Muhammad (S) – The Prophet of Islam – Part 9
by Habib Siddiqui
When Muhammad (S) preached Islam amongst the Arabs, they were an illiterate people. There were hardly a dozen people who could read and write. The Prophet himself was unschooled. However, as we well know within a few generations Arabs became the torchbearers of knowledge in the world. Arabic became the language of learning, culture and intellectual progress for the entire civilized world with the exception of the Far East. Arabic literally became the language of the educated people, much like what English has become nowadays. That transformation owes itself to Muhammad (S) who taught the wisdom of knowledge – exoteric and esoteric, material or physical and immaterial or meta-physical. He said that the best treasure was the pursuit of knowledge, and that one who trod a path in search of knowledge had his path to Paradise made easy by Allah thereby. He made the search of knowledge obligatory on every Muslim – male and female. [Ibn Majah and Baihaqi]
Muhammad (S) said, “Knowledge of God is my capital. Reason is the root of my faith. Love is my foundation. Enthusiasm is my horse. Remembrance of God is my friend. Firmness is my treasure. Sorrow is my companion. Science is my weapon. Patience is my mantle. Contentment is my booty. Poverty is my pride. Devotion is my art. Conviction is my power. Truth is my redeemer. Obedience is my sufficiency. Struggle is my manner and my pleasure is in my prayer.” [Shifa Qadi Iyad]
Muhammad (S) came to perfect morality of people. He preached: “Let there be a community among you, advocating what is good, demanding what is right, and eradicating what is wrong. These are indeed the successful.” (Qur’an 3:104) The historic role of the Islamic Community was to be the true embodiment of morality. This is best described by the statement of the Prophet (S): “Whoever of you sees something wrong must seek to rectify it by action or deed; if he cannot, let him try to change it by word; if he cannot, let his feelings of disapproval and condemnation intensify – and this is the minimal degree of faith”.
Islamic history and civilization is therefore replete with examples of unparalleled high morality. We have seen how both Umar and Ali (RA), two of the closest Companions of the Prophet (S), did not let any preemptive attacks against their would-be assassins, although they knew very well that they were destined for martyrdom at the hands of those murderers. In what follows I shall offer some examples relating to Islam’s treatment of non-Muslims to expound the point.
By 634 C.E., soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (S), vast territories of the Byzantine Empire, lived by Christians, came under Muslim rule. The jizya (a form of tax) was collected for the protection of life and property of the non-Muslim citizens (dhimmis) there and the defense of the country. Later the Muslim leaders received news that Emperor Heraclius had brought a big army against them. So they decided to put up a combined resistance against the hordes of Heraclius by bringing in their own scattered armies in various conquered towns to a single location. Accordingly, their armies started leaving the towns of Hams, Damascus and other towns. Khalid ibn Walid (RA) in Hams, Abu Ubaidah (RA) in Damascus and other generals in other towns addressed the citizens thus: “The money or monies we had realized from you was meant for the protection of your lives and properties, and also to defend your lands from outside aggression. But we are sorry to inform you that we are parting with you and since we would not be able to protect and defend you, we are returning the amounts of taxes collected from you.” To this the citizens said in reply: “God be with you and bring you back victorious. Your governance and your justice and equity have enamored us, since the Romans in spite of being our co-religionists, we have bitter experience of their oppression and tyranny. By God! If they had been in your position they would not have returned a copper out of the taxes collected from us. Rather, they would have taken away everything they could from here belonging to us.” Can such an example be cited about the conquering army of the so-called civilized nations of our time?
Sizable territories of Asia Minor came under Muslim rule within the first few decades of Islam, beginning with the Caliphate of Uthman (RA). Immediately after Umar ibn Abdul Aziz (R) became the Caliph in 717 C.E., a delegation of men from Samarqand (Uzbekistan) complained to him that the general of the Islamic armies, Qutaibah, had unjustifiably stationed his army men in the town in their midst. The Caliph instructed the governor of Samarqand to appoint a tribunal to judge and settle the dispute between Qutaibah and the people of Samarqand. If the judgment of the tribunal were to go against the army chief and his men, they must abide by the judgment at once. The governor appointed Jami’ ibn Hadhir Albaji as the judge for enquiry. After the enquiry was over, Albaji, himself a Muslim, passed the judgment that the Muslim army must vacate the town. He also remarked that the commander of the Muslim forces had violated the Shariah (Islamic Law) pertaining to war by not serving an ultimatum of war before entering the city, and that he ought to have canceled all prior treaties with them so that the people of Samarqand could have prepared for the war. “Sudden attack on them without prior warning was unlawful,” declared the judge.
When the people of Samarqand heard the verdict, they were completely stunned witnessing something that never saw or heard before. They were convinced of the superior moral standard of an Islamic Caliphate that kept its Commander-in-Chief and the armies under such strict discipline and control. They decided that fighting against such a people would be simply useless. Instead, they came to regard it as mercy and a blessing from God, and decided to live with the Islamic army in Samarqand. Just compare this historical verdict with those given out by western courts today against murderous, pervert soldiers who rape and kill their victims in the most abominable ways.
The third case I want to present here is about the dhimmis in Syria, who until the Tatar invasion had enjoyed protection under the Islamic rule. When the Tatars took countless men from Muslims, Jews and Christians as prisoners, shaykh Ibn-e-Taymiyyah (1263-1328 CE), a Muslim scholar, went straight to the Tatar Chief seeking the release of all prisoners. When the Chief consented to the release of only Muslim prisoners and not Jews and the Christians, ibn-Taymiyyah rejected the offer and insisted that they too be released. He told the Chief that Muslims could not let even a single man remain behind in captivity whether he belonged to their own community or from those living with them under a covenant. (Min Rawa-i-Hazaratuna, as quoted in Dr. Akram Zahoor’s website: http://www.cyberistan.org/islamic/sibai6.html)
With all the rabid campaigns of charlatan experts defining Islam as a terrorist faith, no serious topic in Islam can now end without discussing terrorism. A closer scrutiny of these newly lobbed attacks against Muhammad (S) shows that these are not really new; these are cyclical and usually the same old stuff, they differ only in format and intensity. Christians have killed in the name of God, as have Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, Baha’is and others. But none of these experts had the audacity to implicate the founders of these religions for crimes of their followers. However, when it comes to Islam, there is a new rule in play! The utter hostility of these ‘experts’ towards Islam and its founder owes partly to the fact that they are bigots to begin with who are very uncomfortable about the existence of a ‘non-European’ faith in their own terrain that draws converts from their own people, and all these despite all the negative publicity about Islam. They are also emboldened by Muslim refusal to stoop to their level to paint a rather violent image of those founders of other religions.
This accusation of terrorism by western critics is like turning the tables with a reprisal when one recalls that not a Muslim was left alive in Spain or Sicily or Apulia, and that not a Muslim was left alive and not a mosque left standing in Greece after the great rebellion in l821 (even to this day there is not a single mosque in Athens). In the Greek War of Independence in 1811, three hundred thousand Muslims - men and women and children - the entire Muslim population of the Morea without exception, as well as many thousands in the northern parts of Greece - were atrociously exterminated. Just in last two decades alone, we have witnessed slaughter of nearly half a million unarmed Muslims in genocidal campaigns in former Yugoslavia and the break-away Republic of Chechnya in southern Russia. Add to this list the slaughter of nearly a million Iraqi and Afghan civilians since 2001, another half a million Iraqi children (below the age of 5) during the Clinton era due to the imposition of Embargo, another two to four hundred thousand Iraqis during Bush Sr.‘s campaign – “the Desert Storm” (1990-91) , and another two million Afghans during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. All these acts of state terrorism, resulting in deaths of millions of Muslims, were (and continues in certain part of our world to be) perpetrated by western nations with a Christian soul! Interestingly, some of the instigators, planners, generals and heads of these states boasted that they were doing those ‘godly’ acts for the sake of Christianity, preservation of Christian values, protection of Europe from ‘onslaught’ of Islam, and being even whispered by Jesus Christ. One wonders who is terrorizing whom! However, in the western vocabulary such horrendous acts by their governments (and surrogates like the Israeli government against the Palestinian people) against unarmed Muslim civilians are considered to be non-terrorist acts; trigger-happy soldiers, pilots, bombers and missile men in the air force and navy are routinely decorated for their patriotism and gallantry. Not only that: the crime of a rapist and murderous occupying soldier who terrorizes an innocent Muslim family is brushed off as necessary acts in the line of duty. What a joke!
Soon after 9/11, Eric Rouleau, syndicated columnist, ex-diplomat, chief Middle East correspondent and editorialist of Le Monde in Paris, observed, “Terrorism is actually a worldwide scourge that has reared its head under diverse conditions and in countries as dissimilar as Germany, Japan, Italy, Argentina and Greece. Before it assumed its recent “Islamic” form, it was successively or simultaneously Palestinian, Israeli, Egyptian, Yemeni. It was also endemic, occasional, individual, nationalist or governmental in nature, and it primarily targeted local populations.” [Le Monde diplomatique, November 2001]
In spite of all the clamor and excitement around terrorism for last several decades, the international community has never managed to satisfactorily define the term. It thus remains an abstract concept. Someone’s patriotism can be someone else’s terrorism and vice-versa. An objective and unbiased analysis would show that not a single Muslim state (outside Sudan) today can be accused of state terrorism, something that we cannot argue about some non-Muslim countries like the USA, the UK, Serbia, Russia, China and Israel, just to name a few.
If we, therefore, limit our discussion on terrorism to individual (i.e., non-governmental) level, a few things are obvious: e.g., terrorism is anti-thesis of religion, the latter in general preaching love, mercy and peace as against hatred, cruelty and chaos, which are salient features of terrorism. Terrorism is hopeless and derives its strength from nihilism within the very society where it emerges, while religion is about hope and love (specifically for Islam). The phrase - Islamic terrorism - is, thus, an oxymoron, nurtured by governments, groups and agencies to license their own atrocities and brutalities against Muslim masses.
In this context, it is worthwhile to mention that the word “herb” - meaning war – is found only six times in the Qur’an. The first of these verses (2:279) mention about extreme abhorrence of Allah and his Messenger about usury, declaring a spiritual war on it. The second verse (5:33) warns against those who wage war against Allah and His messenger, and strive after corruption stating that they will be severely punished. The preceding verse (5:32) makes it very clear that killing one soul is like killing all humanity, and saving one soul is like saving all humanity. The third verse (5:64) makes it amply clear that instigating war is equivalent to fomenting corruption on earth, and that Allah does not like those who instigate war. The fourth verse (8:57) condemns those who breach treaties and start wars. Allah demands that a deterrence force should discourage such treaty-breakers from starting wars; and “if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah.” (8:60) The fifth verse (9:107) exposes the characteristics of hypocrites and trouble-makers who try to create dissension within the community. The sixth verse (47:4) commands Muslims that once the war is over, the killing must stop and there is time for only generosity by releasing prisoners free or exchanging them.
As is clear from the above brief discussion there is no room for terrorism in Islam. Calling Muhammad (S) a terrorist is simply preposterous and disingenuous since it is he who preached and exemplified through his examples that killing a single individual unjustifiably was like killing all mankind and saving a single life was like saving all mankind.
Mercy to Mankind:
Muhammad (S) was an embodiment of patience against mockery and adversity. While Nuh (AS) prayed, “My Lord! Leave not one of the disbelievers in the land.” (Qur’an 71:26); and Musa (AS) prayed, “Our Lord! Lo! Thou hast given Pharaoh and his chiefs splendor and riches in the life of the world. Our Lord! That they may lead men astray from Thy way. Our Lord! Destroy their riches and harden their hearts so that they believe not till they see the painful doom.” (Qur’an 10:88); and Jesus (AS) was reported to had cursed and intimidated the Jews (Matthew 23:1-38, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45, John 2:13-16), and invoked wrath upon Jerusalem (Matt. 24:2, Luke 21:5-6, John 2:19, Mark 14:58); Muhammad (S), when he was hurt by infidels after they had stoned him that broke his lip and teeth, prayed: “O God, guide my people, for they know not.” (We have already seen in Part 4 how he prayed for the people of Ta’if after they bled him profusely with rock throwing.) He was truly the manifestation of grace and love, and the path he trod was that of concern for the well-being of humanity – present and future. So while others prayed for destruction of their enemies, he prayed for their forgiveness and guidance. [For a detailed exposition, see Najm al-Din Razi’s Mersad al-ebad men al-mabda elal ma’ad, tr. The Path of God’s Bondmen from Origin to Return by Dr. Hamid Algar (1982)]
Muhammad (S) preached:
“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous- (the righteous are) those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good.” (Qur’an 3:133 –134)
“Invite all to the way of your God with wisdom and beautiful preaching. And argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. For your God knows best who have strayed from his path and who receive guidance. And if you do respond to an attack, respond no worse than they did. But if you show patience, that is indeed the best course. Be patient - for your patience is from God . . . Indeed, God is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good.” (16:125-128)
“The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree), but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God, for God does not love those who do wrong. But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong done to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men with wrongdoing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice, for such there will be a penalty grievous.” (42:40-43)
More than three decades ago (late) Dr. Ali Shariati wrote: “Last summer during my visit to Africa, I decided to see the three Pyramids in Egypt…. I was amazed by this wonderful work…. I looked back to the Pyramids and realized that despite their magnificence, they were so strange to and distant from me! In other words, I felt so much hatred towards the great monuments of civilization which throughout history were raised upon the bones of my predecessors! My predecessors also built the great walls of China. Those who could not carry the loads were crushed under the heavy stones and put into the walls with the stones. This was how all the great monuments of civilization were constructed at the expense of the flesh and blood of my predecessors! I viewed civilization as a curse. I felt a burning hatred for the thousands of years of oppression against my predecessors. I realized that the feelings of all those people buried together in the ditches were once the same as mine.
“There was Zoroaster, Buddha the great and Confucius the philosopher. A gate toward salvation was opened. The ‘gods’ sent their messengers to save us from disgrace of slavery; worship replaced cruelty. Unfortunately, we had bad luck. The prophets, who left their prophetic homes behind and disregarded us, proceeded to the palaces.
“We had strong faith in Confucius, the philosopher, because he addressed himself to the question of man and the community. However, he also became a friend of the princes. Buddha, who was a prince, also deserted us. He turned within himself to reach the state of ‘Nirvana,’ but we do not know where this state is. Buddha developed many great and ascetic rules. As for Zoroaster, he began his mission from Azerbaijan, Iran. Disregarding our mourning and scars from the lashes inflicted on our bodies by the masters, he continued to Balkh and then to court of Kashtasib, who was king at that time. My friend, you were sacrificed for the graves while we were sacrificed for the palaces! Suddenly, besides the Pharaohs and others who employed us as their slaves, there appeared those who claimed to be successors of the prophets and professional spiritual teachers.
“Amidst all of this hopelessness, I learned that a man had descended down from the mountains saying, ‘I have been commissioned by God.’ I trembled thinking that it possibly involved a new deception or new method of cruelty. He stated, “I have been commissioned by God who has promised to have mercy on slaves and those who are weak on earth.” Surprise! I still could not believe it. How could it be true? God was speaking with slaves, giving them good news of being saved, and prosperous, and being heirs of the earth.
“I had doubts, thinking that he was also one of those prophets of China, India, and etc. His name was Muhammad; I was told that he was an orphan who was a shepherd behind those mountains. I was so surprised. Why did God choose His prophet from among shepherds? I was also informed that his predecessors were prophets; all were chosen from among shepherds. He was the last in that series. With joy and astonishment, I became speechless and trembled. Has God chosen His prophet from among our class?
“I began to follow him because I saw my friends around him. Some of those who became leaders of his followers were: Bilal, a slave and son of a slave whose parents were from Abyssinia, Salman, a homeless person from Persia owned as a slave, Abu-Dhar the poverty stricken and anonymous fellow from the desert, and lastly, Salim, the slave of the wife of Khudhaifa and an unimportant black alien.” (Ali Shariati: On the plight of the oppressed people)
Muhammad’s (S) call to religion was to make man Godly (rather than making God manlike) by shattering false notions, taboos and traditions that imprison his soul and by uplifting humanity from the bondage of other beings to one God. It is a call to attain genuine humanity by subduing one’s carnal self. Muhammad (S) preached that man is God’s vicegerent on earth, which entrusts him with higher responsibility – the trust (amanah) - for his fellow human beings (himself included), other creatures, and nature or environment. Serving or helping those in destitute (Qur’an 2:43, 2:273, 9:60, 24:22, 70:25, 76:8), fighting for the rights of the oppressed (4:75) are equivalent to serving Allah Complete contentment, complete satisfaction and complete peace of mind are byproducts of how effectively one was able to fulfill that divine mission for which one was created.
As is now clear, Muhammad (S) preached a religion that is not just about spirit, but encompasses faith, action, idealism, spirituality, brimming over with vitality and life-giving factors whose ruling spirit is justice and equality. Faith minus action or conduct has no place in Islam (Qur’an 2:44-46). Truly, Islam’s most basic tradition is shahadah and human activity, mixed with a history of struggle against oppression and establishment of justice and protection of human rights.
Unlike other Eastern religions that are individualist and reclusive in their orientation and try to divert their adherents’ attention from this life’s practical affairs to metaphysical preoccupations and supernatural ideals, Muhammad (S) preached of a practical religion that has a clear outlook on life and does not divorce itself from the realities of life and offers its solution to all man-made problems. Islam is, thus, a gospel of work; outcome of the Next World is based upon the inputs and efforts of this life. The community (ummah) of Muslims is supposed to be a community of believers that is balanced and in equilibrium, away from extremes of heavenly monasticism and earthly materialism. This theme is succinctly presented in the Qur’an: “We have made you a middle nation, a well-integrated community, a balanced Ummah (community), so that you may be witnesses over other people and the Messenger a witness over you.” (2:143)
Living a self-imposed life of poverty, Muhammad (S) showed the impermanence of this worldly life so that people can know that there is a higher purpose in this life, which they should covet for, rather than something which is temporary. During his life, conditions changed, but Muhammad (S) did not. In triumph or in defeat, in joy or sorrow, in power or in adversity, in prosperity or in poverty, he was the same man displaying the same spirit.
Who can deny the impact of such a dynamic personality in transforming a nation? John William Draper rightly commented in his book, A History of Intellectual Development of Europe: “Four years after the death of Justinian, A.D. 569, was born at Mecca, in Arabia the man who, of all men exercised the greatest influence upon the human race… Mohammed…” Michael Hart ranked him as the world’s most influential person because, in his opinion, he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level. [The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Hart Publishing, N.Y. (1978)]
Reverend R. Bosworth-Smith reflected on Muhammad (S): “Head of the State as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without the Pope’s pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.” [Rev. R. Bosworth-Smith: Mohammed and Mohammedanism (1946))
Alphonse de LaMartaine, similarly reflected: “Never has a man set for himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a more sublime aim, since this aim was superhuman; to subvert superstitions which had been imposed between man and his Creator, to render God unto man and man unto God; to restore the rational and sacred idea of divinity amidst the chaos of the material and disfigured gods of idolatry, then existing. Never has a man undertaken a work so far beyond human power with so feeble means, for he (Muhammad) had in the conception as well as in the execution of such a great design, no other instrument than himself and no other aid except a handful of men living in a corner of the desert. Finally, never has a man accomplished such a huge and lasting revolution in the world, because in less than two centuries after its appearance, Islam, in faith and in arms, reigned over the whole of Arabia, and conquered, in God’s name, Persia Khorasan, Transoxania, Western India, Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia, all the known continent of Northern Africa, numerous islands of the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, and part of Gaul.
“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws, and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples, dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and the souls.
“Philosopher, Orator, Apostle, Legislator, Conqueror of Ideas, Restorer of Rational beliefs…. The founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?” [Alphonse de LaMartaine: Historie de la Turquie, Paris (1854)]
If these be the verdict of non-Muslim scholars like LaMartaine and Bosworth-Smith, it is not difficult to fathom how a Muslim sage by the name of Shaikh Muslihuddin Abu Muhammad Abdullah ibn Mushrifuddin Sa’di Shirazi (ca. 1194-1292 CE) must have felt when he wrote the qasidah on the Prophet Muhammad (S): Balagal ‘ula be-ka-malihi kashafad-duja be-ja-malihi .... meaning:
He attained exaltation by his perfection.
He dispelled darkness by his beauty.
Beauteous are all his qualities.
Benediction be on him and on his family.
To a Muslim, there has never been, nor will there ever be a man anywhere upon this earth who has received as much love, respect, honor, and obedience in all matters - small and large alike – as has Muhammad (S), the Prophet of Islam. That is why it is not difficult to understand the wisdom behind the Persian couplet:
Ba Khuda deewana basho
Ba Muhammad hoshyaar
(Meaning: Play madly with God if you wish, but be careful with Muhammad.)
I am indebted to veteran Sri Lankan journalist, K.T. Rajasingham, the editor and founder of the Asian Tribune, who first suggested that I contribute an article on Prophet Muhammad (S) to commemorate his birthday in the month of Rabi al-Awwal. I promised him six articles. However, as I started writing, I soon realized that my best efforts to summarize some important events of the Prophet’s life are impossible to quench thirst of a serious reader. I shall close this 9-part series with two memorable lines from Maulana Rumi’s Fihi Ma Fihi:
Where was the fault of the night; our tale was too long.
The night has ended, but our tale still remained untold.
[About the author: Dr. Habib Siddiqui has authored seven books. His book – Wisdom of Mankind – is a good source on Prophetic Traditions.]