Unique Character and Exemplary Life of Prophet (pbuh)
By Sheikh Ali Al-Tantawi
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The unique character & amazing exemplary life of Prophet (peace be upon him) is in itself testimony of his prophethood. The two miracles granted to the last 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 (Though he did perform many other miracles, but they are not being referred here). 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, Abraham, Moses, Jesus – and on all the other prophets save Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Paragon of Virtues & Exceptional Qualities:
Incomparable to any other Human in History:
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 banal. Still others were most able administrators and distinguished leaders, but corrupt in their personal lives.
Epitome of Greatness Among Human:
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 Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), has a life history which is an open book, for everyone to read and scrutinize.
Record of Life – An Open Book of History:
He is the only one who 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 narrated every detail regarding his family life. Nothing has been left out as all his actions were carried out in accordance with the Divine path and guidance. All aspects about his personal life can be read in the books about his life and in those on Islamic jurisprudence. One can even 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.
Comprehensive Greatness in All Aspects:
Every great man has only one such dimension of greatness in him. But Muhammad’s greatness represents every aspect. We should also consider the fact that most great men are great only among their own people. They may do well 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.
However Muhammad’s (peace be upon him), greatness 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.
Practiced Whatever He Preached:
As for our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he practiced whatever he taught. He exhorted people to do what is right, 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. Someone once asked him “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 was caught stealing, 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 secret efforts would be made to see that the whole matter was hushed up, or 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 people of influence and position went unpunished, while the weak and humble were punished. He then made a remarkable statement which came to be accepted as a firm principle of Islam: “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, because his whole life was a life of Dawah (spreading the message of Islam).
Lived Simple Life but not as a Hermit:
His personal likes and dislikes, and his friendships with people were governed by the Divine Message. 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.
Food: He ate whatever good food was served to him, provided it came within the confines of Divine Law. He was never seen to look down on any kind of food. He had tremendous willpower which enabled him to be patient at all times, and stay without food for days on end. 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 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 colours, 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 clothing associated with other religions, 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.
Adornments Not Forbidden but He Avoided:
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 Quraish offered him wealth, power and the position of leader, 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.
Above Temptations of Sexual Desires:
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 for him 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 (pbuh) by the same standards, drawing the conclusion that he, like the others, was sensuous and a man of lust.
These people (orientalists) did not study Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) life 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.
Non-Indulgence in Immorality Even in Early Life:
Now let us consider the Prophet’s life 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 country 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 publicize the fact and blackmail him.
When our Prophet (peace be upon him) got married at the age of twenty-five, did he marry a beautiful virgin? Not at all. He married a widow who was his mother’s age. 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.
Marriage with Zainab (May Allah bless her):
The story of Zainab 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. Zainab was a good-looking girl and closely related to the Prophet (peace be upon him). 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 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 Zainab, 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 (peace be upon him). 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 ill at ease with each other and wanted to separate. But the 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 Zainab 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. [Islam forbade to call adopted son with name of man adopting him, rather he was to be called as son of his real biological father] 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 (adopted) 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.
Moral Strength, Patience & Forgiveness:
Physical strength builds up our physical resistance, whereas moral strength – the courage of conviction of the heart – brings us victory over our 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. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has, on different occasions, exhorted the believers to cultivate such strength: “Strong is not the one who is good at wrestling. Indeed strong is the one who controls himself at the time of anger.” It is well known that controlling the anger is the most difficult of all tasks!
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 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.
The story of Hind is also worth mentioning in this context. Hind was the wife of Abu Sufyan, the arch enemy of the Prophet 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 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, 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 (peace be upon him) 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. 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 (peace be upon him) 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 what a noble character Muhammad was. 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(pbuh) 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.
Miraculous Aspect of His Personality:
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 Prophet’s magnanimity 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.
One Example out of many Miraculous Aspects:
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 Quraish tribe had entrusted him with. These were the cash assets of the tribe, and Muhammad (pbuh) 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 Quraish 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 was like.
Strength of Character & Fairness:
Another incidence which shows yet one more aspect of his character. On the day of the battle of Badr, the Prophet 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, “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 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.
Achievements Unparalleled in the History:
Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) life history 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 valor, magnanimity, patience at times of defeat and self restraint at times of anger.
Fearless Warrior: 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.
Man of Extreme Compassion: 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.
Honorable and Trustworthy: He honored the treaties he made and kept his word, despite the difficulties and hardships he had to face on that count. He honored his commitments, whether they concerned personal dealings or matters of the state.
Exemplary Personal Conduct and Behaviour:
The 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?” The Prophet never distinguished himself from others. He was one of them: he dressed like them and resembled them in every way.
Courteous Behavior and Love:
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. The Prophet 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 prayed, so that whenever he prostrated he had to push her feet to one side. As for his eating habits, Aysha 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 and his family.
Eloquence and Clarity of Speech:
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 the 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.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last prophet was granted two living miracles; The Holy Qur’an and the unique qualities of a perfect human being. It has been proved that no other human being is similar to him in his greatness in qualities. Indeed God knows best upon whom to bestow His Message.
[Extract from book: “Islam: A General Introduction”; “Ta’rif-e-Aam bi-Din il-Islam” By: Shaikh Ali Al-Tantawi]
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