MUHAMMAD WAS A LAWBEARING PROPHET. THE Quran says that be was not a Messenger who brought newfangled doctrines (46:10). There had been lawbearing prophets before him, for instance Moses, through whom God had proclaimed the advent of a lawbearing Prophet “like unto him” (Deut. 18: 18). This means that Muhammad had been selected by God as a fit and appropriate channel for conveying the Divine law and guidance to mankind. His claim that he had been so selected implied that his personality had been molded to that end and that he illustrated conformity to that law and guidance in his own conduct. It is necessary, therefore, briefly to study his personality and character in order to see whether that implication was justified. What type of man was he? How did he deal with his fellow beings? How did he discharge his duty to God?
Though Muhammad lived in a region which had slight contacts with the rest of the world and at a time when the art of history was still in its infancy, his was a truly historical personality. He lived his life in the full light of day. Enough is known of his early life to enable us to form a fair idea of his qualities and character. After he received the Divine Call his every word, act, and gesture were observed, and a complete record of them has been preserved. It was necessary that that should be so, for otherwise not only would certainty and confidence be lacking, but his life could not furnish us with an example of what he taught.
Muhammad was a human being‑no more, no less‑and therefore he could serve as an example for mankind. He possessed and claimed no supernatural powers. He was subject to the same conditions and limitations as the rest of us. He suffered more than most and achieved outstanding success in his lifetime. His life had many facets and passed through many phases. Like other men he was a son, a husband, and a father. He had been a servant employed by a master, a citizen subject to the authority of his town. God appointed him a teacher and a guide. He immediately became an object of scorn and ridicule and soon of bitter persecution. He was a loving and anxious shepherd of his little flock. Through bitter persecution and hard fighting, he gave proof of the highest courage, endurance, and perseverance.
During the last ten years of his life he was called upon to discharge the duties of chief executive and chief magistrate of a heterogeneous community, divided into sections in conflict with each other. He became the head of a state fraught with internal frictions and beset with external dangers of every description. In addition to the heavy duties and responsibilities pertaining to his Prophetic office, he was called upon to display qualities of administration and statesmanship which taxed him to the utmost.
He was a man of peace. The due discharge of the trust and responsibility which God had been pleased to place on him demanded the establishment and preservation of peace. His enemies would let him have no peace. They forced him to take up arms in defense of the most fundamental human right: freedom of conscience. He hated war and conflict, but when war was forced upon him he strove to render it humane. He abolished all savage and barbarous practices. He commanded in battle, but scrupulously refrained from personally shedding blood. His strategy was faultless and was always designed to reduce loss of life and human suffering to the minimum. Binding obligations and demands of justice imposed upon him the duty of avenging wrong and punishing evil in a harsh world, but his judgments were always tempered with mercy.
The Prophet was fair of feature and form. He was a model of health, strength, and manliness, withal gentle of heart, sensitive, full of sympathy, tender toward suffering of every description. He had been early commanded to “lower the wing of tenderness” toward those with him (26:216). This became his second nature. His habits and ways were simple; he was modest and humble. In his personal life he was austere, yet he was, like Abraham, appreciative of the “bounties of his Lord” ( 16: 122).
The testimony of Khadeeja with regard to his character and qualities has been noted. Someone inquired from Ayesha, daughter of Abu Bakr, whom he married two years after the Emigration, how the Prophet occupied himself during the time that he was at home. She said that he helped in the performance of household duties, patched up his clothes, mended his shoes, and was a kindly and affectionate companion. She was asked for her estimate of his character. She answered: “His character was the Quran.”
During the period of persecution in Mecca he endured all without complaint and proved himself a good and law‑abiding citizen. Yet he was never afraid and was not deterred from doing all that be considered was due from him. It has been mentioned that he had, in association with some others, undertaken the obligation to go to the assistance of any person who might have been wronged and to procure justice for him. He never failed or faltered in the discharge of that obligation, even after he himself became theobject of persecution. On one occasion an outsider sought help from the Meccans in respect of the recovery of a sum of money owed to him by Abu Jahl. Those whom the man approached directed him cynically to the Prophet. The Prophet immediately accompanied him to Abu Jahl’s house, and knocked at his door. Abu Jahl, amazed to see Muhammad there, admitted the debt. The Prophet then asked him to discharge his obligation, which he promptly did. When Abu Jahl later appeared among his fellows, they jeered at him and taunted him with having submitted meekly to Muhammad’s demand. He said he had been so awed that he could not do otherwise.
Even during the Meccan period, the widow, the orphan, the needy, the wayfarer, the slave, and the distressed were the objects of the persecuted Prophet’s special care and concern.
At Medina he continued his simple ways and austere habits. For days together his hearth remained unlit. He and his family subsisted on a meager diet of dates, or parched and ground barley. Sometimes water alone sufficed. He had but one change of clothes. His dwelling was of the simplest and barest. He slept on a leather sack filled with twigs and branches of trees. He never slept in a bed; never ate bread made out of ground flour; never ate his fill.
Indeed, his personal requirements were always kept at the barest minimum, and that minimum he accepted and appreciated as a generous Divine bounty. This was strikingly illustrated on the day Mecca surrendered and opened its gates to him. That was a day of great triumph. The Prophet busied himself with settling and supervising the orderly carrying through of the complicated and delicate operation, and when everything lied been satisfactorily accomplished, he bethought himself of procuring some nourishment. He went to the house of his cousin, Umm‑i‑Hany, who was delighted to welcome him, but was distressed that she had nothing in the house which she could offer him except a piece of very stale bread, too hard to be swallowed. When she mentioned this to the Prophet, he smiled and said, “Surely, Umm‑i‑Hany, it can be softened by being soaked in water. And have you anything which could make it more palatable?” She replied, “There is a little of the dregs of vinegar left over from long ago.” The Prophet said, “That would be excellent.” He then proceeded to soak the piece of bread in water, and when it was softened, he ate it with the few drops of black vinegar, first pronouncing the name of God over the “meal” and rendering thanks to Him when he finished, as if it had been a banquet. He thanked his cousin and observed, “Umm‑i‑Hany, what a bounty bread and vinegar is.”
At night, between the prescribed services, he spent long hours in Prayer. He stood so long in Prayer that sometimes his feet became swollen. This once moved Ayesha to venture a mild protest. The Prophet said: “Ayesha, God has been so profuse in bestowing His bounties upon me that it behooves me to be the most grateful of His servants.”
The character of his domestic life may be gathered from one of his own well‑known sayings: “The best among you is he who treats the members of his family best.”
He constantly exhorted his people toward moderation in all respects. Noticing that some were inclined to carry austerity to the extreme, and to occupy themselves so much with prayer and fasting that they were apt to neglect their normal obligations, and to injure their health, he admonished them thus: “I fear God more than any of you fear Him, yet I fast and I eat; I pray and I discharge all my obligations toward my family and my people. It is not right to carry any matter to the extreme. God loves best those acts of worship and piety which, though moderate, are carried out without being felt a burden. Having performed what is prescribed, pray and fast and worship God while you may do so cheerfully; stop when your spirit or your body begins to feel the strain.”
He did not disdain humor and with all his grave preoccupations did not altogether neglect the lighter side of life. On one occasion when he was sitting at home with Ayesha, an old woman came to visit her. Thinking that it was a good opportunity to ask a favor of the Prophet, the visitor begged him to pray that she might be admitted to heaven when her time came to depart this life. The Prophet said : “There will be no old women in heaven.” Distressed, the old lady began to bewail her fate. The Prophet hastened to explain that what he had meant was that there would be no question of age, of old or young in heaven; all would be alike. He comforted her till she was restored to cheerfulness. On one occasion he challenged Ayesha to a race, which she won. A year or two later he challenged her again and this time he won. He laughed, saying, “Ayesha, we have come out even.”
Ayesha once confessed to him that she had suspected him of unfairness, but had soon found out that she was mistaken. He remarked, “Ayesha, there is a Satan inside every one of us, of whose promptings we should beware.”
“Is there a Satan inside you also?” she rejoined.
“Yes,” he replied, “but he has accepted submission.”
One day he happened to pass near a date‑palm garden where some people were grafting trees. He inquired what they were doing, and when they explained the process he asked them why they did not do it another way. The following year these people complained that they had adopted his suggestion, but that the trees had yielded less fruit. “But I had merely made an inquiry from you,” he said. “You know more about these things than I do. You should have followed the method which experience had taught you was best.”
He was often called upon to decide disputes and give judgment. He warned, however, that he had no means of discovering the truth except through what was stated before him. It was quite possible that one party to a dispute might succeed by plausible arguments in persuading him that right was on his side, when in fact the other party was in the right, and that he might give judgment in favor of the first. Even so, a person in whose favor judgment was given must remember that he was answerable to God. The mere fact that he had obtained a judgment from the Prophet would not serve to absolve him if he were not in fact in the right.
The Prophet’s clemency was well known. A poor man confessed to him publicly that he had been guilty of a certain offense. The Prophet imposed a mild penalty by way of a fine, which would be distributed in charity, but the man said he was unable to pay. In the meantime somebody brought a basket of dates to the Prophet to be distributed in charity. The Prophet bade the guilty man to take the dates and distribute them among the poor. Said the man: “Sir, I know of no one more deserving of charity than myself” The Prophet laughed and replied: “Well then, take them yourself and that will suffice as your penalty.”
His treatment of Hindah, Habbar, and Ikramah after the fall of Mecca has been mentioned. An incident of a more personal nature is also worthy of recall. During the course of a journey his party rested among a grove of trees to avoid the noonday heat. The Prophet hung up his sword by the branch of a tree and lay down to rest under its shade. An enemy who had been on the lookout for an opportunity to kill him stole into the camp, and finding the Prophet sleeping unguarded, approached him secured his sword, and sat down on his chest. The Prophet woke up in surprise as the man, brandishing the sword, said: “Who can save thee now?” The Prophet gently uttered the single word, “Allah,” moved away from under the man, raised himself and took hold of his assailant, wresting the sword from him. The position was now reversed.
“Who can save thee now?” inquired the Prophet.
“No one!” exclaimed the man in terror.
“Why do you not say ‘Allah’ ?”asked the Prophet as he released the man. When the man returned to his tribe he told them that he had encountered a man whose mercy and forgiveness were beyond belief. He then related what had occurred, and this led him and his tribe to accept Islam.
The Prophet had been sent as a manifestation of God’s mercy to mankind (21 :108). His mercy was all‑embracing, without limit, and without discrimination. He was not niggardly about it, as lesser men might have been (17:101).
But that which inspired him first and last was his duty to God. His beneficence toward all human beings was only one aspect of the performance of the duty which he owed to his Maker. No consideration could stand in the way of the performance of that duty. When the Meccans gave his uncle, Abu Talib the choice between adhering to Muhammad or retaining the chieftainship of the tribe, Abu Talib put the matter before the Prophet. The Prophet told him that he could withdraw his protection, but that as for himself, he must continue till the end to do what God commanded him. He would not desist even if the Meccans placed the sun on his right and the moon on his left. That stand he maintained till the last.
At Uhud, when the Meccan commander, Abu Sufyan, believed that the Prophet and his principal companions had been killed, he shouted: “Glory to Hubul,” naming the principal idol worshiped by the Meccans. The Prophet, out of prudence and considerations of security, had told his companions who had gathered round him after he had been wounded and had been revived, not to answer Abu Sufyan’s calls when one by one he had challenged Muhammad, Abu Bakr, and Umar, to answer him. Following his instructions they kept quiet and maintained silence even when Abu Sufyan proclaimed the glory of Hubul. But when the Prophet heard this last exclamation, he turned impatiently to his companions, prudence and all concern for security thrown to the winds, and exclaimed: “Why don’t you say, `Allah is the Most High, the Most Exalted’? ” The shouts went up and convinced Abu Sufyan and the Meccans that the Prophet was alive. The Meccans thereupon held a council whether they should attack the small party round the Prophet and put an end to all of them. But they thought better of it, and calling it a day, withdrew from the field.
On the day of Hunain when the Prophet had at the very start of the battle been left alone with only a dozen supporters, even Abu Bakr could not restrain him from spurring forward his mule toward the enemy, proclaiming that he was a true Prophet and no impostor.
With him God always came first. So much was this so that even his enemies in Mecca were wont to say, “Muhammad is intoxicated with love of God.”
Such is the testimony of man and events. What of the testimony of God, Who had commanded him to shoulder the responsibility of conveying His message to mankind and of leading them back to Him? The Prophet’s enemies did not believe in his mission nor that what he proclaimed as revelation was received by him from God, but even for them God’s testimony concerning him became conclusive in the sense that it was openly and widely proclaimed. They found it so true that on no occasion and in no particular did they ever call it in question. It was a standing challenge to his opponents. They never took it up.
The Prophet was commanded to proclaim: “If Allah had so willed I should not have recited the Quran to you, nor would He have made it known to you. I have indeed lived among you a whole lifetime before this. Will you not then understand?” (10: 17). Thus God put forward the purity and righteousness of the Prophet’s life, which those who opposed him so bitterly had observed at close quarters, as proof that he was not capable of uttering a lie against God. Not without reason had his fellow townsmen bestowed upon him the title “El‑Ameen,” the Trusty, the Faithful.
Faced squarely with this challenge, not one of them ever attempted to assert that Muhammad had on any occasion been guilty of saying or doing that which was not utterly true, completely righteous.
Yet all the time he had to stress that he was but a man like the rest, lest, observing the security that he enjoyed in the midst of constant danger, the success that he extracted even from persecution and defeat, and the ultimate triumph of his cause to which the whole of Arabia was witness, some might be tempted to ascribe to him supernatural capacities and powers or superhuman status. “Say: `I am but a man like yourselves. I have received revelation that your God is only One God. So let him who hopes to meet his Lord act righteously, and let him join no one in the worship of his Lord”‘ (18:111)
When challenged by his opponents to show them a sign, like causing a spring to gush forth from the earth, or causing the heavens to fall upon them in pieces, or ascending to heaven and bringing down with him a book which they could read, he was commanded to reply: “Holy is my Lord. I am but a man sent as a Messenger” (17:91‑94).
It was necessary to stress this both in view of what had happened in the case of some previous prophets who were exalted as divinities by their followers and also for the simple reason that only a man can be an exemplar for men. An angel or a god cannot set an example which man can follow. The dimensions would be utterly disparate. It is a curious inversion that a prophet’s opponents often seek to justify their rejection of him on the ground that he is but a man, a single individual from among themselves (54: 25). Yet, as the Quran points out, it is only a man who can serve as God’s Messenger to men. An angel would be sent as a prophet if the earth were peopled with angels ( I7:95‑96) .
The Prophet’s disclaimer of any supernatural powers or capacities is repeatedly emphasized in the Quran. For instance, he is commanded to say that he does not possess knowledge of the unseen, save only that much which God reveals to him (2:256; 72:27‑28). Had he possessed such knowledge, he would have collected abundant good for himself, and no evil could have touched him (7: 189). It is true that the Prophet had full faith in God’s promises of help and the ultimate triumph of the cause, but he set a clear example that faith in God and in His promises entailed the putting forth of the utmost effort toward the achievement of the purpose and the goal which God himself had appointed.
For instance, the Prophet had been assured of God’s protection against his enemies (5:68), of his victorious return to Mecca (28:86), of the ultimate success and triumph of his cause (58:22-23), but he did not for one moment slacken his vigilance or his effort in respect of the complete discharge of his own duty and of exhorting his followers to do the same (3: 140, 201).
He was not only kindly and affectionate toward those who came in contact with him, praying for them and exhorting them constantly to order their lives in accordance with Divine commandments and guidance, but also exerted himself to the utmost to train them in every aspect and sphere of life, so as to prepare and equip them for the discharge of the responsibilities that lay upon them and for much heavier ones that were due to be placed upon their shoulders (3: 150). He was commanded to exhort his followers to pray for even those who persecuted them and paid no heed to the warnings of God, and to overlook and forgive their trespasses (45:15).
He was “a mercy for mankind.” God called him so and he did indeed prove himself such in every respect (21:108) It was grievously painful for him that his people should be distressed, and he was ardently desirous of promoting their welfare ‑tender and compassionate at all times and anxious to apply balm to their oft‑harassed and wounded spirits (9:128).
When persecution became unbearable in Mecca, the Prophet directed those of his followers who could do so to migrate across the Red Sea to seek shelter and peace in the dominions of the Emperor of Ethiopia. Later, when life was made almost impossible for him and for the Muslims in Mecca, the migration to Medina was decided upon but the Prophet himself stayed on in Mecca till all those who could be the objects of the Meccans’ resentment and who were free to do so had departed from Mecca. Of the free, male adults only Abu Bakr, Ali, and himself were left. Abu Bakr accompanied him, and Ali, who had been entrusted with the return of money and articles which some Meccans had left with the Prophet for safe keeping, soon followed him.
On one occasion when there was an alarm in Medina at night, the people began to collect in the mosque, as they had been directed by the Prophet, awaiting his instructions. Presently they saw him riding into the town from the plain. He had already been out to investigate, and assured them that there was no danger, that they could go back to sleep. He was the most alert of them at all times concerning their security, as a good shepherd should be concerning his flock.
Passing along one afternoon he noticed a freed man sweating over his task. The Prophet approached him quietly from behind and covered his eyes with his hands as children sometimes do in sport. The man put up his hands to his eyes and from the softness of the hands covering them concluded that this intimate and affectionate gesture could come only from the Prophet. The Prophet began to laugh and removed his hands from the eyes of the man. This was his way of bringing comfort to one who might have considered himself lonely and friendless and might have been weary of his task.
On shaking hands with a laborer and perceiving that his hands were rough and calloused from hard toil, the Prophet held the man’s hands within both of his and massaged them gently, repeating several times: “These hands are very dear to God.'”
That is why God affirmed that the Prophet possessed the highest moral excellences (68:5) and that God’s Grace had been bestowed upon him in abundance (17:88) .The highest yearning of the human soul is to win the love of God through its own devotion to, and love of, Him. The Quran succinctly points the way for the satisfaction of that yearning. The Prophet was commanded to say: “If you love God, follow me: then will God love you and forgive you your faults. Surely, God is Most Forgiving, Merciful” (3:32).
When Ayesha said that the character of the Prophet was the Quran, she meant that the Prophet illustrated in his own person to the highest degree the excellences that the Quran teaches. It was because he had become a living example and illustration of the highest excellences that man is capable of achieving, that God’s testimony affirmed: “Verily, you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar, for him who fears Allah and the Last Day, and who remembers Allah much” (33:22).
Muhammad’s soul being in travail over the moral and spiritual degradation of his people did strive to approach the Majesty of God, seeking and praying for a remedy. His striving found favor with God, Who, on Muhammad’s approach, drew near to him, and the spiritual communion between the two wrought a unity of purpose. Muhammad’s will and purpose were completely subordinated to those of God, and were, so to speak, fused with them. This spiritual fusion is metaphorically expressed in the Quran as “one chord serving two bows and even closer still.” God then revealed to Muhammad that which was needed for the guidance of mankind (53:9-11 ).
The Prophet has explained this experience very simply. He has said that if a servant of God submits himself wholly to the will of God, and commits the whole direction of his life to it, he gradually achieves a condition in which God becomes the eyes with which he sees, the ears with which he hears, the hands with which he labors, and the feet with which he walks. This comes as close to expressing the mystic spiritual reality involved as it is possible to do within the limits of human speech.
The Quran expresses the same idea in several contexts. In the battle of Badr, what appeared to be an utter impossibility was converted into an achievement and the three hundred‑odd ragged, half‑starved, ill‑armed Muslims gained complete victory over the thousand or so well‑armed, seasoned Qureish warriors, proud of their might and arrogant in their pride. During the height of the battle, the Prophet took up a handful of pebbles and sand, throwing it in the direction of the Meccan army. A fierce gust of wind happened to rise suddenly, blowing from the Muslim side in the direction of the Meccans, and carried with it a whole storm of pebbles and sand, which so confused and bewildered the Meccans that they could not see aright, and were seriously handicapped. It contributed materially to their defeat. This incident is referred to in the Quran as: “You slew them not, but it was Allah Who slew them.Thou threwest not when thou didst throw, but it was Allah Who threw, that He might overthrow the disbelievers and that He might confer on the believers a great favor from Himself. Surely, Allah is All‑Hearing, All‑Knowing” (8:18).
Again, the Quran affirms that those who swear allegiance to the Prophet swear allegiance to God. “God’s hand is upon their hands” (48:11).This verse has particular reference to an incident during the negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, but it is of general application also. The expression “God’s hand” is, of course, metaphorical. God has no physical attributes of any kind, but the meaning is obvious: those who swear allegiance to the Prophet enter into a covenant to subordinate their wills and purposes completely to the will and purpose of God. Thus, though they make a covenant by placing their hands upon the Prophet’s hand, their true purpose is to make a covenant with God; and in that sense God’s hand is upon their hands.
In short, the whole of the Prophet’s life‑every thought, every motion, every action, his very being‑was devoted to God in the effort to seek closer communion with Him. This is clearly affirmed by Divine testimony: “Say: ‘My prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. He has no associate. So am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit wholly to Him”‘ (6:163-164.).
Such was the Prophet in the eyes of man and in the estimation of God.
God has proclaimed: “Allah sends down His blessings on the Prophet, and His angels constantly invoke His blessings on him; do you, O believers, also invoke Allah’s blessings on him and offer him the salutation of peace” (33:57)
In obedience to this command, all through the centuries Muslims have constantly prayed for, and invoked Allah’s blessings upon, the Prophet. It is estimated that there are over one billion Muslims in different parts of the world‑and the number is daily increasing‑of whom at least half carry out this Divine command several times daily. An average Muslim invokes God’s blessings on the Prophet forty times during the course of each day, and many of them do it a great many more times. In fact, every time the Prophet is referred to in conversation, by name or by reference to his Prophetic office, Allah’s blessings are invoked upon him and Allah’s peace is called down upon him. Thus, having regard to the distribution of Muslim peoples round the world, every moment of the night and day millions of hearts supplicate the Almighty for His blessings on His Prophet. One who devoted his life so utterly to the service of God and His creatures as did the Prophet is deserving of the deepest gratitude on the part of the whole of mankind. By constantly invoking the blessings of God upon him, those who do so seek to repay a fraction of the debt that humanity owes him.