed them always had the majority support, yet those Apostles never forsook their mission. The Qur’an commands Muslims to say:
“Say (O Muslims): we believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac and Jacob, and their children, and that which Moses and Jesus received and that the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them and unto Him we have surrendered.” (2:136)
The call of the Qur’an is a call to unity of belief, i.e., what Muhammad (S) preached was similar to those of other Apostles of God: “He (Allah) has laid down for you the religion which He enjoined upon Noah, and which We revealed to you, and which We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus: Establish the religion, and be not divided therein.” (Qur’an, 42:13) Further: “Lo! This, your religion, is one religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me. And they have broken their religion among them, (yet) all are returning unto Us.” (21:92-93)
The Qur’an also clarified the role of Muhammad (S), the conveyor of God’s message to humanity:
Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him. (3:148)
Allah commanded Muhammad (S) to proclaim his humanity (and not divinity):
“Say (O Muhammad, to the disbelievers): I say not unto you (that) I possess the treasures of Allah, nor that I have knowledge of the Unseen; and I say not unto you: Lo! I am an angel. I follow only that which is inspired in me.” (Qur’an 6:50)
Say: “I have no power over any good or harm to myself except as Allah willeth. If I had knowledge of the unseen, I should have multiplied all good, and no evil should have touched me: I am but a warner, and a bringer of glad tidings to those who have faith.” (Qur’an 7:188)
No Place for Coercion and Intolerance:
Muhammad (S) preached against coercion and intolerance in matters of faith. This is clear from the Qur’anic verse:
“There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.” (2:256)
In the Qur’anic commentaries it is written that an Ansar Companion came to the Prophet (S). Before accepting Islam, he was a polytheist. He had two sons who had become Christians. He asked: “O Messenger of Allah! What can I do to these two sons of mine that have become Christians? Do you give me permission to force them to leave their religion and become Muslims?” The Prophet (S) said: “No! There is no compulsion in religion.” [Jihad by Morteza Mutahhari, translated by Mohammad Salman Tawheedi]
Belief or faith is a thing that people must choose for themselves. That is why Allah has not forced anyone to be a true believer and has given him the free will to choose between various options. The Qur’an says: “Say: ‘The truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it).” [18:29] Muhammad’s (S) duty was only to convey the message: “If then they turn away, We have not sent you (Muhammad) as a guard over them. Your duty is only to convey (the message)…” (Qur’an 42:48)
Muhammad (S) Preached Pluralism. This attitude comes from the Qur’an, which says:
“To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people. But God’s purpose is to test you in what He has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God, and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree.” (5:48)
It is because of such lofty notions of diversity and tolerance preached by Muhammad (S) that the Islamic civilization was pluralistic and unusually tolerant of various social and religious denominations, something that was simply unthinkable elsewhere in the Middle Ages.
Refinement of Soul:
Muhammad (S) came to a nation that boasted of its depth of corruption and debauchery in social and moral issues. He called for a socio-economic-political program to uplift the status of the downtrodden, the disadvantaged ones within the society; but above all for a continuous reform of the self and society at large. And this he did by calling people to the revealed Book of Islam - the Qur’an.
The Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad (S) by the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) in piecemeal over a period of 23 years of his prophetic life. It contains commands and prohibitions so that minds may be cleared of heathenish taboos and traditions, so that confusions about truth and justice may be cleared, so that intellects may be trained to accept reasoning and logical proofs of Islam. It is a blessed Scripture that like the Torah contains social, political and military provision, even the instructions for the conduct of warfare, the taking and setting free of prisoners, that is interested in life, in building, in prosperity, in struggling against enemies and destructive elements; but it is also a book that concerns itself with refinement of the soul, the piety of the spirit, and the ethical improvement of the individual. (Quran 6:92, 17:9-10, 17:82, 17:89, 31:3) Its message is universal for all creation. (Qur’an 81:27)
For instance, the Qur’an instructs: “Take not with Allah another object of worship; or thou (O man!) wilt sit in disgrace and destitution. Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” Your Lord knoweth best what is in your hearts: If ye do deeds of righteousness, verily He is Most Forgiving to those who turn to Him again and again (in true penitence). And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful. And even if thou hast to turn away from them in pursuit of the Mercy from thy Lord which thou dost expect, yet speak to them a word of easy kindness. Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard’s) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute. Verily thy Lord doth provide sustenance in abundance for whom He pleaseth, and He provideth in a just measure. For He doth know and regard all His servants. Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin. Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him nor exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). Come not nigh to the orphan’s property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength; and fulfill (every) engagement, for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). Give full measure when ye measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight: that is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination. And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). Nor walk on the earth with insolence: for thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height. Of all such things the evil is hateful in the sight of thy Lord. These are among the (precepts of) wisdom, which thy Lord has revealed to thee. Take not, with Allah, another object of worship, lest thou shouldst be thrown into Hell, blameworthy and rejected.” [17: 22-39]
In another verse, the Qur’an proclaimed:
The (faithful) slaves of the Beneficent are they who walk upon the earth modestly, and when the ignorant address them, they say: “Peace”; And who spend the night before their Lord, prostrate and standing, And who say: Our Lord! Avert from us the doom of hell; lo! the doom thereof is anguish; Lo! it is wretched as abode and station; And those who, when they spend, are neither prodigal nor grudging; and there is ever a firm station between the two; And those who cry not unto any other god along with Allah, nor take the life which Allah hath forbidden save in (course of) justice, nor commit adultery - and whoso doeth this shall pay the penalty; The doom will be doubled for him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein disdained for ever; Save him who repenteth and believeth and doth righteous work; as for such, Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And whosoever repenteth and doeth good, he verily repenteth toward Allah with true repentance - And those who will not witness vanity, but when they pass near senseless play, pass by with dignity. And those who, when they are reminded of the revelations of their Lord, fall not deaf and blind thereat. And who say: Our Lord! Vouchsafe us comfort of our wives and of our offspring, and make us patterns for (all) those who ward off (evil). They will be awarded the high place forasmuch as they were steadfast, and they will meet therein with welcome and the word of peace, abiding there forever. Happy is it as abode and station! Say (O Muhammad, unto the disbelievers): My Lord would not concern Himself with you but for your prayer. But now ye have denied (the Truth), therefore there will be judgment.” (25:63-77)
Muhammad’s (S) ruling spirit was justice and equity. This is beautifully said in the Qur’an: “O ye who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Informed of what ye do.” (5:8)
Muhammad (S) rejected the notion of vicarious atonement that’s responsible for breeding a sinful and criminal society devoid of the notion of justice, and instead preached individual accountability: “No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.” (Qur’an 6:164) [See also Qur’an 2:286, 17:36, 24:24, and 45:15]
He enjoined right conduct and forbade indecency (Qur’an 3:110) and to repel evil with good. (Qur’an 23: 96, 41:34) He preached that reconciliation and forgiveness is better even when one has suffered injury. (Qur’an 42:37-43, 45:14) He fought against all forms of individual and social maladies. He set golden rules of mu’amalat (dealings). [For details, see this author’s book: Islamic Wisdom.]
To have faith and to be a faithful is to believe and put one’s beliefs into action. Muhammad (S) preached: “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, righteousness is rather one who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book, the apostles, and gives his wealth out of love for Him to the kindred and the orphans and the poor and tire wayfarer and the needy and for those in bondage, and established prayer and pays zakat and those who fulfill their promise when they make a promise and the patient ones in distress and affliction and in the time of war. These are they who are the Truthful and these are they who are the pious.” (Qur’an, 2:177)
As has been testified by A’isha (RA), Muhammad (S) was the “walking” Qur’an, who had embodied its noble teachings. It is, therefore, quite logical to conclude that like the Qur’an, he possessed two contrasting aspects - aspects that would be contradictory in other men, but in him have been joined in a single spirit. For he was a man constantly engaged in political struggle against his enemies and the disruptive forces in society, concerned with building a new society and a new civilization in this world; and also a guide leading men to a particular goal; that is, also a man of prayer, piety, love, mercy and devotion. In him were the characteristics of Moses and Jesus (AS) combined together, thus providing a balanced perspective on all matters. Moderation in life was his disposition and character. His sermons and discourses were always so explicit as to make the difference between right and wrong crystal clear. People did not have to guess what they heard. They knew what he meant. His decisions were always based upon justice and equity.
Status of Women:
Before the advent of Islam, women were mistreated. Female infanticide was very common. Divorced women did not get any financial support. They were routinely ignored from family inheritance. Nearly twelve centuries before the dawning of western Enlightenment, the Prophet (S) of Islam changed that paradigm by guaranteeing that women gets their due share in inheritance and are also treated well. He proclaimed that women have the right to earn money, the right to own property, to enter into legal contracts and to manage all of her assets in any way she pleases; she can run her own business and no one has any claim on her earnings including her husband. [Surah an-Nisa, ch. 4: Qur’an]
Muhammad (S) said, “The best among you are those who treat women well.” The Prophet (S) also said: “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct. And the best of you are those who are best to their wives.” He also said, “No one of my Ummah (community) supports three daughters or three sisters and treats well, except that they will be a shield for him from the Fire (of Hell).”
One day a man came to Muhammad (S) and asked: “O Messenger of Allah, which person of all people is best entitled to kind treatment and the good companionship from me?” He answered: “Your mother.” The man asked again: “And then?” He said: “Your mother.” The man asked for the third time: “And after her?” He said: “Your mother.” The man asked for the fourth time: “And after that?” He said: “Your father.”
A celebrated hadith says: “Paradise lies under the feet of mother.”
Unity of Mankind: No Place for Racism but only Universal Brotherhood and Sisterhood
During Muhammad’s (S) time, as it is sadly true today in some societies, there were false notions about the origin of mankind. Some people were considered to be inherently superior to others. They behaved and were treated as demigods within the society. Muhammad (S) broke those taboos and emphasized instead - common ancestry (they come from the same parents), i.e., the unity of mankind. The Qur’an says: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you from a single pair of a male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another … (49:13)”; “Mankind were but one community; then they differed…” (10:19).
Muhammad (S) shunned the very idea of chosen people or superiority based on tribe, race, ethnicity, color, language, geography, etc., or that God is biased or partial to a particular race or tribe, and that His Mercy is locked up to a certain group. The Qur’an offered a different yardstick for genuine nobility: “Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” (49:13) Further, the Qur’an declared: “Nay, but whosoever submits himself to Allah and he is a doer of good, for him there shall be his reward with his Lord, on such shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” (2:112)
In his farewell Hajj sermon delivered on the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah, 10 A.H. in the ‘Uranah valley of Mount Arafat in Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (S) proclaimed, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”
With such profound statements Muhammad (S) was not only able to shatter age-old ethnocentric notions of superficial superiority and exclusive nobility but also fortify the bonding of brotherhood and sisterhood of mankind. His credit lies in putting this manifesto of survival of mankind into actual practice by transforming the lives of tens of thousands of individuals, who had hitherto a history of fighting wars for generations. Following his teachings people buried their jealousies and discarded their vendetta and blood feuds. He made humanity realize and achieve the principle and practice of brotherhood of man, and to give up intrigues and conspiracies against truth and justice. [For details, see this author’s article: Brotherhood in Islam.]
Nearly a hundred years ago, Mahatma Gandhi said: “Someone has said that Europeans in South Africa dread the advent of Islam - Islam, that civilized Spain; preached to the world the Gospel of Brotherhood. The Europeans of South Africa dread the advent of Islam, as they claim equality with the white races. They may well dread it. If brotherhood is a sin, if it is equality of the colored races that they dread, then their dread is well-founded.”
In his book - Muhammad the Prophet of Islam - Prof. Ramakrishna Rao comments: “The principle of universal brotherhood and the doctrine of equality of mankind which he proclaimed represent very great contribution of Muhammad to the social upliftment of humanity.”
Truly, the Prophet of Islam epitomized the very idea of universal brotherhood. It was there that we find Muhammad (S) being in the midst of Arabs and non-Arabs alike, e.g., Salman - the Persian, Bilal - the Abyssinian, Shuaib - the Byzantine, and many others. Other peoples asked: why the non-Arabs were in his company? The Prophet (S) replied, “O my people, our father is one, our Lord is one, and our faith is one.” He also said, “Salman (the Persian) belongs to my family.”
At what time or place and in relation to what other social, economic, political, religious system, philosophy or ideology - did the world ever witness such a perfectly amazing phenomenon? Even after some fourteen centuries later, Malcolm X [Alhaj Malik El-Shabazz] was amazed at his first contact with mainstream Islam when he visited the Muslim world in 1964: “America needs to understand Islam, because this is one religion that erases from its society the race problem. .. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all together, irrespective of their color.” [Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley: Letter from Mecca, 1964]
It is not difficult to comprehend the positive effect of changes that Muhammad (S) initiated in Arabia nearly 14 centuries ago. He virtually changed the world by changing the personality of the very people that gathered around him. Pringle Kennedy rightly observed, “How, in a few years, all this was changed, how, by 650 AD a great part of this world became a different world from what it had been before, is one of the most remarkable chapters in human history. This wonderful change followed, if it was not mainly caused by, the life of one man, the Prophet of Mecca.” [Arabian Society at the Time of Muhammad]
(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.]