The truth is we love our Prophet more than we love our own selves. He occupies a place only second to that of God in our lives, being fondly remembered as if he were here with us only yesterday. He is the beloved of God, His Chosen One whom He sent as a mercy to all mankind. He is God’s Mercy to each and every one of us. He is our Saviour and our Salvation, for if not for him, where would we be? He is our guide, our teacher, our friend even in this day and age, for he lives in our hearts. Whatever he did, whatever trials he underwent, whatever tribulations he faced, he did for us.
No man in history has ever commanded so much love and respect than Muhammad from his followers. No man’s biography has been recorded so assiduously as Muhammad’s, and no man’s example has been imitated as much as Muhammad’s. He is without doubt the most influential person in history, holding a place in the hearts of over a billion people all over the world. If you think its only people today who have never seen him and who have never known him, who love him, you’re sadly mistaken. Many of his earliest followers probably loved him more than any of us do today.
They stood by him through thick and thin when Islam was still weak and its followers faced severe persecution at the hands of the Pagans of Mecca. They were willing to give up everything they held dear to their hearts, their wealth and their families, indeed their very lives, for their love of him and for the message he brought. Take Nusaybah, a female follower of his who jumped into the thick of battle with sword in hand to defend her Prophet from his foes without a care for her own life; Take Bilal, the Abyssinian slave who rose to be the first Muezzin (caller to prayer) of Islam, who so loved his Prophet that the last words that left his lips on his deathbed were: “Rejoice, rejoice. I am flying to the Prophet”.
No man and no prophet ever commanded so much love from his people. Jesus said: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37) but even his closest disciples, if we are to believe the Bible, did not love him the way he should have been loved. He gave them food and drink and performed many miracles at their bidding and offered them a place in paradise with him, but when the Jews came to take him away, not one stood by him, nay not even Peter, who after the Jews had taken him away, denied knowing him, not once, but thrice. The same holds true of Moses. He led them from captivity from Egypt but all he could hear from his followers, except for a few, were complaints and grumblings.
Not so Muhammad. Within the 23 years of his mission from the age of 40 to 63 he transformed his society so thoroughly that there was no going back. He was able to weld quarrelsome tribes given to blood feuds into a single nation bound by faith; to guide his people away from idolatry to the worship of the One True God; to move them away from lawlessness to one of law and order; from wanton killing to respect for life; from drunkenness to sobriety; from debauchery to morality; from decadence to the greatest civilization the world had seen at the time. Never had Human history known such a complete transformation of a people before or since. And not just that, the movement he had started went on to transform other nations as well, for as he lay on his deathbed Islam was becoming an empire that would within ten years of his death overcome the then superpowers of Persia and Byzantium and within a hundred stretch from Gibraltar to the Himalayas.
Such was Muhammad, a man like no other – a faithful friend, a great counselor, a loving husband, a wonderful father, religious teacher, social reformer, moral preacher, judicious statesman, military genius, refuge of orphans, emancipator of women, protector of slaves and much much more – all in one. To be able to combine all these qualities in a single personality to such an amazing level of perfection and that against such great odds is well nigh impossible for any man, save one who has been blessed by God. Unlike other men, he was not a man who belonged exclusively to his age or place, but transcended time and place with his towering personality so that he could appeal to everyone at every place and every age. All that is good and beautiful in man reached its peak in him. Other men are but like shadows under the effulgence of his angelic light. Whatever we do, we can never measure up to him. No one has and no one will. One so full of mercy and compassionate to the needy; so patient in adversity and so generous in victory, so noble and yet so humble. One like him, the world has not seen before and will never see since. If there ever were a superman, an Übermensch, it is he, it is he, it is he!
That’s why the good Muslim looks upon him as an examplar to emulate at all times. When one is strong, one remembers his humility; when one is wealthy, one remembers his generosity; when one is victorious, one remembers his magnanimity and when one is down, one remembers his patience and his humiliation at the hands of the unbelievers; when all seems lost, one remembers his perseverance against great odds; when one is lonely, one thinks of the orphan boy who tended sheep and when one has company, one thinks of his companions who stood with him through thick and thin.
We have a pen picture of what Muhammad looked like from his contemporaries. They described him as a man of a whitish complexion with a reddish tinge whose face shone like the moon. He was exceedingly handsome, as if the brightness of the sun shone from his blessed face. He had a large head with a wide forehead and extremely black eyes with long thick eyelashes and a somewhat high and prominent nose. He had a full beard and a head of hair parted in the middle that sometimes reached upto his shoulders. His chest was broad and he was of middling stature but inclined to be tall. Despite lack of proper food his body was stronger and more virile than those of better nourished persons. His palms were softer than wool. He walked at a quick pace and took rather a long step. When he walked it seemed as if he was descending to a lower plane. When he looked at someone he turned his whole body towards him. He often looked down. His sight was focused more to the ground than towards the sky though sometimes he would look towards the sky as when he waited for revelation. He was the best of the people in generosity, the most truthful of the people in speech, the gentlest of them in temperament, and the noblest of them in social intercourse. If someone saw him unexpectedly, he was awestruck by him, and if someone associated with him knowingly, he loved him.
Umm Ma’bad, has left us a fitting description of Muhammad when he passed by her tent during his journey from Mecca to Medina. She witnessed some of his miracles and swore fealty to him before he departed. When her husband came back, he was surprised to find her with a quantity of milk. He asked her: “Where you have got this from, O Umm Ma`bad, while our sheep is alone and untouched and we have no milch cow in our home?” She said: “Nay, but by God, a blessed man passed by our way and did so and so.” He said: “Describe him to me, O Umm Ma`bad”. And she said:
I saw a man, pure and clean, with a handsome face and a fine figure. He was not marred by a skinny body, nor was he overly small in the head and neck. He was graceful and elegant, with intensely black eyes and thick eyelashes. There was a huskiness in his voice, and his neck was long. His beard was thick, and his eyebrows were finely arched and joined together. When silent, he was grave and dignified, and when he spoke, glory rose up and overcame him. He was from afar the most beautiful of men and the most glorious, and close up he was the sweetest and the loveliest. He was sweet of speech and articulate, but not petty or trifling. His speech was a string of cascading pearls, measured so that none despaired of its length, and no eye challenged him because of brevity.
Another lady named Hind bint Abu Halah described him:
The Messenger of God was a wonderful man who was honoured by all who saw him. His face glowed like the full moon. He was of moderate height, not too tall and not too short. He had a large head and his hair was wavy. He would part his hair if it got long. He was a healthy pink. His forehead was wide. There was a vein between his eyebrows that swelled when he was angry. His nose was straight and had a special glow. He had a thick beard with soft cheeks. He had a moustache. His teeth had gaps in between. His chest and shoulders were wide. His skin was white. He walked in strides and in a graceful manner. Whenever he turned he would turn with his entire body. He lowered his gaze at all times. He looked down to earth more than he looked up to the heaven. He offered greetings to others before they offered it to him. The Prophet appeared sad most of the time, and would be in deep thought. Whenever he spoke he would start with the name of God. His statements were very decisive; no one could distort his words. He was extremely kind and caring. He never insulted others. He was grateful for every blessing God bestowed on him, no matter how small it seemed, he never belittled anything. If a person was wronged, he would become very angry. His anger would not subside until the person’s right was given to him. He would not become angry if he was wronged, , nor would he avenge himself. Most of his laughter was by smiling. Whenever he smiled his teeth appeared like pearls of hail.
Muhammad was born in Mecca 570 years after Christ. The only child of Abdullah and Aminah, he could not even set his eyes on his father as he died before he was born. His mother passed away when he was just six years old and he was left an orphan brought up by his uncle Abu Talib. In spite of his young days being a sad one, he grew up to be a very reflective and modest person with the help of God. It is to him that the Qur’an refers: “Did He not find you (O Muhammad) an orphan and give you a refuge?” (The Glorious Morning Light:6). Abu Talib was not a man of means and in his adolescent years Muhammad found work as a shepherd, which incidently was one occupation all the prophets of God had in common. He once observed: “God never sent a Prophet who was not a shepherd over a flock of sheep”. His companions asked: “Even you, O Messenger of God?”, and he replied, “Yes, I would take care of a flock of sheep for the people of Mecca” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
There were also occasions he traveled with his uncle, accompanying his caravans as far north as Syria and it there that a Christian named Bahira noticed how even the clouds seemed to shade the young man from the sun and foretold that he would be a prophet, advising his uncle to take him back forthwith since if the Jews were to find out they would kill him. In later times the young Muhammad, now a handsome young man served as an agent of a businesswoman named Khadijah, a rich widow who owned a fleet of caravans. So impressed was the lady with his character that she proposed marriage. She was forty years old at the time and Muhammad twenty five.
The lady bore him four daughters, Zainab, Ruqayya, Umm Kulthum and Fatima and he remained faithful to her until her death many many years later. He was now a well respected trader and family man who could have lived a life of ease and comfort like other rich folk of Mecca. However wealth or status did not interest him. He was mostly interested in serving his fellow creatures which showed even before he commenced his ministry, like when he joined a league of chivalry, the Hilf Al Fudool to establish justice and protect the weak and oppressed. Of this brotherhood of good, he would later say: “If now in Islam, I were summoned to a similar pact, I would gladly respond!’
He was also a reflective type of person. The idolatrous ways of his people and their barbarous practices such as burying alive their infant daughters must have saddened him greatly. Thus he would sometimes retreat to the cave of Hira to meditate and contemplate on the universe. He would spend days and nights in the cave, subsisting on the food his dutiful wife Khadijah prepared him to continue with his meditations.
And then came the call from God which would change his life forever. He was forty years old at the time and had found his way to the cave of Hira to meditate when the archangel Gabriel came to him and asked him to Read!. Bewildered he replied, “I cannot read.” The angel embraced Muhammad until he could hardly breath and then let go, saying “O Muhammad, Read!”. Again Muhammad replied: “I cannot read’” The Angel embraced him again and ordered him to read for the third time, and when he did not embraced him so tightly, so that he could not breathe, and then let go saying:
Read! In the Name of Your Lord, Who created
Created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous,
Who taught by the pen – Taught man that which he knew not
The towering presence of the awe-inspiring angel did little to calm him. He was so shaken by the mystical experience that day in the embrace of the angel that he rushed home to his beloved wife, but not as an Arab of his day might do. Rather he was crawling on his hands and knees and shaking convulsively before he got some strength to fling himself onto his beloved Khadija’s lap, crying out Cover me! Cover me! beseeching her to shield him from the terrifying presence. Khadija held him tight in her arms and soothed him till the fear abated, she assured him that all was well: “You are kind and considerate toward your kin. You help the poor and forlorn and bear their burdens. You strive to revive the noble qualities your people have lost. You honour the guest and go to the assistance of those in distress. This cannot be, my dear!”.
Khadijah took her husband to her cousin Waraqah who had become a Christian and said to him: “O cousin, listen to what your nephew (Muhammad) is about to tell you” Waraqa asked: “What is it you have seen, dear nephew?”. When Muhammad told him about it, Waraqa said “By God, this is the angel Gabriel”. Adding: “I wish I would be alive when your people drive you from Mecca”. Muhammad wondered: “Will they drive me out of Mecca?” and Waraqah replied: “Never has a man conveyed a message like that entrusted to you, but that his people waged war against him. If I witness this, I will support you”.
Sometime later came another revelation affirming that he had been commissioned by God as a Prophet:
O you (Muhammad) enveloped (in garments); arise and warn!
And your Lord magnify! And your garments purify!
(The One Wrapped Up: 1-4)
One fine day, convinced of his mission, he climbed up the mountain of Safa and called out to his townsfolk: “If I tell you that an enemy is approaching behind those hills to attack you, so be on your guard, would you believe me?”. They answered: “We believe you, even though we do not see behind the mountain. Since you are Muhammad the Trustworthy, we never doubt your words”. Upon this Muhammad said: “As you would trust me in this news, you should also believe me that there is only one God who created this world. The idols you worship are but pieces of stone, earth or wood. Leave these idols and believe in One God. Know that God has sent me as a Prophet to you”. Visibly annoyed they departed henceforth. They were so given to idol worship that they found the truth he preached unpalatable.
Nevertheless they feared that Muhammad would one day challenge the established order of things and made a very strange proposal to him. Thinking that Muhammad must be making claims to Prophethood for personal gain, its leaders sent an envoy who told him: “If you want money, we will collect enough money for you so that you will be the richest one of us. If you want leadership, we will take you as our leader and never decide on any matter without your approval. If you want a kingdom, we will crown you king over us”.
This would have been a very hard offer to turn down for any rational being, but the generous offer came with another condition that went against everything that Muhammad stood for. It was to give up his call to Islam and to cease worshipping God alone, without any partner. Needless to say Muhammad flatly refused the offer. On another occasion Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib fearing for his nephew’s life begged him to stop his mission. Muhammad answered:
“I swear by the name of God, O Uncle!, that if they place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand in return for giving up this matter (calling people to Islam), I will never desist until either God makes it triumph or I perish defending it.”
(Seerah Ibn Hisham)
His mission was no easy one. The Arabs of his time were after all a rigidly patriarchal, stiff-necked, hard-hearted people who engaged in idolatry, looked down on women and oppressed their slaves, so barbaric that they even buried their infant daughters alive. In fact within the first three years of his mission he had gained only a handful of followers, about thirteen men and women, free and slave.
Once he invited his kin kin for a meeting and informed them of his mission, requesting them for their support. Silence fell, and who would proclaim his support to him but his young cousin Ali only sixteen years who enthusiastically pledged his support. An unlettered man past forty and a headstrong lad in his mid-teens so passionate on taking on such an enterprise as if against all mankind. It seemed so ridiculous that the assembly broke out in laughter.
Muhammad, once overwhelmed with sorrow at the rejection by his tribe, the Quraysh, found himself at a place called Qarn al-Thaalib. He lifted his head towards the sky to see a cloud shading him unexpectedly. He would later recall: “I looked up and saw within it Gabriel. He called me saying: “God has heard what your people have been saying to you, and how they have disputed you. God has sent the Angel of the Mountains to you so that you may order him to do whatever you wish to these people.”. The Angel of the Mountains called and greeted me, and then said: “O Muhammad! Order what you wish. If you like, I will cause the two mountains to fall upon them.” I said: “No, for I hope that God will bring forth from their progeny people who will worship God Alone, and none besides Him.” (Saheeh Muslim).
Before long Muhammad became a social outcast, supported only by his wife Khadijah, cousin Ali and a handful of downtrodden people who believed in his mission like his freedman Zaid and the slaves Bilal and Sumayya.
The humiliation this man went through to proclaim the truth is so little known, that it is worth telling. Once when he was praying in the Ka’aba, a man from the Quraysh tribe told a group he was with: “Do you see this man? Would someone bring the dirt and filth and the bloodied intestines from the camels of so and so, wait till he prostrates, and place it between his shoulders?. When Muhammad prostrated, the wretch placed the filth on his shoulders and the mob laughed so hard that they were about to fall on each other (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). There was another man who twisted the garment around his neck while he was praying, as if to strangle him, and there were others who spat in his face, threw sand in his face and swore at him until midday. A little girl would come with a container of water, and he would wash his face and hands and say: “O daughter, do not fear that your father will be humiliated or struck by poverty” (Mu’jam Al Kabeer). There were even occasions, Muhammad had to wipe away the blood from his face himself, and still he would say: “O God! Forgive my people for they know not!” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
His family, friends and the few followers he had, stuck with him through thick and thin. The haughty leaders of the Quraysh who ruled Mecca, in their bid to stamp out the new faith, first imposed a boycott on his family, the rigours of which his faithful wife Khadija had to endure in her final years in isolation in the Vale of Shaib Abi Talib to which they were confined like a ghetto.
The more helpless sections of his followers were even beaten. The leading men of Quraysh, the tribe that ruled Mecca, did all they could to stamp out the new faith and inflicted terrible tortures on the more helpless sections among them such as the slaves in order to compel them to forsake their faith. One such was Sumayya the slave girl who was brutally killed when she refused to recant her faith, thus becoming the first martyr in Islam. Another girl Zaneera was so harshly beaten that she lost her sight. Bilal the black slave also suffered heavily when his master forced him to lie in the hot sands of the Arabian desert and dragged him along with a rope to force him to give up the faith, but to no avail.
Seeing no hope in Mecca, Muhammad left for Taif only to be treated worse than in his hometown, so much so that he had to flee from the urchins whom the townsfolk got to throw stones at him. They pelted him so pitilessly that his shoes were filled with blood, and even when he tried to sit down, exhausted by the ordeal, they would not let him be, compelling him to get going by hurling their missiles at him.
And if that were not bad enough, when he got back to Mecca, he barely escaped with his life when his enemies, having sworn to take his life, banded together in a plot to kill him. That was when his sworn enemy Abu Jahl proposed that a strong man chosen from each clan assassinate Muhammad by striking at him with their swords together so that the blood would be distributed among all the clans and the Prophet’s clan, the Banu Hashim, a small yet important clan, would not be able to take revenge on them all. The Prophet was warned of it by divine inspiration and along with his ever faithful friend Abu Bakr took flight to a little town that was willing to welcome them. To deceive the mob his cousin Ali, at great risk to himself, slept on the bed of Muhammad when the assasins arrived.
In that fateful year of 622 after Christ, in the thirteenth year of his mission, Muhammad took flight to Yathrib, a little oasis town not very far from Mecca whose inhabitants had heard about his mission and had invited him over. The event would prove momentous, for the town would henceforth be known as Medina ‘The City (of the Prophet)’. The flight would mark the beginning of the Islamic Year called Hijra ‘The Flight’ – not a birthday or a victory, but a flight of all things!
The townsfolk took in the migrants from Mecca as their brothers, even going to the extent of sharing their property with them. The folk here belonged to two Arab tribes, the Aws and Khazraj and the migrants to the Quraysh tribe and it’s hard to imagine that in those days of tribalism and blood feuds they could become one, bonded by the strength of faith alone. But such was Muhammad’s persona and the strength of his teachings, they lay aside their tribal loyalties for the common good. Men and women embraced the new faith with a zeal never seen before or after in the history of mankind.
Soon the first Islamic city state was formed in Medina and before long Muhammad resolved to take his hometown of Mecca, to destroy its idols and dedicate it again to the worship of the One True God as his forefather Abraham had done. He marched at the head of a 10,000-strong army. On the way he noticed that a bitch had given birth to some pups and moved by compassion for the helpless creatures he had a sentry placed there to ensure his army did not walk over them or harm them in any way. This was Muhammad, Mercy to the Worlds.
The outnumbered Meccans were helpless and feared the worst. These sworn enemies of the Prophet who had conspired to kill him and gone to war against him, After all they not done all in their power to oppress the Prophet and his followers even going to the extent of going to war against them thrice, in the battles of Badr, Uhud and the Battle of the Trench. Not only had they mocked the Prophet but they had also martyred many of his followers. And here they stood, surrounded by ten thousand armed warriors ever ready to settle past scores with them. The Prophet asked them: “O Quraysh, what do you think that I am about to do with you?”. “Good Muhammad”, they said entreating his forgiveness “You are a noble brother, son of a noble brother”. “Go your way” replied the Prophet “for you are the freed ones” (Seerah Ibn Ishaq).
The Quraysh, needless to say, embraced Islam of their own accord, with neither force nor coercion being exerted on them to do so. Muhammad conquered their hearts not with his sword, but with his mercy. Never in human history was such mercy shown to a helpless foe. Even the sedate and peaceful Jesus could utter: “But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27) and advice his disciples: “But now, let him who has purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” Luke (22:36).
There are some people whom it is very difficult to forgive, but the Messenger of Mercy had the strength to forgive even them, like Abu Sufyan’s wife Hind who had in the course of a battle against the Muslims, got an Abyssinian slave to kill the Prophet’s uncle Hamza and even went to the extent of mutilating the slain in the battlefield, cutting off their ears and noses to make anklets and collars. She now came veiled in disguise to accept Islam, but was still insolent in her replies to the questions posed by the Prophet. She was nevertheless forgiven without being asked to explain or atone for her previous conduct. Astonished by the Prophet’s magnanimity, she exclaimed: “Muhammad, no tent I hated aforetime more than yours, but none is now dearer to me than your pavilion”.
When Wahshi, the killer of his uncle Hamza had nowhere else to flee, he sought the Prophet’s forgiveness for his crime, only to have the Prophet tell him: “Hide your face from me and never let me see you again” (Ibn Ishaq). And who can forget Habbar who had been responsible for the death of the Prophet’s daughter Zaynab. The criminal had been condemned in the final conquest of Mecca and was about to flee to Iran when he recanted and confessed to the Prophet about his crime: “I have come to you O Prophet of God. The reports you have received about me are all correct”. The Prophet, forgetting even the death of his beloved daughter forgave the man.
Even at the height of his power, he was never haughty. Once some people came to meet him with the news that a certain tribe had refused to embrace Islam. They said to him” Supplicate God against them. The tribe of Daws is doomed and destroyed!”. The Prophet raised his hands and said: “O God guide the tribe of Daws and bring them (to Islam)”. It once happened that a Jewish Rabbi named Ben Sana from whom Muhammad had taken a loan grabbed hold of the edges of his cloak and yelled: “O Muhammad, will you not pay me back my loan?”. His friend Umar stared at him, eyes swollen with anger and threatened: “O enemy of God, do you talk to God’s Messenger and behave towards him in this manner? By the One who sent him with the truth, had it not been the fear for missing it (paradise) I would have beheaded you with my sword!”. The Prophet looked at Umar calmly and said: “O Umar, you should have given us sincere counsel, rather than do what you did! O Umar, go and repay him his loan, and give him extra because you scared him!” (Ibn Hibban).
Muhammad recognized the rights of all and even allowed his humblest followers to avenge themselves on him if they felt he had harmed them in any way. It once happened that a man from the Ansar was cracking jokes with some people and making them laugh. The Prophet happened to pass by him and lightly poked at his side with a branch of a tree he was having. “O Prophet of God!” the man said “Allow me to avenge myself!” The Prophet said: “Go ahead!” and the man said: “O Messenger of God, you are wearing a garment and I was not when you poked me!”. He then lifted his upper garment, and the man kissed his body saying: “I only meant to do this, O Messenger of God!” (Aboo Dawood). Nay, he acknowledged the rights of even little children. A drink was once brought to him, and he drank from it. On his right side was a young boy and on his left were some elderly men. He asked the boy:”Do you mind if I give the drink to them?”. The lad replied: “I would not prefer anyone drinking from the place you drank, this is my fair share (on account of sitting to your right)”. So the Prophet handed the boy the drink (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
Even in the most trying of times, he did not force anybody to do anything against his will. It once happened that a few followers chose not to accompany him in a critical battle for the faith. He simply questioned them after the battle and imposed a social boycott of them for a certain period. Had it been any other leader in that situation, he would have imposed compulsory conscription with those lagging behind being dealt with severely. Even when he was hard pressed for finances to continue the war effort against the enemies of the faith, he never ordered his followers to place their wealth at his disposal. Those who had the means voluntarily did so. He showed the way to win loyalty without demanding it even in the most difficult days.
Although no battle-hardened warrior, he was earnest in defending the faith at all costs. During the Battle of Uhud he lifted his hands in prayer, entreating His Creator: “ O God, if they are destroyed today, Thou will be worshipped no more” and in the the heat of that critical battle when his tooth had been smashed and blood was dripping from his face he prayed: “O God, guide them on the right path, for they know not”. In the Battle of Hunayn when the Muslims, terrified by a sudden onslaught of the enemy, turned on their heels, the Prophet calmly dismounted from his camel and called out: “Where are you going, men? Come to me. I am God’s Messenger, I am Muhammad”. Here was a commander who held his post even when his army took to flight, calmly beckoning his men to come back to him and defend the faith.
Nor was he abandoned by the faithful. In contrast to the picture the Gospel paints of the followers of Jesus, who forsake him as soon as he was condemned to the cross, Muhammad’s followers always rallied round their persecuted prophet, with even women defending him with their swords in the heat of battle, like Nusaybah Al Ansariyyah who rushed to defend her Prophet in the thick of battle, so that he would later remark: “Wherever I turned, to the left or right, I saw her fighting for me”.
Despite all the power he enjoyed, he lived a very simple life. He used to milk his own goats, mend his clothes and shoes and help his wives with the general household work. He lived in a modest mud house and slept on a rough mattress made of leather stuffed with the fibre of the date palm.
The Prophet’s close companion Anas says of him: “The Prophet remembered God very often. He joked very little. He rode a donkey, wore cloth made of rough wool, accepted the invitations of slaves, visited the ill and attended funeral services. You should have seen him on the day the (Jewish) castle of Khaibar was taken, when he wasriding a donkey with a halter made of date leaves. The more God blessed him with victory, the more humble and grateful he became” (Tirmidhi).
Once his friend and father-in-law Umar saw him lying on a mat made of palm leaves that had left its marks on his sides. Looking around, he saw the few provisions the Prophet enjoyed, including some water skins hung above his head, and was moved to tears. Muhammad asked him: “What is making you cry?”. Umar replied: “O God’s Messenger! Caesar and Chosroes are leading the life while you, God’s Messenger though you are, is living destitute“. The Prophet replied. “Won’t you be satisfied that this world is theirs to enjoy and for us the Hereafter?” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
His wife would say: “There were many times when the Prophet and his family went without any food night after night. Most of the bread they contented themselves with was made of barley” (Tirmidhi). She told her nephew: “O my nephew, we would sight three new moons in two months without lighting a fire (to cook a meal)”. Her nephew asked:”O aunt, what sustained you?” and she replied: “The two black things, dates and water, but the Prophet had some Ansar neighbours who had milk-giving she-camels and they used to send the Prophet some of its milk” (Saheeh Muslim). When he died, he did not leave any money or anything else except his white riding mule, his arms, and a piece of land which he left to charity. In fact at the time of his death, his shield had been pawned to a Jew in exchange for some barley to make bread for his family. The Prophet loved the poor and used to pray: “O my Lord! Let me live as the poor, let me die as the poor and resurrect me (on the day of Judgement) among the poor” (Tirmidhi).
You might think from all this that the Prophet died a pauper, forlorn and destitute. Nay, he died with the coffers of all Arabia from Yemen to the borders of Syria at his disposal, replenished constantly by the alms tax dutifully paid by his followers and war booty arriving laden in camels from far and wide. Yet, he could not bring himself to enjoy even a little of it or even allot a bit of it for his family. Rather he would distribute the monies to the poor and needy. Indeed he had given everything he had that had been gifted to him by his well-to-do companions as charity that he had to buy some food for his family from a Jew, placing his armour as collateral in his final days. Can you find another who had renounced the world and its pleasures despite all the power he held?
He was humble to the core, and refused to adopt any outward signs of power, so much so that when visitors came to see him, they could not make him out from his companions. Once a Bedouin came and inquired from the companions who were sitting with the Prophet in the mosque “Who of you is Muhammad?”. They said: “This white man who is leaning on the ground”. When Adi, the son of Hatim, a chief of the Arabian tribe of Tay visited Muhammad in Medina he was unable to decide whether he was Prophet or King, why because he saw on one hand how his folk loved and regarded him and on the other how fervently they were prepared to defend his kingdom by preparing for battle. He was still in two minds when he saw a slave girl coming to seek his advice, only to hear the Prophet reply: “Come on, I’ll go wherever you want”. Shocked at his humility, he tore away the cross hanging from his neck and forthwith embraced Islam.
Despite his being a Prophet, he joined his men in the most arduous tasks. One of his companions named Baraa Al Aazib would recall: “I saw the Messenger of God on the Day of the Trench carrying soil (dug out from the trench) until the dirt covered his chest. He was quite hairy” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). He also used to consult his followers on important matters without taking decisions himself. He once consulted his companions about an upcoming Battle (of Uhud). They urged him to fight, while he himself did not see the need to. The companions, learning of the Prophet’s feelings about it, regretted their action and said: “O Prophet of God! Do as you please”. He replied: “It does not befit a Prophet who has donned his armour to remove it until he fights” (Ahmed).
At the height of his power, when he had taken Mecca for Islam, a man came before him, trembling in his presence as if he were about to meet a great emperor. The Prophet met him with humility and told him: “Calm down, I am not a King. I am the son of a woman of the Quraysh who used to eat sun-dried meat” (Ibn Majah). A companion once said to the Prophet: “You are our master”. The Prophet shot back: “God alone is the Master! I am no one’s master. Let not the devil deceive you; I do not wish you to raise me to a status higher than that God has placed me. I am only God’s Slave and His Messenger” (Ahmed).
He advised his companions: “Do not praise me as the Christians praise the son of Mary, for I am but the servant of God and His Messenger” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). To prevent his followers as much as rising up for him out of respect he pronounced: “Do not stand up as the Persians do, some people honouring the others”(Aboo Dawood). Indeed, he was so humble that any ordinary man or woman, free or slave, rich or poor could approach him and seek his advice. There was even an occasion when a madwoman took him by the hand and put him to some work and he attended to it without as much as a grumble. Once a woman came to him. He rose to greet her, spoke to her gently, and attended to her pleas. People asked him who she was and he said: “She used to befriend us in the days of Khadijah; loyalty to one’s friends is of the faith”. When his beloved son Ibrahim through his Coptic wife Mariya died, an eclipse took place and soon word went out saying that the sun was eclipsed in condolence over the death of Ibrahim. Upon hearing this Muhammad said: “The sun and the moon are two signs amongst the signs of God. They do not eclipse because of someone’s death or life.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
He was lenient even in matters of worship. No man came to visit him and found him in prayer but he shortened his prayer, attended to his visitor and returned to his prayer after the visitor had left. Once while preaching from the pulpit, he heard an infant crying and shortened his sermon so as not to distress its mother. So gentle was he that that he did not mind his little grandsons playing with him during his prayer. He even prayed while Umamah, his granddaughter through Zaynab, sat on his shoulder, so that she had to be taken off when he prostrated himself. When he bowed, he put her on the ground, and when he stood up, he would carry her again (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). A man once came to him and complained: “O Messenger of God! By God! I do not pray the Dawn Prayer because so and so lengthens the prayer”. The Prophet said angrily, meant as a rebuke to the leader of the prayer: “O People, verily there are people who chase people away! When you lead people in prayer, shorten the prayer. There are old and weak people, and those with special needs behind you in prayer” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
He was nevertheless deeply spiritual and cared not for the pleasures of the world. Once when his wife Ayisha questioned him about his excessive prayers, especially at night, saying that God had already promised him salvation. He quickly shot back: “What. Should I not be a grateful slave?” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). He was also extremely frugal. His companions once asked him whether they could get him some bedding when they saw that his rough mat left its marks on his body when he awoke. He replied: “What do I have to do with this world? I am like a rider who takes rest under the shade of a tree and then continues on his journey” (Ibn Majah).
Despite the sanctity of his mission, he could be humorous at times. One day an old woman asked him to pray to God to make her enter Paradise. The Prophet said, “O mother of so and so! No old woman shall enter paradise.” The narrator says that on hearing this the old woman went back weeping. The Prophet said to the people around him to go and tell the old woman that she would not enter into Paradise as an old woman. He then recited the Qur’anic verse: “Verily, We have created those (maidens) by a creation and have made them virgins, loving, of equal age.” (Tirmidhi).
A while before his death, Muhammad beseeched his Lord with these beautiful words after he had established His faith over all Arabia, deep and profound words that flowed from his heart like tears of joy from one’s eyes, showing what a humble servant of God he really was: “O God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, who raises the degrees and bestows bounty; Different tongues overflowing and resonating are all being raised to you and asking from you. My wish from you is this: When the people of the world have forgotten me, I ask that You remember me” (Al Bidaya).
When Muhammad passed away to meet his Creator, many of his companions were shocked. His death had been so sudden. He had simply rested his head on his wife’s thigh and said: “O God! (with) the highest companions!” . These were his last words before he passed into the Mercy of God (Saheeh Al-Bukhari).
His companions could not believe that the man who lived among them and brought them peace and salvation was dead. There was even an attempt to deify him, but Abu Bakr, his close friend and confidante who would succeed him as the first Caliph of Islam killed the hysteria with one of the noblest speeches ever made in the history of religion: “If anyone worshipped Muhammad, then (know that) Muhammad is dead, but if anyone worshipped God, then God is living and does not die”. He then recited the words of the Qur’an which God had revealed to His Prophet: “Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him. If, then, he dies or is killed, will you turn back on your heels?” (Family Imraan:144).
Finally let me conclude this night’s talk with some sayings from three well known non-Muslims on the character of Muhammad. Lamartine wrote in his Historie de la Turquie (1854):
“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls. His forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; his endless prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death; all these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction which gave him the power to restore a dogma. Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?”
Reverend Bosworth Smith wrote in his work Muhammad (1874):
“Head of the state as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one, but he was Pope without the Pope’s pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a body guard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man had the right to rule by a right divine, it was Muhammad for he had all the power without the instruments and without its supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life”.
And Annie Besant wrote in The Life and Teachings of Muhammad (1932):
“It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia, who knows how he taught and how he lived, to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of the Supreme. And although in what I put to you I shall say many things which may be familiar to many, yet I myself feel whenever I re-read them, a new way of admiration, a new sense of reverence for that mighty Arabian teacher.”