The Merciful Prophet (PBUH): The Human Face of Islam

The Merciful Prophet (PBUH): The Human Face of Islam

The scholarship on Islam in general, and on different aspects of the Quran and the biography of the Prophet (pbuh) in particular, has continued for centuries, and, indeed, has seen an impressive growth in the post-9/11 era. This has resulted in producing a plethora of literature on the Seerah/ blessed life of the Last Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh), both in ‘Islamic’/ Oriental languages (like Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Turkish) and in the European languages (especially English) in prose, poetry, and more recently through films/ documentaries.
In the West, interest has increased in the popular as well as scholarly Seerah works; and among the recent scholarship on this theme, a good number of works have been written by Western (Muslim and non-Muslims alike) scholars. Though in the Medieval eras most of this scholarship was polemical in nature, the trend has changed now and most of the works now portray a positive image of the life and activities of the last Prophet (pbuh). In this backdrop, this write-up presents a summary of the views of some selected Muslim and non-Muslims scholars/ writers on the life of the Last Prophet (pbuh), who is (above all) described in the Quran as the Mercy for all Worlds (Rahmatan Lil Alameen).
The Quran is the last divine book of Allah, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the person whose words and deeds are the first and most important commentary and explanation of the Quran. Every detail of his blessed life (Seerah) is thoroughly known to us. In ‘Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World’, Professor Carl W. Ernst writes: “While the Quran as divine revelation may be the most important resource of the Islamic tradition, we would not have it in its present form without the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who has served as an ongoing model for ethics, law, family life, politics, and spirituality in ways that were not anticipated 1,400 years ago.”
The Prophet (pbuh) was a devoted husband, an affectionate father, and a sincere friend; a successful businessman, a far-sighted reformer, a brave warrior; a skillful general, an efficient administrator, an impartial judge, a great statesman, and more. “In all these magnificent roles and in all these departments of human activities he is equally a hero”, writes K. S. Ramakrishna Rao in his ‘Mohammed: The Prophet of Islam’. Tariq Ramadan in his ‘In The Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad/ The Messenger’, puts it as: “The Prophet [pbuh] came to humankind with a message of faith, ethics, and hope, in which the One reminds all people of His presence, His requirements, and the final Day of Return and Encounter.’
The Prophet (pbuh) touched every aspect of human life and proved to be the greatest reformer the world has ever produced. He was a great savior, liberator, and protector of the oppressed. He removed all kinds of social inequalities; reconciled different creeds; bestowed security of life and property to all the people; united warring and opposing tribes; gave women their due status and place; and did much more. In the modern times, the Prophet (pbuh) is presented as a reformer who considerably raised the social and ethical level of the Arabs of his time. Leo Tolstoy said: “Undoubtedly, Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] is one of the greatest reformers who rendered extensive service to the human community.”
The Prophet (pbuh) was a great administrator as well. After the hijrah (migration) from Makkah to Medina in 622 CE, he presided over the Commonwealth of Islam for ten years (622-632 CE) which brought numerous transformations in the Arabs. Syed Ameer Ali, in his ‘A Short History of the Saracens’, writes: “During the ten years Mohammed (pbuh) presided over the commonwealth of Islam, a great change had come over the character of the Arab people.” He further states: “The work done within that short period [of 10 years] will always remain as one of the most wonderful achievements recorded in history.” On the same lines, Gerhard Bowering (in the Introduction of his Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought) puts it as: “That one man could achieve so much in such a short time is astounding.” His message has stood the test of time for more than a thousand years, and his community has grown steadily over the centuries.
A savior and liberator of oppressed humanity, the Prophet (pbuh) transformed the Arabs, within a short span of twenty-three (23) years, into a civilised and religious nation. Justice, equality, and truth were his motto; and modesty, kindness, patience and generosity pervaded his conduct. Hadrat Anas (RA), a well-known Companion, is reported to have said: “I served the Prophet (pbuh) for ten years, and he never said to me, ‘Uf’ (a word denoting impatience).”
The Prophet (pbuh), as a leader and as political head of the City-State/ Commonwealth of Medina, never led the life of a king: he was a king without kingly pretension. He had no arms, no standing army, no bodyguard, and no palace. Bosworth Smith, in his well-known book ‘Mohammad and Mohammadanism’, describes him in these words: “If ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammad [pbuh], for he had all the power without its instructions and without its supports”.
The Prophet (pbuh) devoted all his life to the realisation of his mission. A mission which every Prophet is bestowed with by Allah: To illuminate humanity’s way; to guide people to the service of Allah; to teach people Allah’s Laws; to be Role Models; to establish Balance; and to be Allah’s Witnesses. The Prophet’s (pbuh) mission was also same: To liberate man, to unite man, to educate man. In a word, to humanise man.
The Qur’an describes his character as an exemplary role model/ Uswah-e-Hasanah (Q. 33: 21). Professor Tamara Sonn, in her ‘Islam: A Brief History’, admits that the Prophet’s life is “a model for humanity of how to live every moment, and make every choice, in accordance with God’s will”. Together with the Quran, his example (Sunnah) comprises the guidance and direction Muslims need in their collective responsibility to establish justice. Hadrat Ayesha (RA) was questioned about Prophet’s personality and she replied: “His character was the Qur’an”. Truly a “Living Quran”! Prof John L. Esposito in his ‘The Future of Islam’, writes: “Muhammad [pbuh] is one of the great figures of world history. Few have had more of a global religious and political impact…. In his lifetime, throughout Muslim history, and today, the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] is seen as the ‘living Quran’, the embodiment of God’s will in his behaviour and words.”
The Prophet (pbuh) has been described by the Quran with many titles; some of them are: “the best of the creation” (Q. 33: 21); “a mercy to the worlds” (Q. 21: 107); “the seal of all Prophets” (Q. 33: 40). Moreover, the Quran shows respect for him in these words: “Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet: [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender!” (Q. 33: 56). All this brings us to the point that while God and the Quran have a higher status, it is Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who, par excellence, is the human face of Islam. In the words of Abdul Hamid Sidiqqi (the translator of Sahih Muslim), it is in the Prophet’s (pbuh) “august personality that we can know the Will of the Lord, His love for humanity, and his view, how man should live in this world”, and “it is through him that we have learnt the true concept of God, the real implication of Tauhid [monotheism], the role of man, his accountability in the Hereafter; in fact, the whole of the religion”.
All those who study the Prophet’s life, irrespective of their personal religious belief or ideology, can derive teachings from this, as Dr Annie Besant (in her book, ‘The Life and Teachings of Muhammad’) put it beautifully: “It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet.”
It is apt to conclude with these two statements summarising the mission and message of the Prophet beautifully. Syed Ameer Ali in his ‘The Spirit of Islam’ writes: “Fourteen centuries have passed since he [Prophet (pbuh)] delivered his message, but time has made no difference in the devotion he inspired, and today as then the Faithful have in their hearts and on their lips those memorable words: ‘May my life by thy sacrifice, O Prophet of God’.” Tariq Ramadan in his ‘The Messenger’ writes: “The Prophet carried a universal message.” The Messenger may have left the human world, but he has taught us never to forget Him, the Supreme Refuge, the Witness, the Most Near.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Sogam (Lolab), Kupwara. [email protected]

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