PROPHET MUHAMMAD—PART I
THE Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, upon whom be peace, was born in Arabia on 22 April 570 AD, and died on 8 June 632 AD. He was a handsome and powerfully built man. His childhood gave indications of the sublime and dynamic personality that was to emerge. Growing up, the nobility of his personality cast an effect on all who beheld him. His soft-spoken and genial disposition earned him a great deal of love from all who came in contact with him. A perfectly balanced personality—tolerant, truthful, perspicacious and magnanimous—he presented the highest example of human nobility. He became known as the most chivalrous among his people, tolerant and forbearing, truthful and trustworthy, always the good neighbour. He stayed aloof from quarrels and squabbles and never indulged in foul utterances, abuse or invective. People left their valuables in his custody, knowing he would never betray them. His unimpeachable trustworthiness won him the title of “al-Amin,” a faithful custodian, an unfailing trustee.
The Prophet's unimpeachable trustworthiness won him
the title of “al-Amin,” a faithful custodian, an unfailing trustee.
He married at the age of twenty-five, his uncle Abu Talib performing the marriage service. “There is no one to compare with my nephew, Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah,” he said. “He outshines everyone in nobility, gentility, eminence and wisdom. By God, he has a great future and will reach a very high station.” Abu Talib meant them in a worldly sense. Nature had endowed his nephew with a magnetic and versatile personality. His people would surely appreciate his qualities, and raise him to a high position. Abu Talib envisaged a future of worldly success and accomplishment for his nephew; this was the “great future” which he referred to in his sermon.
Without doubt the Prophet had every opportunity for worldly advancement. He was born into a noble family of Makkah and his virtues guaranteed his success in life. True, he had inherited just one camel and one servant from his father, but his inborn high qualities had impressed the richest woman in Makkah, Khadijah, a forty-yearold widow belonging to a family of merchants. Not only did marriage with Khadijah provide the Prophet with wealth and property; it also threw open to him a vast field of business in Arabia and beyond. The Prophet had every opportunity to lead a successful and comfortable life. But he forsook these, opting for something quite different. Intentionally he took a road that could only lead to worldly ruin. Before marriage, the Prophet had earned his living in different ways. He now relinquished all such activities, and dedicated himself to his lifelong vocation—the pursuit of truth. He would sit for hours and ponder over the mysteries of creation. Instead of socializing and trying to gain a position for himself among the nobles of Makkah, he wandered in the hills and dales of the desert. Often he retired to the solitude of a cave in Mount Hira’—three miles from Makkah— for prayer and meditation. He visited home only to replenish his supplies, He beseeched the Maker of the heavens and the earth for answers to the questions surging in his mind. What is our true role in life? What does the Lord require of us, His servants? Whence do we come and whither will we go after death? Unable to find answers in the midst of human bustle, he betook to the stillness of the desert; perhaps there the answer would be forthcoming.
The Prophet had every opportunity to lead a successful and comfortable life.
But he forsook these, opting for something quite different.
The Romanian orientalist Konstan Virgil George (b. 1916) writes in his book, The Prophet of Islam:
Until one has spent some time in the wilds of Arabia and the Middle East, one cannot begin to understand how the vastness and tranquillity of the desert expands the human intellect and fortifies the imagination. There is a great difference between European and Arabian plants. There is no plant in the arid reaches of the desert that does not exude a sweet fragrance; even the acacia trees of this land are aromatic. The desert stretches for 3,000,000 square kilometres. Here it is as though man comes into direct contact with God. Other countries are like buildings in which massive walls obstruct one’s view; but there is nothing blocking one’s vision of reality in the vast open reaches of Arabia. Wherever one looks, one sees endless sands and fathomless sky. Here, there is nothing to stop one from consorting with God and His angels.
It was unusual for a young man to take this course in the prime of life. He renounced worldly happiness and chose a path fraught with difficulties. He had all means and opportunities for a comfortable life, but his turbulent soul found no satisfaction in them. He could not rest content until he had unravelled the mysteries of life. He sought to delve beyond external appearances, and seek out the reality of life. Worldly gain and loss, comfort and distress, did not concern him; what mattered was the all-important question of truth and falsehood.
This phase of the Prophet’s life is referred to thus in the Quran:
Did he not find you wandering and guide you? (THE QURAN 93: 7)
The Prophet beseeched the Maker of the heavens and the
earth for answers to the questions surging in his mind.
What is our true role in life? What does the
Lord require of us, His servants?
The word used in this verse for “wandering” (dhallan) can also be used to describe a tree standing alone in an empty desert. The Prophet, then, was like a lone tree standing amidst the vast wilderness of ignorance that was Arabia of the time. The idea of consolidating his position in this society was abhorrent to him. He sought the truth, and nothing less than the truth could satisfy his soul. His quest had reached a point when life had become an unbearable burden. The Quran looks back on that time:
Have We not lifted up and expanded your heart and relieved you of the burden, which weighed down your back? (THE QURAN 94: 1-3)
God indeed relieved him of his burden. He turned in mercy to His Prophet, illuminating his path and guiding him on his journey. On February 12, 610 AD, the Prophet was sitting alone in his cave. The angel of the Lord appeared before him in human form and taught him the words, which appear at the beginning of the ninety-sixth chapter of the Quran. The Prophet’s quest had finally been rewarded. His restless soul had joined in communion with the Lord. Not only did God grant him guidance; He also chose Muhammad as His Prophet and special envoy to the world. The mission of the Prophet extended over the next twenty-three years. During this period the entire content of the Quran—the final divine scripture—was revealed to him.
The Prophet of Islam discovered Truth in the fortieth year of his arduous life. It was an attainment, the Truth that he stood face to face with an Almighty God. It was discovery of his helplessness before the might of God, of his nothingness before the supernatural magnitude of the Almighty. With this discovery it became clear that God’s faithful servant had nothing but responsibilities in this world; he had no rights.
The meaning that life took on for the Prophet after the Truth came to him can be ascertained from these words:
Nine things the Lord has commanded me. Fear of God in private and in public; Justness, whether in anger or in calmness; Moderation in both poverty and affluence; That I should join hands with those who break away from me; and give to those who deprive me; and forgive those who wrong me; and that my silence should be meditation; and my words remembrance of God; and my vision keen observation. (Hadith of Razin)
These words were a reflection of the Prophet’s very life. Poignant and wondrously effective words of this nature could not emanate from an empty soul; they indicate the status of the speaker; they are an outpouring of his inner being, an unquenchable spirit revealed in verbal form.
The Prophet sought to delve beyond external appearances,
and seek out the reality of life.
Even before this revelation, the Prophet’s life had followed the same pattern. The motivation however had been subconscious; now it rose to the level of consciousness. Actions previously based on instinctive impulses now became the well-conceived results of profound thinking. This is the state of one who reduces material needs to a minimum; whose life assumes a unique pattern; who in body lives in this world, but in spirit dwells on another plane.
The Prophet once said,
A discerning person should have some special moments: a moment of communion with God; a moment of self-examination; a moment of reflection over the mysteries of creation; and a moment which he puts aside for eating and drinking. (Hadith of ibn Hibban)
In other words, this is how God’s faithful servant passes the day. The yearning of his soul brings him so close to God that he finds communion with the Lord. Fear of the day of reckoning makes him reckon with himself. At times he is so overawed by the marvels of God’s creation that he starts seeing the splendours of the Creator reflected therein. He spends his time remembering the Lord, introspecting, and contemplating the world around him, while also finding time to cater for his physical needs.
These words are a reflection of the Prophet’s own personality, a flash from the light of faith that illuminated his own heart. These “moments” were an integral part of the Prophet’s life. One who has not experienced these states can never describe them in such a lofty manner. The soul from which these words emanated was itself in the state that they describe; through words, that state of spiritual perfection was communicated to others.
Worldly gain and loss, comfort and distress, did not concern him;
what mattered was the all-important question of truth and falsehood.
Before he received the word of God, this world with all its shortcomings and limitations appeared meaningless to the Prophet. God revealed to him that besides this world there was another perfect and eternal world, the real abode of man. With this, life and the universe took on new meaning. He found a new and sublime level for his soul, a life in which he could involve himself totally. The Prophet now found a world where he could put his heart and soul, a target for his hopes and aspirations, a goal for his life’s endeavours.
When reality gets rooted, it transforms one by raising one’s level of existence. The Prophet of Islam provides us with a superlative example of this way of life. The greatest lesson imparted by his life is that unless one changes one’s plane of existence, one cannot change one’s plane of actions.
When the Prophet Muhammad discovered the reality of the world hereafter, it came to dominate his whole life. He himself became most desirous of the heaven which he described to others, and was most fearful of the hell of which he warned others. Deep concern for the life to come was always welling up inside him. Sometimes it would surge to his lips in the form of supplication, and sometimes in the form of heartfelt contrition. He lived on a completely different plane from that of ordinary human beings. This is illustrated by many incidents a few of which are mentioned here.
Once the Prophet was at home with his wife, Umm Salamah. He called the maid-servant, who took some time in coming. Seeing signs of anger on the Prophet’s face, Umm Salamah went to the window and saw that the maid was playing. When she came, the Prophet had a miswak (a small stick used as a dentifrice) in his hand. “If it wasn’t for the fear of retribution on the Day of Judgement,” he told the maid, “I would have hit you with this miswak.” Even this mildest of punishments was to be eschewed.
When the Prophet Muhammad discovered the reality of the world
hereafter, it came to dominate his whole life.
This is what is meant by the world being a planting ground for the hereafter. One who realises this fact lives a life oriented towards the hereafter—a life in which all efforts are aimed at achieving success in the next eternal world; a life in which real value is attached—not to this ephemeral world—but to the life beyond death. One becomes aware that this world is not the final destination; it is only a road towards the destination, a starting-point of preparation for the future life. All actions of God’s faithful servants are focused on the hereafter. Their reactions reflect their perspective of life after death, and the effect in the next world. Whether it be an occasion of happiness or sorrow, success or failure, domination or depression, praise or condemnation, love or anger—they are forever guided by thoughts of the hereafter, until finally these thoughts become a part of their unconscious minds. They are mortal, but their minds function only on matters related to the world of immortality, making them almost forget their interest in worldly matters. o