Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): The Greatest
Leader, Reformer and Finality of Prophethood
Dr. Mozammel Haque
This is the month of Rabi al-Awwal when Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him came to this world and spread the message of Islam revealed to him by Archangel Jibrail. This year, I read three books on the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him), two by non-Muslim and one by a Muslim.
This is the month when the Union of Muslim Organisations of UK & Ireland (UMO OF UK & Eire) under the leadership of Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, celebrated the day, without fail, for more than four decades organising a Seminar on the Life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him where ministers, political leaders, academics and Islamic scholars were invited to participate and speak on different aspects of Prophet’s life. After the demise of Dr. Pasha in 2011, The UMO still organised a Seminar on the Life of the Prophet at the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, last year in 2013 where a brilliant academic presentation “Love for the Prophet (peace be upon him) was made by Dr. Ahmed al-Dubayan, Director General of the Centre.
Unfortunately, this is the first time, in the 43 years of the UMO, when it failed to organise a regular seminar of its calendar on the day of Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi when there is so much media debate, talks and discussions on the Prophet (peace be upon him).
However, during this month of Rabi al-Awwal, I usually used to read some books on the biography of the Prophet (PBUH) and write review of those books. This year, I started reading the book on Muhammad: Prophet For Our Time by Karen Armstrong, published by Harper Prerennial, London, 2006 and another book Muhammad (SAW): 1001 Universal Appreciations and Interfaith Understanding and Peace by Dr. Mohammed A. Lais, published by Zaitun Media Ltd., in 2014 and thought to write a review article on the basis of that. But as the media has written so much on the Paris cartoons, I thought it is better to present the life of the Prophet peace be upon him) from the writings of non-Muslim thinkers and statesmen.
At the beginning, I want to raise the following questions – Who is Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? In order to know that, we have to find answers to the following: i) what was the situation of Arabia when he was born? ii) . How he was treated by the Makkah people? iii) What was his reaction; whether he was violent and aggressive with them or he was tolerant and restraint? In the following passages I would like to find answers from the pens and writings of non-Muslim writers, statesmen, scholars, and thinkers.
As usual, there are some misunderstanding and misinterpretations about the life, works and message of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In this article, I would like to see through the pens and writings of some of the prominent non-Muslim thinkers, academics and scholars what they think about him.
When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born, the condition of Arabia was described as Jahiliya. During this period, the situation of Makkah was described by Reverend Stephens as follows: “The vices most prevalent in Arabia in the time of Muhammad which are most sternly denounced and absolutely forbidden in the Qur’an were drunkenness, unlimited concubinage and polygamy; the destruction of female infants, reckless gambling superstitious arts of divination and magic.”
Prophecy of the coming of Prophet Muhammad
Peace be upon him
There were many sayings about the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and it was known to some well-versed scholars of the previous religions and scriptures. About one incident, Karen Armstrong wrote: “To reassure Muhammad, Khadijah consulted her cousin Waraqah, the hanif, who had studied the scriptures of the People of the Book and could give them expert advice. Waraqah was jubilant: Holy Holy! he cried, when he heard what had happened. “if you have spoken the truth to me, O Khadijah, there has come to him the great divinity who came to Moses aforetime, and lo, he is the prophet of his people.” The next time Waraqah met Muhammad in the Haram; he kissed him on the forehead and warned him that his task would not be easy.” (Karen, pages 47-48)
Prophet Muhammad endured pain
and mistreatment from others
After Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received revelation and he invited the Makkah people to accept the new religion, then the people of Makkah went against him and started badly treated him. How the Makkah people treated him, Karen Armstrong wrote: “Muhammad’s neighbors played disgusting tricks with a sheep’s uterus, thwacking him with it while he was at prayer, and once even dropping it into the family cooking pot. One day, a young Quraushi threw filth all over Muhammad while he was walking in the city. When his daughter Fatimah saw him in this state, she burst into tears. “Don’t cry my little girl,” Muhammad reassured her tenderly, while she tried to clean him up. “God will protect your father.” But to himself, he added grimly: “Quraysh treated me thus while Abu Talib was alive.” (Karen, page 89)
Similarly Leslay Hazleton mentioned, “As news spread of Abu-Lahab’s withdrawal of protection, the attacks on Muhammad became more pointed. Pails of dust were emptied over his head as he walked to the Kaaba precinct, and stones thrown at him when he tried to preach there. Even at home, he was at risk. As he sat in his own courtyard, someone threw sheep’s offal at him, splattering him with blood and gore. The specific organ hurled was the one distinctly female part of the animal, the uterus, making the insult all the more flagrant in a society based so strongly on male pride. It was clear that if Muhammad was not to live under virtual house arrest – in fact, if he was to survive – it was of paramount importance that he finds the protection of a clan leader.”
While Dr. N. K. Singh said, “People threw rubbish on his body and showered abuses. One particular lady adopted a novel technique: as the Prophet passed in front of her house every day, she threw rubbish, collected in her house, right on his body. This became such a regular practice that one day when rubbish was not thrown on him; he wanted ton know the reason for it. On enquiry, he learnt that the old lady was sick. He then went into the hollow, sat by the bedside of the lady, consoled her and prayed for her early recovery.”
Prophet never thought of revenge but
Showed greatest restraint
Dr. N. K. Singh also claimed, “The life of the Prophet (God’s blessings be on him) is an illustrious model for all Muslim to emulate. He has shown the greatest restraint in the preaching and practice of Islam. His life in Makkah was full of examples where he suffered without a protest. Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) was subject to many hardships and personal injuries while he was preaching Islam in Makkah. His reaction to these was nothing short of the true exposition of non-violence.”
Rendered extensive service to humanity
Leo Tolstoy said, “Undoubtedly, the Prophet Muhammad is one of the greatest reformers who rendered extensive service to the human community. As an indication of his greatness, it suffices to mention that he guided an entire nation to the light of truth and made it incline to serenity and peace and opted to live a life of asceticism. He forbade acts of bloodshed or human sacrifice. He opened up for his nation the way to progress and civilisation. That was a great feat which nobody – no matter how powerful he may be – is able to achieve. Such a man, indeed, is highly respectable and estimable.”
Reverend Stephens compared Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) with Moses; both of whom revived a pure religion from their common father, Abraham. “For a confused heap of idolatrous superstitions he substituted a pure monotheistic faith; he abolished some of the most vicious practices of his countrymen, modified others; he generally raised the moral standard, improved the social condition of the people, and introduced a sober and rational ceremonial in worship.”
“The abolition of some of these evil customs and the mitigation of others, was a great advance in the morality of the Arabs, and is a wonderful and honourable testimony to the zeal and influence of the Reformer. The total suppression of female infanticide and of drunkenness is the most signal triumph of his work,” wrote Reverend Stephens.
Simplicity was his greatest power
Pierce De Lacy Henry Johnstone, a famous European author mentioned that simplicity was a great power of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “He visited the sick, followed every bier he met, accepted even a slave’s invitation to dinner, mended his own clothes, waited on himself. Never was he first to withdraw his hand from another’s, nor to turn away ere the other hand turned. His hand was the most generous, his heart the most courageous, his tongue the most truthful, staunchest was he of protectors, and sweetest in conversation; and he inspired all men with awe and reverence.’ He was taciturn of habit, yet playful with children but not given to jesting.”
On the other hand, Professor T.L Vaswami paid tribute to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for bringing huge reforms in the society. He mentioned, “And consider for a moment what the faith he preached has achieved. Islam has given the world a religion without priests; Islam abolished infanticide in Arabia; Islam enjoined on the faithful total abstinence from drink; Islam emphasized the great qualities of faith, courage, endurance and self-sacrifice.”
Golden words with regards to
“Apart from all those things which he preached to his followers he said some golden and charming words with regard to neighbourly relations. ‘Be kind to your neighbour. Draw the veil over him. Avoid injury to him, look to him with kindness. If you see him doing evil, forgive him. If you see him doing good to you, proclaim your thankfulness’. These are words to be treasured and the Man who said them should be weighed in gold,” said David De Santillan.
Prophet’s life style
Bosworth Smith writing about the simplicity and life style of the Prophet (peace be upon him) elaborated: “His ordinary dress was plain, even to coarseness; yet he was fastidious in arranging it to the best advantage. He was fond of ablutions, and fonder still of perfumes; and he prided himself on the neatness of his hair, and the pearly whiteness of his teeth. His life was simple in all its details. ….Ayesha is also our authority for saying that he did not get a sufficient meal. The little food that he had was always shared with those who were always to be found a number of the poor who lied entirely on the prophet’s generosity and were hence called the people of the bench. His ordinary food was dates and water or barley bread; milk and honey were luxuries of which he was fond, but which he rarely allowed himself.”
Similarly, The historian Edward Gibbon, like Bosworth Smith described: “The good sense of Mahomet despised the pomp of royalty; the apostle of God submitted to the menial offices of the family; he kindled the fire, swept the floor, milked the ewes, and mended with his own hands his shoes and his woollen garment. Disdaining the penance and merit of a hermit, he observed, without effort or vanity, the abstemious diet of an Arab and a soldier. On solemn occasions, he feasted his companions with rustic and hospitable plenty; but in his domestic life, many weeks would elapse without a fire being kindled on the hearth of the Prophet.”
Object of so much discussion, hate as well as love
In Spite of his so much service to humanity, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is an object of so much discussion since his time to today’s world. About this, Dr. Henry Stubbe, a British writer and scholar wrote in his book: “There is no man under heaven who has been the object of so much discussion, due either to extreme hatred or great love, as the Prophet Mohammed. Exalted in the East and discarded in the West, the Prophet has acquired a position which is difficult to define and for which it is impossible to find a parallel. He has been a central figure, to a large part of mankind, during the last thirteen centuries. His great enemies were the infidels of Makkah, but their hostility is as nothing compared to that shown by the Christian nations, which casts the story of the Jews and their detestation of Jesus entirely into the shade. It is a strange irony of fate that, Mohammad, who so manifestly honoured Isa and respected his teachings, has been made the object of the grossest abuse and the vilest calumny by the followers of Isa.”
Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine, a French writer, poet and politician states that History is a testimony to the creation of empires and armies which after periods of existence met its demise. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was not only successful in these fields, but his real success lied in the ability to penetrate the hearts of men.
According to him, “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws, and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples, dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and the souls.”
Need balanced approach to
Prophet’s life, says Karen Armstrong
When international community praised and acknowledged Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for his personality, good moral character and non-violent policy, there is an animosity among some people who used all kinds of abuses against him as the people of Jahiliya used to do in the seventh century. Karen Armstrong wrote in the Introduction of her book mentioned earlier: “We have a long history of Islamophobia in Western Culture that dates back to the time of the Crusades. In the twelfth century, Christian monks in Europe insisted that Islam was a violent religion of the sword, and that Muhammad was a charlatan who imposed his religion on a reluctant world by force of arms; they called him a lecher and a sexual pervert. This distorted version of the Prophet’s life became one of the received ideas of the West, and Western people have always found it difficult to see Muhammad in a more objective light.” (pages 17-18).
Karen Armstrong also mentioned, “Western critics also persist in viewing the Prophet of Islam as a man of war, and fail to see that from the very first he was opposed to the jahili arrogance and egotism that not only fuelled the aggression of his time but is much in evidence in some leaders, Western and Muslims alike, today. The Prophet, whose aim was peace and practical compassion, is becoming a symbol of division and strife – a development that is not only tragic but also dangerous to the stability on which the future of our species depends.” (pages 22-213)
Ms Armstrong advised, “We must approach his life in a balanced way, in order to appreciate his considerable achievements. To cultivate an inaccurate prejudice damages the tolerance, liberality, and compassion that are supposed to characterize Western culture.” (page 18).
Present world needs leader like Prophet Muhammad,
(pbuh), says George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics (LSE) argued that the present world needs leaders like Prophet Muhammad (SAW) for the general peace and comfort. Shaw observed:” I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.”