CHAPTER – 11
FAITH IN THE MESSENGERS / PROPHETS
* God has provided the guidance and freedom of choice to humanity and Jinns resulting in individual responsibility and accountability. God has provided the guidance essentially through three ways: 1) The natural Guidance (instinctive cognition), 2) Through grant of intellect and providing Signs (ayah). Man is endowed with forms and faculties exactly suited to what is expected of him, and to the environment in which his life will be cast, giving due order and proportion to everything. He has ordained laws and decrees, by which human can develop themselves and fit into His whole scheme of progression for all His Creation. 3) Direct guidance through His Messengers and scriptures:” And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, (proclaiming): Serve Allah and shun false gods. After that, Allah guided some of them while deviation proved true against the others….”(Qur’an;16:36). (* This paragraph is Not in the original script, added here)
Ø The Messengers (Prophets) are human beings; they are not endowed with Divinity because Divinity merits on Allah, the Matchless and Unique.
Ø The Prophets, however, have one distinct aspect that the Revelation comes down upon them.
Ø Allah says: “We have sent no Messengers before you, who did not eat or walk through the streets.”(Qur’an;25:20)
The angels, jinn and prophets are all created by God and act as His servants; this is a basic tenet laid down by the Holy Qur’an, It is God who created them - and it is He Who regulates their way in life on earth. Like everyone else, they do not have the ability to cause either good or harm, unless God so wishes. All prophets are human beings, and therefore, like human beings, they are born, die, fall ill and enjoy good health; eat and drink and do not differ from other people in their physical way of being. Prophets are void of divinity, as divinity is exclusive to God, but they do receive revelations, a fact which caused wonder and astonishment among earlier generations. Regarding this attitude, God says in the Holy Qur’an: “Does it seem strange to the people that We revealed Our will to a man from among themselves, saying: "Warn mankind and give the good news to the Believers that they are on sound footing with their Lord?”Qur’an;10:2); “Nothing prevented people from belief when guidance came to them except the excuse: "What! Has Allah sent a man like us to be a Messenger?”(Qur’an;17:94). God the Almighty replied by saying that a prophet is one among the community to which he is sent: “Say: If there were upon the earth angels walking secure. We would have sent down for them from heaven an angel as messenger.”(Qur’an;17:95). Those who were astonished argued saying: “You are nothing but a human like us! You only wish to turn us away from the worship of those deities whom our forefathers used to worship. Bring us some clear sign.”(Qur’an;14:10). “Their Prophets said to them: "It is true that we are human like yourselves, but Allah bestows His grace of appointing a Prophets on such of His servants as He pleases. It is not in our power to bring you any sign except by Allah's permission, and in Allah let the believers put their trust. (Qur’an;14:11); “And they say: "What sort of Prophets is he who eats food and walks through the streets? Why has no angel been sent down with him to threaten the disbelievers?”(Qur’an;25:7). And the Divine answer to those who argued was: They say, "Why is not an angel sent down to him?" If we did send down an angel, the matter would be settled at once, and no respite would be granted them. If we had made it an angel, we should have sent him as a man, and we should certainly have caused them confusion in a matter which they have already covered with confusion. (Qur’an;6:8-9).
The Prophet - a True Profile:
The Prophet is only superior to other human beings, inasmuch as he has been bestowed with divine revelation. “O Prophet say: "I am but a man like yourselves. It is revealed to me that your God is One God, therefore take the Right Way towards Him and implore His forgiveness. Woe to the those who associate other gods with Allah”(Qur’an;41:6). The word 'but' occurs in this verse for the purpose of restriction and qualification, and it also excludes any possibility of the Prophet having any qualities which are incompatible with human beings. This is further emphasized in this verse, by the words 'like you' (mithlekum). As we said before, physically a prophet is just like us. But he differs from us in the way he behaves, his outstanding qualities and his greatness. Even if Muhammad (peace be upon him) had not been the last of the Prophets, he would have certainly been the greatest of the great and a hero of heroes. But if a prophet is like us, can he make the same mistakes? The answer to that question is as follows:
1). No prophet will withhold or miscommunicate the Divine message and teaching of guidance leading towards the path of God. A prophet cannot go wrong on such occasions, as when he gives such teaching he is acting as a 'channel' for the Divine Source, and therefore does not "say of his own desire."(Qur’an;53:3); “O mankind! The Apostle has come to you in truth from God.”(Qur’an;4:170). After receiving prophethood, it is impossible for a prophet to be anything but completely just and fair in his behaviour or to conduct himself in any way that contradicts his image as a perfect human being. This is because God has made him an immaculate example for us to use as a model for our own behaviour: “You have indeed in the apostle of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct)”(Qur’an;33:21). All prophets are deemed to be like this. “There was indeed in them an excellent example for you to follow.”(Qur’an;60:6). Such a quality requires a prophet to be above any vices and shortcomings.
2). The prophet may sometimes make a mistake with regards to religious teaching, but this is only when he exercises his own independent thinking concerning a matter about which he has not received Divine guidance. Any prophet may commit such an error. However, God does not endorse such mistakes, in fact. He corrects them and shows them the right path, as happened in the incident with the blind person, as narrated in the Holy Qur’an in Surah 80, entitled 'He frowned', and also the incident involving the captives, after the battle of Badr. On both these occasions the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), acted on his own opinion, which was later disapproved of through revelation. I pondered over his attitude towards the blind man, and said to myself, "If God had not revealed this Surah, He frowned', and had the Prophet explained the reasons for his attitude to the politicians and wise and learned men of that time, would anyone of them have found fault with him or would they have unanimously approved of his action?" During this incident the Prophet, (peace be upon him), was engrossed in a discussion with a group of eminent men whom he was eager to win over to his side. At that time, one of his followers came up to him wanting clarification on a matter which was in no way urgent and could have waited until the Prophet had finished the task at hand. Would anyone have behaved differently in such a case? And could anyone deny that his action was correct? While he acted correctly according to human reasoning, this was overruled by Divine revelation for factors beyond the scope of the human minds. And of course. Divine reasoning is beyond any shortcoming whereas human thinking can be partial and misconstrued. The same may be said regarding the stand taken by the Prophet (peace be upon him) about the captives of the battle of Badr: according to Divine revelation it was an incorrect stand, even though it would have been Judged correct by the most serious-minded and wise men. However, it is important not to criticize these incidents as being mistakes made by a great man. What we can learn from them is that divine revelation is above the wisdom of every mortal.
3). A prophet may make mistakes regarding administrative or military matters, because a prophet is a human being, and he thinks and acts like one. When he was deliberating on such matters, the companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would ask him whether his decision was based on Divine revelation or his own thinking. If he said that it was not a Divine directive but rather his own opinion, they would also express their personal views, which he would either accept or reject. To illustrate this, we can look at the incident of the battle of Badr. The companions asked, "O Prophet of God, is this a location assigned to you by the Almighty, which means we can neither advance nor retreat from it, or did you decide to come here of your own will and discretion, thinking it was a tactical move?" When he answered that he had acted upon his own decision, they suggested a different move which he accepted and acted upon. Similar changes in his decision occurred during the digging of the trench and the truce with the tribe of Ghatafan, during that battle.
4). The Prophet expressed his own views, with regard to everyday matters, such as industry, agriculture and medicine. Of course, he may have been wrong; as such knowledge belongs to specialists in those areas. For example, he was wrong in his opinion of how to pollinate date palms. But this was not a shortcoming, as no one however great in his knowledge and learning, can be expected to know about everything. In this case the pollinating of date palms is a purely agricultural matter and the Prophet's opinion was off the cuff. He neither pushed them to accept his view, nor did he accredit it to Divine revelation. When he realized his oversight he told them, "You know better regarding your worldly affairs."
The Prophets Have No Knowledge of the Unseen:
The Holy Qur’an states that the Prophet has no knowledge of the metaphysical world, and that God has commanded him to inform mankind of that fact: “Say: I tell you not that with me are the treasures of God nor do I know what is hidden, nor do I tell you I am an angel. I but follow what is revealed to me.”(Qur’an;6:50); “Say: I have no power over any good or harm to myself, except as God wills. If I had knowledge of the unseen, I should have multiplied all goods, 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). The Prophet (peace be upon him), conveyed to mankind the above Divine Message; the same Message is contained in the Holy Qur’an and recited by all Muslims.
The Messengers and the Principles of Prophethood:
God Almighty states in the Holy Qur’an that a prophet was sent to every nation: “... there never was a people without a warner having lived among them (in the past)”(Qur’an;35:24). However, the Holy Qur’an does not mention all the prophets by name: “Of some apostles we have already told thee the story; of others we have not.”Qur’an;4:164). All the prophets were sent to convey faith in the Oneness of God and the importance of following His path. The main principles of Islam are, therefore, the same as those of earlier religions, taught by earlier prophets. God says to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “The same religion has He established for you as that which he enjoined on Noah- that which We have sent by inspiration to thee - and which we enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus: namely, that ye should remain steadfast in religion and make no division therein.”(Qur’an;42:13). Each prophet was sent to his people to teach and explain the Divine Message in their language: “AND NEVER have We sent forth any apostle otherwise than [with a message] in his own people's tongue, so that he might make [the truth] clear unto them;' but God lets go astray him that wills [to go astray], and guides him that wills [to be guided] -for He alone is almighty, truly wise.”(Qur’an;14:4). The Divine Message revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the last message and it is addressed to all mankind, and he was the last prophet. All Divine Revelations ceased with his departure from this world and thus religion was complete. “Today have I perfected your religious law for you and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessing, and willed that self surrender unto Me (Islam) shall be your religion.”(Qur’an;5:3).
An Objection and Response:
Many people may ask: Why the message brought by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was addressed to all mankind whereas other messages had been given only to their respective peoples? How can this message remain unchanged and pure whilst other messages have been changed?The answer to this question is, though God Almighty knows better, that the message of Islam is viable and suitable for every age and place. Islamic tenets of faith and principles of worship have been given in explicit and detailed texts. It admits no change or amendment because these tenets and principles do not need to be changed with the times, and they do not vary according to different traditions or conventions. It is important to note that directives concerning evolutionary matters like; constitutional issues, financial matters and administrative dealings which are affected by changing times and tradition, the Divine directives were conveyed in the form of broad principles. Like the foundations of a building, the structure built upon it are left to the discretion of every age and every society, and provided they are adhered to, are perfectly viable. Here are some brief examples. Islam teaches that a ruler should be selected by consensus of his nation, and that he should have the necessary qualities for performing the duties of the state. He should abide by the Islamic Constitution, which is the Holy Qur’an, and seek the opinion of those in power. In fact, every society throughout the ages has been given the freedom to decide how they will select their leader, the procedure they will use to appoint positions of authority, etc. In Islam, rule by justice is compulsory, but we are given freedom to determine the course of justice, ways of appointing judges and legal procedures. With regards to legal contracts, we have been given general rules that ensure the rights and privileges of the two parties involved. Rules concerning accurate wording and the expression of intent of the two sides have also been laid down. Any type of contract which will harm the good of the public or put one of the parties at undue disadvantage is banned. We are free to work out the details of the clauses of a contract.
As regards individual enterprises and financial transactions, these are sanctioned by Islam, and only in instances where there are particular directives of something originally forbidden, these are banned. Islam has opened the doors of reform for us. Any matter which is in the public interest of a Muslim society, and which is neither obligatory nor forbidden, as per the Shari’a, may be created as a religious duty by the order of a Muslim ruler. Financial laws, the penal code, administrative regulations (traffic rules, municipal laws, etc.,) all fall under this category. Hence Islam is applicable to the needs of every age and society. However, some latter jurists, due to narrow attitudes, have forbidden to the public what is permitted by the Shari’a, or conversely, forced them to adopt liberal attitudes which are not allowed in Islam.
In the olden days, especially during the time of the earlier prophets, the world was a vast expanse and nations were far apart with few means for contact and interaction with each other. Their main means of transport were animals like horses, camel, donkeys, bull carts etc. However, since the advent of Islam, contact and interaction grew rapidly. Nowadays a speech delivered in New York or any part of the world can be heard and seen simultaneously by millions any where in the world [thanks to internet and the satellite TV channels]. The world is growing smaller, and is becoming more like one nation (Global Village). Therefore the Message of Islam can now be spread all around the world, through the modern media (both electronic and print) if Muslims seriously undertake their responsibility regarding what their religion enjoins upon them.
Islam Does not Differentiate Between Prophets:
Some people may criticize prophets belonging to religions other than their own. But Islam enjoins upon every Muslim to respect other prophets, and therefore any criticism or disrespect against other prophets goes against Islamic principles. “The Apostle (Muhammad) and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer. They all believe in God and His angels, and His revelations and His apostles, making no distinction between any of his apostles and they say, "We have heard and we pay heed. Grant us thy forgiveness. 0’ our Sustainer, for to Thee is the return (of all)”.(Qur’an;2:285). So a Muslim loves Moses (peace be upon him) and Jesus (peace be upon him) in the same way as he loves Muhammad (peace be upon him), and has the same degree of regard and respect for them. A Jew who embraces Christianity does not lose his affinity for Moses (peace be upon him); he merely develops love for one more prophet, namely Jesus (peace be upon him). Likewise, a Christian embracing Islam draws near to another Prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him), in addition to Prophets Jesus and Moses (peace be upon them).
Messengers of God Mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:
Muslims believe that:-
ü The Holy Qur’an is the Word of God; it was revealed to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel, and Muhammad (peace be upon him) conveyed this Message to mankind in exactly in the same way as he received it.
ü Muslims also believe that the words of the Holy Qur’an that he recites are the same words in the text that was transmitted by angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Only the unbeliever denies or doubts any part of it.
ü The Holy Qur’an mentions twenty-three prophets and their names appear in sox verses:
1). “And this was Our argument which We vouchsafed unto Abraham against his people: (for) We do raise by degrees whom We will. Verily thy Sustainer is Wise, All-knowing. And We bestowed upon him Isaac and Jacob, and We guided each of them as We had guided Noah aforetime. And out of his offspring (We bestowed prophethood upon) David, and Solomon, and Job, and Joseph, and Moses, and Aaron: for thus We reward the doers of good; and upon Zachariah, and John, and Jesus, and Elijah: every one of them was of the righteous; and (upon) Ishmael, and Elisha, and Jonah, and Lot. And every one of them did We favour above the other people.”(Qur’an;6: 83- 87).
2). “And call to mind through this Divine writ, Idris. Behold, he was a man of truth, a prophet, whom We exalted onto a lofty station. (Qur’an;19:56).
3). “And unto (the tribe of) 'Ad (We sent) their brother Hud (Eber)”(Qur’an;7:65).
4). “And unto (the tribe of) Thamud (Qur’an; We sent) their brother Salih.” (Qur’an;7:73).
5). “And unto (the people of) Madyan (We sent) their brother Shu'ayb (Jeethro, Reu-el)”(Qur’an;7:85).
6). “And (remember) Ishmael and Idris and Dhul-kifl, all-(men) of constancy and patience. (Qur’an;21:85). [Note: Zul-kifl would literally mean "possessor of, or giving, a double requital or portion"; or else, "one who used a cloak of double thickness," that being one of the meanings of Kifl. The Commentators differ in opinion as to who is meant, why the title is applied to him, and the point of his being grouped with Ishmael and Idris for constancy and patience. If we accept "Zul-kifl" to be not an epithet, but an Arabicised form of "Ezekiel", it fits the context. Ezekiel was a prophet in Israel who was carried away to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after his second attack on Jerusalem (about B.C. 599). He bore all hardship in captivity with patience and constancy, and continued to reprove boldly the evils in Israel.]
Although the Holy Qur’an does not refer to Adam (peace be upon him), specifically as a prophet, we can deduce from the verses where he is mentioned that he was also one of the propehts. Among the twenty three prophets mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, some, such as Idris and Dhul Kifl, have only been referred to very briefly by name. Others are mentioned with a short account of their life histories, such as Ishmael, Isaac and Yunus (Jonah), while great detail has been given about other Prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Joseph and Jesus (peace be upon them all). All stories in the Holy Qur’an about the prophets are true and authentic, and one of the principles of faith for Muslims is to believe in them. Some of these apostles have we endowed more highly than others: “among them were such as were spoken to by God (Himself) and some He has raised yet higher.”(Qur’an;2:253).
The Quraysh tribe were unable to believe that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had been able travel from Mecca to Jerusalem in one night. Of course, these days such a journey would not strike anyone as being an impossible feat. But in the days of our Prophet (peace be upon him) it was considered impossible, as the only means of transport available were animals, such as camels and donkeys. Even the most eminent of physicists living a hundred years ago would never have believed anyone who told him that a time would come when people would be able to fly through the air in vehicles made of iron and steel, or moreover go up into the space (even moon)! He would have found it difficult to believe that voices (and moving pictures) could be recorded and broadcast everywhere and anywhere and that we would therefore be able to (see and ) listen to people's (pictures, movies and) voices after they had passed away.
Achieving the Impossible: The concept of 'impossibility' is founded on two beliefs. Firstly, impossibility based on something being unfeasible, which is beyond our capabilities, such as the examples given above. The second concept of the term refers to what our minds are unable to take in. For example, we cannot conceive that any two opposites can meet. Let us take the example of existence and nonexistence: a man cannot be present and absent in a place at the same time. In the same way, no object can take on two entities at the same time, so that a book cannot become a spoon while it is still a book. That which is impossible in the sense of something being mentally inconceivable remains impossible. However, what is considered to be impossible because it is not feasible, may become possible if man studies the laws of nature God has laid down for the universe and, as a result, succeeds in making it feasible. In fact as God laid down these laws of nature He can make possible anything which seems impossible. So we should, after ascertaining the facts, accept the fact that this type of impossibility can become a possibility.
Supernatural Occurrences: The Holy Qur’an mentions three types of supernatural occurrences.
1). The first type concerns miracles performed by the prophets when they were challenged to prove their prophethood. Thus, when Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) was thrown into the fire. God made the heat become a peaceful haven. When Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) threw down his staff, it turned into a snake, and when he struck the sea with his staff, the sea parted and each division looked like a vast mountain. And, with God's permission, Jesus (peace be upon him) brought the dead back to life. These are all examples of miracles.
2). The second type of supernatural occurrences happened to saintly people. Food was made available to Mary (peace be upon her) in her room and the Queen of Sheba's throne was transported from Yemen to Palestine in a split second. Another example of supernatural occurrences can be described as Divine temptation which tests one's faith. The Holy Qur’an talks of how the apostate Samaritan produced a calf making a lowing sound, from molten gold. We should believe in all three types of supernatural happenings and all details regarding them, as they are described in the Holy Qur’an. We can, however, keep the supernatural events happening to saintly people, but not recounted in the Qur’an, open for questioning. They may or may not be true. If they were experienced by truly saintly people, we can believe that these things really happened. A truly saintly person is free of all sin. The Holy Qur’an says: “Oh verily, they who are close to God - no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve: they who have attained to faith and have always been conscious of Him.”(Qur’an;10:62-63). You are under no obligation to believe in these occurrences if you are not convinced about the authenticity of the people connected with them. There are some alleged forms of the supernatural involving sinful acts and strange events which cannot be explained also happen to non-believers. But none of these should be considered supernatural.
3). Miracles and Magic:
When the challenge took place between Moses (peace be upon him) and Pharaoh's magicians, the latter threw their ropes and sticks and turned them into snakes. But, in fact, these snakes were soon swallowed up by the snake Moses (peace be upon him) produced (with the power of God)! So, was the snake he produced identical to theirs? Did he, like them, perform a conjuring trick? Not at all. The snakes they produced were illusory, and took the spectators in, whereas the one Moses (peace be upon him) brought about was alive and real. The magicians were so much in awe of this fact that they made a spontaneous declaration of their faith in God. The reason for this spontaneous reaction was because the magicians realized that the act of Moses (peace be upon him) was not an illusion or any form of conjuring trick, and were stunned and shaken to the very depth of their hearts.
The outcome of this was their total conversion and belief in God. They declared their faith in a way which was most defiant and humiliating to Pharaoh. As they admitted their faith, the falsehood of Pharaoh's greatness and the fact that his form of godliness was untrue, became apparent to them. They changed their outlook immediately because this world suddenly seemed trivial to them; so they did not feel threatened by Pharaoh's threat to punish them by crucifixion and mutilation. They developed an inner calm which shielded them from fear and panic. Even though Pharaoh had the power to punish them in this world, how could that compare with the joy and comfort of the world hereafter? Therefore they snubbed Pharaoh, saying: “"We can never prefer you, rather we prefer the miracle which we have witnessed and Him Who has created us. Therefore do whatever you will; you can only punish us in this worldly life.”(Qur’an;20:72). How much I, who was born a Muslim, and whose forefathers have been Muslims, wish I had been bestowed with this kind of spontaneous faith, as were Pharaoh's magicians, a faith that was born as a result of their accepting Islam.
Miracles of Muhammad (peace be upon him):
The two miracles granted to our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), are, firstly, the Holy Qur’an and, secondly, the unique qualities which made him pre-eminently deserving of prophethood. His life history was a miracle in itself. He was a human being, like all other human beings and God commanded him to declare this fact and make it clear to everyone, in case people made a god of, or ascribed Divine attributes to him: “Say (O Prophet): "I am but a mortal man like all of you. It has been revealed unto me that our God is the One and Only God”(Qur’an;18:110). However, it has been proved that no other human being is similar to him in his greatness, even though he had all the physical and mental characteristics of a human being. God Almighty has not created any unique human being from among the children of Adam, save Muhammad (peace be upon him) his father Abraham, Moses, Jesus - and on all the other prophets (peace be upon them all).
It would be both untrue and grossly unfair to Muhammad (peace be upon him) if we were to compare him with all the thousands of great men throughout history. Every great man has been known only for a certain aspect of greatness: some have been known for their wisdom, but notorious for their lack of sensitivity and difficulty in expressing themselves; others were noted for their eloquence of speech and their power of imagination, but the ideas they expressed were ordinary. Still others were most able administrators and distinguished leaders, but corrupt in their personal lives.
Our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the only great man who can be described as the epitome of greatness. All the others had a blind spot, maybe a guarded secret regarding their moral behaviour - some sort of perversity or weakness. Only Muhammad (peace be upon him) has a life history which is an open book, for everyone to read and scrutinize. He alone permitted his companions to tell the public everything about him. They therefore described every detail of his behaviour both during his hours of tranquility, as well as times when he was open to human weakness; when he showed signs of anger, desire or was prey to emotional reactions. We can also read all about his private and domestic life, as told by his wives. With his permission, Aysha (his wife and mother of believers) narrated every detail regarding his family life. Nothing has been left out as all his actions were carried out according to the Divine path and guidance. Had I not the feeling that this book will be read by children and women as well, I would have unraveled such aspect of his life which are usually kept obscure. Nonetheless, all such aspects can be read about both in the books about his life and in those on Islamic jurisprudence.
Any one can read about strictly personal aspects of his life: his habits with regard to personal hygiene, the way he ate, dressed, slept, etc. Is there any other great man who has dared to say to the public, “Look - here is my life history, -everything I have done. You can read it and tell others about it - friends and enemies! And I am open to criticism from anyone!”. Has anyone else's life history been recorded and kept intact for so many centuries? A man may be great for his intrinsic qualities, noble disposition and personal charm, and he can also be revered for his intellectual brilliance, which he leaves behind as a heritage for his own country and the world. Every great man has only one such dimension of greatness in him. But greatness pf Muhammad (peace be upon him) represents every aspect.
We should also consider the fact that most great men are great only among their own people. They may do good for them, while harming others, who do not belong to their category. The life histories of statesmen, warriors and conquerors all show this. Or a man may be well known and respected all over the world, but his fame may be due to a limited area: discovery of one of the many laws of nature which God laid down for our universe, or a certain medicine for a particular disease. He may have come up with a new theory of philosophy, or written a masterpiece or the life story of a literary genius. But the greatness of Muhammad (peace be upon him) was comprehensive in both range and scope, and he practiced what he preached. He was unlike the many missionary zealots of the past and the present, who fail to practice what they preach at the top of their voices! Those whose true colours were exposed during moments of weakness: desire, fear, anger, need and hunger. At moments like this they might completely forget what they teach.
Maybe I can hold myself up as an example. Sometimes I rise to sublime heights when I am writing an article, or delivering a lecture encouraging people to abide by truth, goodness, and righteousness. But as soon as I reach these heights, my ego interferes! I start to long for some sort of glory. In fact, man's inner self does try to lead him away form God. So, within a few minutes I come down to earth again, to an ordinary existence. Because people notice this very same attitude among preachers and religious men, they do not take much notice of what they say. As for our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he practiced whatever he taught. He exhorted people to do good, and shun temptation; what's more, he translated his words into actions, using the Holy Qur’an as his guiding force. He was tireless in his effort to reform people by his words and deeds. He was not invited to give lectures and seminars at universities and such places. He carried out his mission wherever he was: at home, in the mosque or in a public place. He really demonstrated everything that the Holy Qur’an pleads for and exhorts people to do, in his everyday life.
He used to offer night prayers for such a long time that his feet became swollen. He always sought God's forgiveness. He was once asked; “Hasn't God forgiven you for all your sins (then why do pray such long hours)?”, to which he replied, “Shouldn't I be a thankful servant of God?” Every single action was like a prayer, because he always sought to do good and banish evil, and he unceasingly sought to serve the common good. I would like to quote just one incident to show how he practiced what he believed and adhered strongly to the principles he held high, and kept above all other considerations. But before I relate the incident, let me preset the following prelude. If a girl from a distinguished family commits the crime of theft, would she get the same sort of punishment as a girl from a working class background, accused of a similar crime? Probably not! In most cases, many covert efforts would be made to see that the whole matter was hushed up, or at least the legal punishment was not severe. A similar incident happened during the Prophet's lifetime. A young woman coming from one of the most distinguished and noblest Muslim families committed a theft. She was found to be guilty and the verdict was announced. Immediately some people tried to intervene, hoping that the Prophet, well-known for his magnanimity and love of forgiveness, would grant pardon in this case. Not at all! In fact he was angry that he had been approached in this way, and reminded people of how earlier generations had been ruined because crimes committed by influential people occupying high position in the society went unpunished, while the weak, poor and meek were punished. He then made a remarkable statement which came to be accepted as a firm principle of Islam. He said: “Indeed - by God, if Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, were to steal, her hand would be amputated.” This statement put an end to interference in legal verdicts.
The above attitude was natural for the Prophet (peace be upon him), because his whole life was a model life of Dawah (spreading the message of Islam). His personal likes and dislikes, and his friendships with people were governed by the parameters of Divine Message. And he did not hesitate to break any bonds which conflicted with his mission. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had elevated himself above all desire for the good things of life which human beings usually crave for. However, he did not live like a hermit and deprive himself of food or become mystic wearing strange clothes. He ate whatever good food was served to him, provided it came within the confines of Divine Law. He was never seen to lookdown upon any kind of food. He had tremendous willpower which enabled him to be patient at all times, and stay without food for days. If hunger pangs overwhelmed him, he would tie a stone over his stomach to suppress his hunger.
As regards his clothes, he did not stick to one particular way of dressing himself. He sometimes wore both a cap and a turban at the same time, or at times one or the other. He usually wore an under-garment, with a robe and an outer garment over it. The jubba (long outer garment) he sometimes wore sometimes had narrow sleeves, not the wide sleeves we see today. His turban consisted of a length of cloth tied round his head, which he would drape over his shoulder when it was not being worn. This type of turban can be used for other purposes during times of peace, or for tying up prisoners in times of war. At times he made a tuft for it. It is necessary to wear turbans in the Arabic peninsula due to climatic reasons and to protect oneself form the intense heat. This has given rise to the saying, "Turbans are the Arabs' crowns." Regarding colour, the Prophet did not stick to any particular one, but wore a black turban on the day of his victorious re-entry into Mecca. Only clothes which show parts of the body which should be covered are forbidden in Islam, or styles which are not in harmony with decency and modesty. Muslim women should only expose their faces and the palms of their hands, and Muslim men should not wear anything made of silk. No Muslim - male or female should wear any type of attire associated with other religions as their symbol, such as a monk's robe or the clothing of a priest. Clothes should not reflect extravagance or be ostentatious. Apart from these rulings, Islam permits any type of clothing.
While the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not forbid people to enjoy the beautiful and good things of life that God has bestowed on mankind, he did not indulge in them himself. He had risen above the desire to have lust or wealth. It is a well-known fact that the tribe of Quraysh offered him wealth, power and the position of leadership, and tried to tempt him with many other offers in order to persuade him to give up his mission. But he firmly refused all these offers, and felt pity and concern for the people who had made them.
The Prophet was also above the temptations of sexual desire. However, the, subject of women is one which is exaggerated by orientalists who have researched his life and sought to tarnish his image and mislead the public. They use the fact that he married nine wives as a case for him being "a man of lust". But they have judged him in the same way as they judge other great men eminent writers or brave warriors. For example Napoleon was a notorious womanizer and made the whole nation of Poland act as pimps in order to gain the hand of Mary Valvdka, with whom he was madly in love. He forced her father to offer her to him as a price to be paid for the independence of Poland. The life histories of many great men, such as Alexander Dumas, Byron, Goethe and Bodlieare - and many others, abound with scandals of sexual pursuit. And these orientalists have judged our Prophet (peace be upon him) by the same standards, drawing the conclusion that he, like the others, was sensuous and a man of lust. But these men did not study the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in great depth, nor did they take certain psychological factors into consideration. Furthermore, their judgments were partial and showed no respect for moral behaviour.
The sexual urge manifests itself in people from the age of puberty until the age of twenty five. A person is considered to be most vulnerable at this age, and sex can become an obsession which leads to all sorts of pitfalls and deviation. This is why free mixing of girls and boys at this age, even for academic purposes, is discouraged. Now let us consider the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) at this stage of his life. Did he get misled and enjoy the pleasures his contemporaries indulged in? After all, he was a free man living in a free place and in a society which, at that time, was not governed by any religion or law. He was therefore absolutely free to do as he wished. As we said before, our Prophet's life history is an open book, which anyone can read. Can anyone prove, therefore, that he was, in the full flush of youth, a man who indulged in sensual and immoral pleasures? It is narrated that he was almost led into temptation by his contemporaries, but luckily God saved him. He made him fall asleep, and when he woke up he had forgotten what he had wanted to do. Had he indulged in any such acts of pleasure, his enemies, the polytheists, would not have hesitated to publicise the fact and blackmail him. When our Prophet got married at the age of twenty-five, did he marry a beautiful virgin? He married a widow who was much elder than him. Most of his other wives were also widows, and he only married them for tactical reasons. God had granted him permission to marry more than four wives - and this right was not granted to other Muslims. However, God did not give him the right to divorce them, a right which is given to Muslims. Of course, the sexual drive is not a human flaw. How could a characteristic of man become a fault of mankind? But it can be harmful when a man becomes sexually obsessive, making it his sole occupation, and seeking to satisfy himself in ways which are not permitted.
The story of Zaynab is a favorite among the critics of Islam. They try to find fault with it, through distortion and misinterpretation, and their views do not, therefore, deserve any attention. Zaynab was a good-looking girl and closely related to the Prophet. If he had so wished, he could have married her - an act which would have been the greatest honour her family could have wished for. But the Divine Will had ordained that her marriage would be the cause of two important social reforms which were to come about in Islam. Firstly, she was the subject of a test case, and secondly the Prophet (peace be upon him) was made to set an example to others. In the first instance God Almighty sought to put an end to aristocratic pride and class consciousness. So Zaynab, a girl belonging to the noblest Arab stock, was married to Zayd, a man from a humble background, a fugitive and an adopted son of the Prophet. Society at that time considered him totally unworthy of her but she married him all the same, against the wish of her family. Subsequently it was difficult for her to adjust to her new life, and she and her husband were constantly bickering. Both partners were not at ease with each other and wanted to separate. But our Prophet (peace be upon him) continued to advise Zayd: "Retain your wife and fear God." But the couple had reached the end of their tether and divorce became inevitable. What happened next involved the Prophet (peace be upon him). He was put to the most difficult test. He had to marry Zaynab in order to put an end to the practice of adoption and show the world that it is lawful for a person to marry the wife of his adopted son. This was extremely hard for the Prophet (peace be upon him) who did not want to bear the stigma of society as one who had married his son's wife. However, he carried out this duty with patience and in obedience to the Divine Will. However, the above incident should be seen in perspective, and not in the way in which it is presented by critics of Islam. The conclusions they draw are nonsense and do not deserve any attention.
Physical strength builds up our physical resistance, whereas moral strength - the courage of conviction of the heart – leads to victory over the enemies. Yet the most powerful strength of all, more powerful than the might of our enemies or of any material force, is the strength of the willpower to overcome the self and its cravings impulses, desires and inclinations. Our Prophet (peace be upon him) has, on different occasions, exhorted us to cultivate such a strength: "Strong is not the one who is good at wrestling. Indeed strong is the one who controls himself at the time of anger." And we all know that controlling the anger is the most difficult of all tasks for any one! The amount of energy needed to keep our temper is far greater than that required to knock down our opponent in the boxing ring. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the ratio is 1:100. You can try this theory out in everyday life by asking someone who is at the peak of his fury to abide by the principles of good behaviour. You may not even find one in a thousand men who would respond to your suggestion. Say you are a religious person engaged in the task of spreading our religion and someone murders a very dear relative of yours and then comes to you to confess his crime and respond to your call to religion. How would you react? Our Prophet (peace be upon him) pardoned the man who had brutally murdered his uncle when that man accepted Islam. But even then our Prophet (peace be upon him) found it hard to suppress his human instinct in such a way so as not to violate the principles of Islam. He therefore said to the man, "Don't let me see you!" So this person never appeared before the Prophet (peace be upon him). The story of Hind is also worth mentioning in this context. Hind was the wife of Abu Sufyan, the arch enemy of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his mission. She committed a horrible crime which no human being or wild beast would commit. She cut open the Prophet's uncle's chest, took out his liver and chewed it. But the Prophet (peace be upon him) forgave her, in spite of all her sinful acts, and accepted her into the fold of Islam. The inhabitants of the city of Taif carried out many wicked deeds against the Prophet (peace be upon him), yet when they embraced Islam he pardoned them.
Then we have the most magnanimous act of all-and a most important event in the history of Islam. That was the general pardon the Prophet granted the people of Mecca, they, who had caused him the greatest possible distress and suffering, both personally and to his mission in general. They spared no effort whatsoever in their attempts to pull him down. They boycotted him, abused him, imprisoned him, threw camel's filth at him while he was praying and placed thorns on the streets through which he passed. And all these events did not take place over a few days - but over a period of thirteen years. They also fought pitched battles against him and massacred his relatives and companions. Then came the hour of retaliation - although this word does not truly reflect this situation. It was time to impose lawful punishment in answer to that long chain of aggressive and humiliating actions. It was at this point that the Prophet asked the people of Mecca, "What do you think I'm going to do with you all?" The record of what they had done was always at the back of their minds which meant they were aware of the punishment they deserved, but they did not forget the noble personality which Muhammad (peace be upon him) possessed. So they answered, "You are a noble brother and the son of a noble brother." Then they stood in silence, waiting for his verdict. If it had been a death sentence to them all, no one would have objected in the least - and no historian in later years, whether a friend or a critic of Islam, would have been able to find fault with his decision. But Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave a different verdict; it was one that took them by surprise, and continues to surprise every generation. "Freedom is granted to you all!" he declared. It is a pity that I have only been able to give such a brief account of this incident. I would have preferred to devote a whole chapter to it in order to present the facts and the magnanimity of Prophet (peace be upon him) in its true perspective.
Indeed his attitude would have needed the energy of ten thousand wrestlers! I wonder why the later day biographers of our Prophet (peace be upon him) were so concerned with the miracles he performed. In fact, they sometimes gave exaggerated versions and filled in details on their own. This was sheer fabrication - why did they need to do this? Wasn't every stand our Prophet (peace be upon him) took and every aspect of his personality a miracle in itself? Which brings us to the definition of the word miracle. Does it mean achieving something that others have been unable to achieve? The Prophet's honesty and trustworthiness were miracles in themselves. Alas, it is impossible to give many examples because of the limitations of space, but I would like to mention just one incident from his life. I have read about it hundreds of times and have always regarded it as rather an ordinary story, until suddenly one day, I realized it was a miracle. When the Prophet migrated to Medina he left one of his companions, Ali, behind to take care of the money which the Quraysh tribe had entrusted him with. These were the cash assets of the tribe, and Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the only person they trusted enough to leave them with, even though he and they were not on good terms. He returned them to the Quraysh tribe and not to the Muslims, because all Muslims had migrated, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) was the last to leave Mecca. He stayed there till the last moment, like the captain of an abandoned ship; he did not leave until all the passengers had disembarked and got into life boats. This is another great quality of our Prophet (peace be upon him) which I have only mentioned briefly. Can you imagine two different parties, who have -been engaged in fierce battles, both verbal and on the battlefield for the sake of faith and the Divine Message, entrusting the opposing party with their assets and valuables? Have you ever heard such a story? How could they trust their opponent unless his personal character, integrity and honesty were, beyond any doubt, a miracle? To doubt him in any way was impossible. This was what the personality of Muhammad (peace be upon him) was like.
And here is another story which shows yet another aspect of his character. On the day of the battle of Badr, our Prophet (peace be upon him) was inspecting the infantry. He was carrying a shaft of wood in his hand, and thrust it gently into the abdomen of a soldier named Sawad ibn Ghizya, who was standing apart from the troop formation. The Prophet (peace be upon him) wanted to alert him and make him take his place, but as the prod of the shaft of wood had hurt him, he said to the Prophet (peace be upon him); "Oh Prophet of God, you have hurt me. Indeed, God has sent you in order to spread the message of truth and justice!" How do you think the Prophet (peace be upon him) reacted to such an affront from an ordinary soldier? Did he take any disciplinary action, did he ignore him or forgive him? Or did he apologize to the soldier in the usual way by saying, "I'm sorry." He did none of these things. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did what no one else would do, and something that may not even occur to anyone to do. He uncovered his own abdomen and said, "Thrust the shaft and inflict pain on me as I inflicted it on you!" This was what he was like. He caused retaliation to himself, in spite of his exalted position among all mankind.
The life history of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) consists of a series of actions and achievements unparalleled in the history of mankind. No other eminent person has left such a record of greatness and glory in every aspect of his life, behind him. This greatness included personal courage and valour, magnanimity, patience at times of defeat and self restraint at times of anger. He was a firm and fearless warrior in the battlefield, to such an extent that his companions always rushed to him at critical moments to seek comfort and solace. Even the bravest of men were no challenge for him. He was also a man of extreme compassion. He gave a helping hand to the poor and the needy, and stood by the widows and the aged. The Prophet (peace be upon him) always upheld truth, faithfully conveying every verse of the Divine Revelation, including the verses that mentioned his mistakes and reprimanded him. He honoured the treaties he made and kept his word, despite the difficulties and hardships he had to face on that count. He honoured his commitments, whether they concerned personal dealings or matters of the state.
Our Prophet (peace be upon him) was meticulous in his personal conduct and behaviour. It was he who laid down rules for table manners and personal hygiene. He educated his companions with regard to these matters, setting himself up as an example for them to follow. His standard of living was in no way different from theirs. He was never aloof from them, always consulting them and listening to their views. He was self effacing and whenever he met his companions he took his seat wherever there was an empty place, even if it meant sitting in a corner, away from everyone else in fact, visitors had sometimes to strain their eyes in order to spot him. It is said that at one such gathering, a visitor found that everyone who was seated looked identical, and therefore asked, "Who among you is Muhammad?" Our Prophet (peace be upon him) never distinguished himself from others. He was one of them: he dressed like them and resembled them in every way.
His attitude to women was very courteous, and his conduct with the members of his family and at home was remarkable for the unrestrained love and affection he showed. He was close to everyone, because he never let people feel that he was superior to them, like a king. He never allowed his companions to stand up in reverence to him when he called on them. He used to attend personally to the requirements of his household and even mended his shoes himself. Our Prophet (peace be upon him) preferred to lead a frugal life, though he could, if he had wanted, have lived in grand style in a fabulous palace with all the ensuing display of ostentatious living. But he shunned all forms of show because his thoughts were always engaged in the afterlife. The house where he lived with his wives was only twenty five meters long. Aysha's house consisted of one room made of clay and mud, and it was so narrow that there was not enough room for her to stretch out while the Prophet (peace be upon him) prayed, so that whenever he prostrated he had to push her feet to one side. As for his eating habits, Aisha tells us that he had a very light appetite and that, "a month or two may pass without a fire being lit in the kitchen in order to make bread." When she was asked, "Then what did you all eat?'’ she replied, "Dates and water." This was the staple diet of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his family. Regarding his eloquence and clarity of speech, he was always known for expressing himself clearly and simply. All the qualities we have discussed prove that our Prophet (peace be upon him) was an extraordinary man and that God Almighty chose him for the tremendous task, only after preparing him fully for that responsibility. Our Prophet (peace be upon him) was one of many human beings, but no one had his qualities. Indeed God knows best upon whom to bestow His Message.
* At the end of his last sermon during last Hajj (632 C.E) the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not astray from the path of righteousness after I am gone. O’ People, no messengers or prophet will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O’ People, and understand my words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur’an and my example, the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray. All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness oh Allah that I have conveyed your message to your people.”
[* Not mentioned by the author but added here enow]
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