The Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) is a unique person in the history of the creation of this earth. None like him was born before him and none like him will ever be born again.
Muslims from all walks of life and from all corners of the world, young and old, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, divided by geography, race and language, are all united in their reverence and devotion to the Holy Prophet(saw), to the religion of Islam and the Holy Qur’an.
What was so special, extraordinary and unique about the Holy Prophet(saw) that he should have been chosen by God as a supreme example to guide mankind to ideals of happiness and perfection?
Whatever aspect of life we look at or whichever dimension of the life of the Holy Prophet(saw) we try to explore, we find strength and nobility of character and serenity or inner-calm, which comes with communion with God in the fullest sense. Nobility, generosity and magnanimity of the Holy Prophet(saw) shows itself most of all in charity and kindness to all men and more generally to all beings. There was no narrowness or pettiness in the soul of the Holy Prophet(saw) and no limitation in giving of himself to others. His blessed life is full of examples that have kept generations of Muslims inspired.
Of many, I will illustrate only one instance in the life of the Holy Prophet(saw) to prove his care and generosity towards his fellow-beings.
When the Quraish (dominant tribe in Makkah at the time) doubled and redoubled their injuries to the Holy Prophet(saw) and his followers, he undertook a trip, alone, to the city of Ta’if where after calling them to Islam he sought the support of the tribe of Thaqif. His words to worship One God caused a storm of anger. They drove him from the city and the rabble and slaves followed him, hooting and pelting him with stones until the evening.
Wounded and footsore, bleeding and weary, the Holy Prophet(saw) took shelter under the shades of some palm trees.
Imagine the plight of a person who has been persecuted all day, famished, hungry, thirsty and unprotected, sitting exposed under a palm tree. Did he seek revenge? Did he pray to Allah to destroy the city of Ta’if?
He did none of these things. Instead, the Holy Prophet(saw) raised his hands towards heaven and cried out:
“O Lord, I make my complaint to Thee out of my feebleness. I am insignificant in the eyes of men. O Thou Most Merciful! Lord of the weak! Thou art my Lord! Do not forsake me! Leave me not a prey to strangers nor to my enemies! If Thou art not offended, I am safe. I seek refuge in the Light of Thy countenance, by which all darkness is dispelled and peace comes here and hereafter. Let not Thy anger descend on me! Solve my problems as it pleases Thee. There is no power, no help but in Thee.”
Nothing can show more vividly the generosity, love for mankind and absolute faith in Allah the Almighty that the Holy Prophet(saw) possessed than this incident. As long as Allah the Almighty is not offended, the Holy Prophet(saw) was happy to suffer any indignity to convey the message with which he was entrusted. William Muir is forced to comment:
‘There is something lofty and heroic in this journey of Muhammad to Ta’if: a solitary man, despised and rejected by his own people, going boldly forth in the name of God, like Jonah to Nineveh and summoning an idolatrous city to repent. It sheds a strong light on the intensity of his belief in the divine origin of his mission.’ (Life of Mahomet, Sir William Muir, pp.112-113)
Another incident, in total contrast to the Ta’if incident, in the life of the Holy Prophet(saw) that shows his nobility, generosity and beneficent attitude to human beings is the triumphant entry into Makkah, which in a sense, highlights his earthly career. There he was – at the moment of supreme triumph, when the very people who had caused him untold hardship and trials for many years, who had forced him to fight wars were all subdued and at the mercy of one command from him. Instead of thinking of revenge, which was certainly his due, he forgave them all.
Karen Armstrong, commenting on the final triumph, says:
‘After the declaration of General Amnesty, nobody was made to accept Islam by force, nor do they seem to have been under any pressure to do so. Muhammad did not want to coerce the people but to effect a reconciliation.’
The Holy Prophet(saw)’s behaviour and his vision of a balanced and harmonious life on earth is based on the integration of the temporal and spiritual dimension of one’s life, human reality and relationship with God Almighty.
Indeed, for every occasion, for every circumstance in the life of a Muslim, there is a precedent in the life of the Holy Prophet(saw) from which knowledge and inspiration can be drawn.
The Holy Qur’an is the vast world of creation in which a Muslim lives and the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw) is the interpreter par excellence of that Divine message. That is why all Muslims, all over the world, look up to the life of the Holy Prophet(saw) of Islam to follow his example.
When we look at the history and circumstances of the time of the advent of the Holy Prophet(saw), we see Arabia and the rest of the world around steeped in corruption and the forces of falsehood were in ascendancy. There was nothing but the forces of disruption and disequilibrium surrounding the world. As the Holy Qur’an sums up the situation:
‘Corruption had appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought, that He may make them taste the fruit of some of their doings, so that they may turn back from evil.’ (Ch.30:V.42)
The verse explains that when darkness covers the face of the earth and man forgets God and surrenders to the gods of his own conception, then God raises a Prophet to guide them to the true path.
It was under such circumstances that the Holy Prophet(saw) of Islam was raised. The purpose of his advent as given in the Holy Qur’an is:
…He enjoins on them good and forbids evil and makes lawful for them good things and forbids them the bad things and removes from them their burdens and shackles that were upon them… (Ch.7:V.158)
Such were the circumstances of the time. The Holy Prophet(saw) of Islam broke the chains and shackles that had enslaved humanity and removed the burden under which the humanity was being crushed.
He achieved that revolution with his prophecy and personal example; and humanity was able to raise its head once again with pride.
The Promised Messiah(as), the true and devoted servant of the Holy Prophet(saw) describes it as:
‘The time when the Holy Prophet was raised was such that it was crying out for a Divine Reformer and a Guide from Heaven with a grand design; and the teachings that he brought were full of verity and contained everything that was needed at that time. …… The ultimate purpose of prophethood is the salvation and freedom of humanity. It was accomplished by him so perfectly that no other prophet had been able to achieve before in his time.’ (Baraheen-e-Ahmadiyya, pp.112-114)
History tells us that before the advent of the Holy Prophet(saw), women were treated as chattel and in some tribes, newly-born girls were buried alive. Like slaves, women were treated as inferior species that had no legal existence. In such a primitive world, what the Holy Prophet(saw) achieved was remarkable. The very idea that a woman could act as a witness or could inherit anything at all in her own rights, was unthinkable.
We must remember that in Christian Europe, women had to wait until the 19th century before they had anything similar; even then, the law remained heavily favourable towards men. Western feminists have often denounced Islam with regards to the rights of women. They should perhaps look at the Christian traditions that are extremely negative to women.
If Muslim women today reject some of the so-called freedoms that the West offers them, it is not due to any obstinacy but because the Western view of women and relationship between sexes is confused. While preaching equality and liberation, Western society, at the same time, exploits and degrades women in advertising, pornography and popular entertainment in a way that Muslims find offensive.
The Holy Qur’an and Islam give a much more positive picture of the relationship between the sexes, showing men and women sharing the duties and privileges of Islam side by side in an egalitarian society. The Hoy Qur’an declares:
Surely men who submit them-selves to God and women who submit themselves to Him, and believing men and believing women, and obedient men and obedient women and truthful men and truthful women, and men steadfast in their faith and steadfast women, and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms and women who give alms, and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity, and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Him – Allah has prepared for all of them forgiveness and a great reward. (Ch.33:V.36)
This subject is vast and deserves a separate treatment. Let me conclude with a Tradition of the Holy Prophet(saw). Whenever the Holy Prophet(saw) was to be absent from Madinah, he used to tell Muslims that they should consult Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) if they had any religious problem. After his demise, Hadhrat ‘A’ishah(ra) was an important authority about the Holy Prophet(saw)’s life and religious practice.
Now I come to the subject of slavery: slavery is an abominable and repulsive system of social inequality in which some people are treated as an item of property belonging to other individuals or social groups. Slavery has existed in human history from antiquity and people have exploited other people or nations for their own gains.
Reading modern history, we only find the mention of the banning of importing slaves in 1807 by the British and the abolition of the institution of slavery in 1833. The historians conveniently forget that the only historical figure who stood up against this practice was none other than the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw).
The Qur’an and the Traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw) advise kindness towards slaves and humane treatment and encourage setting them free. The Holy Prophet(saw) himself had a slave called Salman(ra) whom he immediately freed and made him a member of his family. The Holy Prophet(saw) exhorted the believers:
“And as to your slaves, see that ye feed them as ye feed yourselves and clothe them as you clothe yourselves.”
The Holy Prophet(saw), advised all his followers to free the slaves and suggested that there was not an act more acceptable to God than freeing the slaves. He ordered that slaves should be allowed to purchase their liberty with the wages of their services. The whole tenor of the teachings of the Holy Prophet(saw) made permanent possession of slaves or a caste system impossible. Indeed it is simply an abuse of words to use slavery in English sense to any status known in Islam.
What can be more important than the last words of a dying person? Hadhrat ‘Ali(ra) and Hadhrat Anas(ra) narrate that the last word that they heard from the lips of the Holy Prophet(saw) were, “O Muslims, never ever forget my teachings about Salat [Prayer] and about slaves.”
When these words were said, his wives, daughter and her children, indeed the whole family and his Companions were around him. This was going to be his advice to his people. He did not think of his family. The only thing that worried him in the last breaths of his life was the plight of the slaves and their treatment.
When we look at the Arabian tribal life of the time of our beloved Prophet(saw), we find that there was no central authority. Every tribal chief was responsible for the protection of his tribal members and had to be prepared to avenge each and every injury. Blood-feuds or vendettas were common. Life was cheap and killing per se was not considered immoral. Robbery was not considered immoral unless you stole goods from your own kinsmen.
This was a savage and brutal society in which only the strong would survive and weak were either eliminated or exploited. Infanticide was a normal way of population control. Indeed, women, like slaves, had no human or legal rights. Although property was sometimes inherited by women, men married them to take away their legal inheritance.
When the Arabs of that period fought their battles, they made no distinction between combatants and non-combatants, women and children or old and disabled.
In such a savage and unregulated society, our beloved Prophet(saw) stands out as a refreshing example of the protector of the weak and laid down the rules of combat.
Ibn Hisham states that the Holy Prophet(saw), the beneficiary for mankind, sent out an expedition to face a Bedouin tribe that had occupied Madinite territories with the historical and memorable words, “In no case shall you use deceit, nor shall you kill any child.” When dispatching his troops against the Byzantines, the Holy Prophet(saw) instructed them:
- Never injure the weak in avenging the injuries inflicted upon us.
- Do not molest the harmless inmates of domestic seclusion or people devoted to any religion.
- Spare the women, children and old people.
- Do not injure the infants at the breast, or those who are ill in bed.
- Abstain from demolishing the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants.
- Do not destroy their means of subsistence, nor their fruit trees and touch not the palm tree.
- No animal should be killed.
- Do not disfigure your enemy by cutting off their nose, ears or other organs.
The complete list is much longer and more elaborate. It covers the treatment of prisoners of war and their remission. It is important to remember that the above instructions were not a result of any agreement but self-imposed rules to respect the old, the innocent, the disadvantaged, the infirm and respect God’s creatures and preserve the environment.
The Western world first made an international agreement on the conduct of warfare in 1864 and called it Geneva Convention. It was ratified in 1906. But it was not until 1950 and again in 1978 that it was extended to include rights of non-combatants and protection to civilians. The world forgets that it was the humanity of one great man of Arabia, whose every heartbeat, every thought and every action was a mercy for mankind and who gave this Charter to the world 1300 years before the West even thought about it.
As I said in the beginning, our beloved Prophet of Islam(saw) came as a Mercy for mankind and provided protection to the weak and freed humanity that was held under bondage. By his very example, he showed how mutual love, tolerance and understanding can make diverse societies live together.
We only have to look at the life of the Prophet(saw) when he migrated to Madinah after suffering years of persecution in Makkah. Madinite society consisted of Muslims, Jews, pagans and Christians. He entered into an agreement or a treaty known as Meethaq-ul-Madinah. This document has been carefully preserved in the pages of Ibn Hisham. The Covenant of Madinah clearly shows the genius of the Holy Prophet(saw). In this regard, William Muir called the Holy Prophet(saw) ‘A master-mind, not only of his own age but of all ages.’
The document is long and detailed and needs separate treatment. Suffice to say, that this first document between a heterogeneous society and Muslims gave full and equal rights to non-Muslims.
The above Covenant that the Holy Prophet(saw) had written down fourteen centuries ago established the freedom of faith and opinion, sanctity of human life and property and forbiddance of crime.
It was around the 6th year after Hijrah that the Holy Prophet(saw) granted to the monks of the monastery of Saint Catherine near mount Sinai and to all Christians a Charter which is still known as one of the noblest evidences of enlightened tolerance that the history of mankind can produce. This remarkable document that has been preserved by the historians of Islam, shows a wonderful breadth of liberality. By this, the Holy Prophet(saw) secured for Christians the privileges and immu-nities that they never possessed under the rules of their own kings. The Charter is very detailed but some of the provisions show the merciful nature and the greatness of character of the Holy Prophet(saw). The Charter enjoins all Muslims to protect the Christians and defend their churches. The Holy Prophet(saw) declared that any Muslim violating or abusing his orders should be regarded as violator of God’s testament, a transgressor of God’s commandment and His faith.
Let those who allege that Islam was spread by force, remember that Islam protected the fundamental rights of all religions and respected and defended them against violence.
The scholars agree that as long as the Muslims followed the above teachings, they ruled over a large part of the world for 1000 years. But when they forgot, their decline started.
Alas! Muslim of today have forgotten the Sunnah of the beloved Prophet(saw) and have started to preach and practise sectarianism thus shattering the unity of the Ummah that the Holy Prophet(saw) strived to put together in his life-time.
It is not possible to give all the details or a comprehensive vision of the kindness to mankind that the Holy Prophet(saw) rendered or deal with the social and spiritual revolution that he brought for humanity. Even in his last Sermon, he was thinking of the Rights of Mankind. In fact his last sermon is a Charter of Human Rights the like of which was adopted by civilised nations in 1948.
The Sermon emphasised to Muslims the regard of others and the regard of life and property, equal rights of men and women and their mutual obligations, the rights of slaves, their equal treatment and their right to freedom, the equality of mankind irrespective of colour, creed or national affiliations. And so it con-tinues to lay down rules and guidance for mankind to live in peace and harmony.
Besides the above reforms, our beloved Prophet Muhammad(saw) was always and at every opportunity thinking of the justice and social welfare of the people. The Bait-ul-Maal, or the public treasury, was meant to help the poor, the disabled and disadvantaged. His followers followed his injunctions faithfully as can be seen from one remark of Hadhrat ‘Umar, the Second Khalifa(ra) (spiritual successor) to the Holy Prophet(saw). He once said:
“If I know that a dog on the banks of River Tigris has gone to sleep hungry, then I have been negligent in my duty.”
His emphasis on education that you must seek knowledge even if you have to travel to China, is another guidance that only now the world has started to realise.
His emphasis on social justice and on justice is exemplary and unique. His practice of charity is a model for all of us. He used to give everything away and kept nothing back. After his demise, nothing of value was found in his house.
Indeed, the figure of Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) as a guide of men in this world and the next and his multiple role of ‘prophet’ and guide of men and ruler of a new social order can only be compared with prophet-kings of the Old Testament, to David(ra) or Solomon(ra) and especially to Abraham(ra) himself.
In the capacity of a prophet, a father and a ruler of a State, he transformed a barbaric and uncivilised society into a disci-plined, tolerant, humanitarian society that went on to leave its mark on the world history and his commandments are still guidance and inspiration for billions of Muslims all over the world. That is why it is absolutely essential for us to follow in his footsteps if we aspire towards spiritual realisation. He indeed was a mercy to mankind!
My rendering will not be complete without expressing the emotions and feelings of the Promised Messiah(as), the true servant of the Holy Prophet(saw), for his Master and Guide. He says:
‘O Allah! send down your blessings on Your Prophet and on Your Beloved, The Chief of all Prophets, Superior to all, Best among the Messenger and the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad(saw) and his people and his Companions and shower Your blessings and peace upon them.’ (Baraheen-e-Ahmadiyyah, pp.256-265, footnote 11)
The love that the Holy Prophet(saw) gave to humanity and his kindness towards all the creations of Allah, make it obligatory upon all Muslims to feel gratitude and love for him.
Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe, you also should invoke blessings on him and salute him with the salutation of peace. (Ch.33:V.57)