The Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) was a great personality. A detailed record of his life, from his birth to his passing away, has reached us in a most comprehensive manner. The record of his sayings and actions has been so well maintained that no other personality, whose every moment of life, every aspect of his character and teachings has been preserved, can be compared in totality to that of the Holy Prophet(saw). In fact, his life is an open book in which his holy and attractive personality is brilliantly shining.
He was born in 570AD in the town of Makkah. At the time, every region of the world was steeped in moral degradation. Christianity’s original teachings were on the wane. In India, idol worshipping and hundreds of “isms” were flourishing. Racial and caste-based discrimination and the dogma of “untouchability” were rampant. In the Qur’an this is depicted in the following words:
Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought… (Ch.30:V.42)
Even the so-called civilised nations were at the lowest rung of the religious, moral and spiritual ladder. In fact, in the 5th and 6th centuries, the civilised world was standing at the precipice of moral annihilation. People in general were ill-mannered, unlettered and ignorant. The vices of alcoholism, gambling, oppression, tyranny, violence, cruelty and various other wrongdoings were the order of the day. It was because the Holy Prophet(saw)’s personality was naturally imbued with auspiciousness, obedience to his Creator and the inner-light of Prophethood that he was never affected by the aforementioned ills of society. He was an embodiment of purity, chastity and piety.
It was under these circumstances that Allah the Almighty commissioned the Holy Prophet(saw), at the age of 40, to lead mankind in the year of 610AD. When the Holy Prophet(saw) raised a voice against polytheism and idol-worship and invited the world towards the true and real unity of God, the people of his tribe, and in fact the whole Arab nation, vehemently opposed him. They persecuted him and his followers, but the Holy Prophet(saw) never wavered and stood firm on his belief in the Oneness of God. Despite having to face intense sufferings and oppression, he steadfastly conveyed the message of God. His followers offered all kinds of sacrifices to nurture the plant of the new faith. They were ready to part company with their near and dear ones and suffered the loss of their assets and possessions for their faith. They were banished from their homes but that failed to move them away even a fraction from their resolve.
The time then came, after thirteen years of persecution, when the Holy Prophet(saw) and his followers had to migrate from Makkah to Madinah. Even there the opponents did not leave them alone. They wanted to wipe out Islam with force. For this reason Allah permitted the Holy Prophet(saw) to fight in self-defence in order to establish peace and freedom of conscience. With the help of his followers, the Holy Prophet(saw) confronted the perpetrators of suffering. Despite being ill-equipped and with an army of small numbers, Allah made him successful, and this was possible only because Allah’s help, support and succour was with the Prophet(saw).
Only eight years after the migration from Makkah, the Makkans offered their welcome to the Holy Prophet(saw). At that juncture, he could have taken revenge from the Makkans for their previous inhumanity as he had entered as a victorious man, but he chose to forgive all those persecutors. This very act of forgiveness, pardon and general amnesty has no match in the annals of mankind.
I will enumerate those aspects of the Holy Prophet(saw)’s life, character and teachings that make him the ‘torchbearer of humanity’ and the unifier of world nations.
Tauheed – The unique Oneness of God
To create a unity in thoughts and actions, it was essential that a full and real unity of God be accepted and internalised. If all of us have the same Creator, Master, Provider and Nourisher and the Guide, as is the case, then despite our differences in specific beliefs, we can come to a common platform. For this very reason, the Holy Prophet(saw) has laid stress on the unity of God and proclaimed, “There is none worthy of worship except Allah”. “Say Allah is One And He has no partner.” So, the Holy Prophet(saw) invited all nations of the world in this Qur’anic language:
Say, ‘O People of the Book! Come to a word equal between us and you – that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords beside Allah’… (Ch3:V65)
The acceptance of this invitation in real earnest would result in the elimination of our differences and our mutual hatred and contempt; resentment and bitterness would dissipate. The Islamic concept of God as Rabbul ‘Alameen (Lord of all the worlds) that the Holy Prophet(saw) presented and promoted before the world, is that our God is not the Nourisher of Muslims only, or of Hindus, Christians or Buddhists only, but the Nourisher of all of us, irrespective of our affiliations and our nomenclatures. Even the one who denies His existence also benefits from the attributes of Allah. This concept of unity of God and His being the Sustainer of all of us is the foundation stone on which the edifice of universal unity and brotherhood can and should be constructed.
It must be remembered that before the advent of the Holy Prophet(saw), all prophets, apostles and reformers were sent to specific nations and were confined to certain areas. None of them were given a universal mission, and in fact, none of them made a universal claim. It is the distinction of the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) that this message was not confined to the Quraish, or to the Makkans or to the Arabs alone, but was meant for all mankind and all nations. He claimed in the Qur’an:
Say, ‘O mankind! truly I am a Messenger to you all… (Ch7:V.159)
Thus he invited all nations of the world to the one centre and thus became a harbinger for the unity in their thoughts and actions.
Freedom of Conscience
Freedom of conscience is the fundamental birthright of every human being. In this contemporary age, after years of experimentation, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. In its section 18, this birthright has been accepted as the cornerstone of human discourse. But, its foundation was actually laid over 1400 years ago, when the Prophet of Islam(saw) presented the teaching of the individual and collective right of every person to differ on matters of thought, opinion, attitudes and beliefs. This difference, however, cannot be imposed on others with force, as this would amount to preventing freedom of conscience and shedding the blood of humanity.
The Holy Qur’an declares forthrightly:
There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong… (Ch.2:V.257)
Also it says,
And say, ‘It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve’… (Ch.18:V.30)
These teachings are testimony to the freedom of conscience preached by the Prophet of Islam.
Equality for all
A factor that dismantles the unity of nations is the absence of equality between them. The Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) played a leading role in doing away with and erasing the racial, colour and caste-based distinctions that existed between various people of the time, and presented before the world an unmatched charter of equality. He gave shape to this charter by the following Qur’anic injunctions:
O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognise one another. Verily, the most honourable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you… (Ch.49:V.14)
This Qur’anic principle of equality was exemplified by the Prophet(saw) on the occasion of his last sermon. His sermon can be summarised in these words: You are one brotherhood. All people are equal according to Islam. The Arab possesses no superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab over an Arab. A white man is no way superior to black man, nor for that matter, a black man to a white man, but only to the extent which a person exhibits righteousness and effort to attain it. According to Islam, there is no distinction in the reward one earns on the basis of colour or progeny.
Establishment of justice
The establishment of peace requires the implementation of fairness and absolute justice; otherwise the resultant severe repercussions can destroy nations with dreadful consequences. The Holy Prophet(saw) has therefore stressed that all, irrespective of their status, should be treated with absolute justice. The Qur’anic teaching is very clear on this subject:
Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred… (Ch.16:V.91)
The required standard of justice is:
O ye who believe! be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness… (Ch.5:V.9)
The Holy Prophet(saw) is reported to have said that previous nations had been destroyed as they punished the weak segment of the society and let go those who were in high social status.
Respect for the Founders of all faiths
To achieve unity among nations of the world, the Holy Prophet(saw) has given us a golden rule of respecting and venerating the Founders and holy men of various faiths. If we do not follow this golden rule, it has the potential of creating mutual enmity and ill-will, which destroys the peace of the society and results in bloodshed.
The Holy Prophet(saw) promoted this Qur’anic teaching to put an end to these in-fights as:
…there is a Guide for every people. (Ch.13:V.8)
…there is no people to whom a Warner has not been sent. (Ch.35:V.25)
Because all God-sent apostles were imbued with the light of the same One God, it is incumbent on us to respect them in equal measure. So one who truly believes in the Holy Prophet(saw) will consider the respect of other founders of faiths as a part of his faith.
During the lifetime of the Prophet(saw) a Jew and an Arab were quarrelling over the superiority of their respective Prophets. The Jew’s sentiments were hurt by the way the Muslim made his claim. When the Jew complained to the Holy Prophet(saw), he admonished the Muslim’s behaviour, “Do not exalt me above Moses” he said. This was the high standard of tolerance and courtesy the Holy Prophet(saw) required from his followers.
The Holy Prophet(saw) not only left us with a teaching of respecting other founders of faiths and apostles, but also taught us not to cast aspersions and malign their beliefs and principles:
…And revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance… (Ch.6:V.109)
There is a well-known incident of great religious tolerance shown by the Holy Prophet(saw) in his life. He permitted a Christian delegation from Najran to perform their religious service in his mosque in Madinah. World history has yet to produce this kind of respect and tolerance for the faith of others.
Against cruelty to animals
The Prophet(saw) admonished against the cruel treatment of animals and instructed that they be treated with kindness, for they are also God’s creation. ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud relates:
“While we were in the course of a journey along with the Holy Prophet(saw) we saw two young doves in a nest and we caught them. They were still very small. When their mother returned to the nest, not finding her little ones in it, she began to fly wildly round and round. When the Holy Prophet(saw) arrived at the spot he observed the dove and said, “If any one of you has caught its young ones he must release them at once to comfort it.”” (Abu Daw’ud)
On one occasion, the Holy Prophet(saw) observed somebody branding a donkey on its face. When asked why he was doing this, the person told the Prophet(saw) that this was the practice followed by the Romans for identifying animals. The Prophet(saw) said that animals should not be branded on their face, it being a sensitive part of the human body. If branding was necessary, then it should be performed on the animal’s haunch, a less sensitive part of the animal’s body.
Last, but by no means least, is how the universal teacher, the Holy Prophet(saw) of Islam, revolutionised the way the world looked upon women.
Before the advent of the Prophet Muhammad Al-Mustafa(saw), the status of women was deplorable. Through his teachings, this status was uplifted to an extremely venerable place in the society. This is attributed to the Holy Prophet(saw), as we read in the Qur’an:
…And they (the women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in equity. (Ch.2:V.229)
…and consort with them in kindness… (Ch.4:V.20)
In the Traditions of Bukhari, there is a specific saying of the Prophet(saw) to the effect that one who treats his wife in an excellent manner is very close to his God. In the cultural arena, the Holy Prophet(saw) allotted the same rights to women as those of men, keeping in view their respective God-given characteristics. Islam was the first religion that provided women with the right of inheritance. In the matter of inheritance she receives a specified share from the assets of her relatives. She is the full owner of her wealth and savings, and is free to do with her property or money as she pleases. And, of course, in the spiritual sense men and women are declared of equal status as set forth in the Qur’an:
…‘I will allow not the work of any worker from among you, whether male or female, to be lost. You are from one another… (Ch.3:V.196)
The Holy Prophet(saw) was so sensitive of women’s feelings that once, when he was leading prayers, he heard a child crying and finished the prayers quickly. Afterwards he explained that, upon hearing the cry of the child, he thought that the child’s mother must also have been troubled; hence he concluded the service so that she could attend to the child. He would always advise those who had to leave on journey to try and return home as soon as possible so that their wives and children would not feel the pains of separation for too long. He placed great stress on kindness to women, and would often say that if a father took it upon himself to educate his daughters and care for their upbringing, God would save him from the hell-fire. He said:
“Woman has been created from a rib and the most crooked part of the rib is the uppermost. If you try to straighten it you will break it and if you leave it alone it will remain crooked. So treat women kindly.”
The personality, character, actions and sayings of the Holy Prophet(saw) are such that if they are adopted by the civilised world in real earnest, this world can become a peaceful place and complex problems can be solved easily. A great writer of the English world, George Bernard Shaw, said:
“He must be called the Saviour of humanity. I believe, if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness.”
What an immense tribute to the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw)! For a Muslim, the Holy Prophet(saw) is the ideal model to be imitated and the wisdom of the Holy Qur’an is reflected in his deeds and statements that we must strive to follow.