Muhammad was a Law bearing Prophet. He was not a novelty, as there had been such prophets before him, for instance Moses, through whom God had foretold the advent of another Law bearing Prophet like unto him (Deuteronomy 18:18). He was directed to proclaim: ‘I am no innovation among Messengers’ (46:10). This means that Muhammad had been prepared by God as a fit and appropriate channel for conveying divine law and guidance to mankind; and implied that his personality had been moulded to that end and that he illustrated conformity to that law and guidance in his own conduct. Though he 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 one to form a fair idea of his qualities and character. Alter he received the Divine Call his every word, act, and gesture were observed, and a complete record of them has been preserved. That was necessary, for otherwise not only would there be lack of certainty and confidence, 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 no supernatural powers, nor did he claim any. He was subject to the same conditions and limitations as his contemporaries. 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, and was a citizen subject to the authorities of his town. God appointed him a teacher and a guide. He immediately became an object of scorn and derision, and soon of bitter persecution. He was a loving and watchful 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 thus 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 that 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 upon him demanded the establishment and preservation of peace. His enemies would let him have no peace. They forced him to take up arms in defence 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. During eight years of fighting, punctuated with pitched battles and numerous pre-emptive expeditions, the total loss of life suffered by his enemies was 759, and that suffered by his own people was 259. 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. He did not fail to exercise sternness when the occasion demanded it, for any such lack would have been a failure in the discharge of his obligations. He would not tolerate treason or treachery, but was never vindictive. He was most forgiving and forbearing in respect of personal wrongs suffered by him.
The following description of his person and character is taken from Sir William Muir (Life of Muhammad, pp. 510-13):
His form, though little above mean height, was stately and commanding. The depth of feeling in his dark black eyes, and the winning expression of a face otherwise attractive, gained the confidence and love of strangers, even at first sight. His features often unbended into a smile full of grace and condescension. He was, says an admiring follower, the handsomest and bravest, the brightest-faced and most generous of men. It was as though the sunlight beamed in his countenance. His gait has been likened to that of one descending a hill rapidly. When he made haste, it was with difficulty that one kept pace with him. He never turned, even if his mantle caught in a thorny bush; so that his attendants talked and laughed freely behind him secure of being unobserved.
Thorough and complete in all his actions, he took in hand no work without bringing it to a close. The same habit pervaded his manner in social intercourse. If he turned in a conversation towards a friend, he turned not partially, but with his full face and his whole body. In shaking hands, he was not the first to withdraw his own; nor was he the first to break off in converse with a stranger, nor to turn away his ear. A patriarchal simplicity pervaded his life. His custom was to do everything for himself. If he gave alms he would place it with his own hands in that of the petitioner. He aided his wives in their household duties, mended his clothes, tied up the goats, and even cobbled his sandals. His ordinary dress was of plain white cotton stuff, made like his neighbours’. He never reclined at meals.
Muhammad, with his wives, lived, as we have seen, in a row of low and homely cottages built of unbaked bricks, the apartments separated by walls of palm-branches rudely daubed with mud, while curtains of leather, or of black haircloth, supplied the place of doors and windows. He was to all of easy access – even as the river’s bank to him that draweth water from it. Embassies and deputations were received with the utmost courtesy and consideration. In the issue of prescripts bearing on their representations, or in other matters of state, Muhammad displayed all the qualifications of an able and experienced ruler. What renders this the more strange is that he was never known himself to write.
A remarkable feature was the urbanity and consideration with which Muhammad treated even the most insignificant of his followers. Modesty and kindliness, patience, self-denial, and generosity, pervaded his conduct, and riveted the affections of all around him. He disliked to say No. If unable to answer a petitioner in the affirmative, he preferred silence. He was not known ever to refuse an invitation to the house even of the meanest, nor to decline a proffered present however small. He possessed the rare faculty of making each individual in a company think that he was the favoured guest. If he met anyone rejoicing at success he would seize him eagerly and cordially by the hand. With the bereaved and afflicted he sympathized tenderly. Gentle and unbending towards little children, he would not disdain to accost a group of them at play with the salutation of peace. He shared his food, even in times of scarcity, with others, and was sedulously solicitous for the personal comfort of everyone about him. A kindly and benevolent disposition pervaded all those illustrations of his character.
Muhammad was a faithful friend. He loved Abu Bakr with the close affection of a brother; Ali, with the fond partiality of a father. Zaid, the freedman, was so strongly attached by the kindness of the Prophet that he preferred to remain at Mecca rather than return home with his own father. ‘I will not leave thee,’ he said, clinging to his patron, ‘for thou hast been a father and mother to me.’ The friendship of Muhammad survived the death of Zaid, and his son Usama was treated by him with distinguished favour for the father’s sake. Uthman and Umar were also the objects of a special attachment; and the enthusiasm with which, at Hudaibiyya, the Prophet entered into the Pledge of the Tree and swore that he would defend his beleaguered son-in-law even to the death, was a signal proof of faithful friendship. Numerous other instances of Muhammad’s ardent and unwavering regard might be adduced. His affections were in no instance misplaced; they were ever reciprocated by a warm and self-sacrificing love.
In the exercise of a power absolutely dictatorial, Muhammad was just and temperate. Nor was he wanting in moderation towards his enemies, when once they had cheerfully submitted to his claims. The long and obstinate struggle against his pretensions maintained by the inhabitants of Mecca might have induced its conqueror to mark his indignation in indelible traces of fire and blood. But Muhammad, excepting a few criminals, granted a universal pardon; and, nobly casting into oblivion the memory of the past, with all its mockery, its affronts and persecution, he treated even the foremost of his opponents with a gracious and even friendly consideration. Not less marked was the forbearance shown to Abdullah and the disaffected citizens of Medina, who for so many years persistently thwarted his designs and resisted his authority, nor the clemency with which he received submissive advances of tribes that before had been the most hostile, even in the hour of victory.
Such is the testimony of a biographer who was not too favourably disposed towards the Holy Prophet. The testimony of Khadija, his most intimate companion for fifteen years before the Divine Call came to him, with regard to his character and qualities, has been noted earlier. Her devoted comradeship during the first ten years of his ministry till her death shortly after the lifting of the blockade, is further confirmation of the estimation that she had formed of his character earlier) Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, whom he married two years after the Emigration, when asked about his character replied, ‘His character was the Quran,’ than which there could be no higher praise.
During the period of persecution in Mecca, the Holy Prophet endured everything without complaint and proved himself a good and law-abiding citizen. Yet he was never afraid and was not deterred from doing all that he considered was due from him. 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 the object 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 he approached directed him cynically to the Holy Prophet, who immediately accompanied the man to Abu Jahl’s house and knocked at his door. Abu Jahl, amazed at seeing Muhammad before him, admitted the claim. The Holy Prophet then asked him to discharge his obligation, which he promptly did. When Abu Jahl later appeared before 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 help himself.
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 subsisted on a meagre diet of dates or parched 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.
At night, between the prescribed services, he spent long hours in prayer. He stood so long in the course of these prayers that sometimes his feet became swollen. On one occasion Aisha was moved to venture a mild protest against such prolonged devotion. The Holy Prophet answered, ‘Aisha, God has been so profuse in bestowing His bounties upon me that it behoves 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 of you is he who behaves best towards the members of his family.’
He constantly exhorted his people towards 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: ‘I fear God more than any of you fear Him, yet I fast and I eat; I pray and I discharge all my obligations towards 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 that which 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 humour and with all his grave occupations did not altogether neglect the lighter side of life. On one occasion, when he was sitting at home with Aisha, an old woman came to visit her. Thinking that it was a good opportunity to ask a favour of the Holy Prophet, the visitor begged him to pray that she might be admitted to heaven when her time came to depart this life. The Holy Prophet replied, ‘There will be no old women in heaven.’ Distressed, the old lady began to bewail her fate. The Holy 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 Aisha to a race, which she won. A year or two later he challenged her again and this time he won. He laughed, saying, ‘Aisha, we have come out even.’
Aisha once confessed to him that she had suspected him of an unfairness, but had soon found out that she was mistaken. He remarked, ‘Aisha, there is a Satan in everyone of us, of whose promptings we should beware.’ ‘Is there a Satan inside you also?’ she inquired. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘but he has accepted submission.’)
(One day he happened to pass near a date-palm garden in which some people were engaged in carrying out grafting. He enquired what they were doing, and when they explained the process he asked them why they did not do it another way. The following year they complained that they had adopted his suggestion but the trees had yielded less fruit than normal. He observed, ‘I had merely made an enquiry from you. 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, by plausible arguments, succeed in persuading him that it was in the right, when in fact the other party was in the right, and he might give judgment in favour of the first. Even so, the party in whose favour judgment was given must remember that it was answerable to God. The mere fact that it had obtained judgment from him would not serve to absolve it if it were not in fact in the right.
The Holy Prophet’s clemency and compassion were well known. A poor man confessed to him publicly that he had been guilty of a certain wrong. The Holy Prophet imposed a mild penalty by way of a fine, which would be distributed in charity; but the man pleaded that he was unable to pay. Just then someone brought a basket of dates to the Holy Prophet to be distributed in charity. He bade the wrongdoer to take the dates and distribute them among the poor. Said the man, ‘Messenger of Allah, I know of no one more deserving of charity than myself.’ The Holy Prophet laughed and replied, ‘Well, then, take them yourself and that will suffice as your penalty.’
On another occasion someone confessed having committed a wrong, but the Holy Prophet paid no attention to him and, as it was Prayer time, stood up to lead the Prayer. After the Prayer, the man again confessed his wrong. The Holy Prophet inquired, ‘Did you not join us in the Prayer service?’ On the man replying in the affirmative, the Holy Prophet observed, ‘Well then, your Prayer has wiped out your offence.’
During the course of a journey, the Holy Prophet and his party rested among a grove of trees to escape the noonday heat. The Holy 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 prowl for an opportunity to kill him stole into the camp, and, finding the Holy Prophet sleeping unguarded, approached him, secured his sword, and, drawing it, sat down on his chest. The Holy Prophet woke up in surprise as the man, brandishing the sword, said, ‘Who can save thee now?’ The Holy 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 Holy Prophet. ‘No One!’ exclaimed the man in terror. ‘Why do you not say “Allah”?’ asked the Holy Prophet as he released the man.
To the Companions who had now gathered round them, the Holy Prophet explained what had happened, and inquired from the man, ‘Will you bear witness that there is no one worthy of worship save Allah, and that I am His Messenger?’ The man said he could not do that, but he would promise that he would not fight against him. The Holy Prophet let him go free.
This incident is a testimony to the Holy Prophet’s presence of mind in situations of extreme danger and his complete trust in God. It will be recalled that on the occasion of his flight from Mecca when Quraish had tracked him to the mouth of the cave in which Abu Bakr and he had taken refuge, and Abu Bakr became apprehensive lest they might be discovered and the Holy Prophet might be exposed to serious danger, he reassured Abu Bakr with, ‘Have no fear. We are not only two, there is a third with us, even God.’
In his early days in Medina, there was an alarm one night and the Muslims began to gather in the mosque as they had been directed to do on such occasions. They were awaiting the Holy Prophet when they observed him appear through the gloom riding a pony, returning from the plain. He reassured them that he had ridden out to investigate, and that there was no cause for alarm and that they should go back to sleep. He proved himself the most alert of them all.
At the commencement of the battle of Hunain when the Muslim forces fell into confusion and the Holy Prophet was left only with a dozen or so followers, he asked his uncle, Abbas, to call out the Muslims to rally to the standard and, himself spurring his mule, despite Abu Bakr’s efforts to restrain him, went forward towards the enemy calling out, ‘I am God’s true Prophet, no impostor; I am the grandson of Abdul Muttalib.’
‘The Holy 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, from which even the animals and birds were not excluded. He was not niggardly about it, as lesser men might have been (17:101). He had to be stern in dealing with grave offences, treason and treachery, but that too was a manifestation of mercy, as a wolf has to be destroyed out of mercy to the sheep. That which inspired him first and last was his duty to God. His beneficence towards 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 to the Holy Prophet. The Holy 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 without the least swerving till the last. With him God always came first. So much was this so that even his enemies in Mecca were wont to say of him ‘Muhammad is intoxicated with the love of his Lord.’ God had, of His grace and wisdom, commanded the Holy Prophet to shoulder the responsibility of conveying His message to mankind and of leading them back to Him. His enemies did not believe in his mission, nor what he proclaimed as revelation was received by him from God, so God posed a challenge to them, which they never took up and to which they had no answer. He was commanded to proclaim, ‘If God had so willed, I would not have recited the Quran to you, nor would He have made it known to you. I have 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 Holy 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. Faced squarely with this challenge, not one of them attempted to assert that Muhammad had on any occasion been guilty of saying or doing that which was not utterly true, completely righteous. The exemplary life that he had led, before their very eyes, up to the moment that the Divine Call came to him, was a guarantee of the truth of his claim.
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 had progressively become witness; some might be tempted to ascribe to him supernatural capacities and powers of superhuman status. He was commanded to proclaim, ‘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 associate 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. Jam but a man sent as a Messenger’ (17:91-4).
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 men 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 like them, 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’ (17:95-6)
The Holy 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 as God reveals to him (2:256; 72:27-8). 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 Holy Prophet had full faith in God’s promises of help and the ultimate triumph of his cause, but he set a clear example that faith in God and in His promises entailed the putting forth of the utmost effort towards the achievement of the purpose and goal which God Himself had appointed. For instance, he 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 (58:22-3); but he did not for one moment slacken his vigilance or his effort in respect of the complete discharge of his own duties and of exhorting his followers to do the same (3:140, 201).
He was not only kindly and affectionate towards 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 of life, so as to prepare and equip them for the due discharge of the responsibilities that lay upon them and much heavier ones that were about 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 overlook and forgive their trespasses (45:15).
He was a mercy for mankind. God called him such and he did indeed prove himself so in every respect. 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 much harassed and wounded spirits (9:128). When persecution became unbearable in Mecca, the Holy 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 Abyssinia. Later, when life was made impossible for him and for the Muslims in Mecca, the Migration to Medina was decided upon, but the Holy Prophet himself stayed on in Mecca till all those who could be the objects of the resentment of the Meccans, and 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 Holy Prophet for safekeeping, soon followed him.
The Holy Prophet was always on the easiest terms with everyone. All had free access to him. A party of Muslims who had no home, nor possessions of any kind, eked out an austere livelihood during part of the day and spent the greater part of their time in the company of the Holy Prophet in the mosque, spending their nights on a platform in the courtyard of the mosque. They were known as the Company of the Platform. The Holy Prophet was most affectionate towards them and, every morning, after the dawn Prayer service, sat down among them and shared his frugal breakfast with them. He often invited them to take part with him in his other meals.
A poor freedman by the name of Zahir made his living out of a small patch of ground some distance out of Medina, which he tended and cultivated as a market gardener. Two or three times a week he would carry the sparse produce into Medina where he set up a stall in an open space. He would take some of it as a present to the Holy Prophet, who in return would present him with articles procurable in the town which might be of use to him or which he might be in need of. The Holy Prophet was wont to say, ‘Zahir is our country, and we are his town.’ On one occasion, during the noonday heat, the Holy Prophet happened to pass near Zahir’s stall where he was hawking his produce. He was exposed to the fierce heat of the sun, his torso glistening with perspiration. The Holy Prophet approached him quietly from behind and, putting out his arms on both sides of his face, covered his eyes with his hands as children sometimes do in sport. Zahir 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 Holy Prophet. Taking advantage of the situation, he extended his own arms backwards and, encircling the Holy Prophet between them, he pulled him close to himself and began to rub his sweating body against the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet began to laugh and removed his hands from Zahir’s eyes. This was his way of administering comfort to one who might have considered himself lonely and friendless, and might have been weary of his task.
It was his simple and unaffected humanity that earned for the Holy Prophet God’s affirmation that he 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 Holy Quran succinctly points the way for the satisfaction of that yearning. The Holy 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 Aisha said that the character of the Holy Prophet was the Quran, she meant that the Holy Prophet illustrated in his own person to the fullest 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).
In short, the whole of the Holy Prophet’s life – his every thought, every movement, every action, his very being – was devoted to God in the effort to seek closer communion with Him. This is also clearly affirmed by divine testimony. He was commanded to say, ‘My Prayer and my sacrifices 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’ (6:163-4).
The West has, with a few honourable exceptions, through fourteen centuries consistently ignored all that was patently good and beneficent in the life of the Holy Prophet and in Islam and, when confronted by his example and his doctrine, has taken shelter behind flimsy and untenable excuses. Its favourite objection has been that the sword spread Islam. By whose sword? The Holy Prophet was but one man against the whole world. Through thirteen long years of his ministry at Mecca, under the severest persecution and the gravest provocation, he and his small band of followers set the example of steadfast law-abiding citizens, who offered no violence against violence. Finally, some of them having left for Abyssinia, the greater part of them migrated to Medina and the Holy Prophet followed them later. His Meccan enemies should have then left him alone, calling it a good riddance. But they would not leave him and his in peace. It was they who unsheathed the sword against him and his followers. It was then that he was, under divine command, compelled to take up the sword in defence of freedom of conscience, which is proclaimed in positive and emphatic terms by the Holy Quran. It was the persistence of Quraish in the use of force against the Muslims, much inferior to them in numbers and equipment of every type that brought ruin upon Quraish; the same happened after the fall of Mecca to other tribes.
The facts speak eloquently in this, as in all other, contexts. During the Meccan period of his ministry the Holy Prophet did not employ the sword on any occasion, even in defence. There could be no question of anyone being forced or coerced in any way to accept his message. His wife Khadija, his cousin Ali, still only a boy, his freedman Zaid and his closest friend Abu Bakr accepted him without the slightest hesitation; the last, when told of Muhammad’s claim of Prophet hood, at once exclaimed, ‘That mouth is not capable of uttering a falsehood.’ Slowly others followed: Uthman, Zubair, Talha, Mus’ab bin Umair, Suhaib, Bilal, and some time later Umar and Hamzah, all of whom played distinguished roles in the early history of Islam. Was any of them forced or coerced into believing in the truth of the Holy Prophet? The number of such outstanding personalities who joined the ranks of the Muslims in Mecca, despite the severest persecution, continued to grow steadily. Was there any suspicion in respect of any of them that they had been forced to declare faith in the Holy Prophet by force or coercion? Was the delegation from Medina, composed of seventy men and two women, who swore the pledge of allegiance to the Holy Prophet, and, despite the warning of Abbas, uncle of Muhammad, affirmed that if the Holy Prophet decided to move to Medina, they would safeguard him with their very lives, actuated to undertake that fearful responsibility by anything save the sincerity of their faith and the depth of their devotion?
It is airily argued that the Holy Prophet did not employ force in Mecca as he possessed little strength there. But if the faith to which he invited steadily gained strength in Mecca under the most adverse conditions, what need had he to employ force for its propagation after he had migrated to Medina? Even before his arrival there, Islam was making rapid progress among Aus and Khazraj and all that the Holy Prophet and the Muslims needed was to be left alone to lead their individual and collective lives in accordance with the teachings of their faith. But they were not left in peace. Did the Holy Prophet lead his ragged force of just over 300 men, half-starved, ill-equipped and ill-armed, against 1,000 experienced warriors of Quraish, well fed, well-equipped, well-armed and well-mounted, in the field of Badr, in order to convert Quraish by the sword to Islam? In the eyes of the worldly the Holy Prophet’s project was a suicidal adventure. He was compelled to embark upon it in defence of the freedom of conscience, trusting wholly in divine support. Of the 70 Quraish taken prisoners in the battle of Badr, was a single one forced to accept Islam on the point of the sword? A year later at Uhud, were 750 Muslims pitted against 3,000 Quraish for the purpose of forcing them to accept Islam at the point of the sword? Two years later, did a Confederate force of 20,000 besiege Medina because the Muslims under the command of the Holy Prophet had been forcing them to accept Islam at the point of the sword? Later, at Hudaibiyya, was it the Holy Prophet who was anxious to secure a truce with Quraish and to put an end to fighting, or was it Quraish who sought an end to the use of the sword? The Holy Prophet was so keen that the sword be sheathed between him and Quraish that, in order to secure his purpose, he accepted every reasonable and unreasonable condition proposed on behalf of Quraish, so much so that the Muslims felt that the terms of the treaty were humiliating. Is it or is it not a fact that once fighting was ended between Quraish and the Muslims, Islam began to make much faster progress than it had made during the years of conflict? At Hudaibiyya, the Holy Prophet was accompanied by 1,500 Muslims; in less than two years when a flagrant breach by Quraish of the treaty forced the Holy Prophet to march on Mecca, he was followed by 10,000 devoted Muslims. What is it then on the basis of which the West has persisted in charging the Holy Prophet with having spread his faith by the sword?
Sir Thomas W. Arnold, a well-known and highly respected orientalist, at one time Professor of Arabic in the University of London, made a thorough research into this question and in his outstanding work, The Preaching of Islam, first published in 1896, established beyond a doubt that the sword had nothing to do with the spread of Islam.
De L. O’Leary has affirmed (Islam at the Crossroads, p. 8):
History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.
For nearly two centuries the Muslims have been deprived of the sword. Most Muslim countries, one after the other, passed under the domination of Christian colonial powers and have regained their independence only during the last thirty years. During this period political power rested in the hands of Western countries and Christian missionaries spread all over the world, including Muslim lands, with unlimited resources at their disposal for the purpose of propagating Christianity and winning the world for it. What has been the result?
Islam and the Muslims are in a much stronger position today than they were 150 years ago. In several countries of Africa during the last fifty years Islam has been steadily gaining ground against Christianity. Where is the sword at the point of which Islam is winning the hearts of increasing numbers of people almost everywhere today? Even in the countries of the West latterly small communities of indigenous Muslims have been established who uphold moral and spiritual values above the material values that dominate the West. Their number is increasing.
Some Western critics have been anxious to make out that the Holy Prophet’s personality was a bundle of inconsistencies. They acknowledge that up to the time of his Migration from Mecca to Medina his life was a model of virtue, purity, uprightness, gentleness, compassion, human sympathy and of all that is good and beneficent; but that after he had acquired power in Medina all these excellent qualities, though not abandoned altogether, were marred by cruelty, vindictiveness, self-indulgence and licentiousness. Any intelligent person who has made even a cursory study of human nature must indignantly reject such a caricature as an utter impossibility. What these critics forget is that once the Holy Prophet was accepted in Medina as Chief Executive and Chief Magistrate, the scope of his responsibilities was enormously extended, and that many of them called for the exercise of sterner qualities than had been needed during his Meccan life. His positive and beneficent qualities were not affected adversely in the least degree. Outstanding examples of every one of them continued to be exhibited throughout. His character shone even more brilliantly in Medina than it had in Mecca for the very reason that many of his qualities had had no scope for coming into play during his Meccan life. For instance, take forgiveness. While he was in Mecca, he was sorely persecuted and was grievously ill-used. He bore everything with patience and steadfastness. It cannot, however, be said that he exercised forgiveness in any striking manner. He had no opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness predicates that the person who has suffered a wrong should have power to exact retribution and should forbear and forgive. In Mecca the Holy Prophet had no such power. Therefore if he had never gained power it would have been a mere academic speculation that the person who possessed all his beneficent qualities would have exercised his quality of forgiveness also at the highest level if he had been in a position to exact retribution for the wrongs done to him. In the case of the Holy Prophet, however, there are several instances of the exercise of the quality of forgiveness at the highest level and on the largest scale in the hour of triumph, of which there is no matching instance in human history. On the day that Mecca fell, he forgave all, but even more, after the battle of Hunain, he bestowed generous largesse’s upon those who, only a matter of weeks earlier had been his bitterest and most implacable enemies.
In Medina he was responsible for the maintenance of public order and for the security of the whole population of the city, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. He had to punish crime, but his justice was always tempered with mercy. In the course of the safeguarding of the security of Medina he had, unfortunately, to deal sometimes with extreme cases of treason and treachery. He had to act sternly and even harshly, but that was a duty that he could not honestly evade.
His critics cite his treatment of Banu Quraidha as an example of his cruelty. Attention may be drawn to Stanley Lane-Poole’s summing of the case. He has said that a fearful example was made of this clan, not by Muhammad but by an arbiter appointed by themselves. When Quraish and their allies were besieging Medina and well nigh stormed the defences, this Jewish tribe entered into negotiations with the enemy, which was only circumvented by the diplomacy of the Holy Prophet. When the besiegers had retired Muhammad naturally demanded an explanation of the Jews. They resisted in their dogged way and were themselves besieged and were compelled to surrender at discretion. Muhammad, however, consented to the appointing of a chief of a tribe allied to the Jews as the judge who should pronounce sentence upon them. His sentence was harsh, bloody; but it must be remembered that the crime of these men was high treason against the state and one need not be surprised at the summary execution of a traitorous clan (Studies in a Mosque, p. 68).
It may be added that the Holy Prophet, in carrying out the sentence, accepted every recommendation for mercy that was made to him. It was objected that as he had in advance agreed to carry out the sentence, whatever it might be, there was no room for mercy left. But the Holy Prophet pointed out that mercy was his prerogative, of the exercise of which he could not be deprived. In one instance, he not only accepted the recommendation made to him to spare the life of the offender, but as the result of further intercession he also directed the release of the members of his family and the restoration to him of his property; yet the person concerned refused to take advantage of the Holy Prophet’s clemency.
Frithjof Schuon has observed (Understanding Islam, p. 89):
Another reproach often levelled at him [Muhammad] is that of cruelty; but it is rather sternness that should be spoken of here, and it was directed, not at enemies as such, but only at traitors, whatever their origin; if there was hardness here, it was that of God himself through participation of Divine Justice which rejects and consumes. To accuse Muhammad of having a vindictive nature would involve, not only a serious misjudgment of his spiritual state and a distortion of the facts, but also by the same token a condemnation of most of the Jewish Prophets and of the Bible itself; in the decisive phase of his earthly mission, at the time of the taking of Mecca, the Messenger of Allah showed a superhuman gentleness in face of a unanimous feeling to the contrary in his victorious army.
Professor Laura Veccia Vaglieri, at one time Professor of Arabic and Islamic Culture in the University of Naples, has observed (An Interpretation of Islam, p. 28):
Against the accusation of cruelty, the answer is easy. Muhammad, Head of a State, defender of the life and freedom of his people, in the exercise of justice, punished severely individuals guilty of crimes, and this attitude of his has to be considered in the light of his times and also in the light of the wild and barbarian society in which he lived. Muhammad, as a preacher of the religion of God, was gentle and merciful even towards his personal enemies. In him were blended justice and mercy, two of the noblest qualities, which a human mind can conceive. It is not difficult to support this with many examples that are to be found in his biographies.
Another calumny that is persistently levelled at the Holy Prophet is that in his later life he became licentious. That is an enormity that has only to be contemplated to be immediately rejected as utterly incompatible with his life and character. Let us first consider the question of polygamy in general, and whether a plurality of wives negates high spirituality. In this context it should be remembered that in none of the great religious systems has polygamy been forbidden in the scriptures of a religion. All the Jewish Prophets, including the great lawgiver Moses, had a plurality of wives. No one has ever alleged that because of this they could not be accounted as leading virtuous lives.
All through human history it has been recognized that in certain circumstances and under certain conditions polygamy is not only permissible but is fully justified. It appears to be forgotten that licentiousness does not consist in a plurality of wives, but in the character of the relationship between men and women even inside marriage, and certainly when a relationship is established between a couple outside marriages. From the moral and spiritual points of view, the main purpose of marriage is the safeguarding of chastity. That very purpose might make polygamy desirable and even necessary in certain cases. There are several other contingencies of a social and sometimes of a political character that might justify recourse to the permission accorded by Islam in that behalf. It must be remembered that polygamy is not compulsory in Islam, far from it. It is permissible under very strict limitations, the principal one being the maintenance of complete equality between the wives, as is said: ‘But if you should apprehend that you may not be able to deal justly between your wives, then marry only one’ (4:4). Permission may be abused by persons who lack moral strength, but that does not mean that the permission itself is not justified and even wise.
Let us now consider the case of the Holy Prophet himself. Sir William Muir has observed (Life of Muhammad, p. 514):
In domestic life the conduct of Muhammad is exemplary. As a husband his fondness and devotion were entire. As a father he was loving and tender. In his youth he lived a virtuous life; and at the age of twenty-five he married a widow forty years old, during whose lifetime for five and twenty years he was a faithful husband to her alone.
Professor Vaglieri has observed (An Interpretation of Islam, pp. 67,68):
Enemies of Islam have insisted in depicting Muhammad as a sensual individual and a dissolute man, trying to find in his marriages evidence of a weak character not consistent with his mission. They refuse to take into consideration the fact that during those years of his life when by nature the sexual urge is strongest, although he lived in a society like that of the Arabs, where the institution of marriage was almost non-existent, where polygamy was the rule, and where divorce was very easy indeed, he was married to one woman alone, Khadija, who was much older than himself, and that for twenty-five years he was her faithful, loving husband. Only when she died and when he was already more than fifty years old did he marry again and more than once. Each of these marriages had a social or political reason, for he wanted through the women he married to honour pious women, or to establish marriage relations with other clans and tribes for the purpose of opening the way for the propagation of Islam. With the sole exception of Aisha, he married women who were neither virgins, nor young nor beautiful. Was this sensuality?
The motive behind such marriages in the estimation of the Holy Prophet is well illustrated by his direction to Abdul Rahman bin Auf who was appointed to command an expedition to Dumatul Jandal and who was given the direction by the Holy Prophet that if he came to terms with the tribe concerned he might marry the daughter of their chief, which he did and from whom he had a son who became a renowned jurist in Islam, as has already been noticed. The Holy Prophet did not direct that Abdul Rahman bin Auf should bring the daughter of the chief to Medina so that the Prophet might marry her.
The Holy Prophet married Aisha, the daughter of his closest friend, Abu Bakr; and Hafsa, daughter of Umar, who had become a widow and for whom her father was anxious to arrange a marriage; and Um Salamah, widow of a loved Companion, who had been left with several children; and Um Habeebah, daughter of his then bitterest enemy, Abu Sufyan, who had been widowed in Abyssinia; and his first cousin, Zainab bint Jahsh, who had been divorced by Zaid, his freedman; and Safiyah, also a widow, daughter of his most implacable enemy, Huyay bin Akhtab, who had been executed on account of his treachery after the siege of Medina; and Jawairiyyah, the widowed daughter of a chief who had embraced Islam along with his tribe. He also married Mary the Copt who had been sent to him as a gesture of goodwill by the Christian Viceroy of Egypt. The motive in all these cases is clear.
But one has not to be apologetic on behalf of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, in this matter of a plurality of wives, or indeed in respect of any other aspect of his life. The crucial question in the context of his domestic life is what the character of his relationship with his wives was. Looked at from that point of view, he also proved an excellent exemplar.
Frithjof Schuon has observed (Understanding Islam, pp. 88, 89):
There was in his life a superhuman grandeur of soul; there were also marriages and through them a deliberate entry into the earthly and social spheres – we do not say into the worldly and profane spheres – and ipso facto an integration of collective human life into the spiritual realm in view of the Prophet’s avataric nature. On the plane of piety attention must be drawn to the love of poverty, the fasting and the vigils; some people will no doubt object that marriage, and especially polygamy, are opposed to asceticism, but that is to forget, first, that married life does not remove the rigour of poverty, vigils and fasts, nor render them easy and agreeable, and secondly, that in the case of the Prophet marriage had a spiritualised or tantric character, as has indeed everything in the life of such a being because of the metaphysical transparency phenomena they assume. Looked at from outside, most of the Prophet’s marriages had, moreover, a political aspect – politics having here a sacred significance connected with the establishing on earth of a reflection of the City of God – and, finally, Muhammad gave enough examples of long abstinences, particularly in his youth, when passion is considered to be most strong, to be exempt from superficial judgments on this account.
Except for his marriage to Sudah, a pious, aged, indigent widow, all the Holy Prophet’s subsequent marriages took place after his migration to Medina. How was he occupied in Medina and what was the type of life that he led there? Even the most casual reader, from the circumstances of his life in Medina which have been set out earlier, would be deeply impressed with his heavy responsibilities, his diligent discharge of them, his preoccupation with the teaching of the faith to his followers, ministering to them as their spiritual preceptor, leading the five daily Prayer services, administering the affairs of the heterogeneous population of Medina, spending the greater part of his night in voluntary Prayer; and would wonder how much of his time was spent in the company of his wives, and how that time was employed by him. It must also be remembered that the faith that he preached had forbidden altogether the use of alcohol and all intoxicants, looked unfavourably on comforts and luxuries, and that the Holy Prophet’s own life was a model not only of simplicity, but even of rigorous asceticism. He permitted no indulgence of any kind to himself or to his wives.
The Holy Quran has inculcated the spirit that should inspire the relationship between husband and wife. It says, ‘Of His Signs it is that He has created mates for you of your own species that you may find peace of mind through them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that surely are Signs for a people who reflect’ (30:22). Then there is the admonition, ‘Consort with them graciously. Should you dislike them, it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed much good’ (4:20).
The Holy Prophet summed it up in, ‘The best of you is he who behaves best towards his wife.’ When he consorted with a wife he supplicated, ‘Lord, safeguard us against Satan, and keep Satan away from that which Thou mightiest bestow upon us.’
Aisha is reported to have said that the Holy Prophet was more modest than a virgin. Would that be the description of a person who was consumed with carnal passion and sought every opportunity for the satisfaction of his sensual desires through marrying a large number of women? It would also be instructive to reflect upon the standard of life that was prescribed in the Holy Quran for the wives of the Holy Prophet. He was commanded (33:29-35):
Say, O Prophet, to thy wives: If you desire the life of this world and its adornment, come then, I shall make provision for you and send you away in a handsome manner. But if you desire Allah and His Messenger and the home of the hereafter, then Allah has prepared for those of you who carry out their obligations fully a great reward. Wives of the Prophet, if any of you should act in an unbecoming manner, her punishment will be doubled. That is easy for Allah. But whoever of you is completely obedient to Allah and His Messenger and acts righteously, we shall double her reward; and We have prepared an honourable provision for her. Wives of the Prophet, if you safeguard your dignity, you are not like any other women. So speak in a simple straightforward manner, lest he whose mind is diseased should form an ill design; and always say a good word. Stay at home and do not show off in the manner of the women of the days of ignorance, and observe Prayer, and pay the Zakat, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah desires to remove from you all uncleanness, members of the Household, and to purify you completely. Remember that which is rehearsed in your homes of the Signs of Allah, and of wisdom. Verily, Allah is the Knower of the minutest things, All Aware.
There is no indication at all that any of them fell short in any respect of that which was prescribed for them, either during the life of the Holy Prophet or after his death. The period of widowhood in the case of some of them was quite prolonged. They spent it with great dignity, in beneficence and in the fear of God. That again is proof that their association with the Holy Prophet was at the highest moral and spiritual level.
We may sum up the character of the Holy Prophet in the words of two Western scholars, one German, the other British. Tor Andrae has recorded (Muhammad: The Man and his Faith, pp. 11, 12):
That Muhammad really lived cannot be disputed. The development of Islam – at least when compared with the other world religions – is open to the clear light of history, and presents us with yet another proof that the Prophetic personality is the original source of the new religious creation. Truly: ‘My Prayers and my worship and my life and my death are unto God, Lord of the worlds. He hath no associate. This am I commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims’ (6:163,164). The first of the Muslims! Muhammad is absolutely justified in so designating himself. He is the first representative of a new and independent religious type. Even today, after a period of development of thirteen centuries, one may clearly discern in genuine Islamic piety the uniqueness, which is ultimately derived from its founder’s personal experience of God.
W. Montgomery Watt, the well-known Orientalist, has said (Muhammad at Medina,pp. 334-5):
We may distinguish three great gifts Muhammad had, each of which was indispensable to his total achievement.
First, there is what may be called his gift as a seer. Through him – or on the orthodox Muslim view, through the revelations made through him – the Arab world was given an ideological framework within which the resolution of its social tensions became possible. The provision of such a framework involved both insight into the fundamental causes of the social malaise of the time, and the genius to express this insight in a form which would stir the hearer to the depths of his being. The European reader may be put off by the Quran, but it was admirably suited to the needs and conditions of the day.
Secondly, there is Muhammad’s wisdom as a statesman. The conceptual structure found in the Quran was merely a framework. The framework had to support a building of concrete policies and concrete institutions. In the course of this book, much has been said of Muhammad’s far-sighted political strategy and his social reforms. His wisdom in these matters is shown by the rapid expansion of a small state to a world empire, and by the adaptation of his social institutions to many different environments and their continuance for thirteen centuries.
Thirdly, there is his skill and tact as an administrator and his wisdom in the choice of men to whom to delegate administrative details. Sound institutions and a sound policy will not go far if the execution of affairs is faulty and fumbling. When Muhammad died, the state he had founded was a going concern, able to withstand the shock of his removal and, once it had recovered from this shock, it expanded at prodigious speed.
The more one reflects on the history of Muhammad and of early Islam, the more one is amazed at the vastness of his achievement. Circumstances presented him with an opportunity such as few men have had, but the man was fully matched with the hour. Had it not been for his gifts as a seer, statesman, and administrator and, behind these, his trust in God and firm belief that God had sent him, a notable chapter in the history of mankind would have remained unwritten. It is my hope that this study of his life may contribute to a fresh appraisal and appreciation of one of the greatest of the sons of Adam.
Muhammad left an enduring impress upon a large mass of mankind. He indeed proved himself an excellent exemplar, as God has described him in the Holy Quran (33:22). That is why God ordained: ‘Allah sends down His blessings on the Prophet, and His angels constantly invoke 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 divine command, all through the centuries, Muslims have constantly prayed for, and invoked Allah’s blessings upon the Holy Prophet. There are, today, more than 750 million Muslims spread in different parts of the world, and their number is daily increasing. An average Muslim invokes God’s blessings on the Holy Prophet at least forty times during the course of each day, and many of them do it much oftener. Every time the Holy Prophet is referred to in conversation by name or by his Prophetic office, Allah’s blessings are invoked upon him and Allah’s peace is called down upon him. Thus every moment of the night and day, millions of devoted hearts supplicate the Almighty for His blessings on His Prophet. Has there been in the history of man any other who has been so richly blessed; and it is right that it should be so. One who devoted his life so utterly to the service of God and His creatures, as did the Holy 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 great debt that humanity owes him.
Our last word is: All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of the worlds.