Gowhar Quadir Wani
The Qur’ān declares in unequivocal terms that in the life of Prophet Muḥammad(SAW), is the best, the perfect and the ultimate model to be followed in letter and spirit (Q, 33:21). It also mentions that Muḥammad(SAW) possesses the most exalted character (Q, 68:04). But, what was the nature of the character of Prophet Muḥammad(SAW)? According to a narration, this question was posed to ‘Ᾱ’ishah, the beloved spouse of Muḥammad(SAW), who replied in these golden words: “kāna khuluquhū al-Qur’ān” (His character was Qur’ān[ic])(Musnad Aḥmad). Thus, if we want to know, understand, and emulate Muḥammad’s(SAW) character, we must take recourse to the Qur’ān. Muḥammad’s(SAW) character is the living and speaking embodiment of the scriptural Qur’ān. This Qur’ānic character of Prophet Muḥammad(SAW) is somewhat discussed below by highlighting some of his lofty virtues:
Humanity: First and foremost, the Qur’ān highlights Muḥammad(SAW) being “one amongst us”-human beings (min anfusikum)(Q, 09:128). This not only reflects Allah’s mercy upon humankind to facilitate the communication of His message but also dignifies humanity. Muḥammad(SAW), the beloved of Almighty, being chosen from human beings and for them, their guidance makes it all the more evident that human beings are the most cherished of the creations in the sight of the Creator.
Compassion and Mercy (Raḥmah): Islam can be undoubtedly qualified as the dῑn al-raḥmah. The Qur’ān is replete with the mention of this lofty virtue. It is not only demanded from human beings to be compassionate and merciful but also that these have been frequently and recurrently mentioned as Divine attributes. Every chapter of the Holy Qur’ān except one (Chapter 9) begins with a mention of Allah’s being the Most Compassionate and the Most Merciful(al-Raḥmān and al-Raḥῑm). The first chapter of the Qur’ān, al-Fātiḥah, after declaring Allah to be the Lord of all worlds, highlights His being Compassionate and Merciful (Q, 01:01). The attributes of compassion and mercy were epitomized by Muḥammad(SAW) in his character and the Holy Qur’ān bears witness to it. The Qur’ān says that Muḥammad(SAW) has been sent as the profound mercy for all worlds (Q, 21:107). Again, the Qur’ān highlights Muḥammad’s(SAW) being highly concerned about the wellbeing of believers and his being compassionate and merciful for them (Q, 09:128). The incredible struggle Muḥammad(SAW) endured for conveying the Divine message to humanity and the immense suffering he underwent for the same but reflect his feelings of compassion and mercy for his fellow creatures to save them from the eternal punishment. He(SAW) exhibited this mercy and compassion even in performing his religious duties as it is reported that he sometimes intended to prolong his obligatory prayers while leading the believers but used to change his mind upon hearing the cry of a weeping child so that the mother of the baby does not become restless(Bukhārῑ). He (SAW)ordered his companions who used to lead the obligatory prayers to recite those chapters of the Qur’ān in ṣalāh which are of medium size (so that the tired labourers do not face any trouble) (Bukhārῑ). It was his compassion and mercy for his fellow human beings that he exerted himself to the point of his own extinction for their ultimate welfare. Out of his mercy and compassion he forgave those who had waged war against him and killed his near and dear ones. His(SAW) teachings reflect an unequivocal emphasis on mercy and compassion. The Prophet(SAW) said, “Have mercy on those who live on earth so that He who is in the Heavens will have mercy on you (Tirmidhῑ).” Again, he(SAW) is reported to have said, “He who is not merciful to others will not be shown mercy(Bukhārῑ).” Muḥammad’s (SAW) mercy and kindness was also reflected in his treatment towards children and animals. According to a narration, “The Messenger of God(SAW) performed ṣalāh (prayer) while he was carrying an infant girl named Umāmah, daughter of Abu’l-‘Ᾱaṣ. When, he(SAW) bowed, he put her on the ground, and when he stood up, he would carry her again (Bukhārῑ).” His(SAW) kindness towards animals is depicted in another narration which relates that “during a journey, somebody picked up some bird’s eggs. The bird’s painful note and fluttering attracted the attention of the Prophet (SAW) who asked the man to replace the eggs (Bukhārῑ).”
Truthfulness: The Qur’ān lays extreme emphasis on speaking the truth and abstaining from lies. It maintains that “Be among the truthful (Q, 09:119).” It equates speaking of a lie with idol worship: abstain from the filth of idols and lies (Q, 22: 30). Muḥammad(SAW) epitomized truthfulness so much so that even his enemies were witness to the same in both phases of his(SAW) life- prophetic and pre-prophetic. He(SAW) was given the title of al-Ṣādiq al-Amῑn(the honest and the truthful) even before he announced his Prophethood. His (SAW)truthfulness was even testified by his worst enemies. The Qur’ān says in this regard: “We know indeed that what they say certainly grieves you, but surely they do not call you a liar; but the unjust deny the verses of God” (Qur’an 6:33). When Abū Sufyān was called to the court of Heraclitus, the Emperor of Rome, when the latter received the letter of the Prophet(SAW), he could not help himself testify the truthfulness of Muḥammad(SAW) even though he was a non-believer at that time and had already fought several battles with the Prophet(SAW) while leading the army of non-Muslims. In the early phase of his(SAW) Prophetic mission at Makkah, when the Prophet(SAW) was commanded by his Lord to preach publicly, he(SAW)called upon people from the Mount Ṣafā in a way that was customary to call upon people in the face of a serious danger and asked them if they would trust him if he said that a big army from behind Ṣafā was ready to attack them. All the people present there collectively answered, “We have never experienced from you anything except truth(Bukhārῑ).” According to another narration, they said, “We have never ever experienced any lie from you(Bukhārῑ).”
Trustworthiness: Being trustworthy and faithful to fellow human beings, both believers and non-believers, and safeguarding everything one is entrusted with is an essential feature of the Muslim character. One can find an overwhelming emphasis regarding this in both the Qur’ān as well as the traditions of the Prophet(SAW). The Qur’ān, while enumerating the qualities of true believers, says: “those who safeguard their trusts and promises”. Likewise, returning the trusts to their real owners constitutes an imperative of the Qur’ān. The Prophet(SAW) realized this lofty virtue in his(SAW) life both through word and deed so much so that even his blood thirsty enemies used to entrust him with their precious belongings even when they were in a state of war with him(SAW). The Prophet(SAW) is reported to have said, “Pay the trust to him who deposited it with you, and do not betray the one who betrays you (Abū Dāwūd).” Another narration reads as: “He who cheats is not one of us” .Thus, the Prophet(SAW) disowned every cheater who did not safeguard what he was entrusted with or who cheated people in any way. The faith of a cheater is questionable as the Prophet(SAW) said: “A dishonest person has no faith and the one who does not keep his promise has no religion”(Aḥmad).When the Prophet(SAW) migrated from Makkah to Madῑnah, he delegated his cousin, ‘Alῑ ibn AbῑṬālib, to stay back at Makkah to return the belongings of people the Prophet(SAW) was entrusted with. It is worth pondering that the Prophet(SAW) was keen enough to return the entrusted things even to those who had left no stone unturned to kill him thereby exemplifying that Islam does not permit to cheat even the worst enemies.
Another quality that is closely related to trustworthiness is fulfillment of promises. The Qur’ān says, “And fulfill your promises, certainly there will be questioning regarding the promises (Al-Isrā’).” The Holy Prophet(SAW) is reported to have said, “A hypocrite is known by three traits: When he speaks, he lies; when he promises, he reneges; when he is entrusted, he cheats (Bukhārῑ, Muslim).” The Prophet (SAW) meticulously fulfilled his promises so much so that during his(SAW) pre-prophetic life, he waited for three days at a fixed place for his business partner who had asked the Prophet (SAW)to wait for him but himself forgot to return.
Forgiveness: The Qur’an commands the Prophet(SAW) to forgive people for their faults(fa‘fu ‘anhum)(Q, 03: 159)and itself testifies to the fact that he(SAW) was the most forgiving (wa ya‘fū ‘an kathῑr)(Q, 05:15). The Qur’an asks the Prophet(saw) to seek forgiveness for himself (although he was Divinely protected from sins) as well as the believers and the Prophet(SAW) acted upon it so much so that he used to seek forgiveness more than seventy or hundred times a day. Besides, he(SAW) used to ignore the faults of others, his companions, servants, family members, and so on except if the limits prescribed by Allah were transgressed.
—The author is a Doctoral Candidate at the Department of Islamic Studies, AMU, Aligarh. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org