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The Light and Islamic Review July-Sept Edition, 2007
The Last Prophet
by Fazeel S. Khan
Finality of Prophethood
As explained by Sister Sarah in the previous lecture, prophets appeared in every nation - Almighty God, in His infinite mercy and justice, did not deprive any people of this most desirous blessing. These national prophets worked to morally uplift and spiritually regenerate the people they were sent to. By their personal example, these reformers showed their people how one can achieve closeness to God; that is, how to develop the Divine qualities within one's self. Although the message and means were the same, what differed between the prophets sent by God was the scope of their missions.
In the past, when nations lived in an isolated state, confined to distinct geographic areas, national prophets being commissioned to all different peoples was ideal. However, when humanity progressed to the point that man no longer lived a secluded life and communications between people evolved, the Divine scheme required a means for the spiritual unification of the entire human race.
Each nation, ignorant of the fact that the very Divine favors that they were blessed with was also gifted to others, began to think of themselves as "chosen ones" of God. This belief in Divine favoritism, a belief based on discrimination, prejudice and arrogance, in fact, has caused more bloodshed and violence than any other evil ideology since the beginning of time. Such views impeded any chance for a united human race living in peace. The pinnacle, therefore, in the divine institution of prophethood was the coming of one prophet for all nations. This "world prophet" appeared in the person of Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him).
The Holy Quran declares that the Prophet Muhammad was the final prophet in the long chain of messengers sent to humanity, by stating:
Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and (khatam an nabiyyin) the last of the prophets (33:40).
The Quran is not alone in the regard. Similarly, we find other religious scriptures foretelling the appearance of this great world-prophet as well. Jesus, for example, is recorded as prophesying that one would come after him, sent by God, who would teach man "all things" and guide man into "all truth". The message of this "comforter" or "spirit of truth", Jesus explains, will "abide with man forever".
The prophet that was to "guide unto all truth" was to be given a message of quite a different character; it was to be a "universal" message, beyond the limits of geography and constraints of time. The Holy Quran illuminates the concept of the advent of a "world prophet" being sent for all nations and for all times by stating:
Blessed is He Who sent down (furqan) the discrimination upon His servant that he may be a warner to all nations ; and Say: O Mankind, surely I am the Messenger of Allah to you all ; and And We have not sent thee but as a bearer of good news and as a warner to all mankind .
Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad came with a universal mission, looking to the whole of mankind for his ministry. Compare this to the mission of Jesus, the last of the national prophets. Prophet Jesus, by his own example, refrained from throwing "pearls" before "swine" (Mt. 7:6) and giving the "bread" of the children to the "dogs" (Mark 7:27; Mt. 15:26).
Was Prophet Jesus wrong or blameworthy in any way for safeguarding his mission, not allowing "outsiders" to partake in the blessings that appeared with his advent? Absolutely not, for "outsiders" were not within the scope of his mission, as he himself clarifies: I have not been sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 5:24).
Thus, his mission was of a limited scope, restricted to a specific group of people. Although Christianity has become an international religion, comprising of adherents from all races, colors and creeds and expanding to the farthest corners of the globe, it cannot be denied that missionary activism abroad was quite a foreign concept to Prophet Jesus, on whom be peace.
Now, seeing that the institution of prophethood is a Divine favor � without which man's spiritual development would be deficient, just as man's physical evolution would be incomplete without essential vitamins and nutrients - some have questioned whether the finality of prophethood is more of a curse than a blessing. Is mankind worse off now that prophets have ceased to appear since the 6th Century? This is obviously not the case. The object of sending prophets to a people was to make known the Divine will and provide an example the following of which could lead man to hold communion with God. This object was made complete through the great world-prophet, Prophet Muhammad. Prophet Muhammad�s message and practical illustration of that message was so perfect that it met the requirements not only of all contemporary nations, but for all future generations as well. This is what was meant by Prophet Jesus when he referred to him who would �guide you unto all truth�. The Holy Quran is explicit on this point; it states:
This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor to you and chosen for you Islam as a religion (5:3).
The "perfection of the message" is not claimed by any other religious scripture. Furthermore, the "favor" mentioned in this verse is in reference to the institution of prophethood; thus, the perfection of religion and the completion of prophethood go hand in hand. Understanding this concept allows one to fully appreciate the verse on the "finality of prophethood" quoted earlier:
Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last of the prophets (33:40).
This verse states that "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men", meaning he does not have any sons or heirs as such to pass on his qualities to, like a father does to a son, "but", the verse continues, "he is the Messenger of Allah and the last", and therefore, most complete "of the Prophets". The latter part of the verse reveals, by the grammatical use of the word �but�, which necessitates some sort of logical rebuttal or persuasive alternative, that even though he does not have any physical sons, he will be granted innumerable spiritual heirs for he is the final and most complete prophet whose example man will look to in order to achieve closeness to God. The verse indicates that Prophet Muhammad is the guide without whom one cannot know God in the complete sense; that is, without whom one cannot find a practical illustration of all of the Divine attributes.
As an aside, it is also in fact the greatest proof of the status of the Holy Prophet, for the Muslim nation has in every generation been blessed with saints who receive Divine revelations and reveal Divine signs solely due to their following Prophet Muhammad. The continuance of Prophet Muhammad�s spiritual children, who manifest the Divine qualities on earth purely by following his example, like the moon reflecting light on earth solely due to borrowing it from the sun, is in fact a promise by God implied in the term "khatam an nabiyyin".
Muhammad: the Ideal Prophet
Can this grand status attributed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad be substantiated, or is this merely an unsupported, exaggerated and grandiose claim made by those following Muhammad's religion? This is indeed the critical question. The Holy Quran declares:
Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar (33:21).
This verse points to the distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. The Holy Prophet�s life was so multi-faceted, that he was able to provide a model of virtue for mankind under all circumstances. From an orphan to a king of a great empire, Muhammad passed through all phases of life. If he had not led armies, he could not have served as a model for a general leading armies into battle; if he had not fought personally, he could not have been an exemplar for a soldier laying down his life in the cause of truth, justice and freedom; if he had not made laws for the guidance of his followers, he could never have been regarded as an outstanding example to a legislator; if he had not decided disputes, he could not have served as a light to judges and magistrates; if he had not married, he would have left men unguided in practically half of their daily interactions and could not have shown how to be a kind and affectionate husband and a loving father; if he had not been a laborer, he could not have revealed the value and integrity in working with one�s own hands and earning an honest living; if he did not have life-long friends, he could not have shown the beauty in trust and true companionship; if he had not enforced punishment on tyrants for the wrongs inflicted on innocent persons, if he had not overcome his persecuting enemies and forgiven them, if he had not overlooked the faults of those attached to him, he could not have been an excellent exemplar and a perfect model.
Indeed, it is the distinguishing characteristic of Prophet Muhammad�s life that he not only gave practical rules of guidance in all walks of life, but gave by his life a practical illustration of all those rules. Unlike any other prophet, he himself worked out all the principles he taught to others! It is not through his sermons and teachings that we estimate his character, but rather through his actions and his deeds. Quite logically, only the one who has experienced all the circumstances forming the basis of the lessons he teaches, can truly be a perfect model for others.
I�d like to illustrate this point further. The quality of "forgiveness", for example, is much revered as a noble trait by all religions. Every prophet taught in one form or the other that "forgiveness is divine." However, one can only claim to have truly exhibited an attribute such as forgiveness, if the conditions under which one forgives are appropriate. To truly forgive, in the fullest sense of the word, three conditions must have occurred. First, one needs to be persecuted ruthlessly by others. Second, events must change so that the persecutors eventually fall at the oppressed person�s mercy. Third, the oppressed person must possess the power to mete out punishment the persecutors rightfully deserve. The mere preaching of forgiveness or mercy is no proof of actually acquiring this attribute; for this, one is required to be in a position to show it. Think about it: an oppressor would regard a claim of forgiveness as an insult to himself if it came from his helpless victim.
In all of religious history, there is only one noble example of a life comprising all three conditions precedent for the true exhibition of "forgiveness". This was the life of Muhammad. The Holy Prophet and his small group of followers were met with the most severe forms of trials - humiliation, degradation, ostracization, torture and death. They were forced to flee their homes in Mecca because of these persecutions. Some initially fled to Abyssinia. Ultimately, a migration was made from Medina. In the midst of all of these atrocities, the Holy Prophet prayed to Almighty God in humility: "O Allah, forgive my people for they do not know".
Indeed all prophets exhibited forgiveness and mercy under various conditions, but what separates Prophet Muhammad from any other person in history, is that eventually the tables turned: the very enemies of the Holy Prophet, the very tormentors and persecutors who attempted to kill him and annihilate his followers, were at the Holy Prophet's mercy. Despite being at the point of the sword, the number of Muslims grew in Medina and after seven years of being away from home, and having made alliances with neighboring tribes, the Holy Prophet Muhammad prepared for an expedition back to Mecca. The Holy Prophet entered Mecca with 10,000 righteous followers, the mere sight of which forced the Meccans to surrender without resistance.
It could not have been regarded as inappropriate for the Holy Prophet to have administered punishment upon those who had made war upon him. The leaders, at least could have been made an example of to the masses. However, the Holy Prophet's conquest was not one of bloodshed, but one of mercy and forgiveness. "There shall be no reproof against you this day", he declared! A general amnesty was given, guaranteeing safety to all who showed they were not interested in fighting. The perfection of the attribute of "forgiveness" and its display in the most complete form was, thus, provided by the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
Because Prophet Muhammad was provided with a life complete in its examples for man to find guidance in, he was able to display all of the teachings of the previous prophets in its correct context. He administered the justice of the Mosaic law when appropriate, yet practiced the meekness of Jesus when best suited. For these reasons, it is fully justified to accept the Holy Prophet Muhammad as the final and most perfect prophet, whose example it is incumbent upon mankind to follow in order to live a life in which one may truly know God.
Muhammad: a Truly Historic Figure
Now, in order for the life of Prophet Muhammad to serve as an "excellent example" for all men, for all ages, the Prophet Muhammad�s lessons and examples would need to be available for others to learn from them. This is in fact an equally necessary condition for Prophet Muhammad to be considered a "complete" role-model and to have satisfied his mission as being a prophet to "all" mankind.
Like no other person in history, the entire life of Prophet Muhammad, in a most detailed and descriptive manner, is preserved in numerous collections of traditions from his own companions and contemporaries. This is another distinguishing characteristic of Prophet Muhammad�s life. In fact, Muhammad is the only prophet who may be called "historic" in the true sense of the word, it even being questioned today by cynics whether some of the other well-known prophets of God, such as Prophet Jesus, really existed because of the very little material available about him. As for Muhammad, however, this allegation has never been made. From his childhood to his death, almost every detail about his words, his deeds, his habits and his overall character, is on record. Muslims know more about the Holy Prophet than they do about their own parents. What an astounding concept - with all the knowledge and intimate details about his life, Muhammad still commands the respect and admiration of over 1 billion persons on earth today. With the mass of evidence contained in written traditions and other documentation, it is amazing that the hostile critics of the Prophet cannot find more faults to pick against him. People today know exactly what Prophet Muhammad liked to eat, what food he disliked, how he brushed his teeth, how he walked, how he smiled, how he shook hands, how many white hairs he had in his beard and even what type of jokes he told, for even these such details are recorded. Truly, Muhammad is a "living prophet", for his life is just as accessible for all to witness through voluminous authenticated records today, as his personal example was 14 hundred years ago in Arabia.
What others say
Objective, neutral parties, studying the life of Prophet Muhammad as a historical figure have come to the same conclusion. Dr. Michael Hart, a scientist by profession, compiled a book ranking the top 100 most influential persons in history. He published his rankings in a book titled: "The 100". Number one on his list was "Muhammad". He writes:
He was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the secular and religious level. It is probable that the relative influence of Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. It is this unparalleled combination of the secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered to be the most influential single figure in human history.
Rev. R. Bosworth Smith, in his book "Mohammad and Mohammadism" published in 1874, writes:
Head of the State as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but, he was Pope without the Pope's pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a police force, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man had the right to say that he ruled by a right divine, it was Muhammad, for he had all the powers without their supports. He cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.
Similarly, Sir Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist, literary critic, and a leading figure in the 20th century theater, a freethinker, defender of women�s rights, and advocate of equality of income and Nobel Prize recipient for Literature in 1925, writes:
I have always held the religion of Muhammad (pbuh) in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion, which appears to me to possess that assimilation capacity to the changing phase of existence, which can make itself appeal in every age. I have studied him (Muhammad) - the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the savior of humanity.
He was by far the most remarkable man that ever set foot on this earth. He preached a religion, founded a state, built a nation, laid down a moral code, initiated numerous social and political reforms, established a powerful and dynamic society to practice and represent his teachings and completely revolutionized the worlds of human thought and behavior for all times to come.
The Encyclopedia Britannica, after exhaustive research and study, states:
....a mass of detail in the early sources show that he was an honest and upright man who had gained the respect and loyalty of others who were likewise honest and upright men.
It then concludes:
Of all religious personalities of the world, Muhammad was the most successful.
As it was necessary for the institution of prophethood to come to an end with the perfection of religious guidance, is there any doubt that Muhammad was the last prophet who made complete the Divine objective of providing a comprehensive role-model of righteousness for mankind?
March 28, 2008 edition of the Finger Lake Times
Learn to find contentment in all situations by Sardar Anees Ahmad
To paraphrase Kin Hubbard, how can you obtain happiness when poverty and wealth have failed? Before explaining Islam?s approach, let?s examine some benefits of happiness. Studies show that laughter can improve breathing, exercise the heart, and strengthen the immune system. It further lowers blood pressure, stress hormones, blood sugar levels, and pain. Optimistic people are far more likely to outlive their pessimistic counterparts, generally have a stronger immune system, lower risk of heart disease, and eat and sleep well.
OK. We established the obvious ? being happy is good for you! So what? How does this relate to Prophet Muhammad? I believe Muhammad?s life is a blueprint for living happily in any circumstance, personifying the Quranic directive: ?Then those who believed and acted righteously will be honored and made happy in stately gardens? (30:16).
Of his cheerful nature, a companion once said, ?I did not see anyone who smiled more than (Muhammad).? Another companion noted, ?Whenever he saw me he laughed/smiled.? This practice was in accordance with Muhammad?s own belief, ?And your smiling in the face of your brother is charity.?
Seemingly trivial, remember Muhammad?s life was EXTREMELY demanding. The most vehement anti-Islamic scholars readily admit Muhammad experienced an austere and rigorous life, still preferring simplicity to luxury. For such a man, whatever one may think of him, to remain content throughout his life is nothing short of remarkable.
Denied his father before birth, mother at 6, grandfather at 8, Muhammad remained cheerful throughout his life.
Once, a mother was weeping over the death of her child. Muhammad kindly admonished her to observe patience. She said, ?If you had ever suffered the loss of a child as I have, you would have realized how difficult it is to be patient under such an affliction.? Muhammad replied, ?I have suffered the loss not of one but of seven children,? and quietly passed on. In total, he suffered the loss of 10+ children. Zainab, a daughter of Muhammad, while pregnant, was riding a camel en route to meet her father. A hoodlum stabbed the camel, causing Zainab to fall and suffer a miscarriage. This incident would later result in the premature death of Zainab. Yet Muhammad forgave the man.
But Muhammad?s contentment was not confined to himself. Indeed, having others share in his happiness was Muhammad?s hallmark. Once his grandson Hassan wanted to ride a camel. Muhammad placed Hassan on his shoulders and posed to be his camel, making Hassan smile gleefully. On another occasion he challenged his wife Ayesha to a race, which she won. Some time later he challenged her again and won. He laughed, saying, ?Ayesha, we have come out even.?
On another occasion, he was passing along and noticed a laborer sweating over his work. Muhammad approached him quietly from behind and covered his eyes with his hands as children do in sport. The man concluded that this affectionate gesture could come only from Muhammad and pressed his dust and sweat-covered back against Muhammad?s chest to prolong the moment. Muhammad began to laugh and removed his hands from the man?s eyes. No one was immune from Muhammad?s magnetic nature.
The day Muhammad peacefully conquered Mecca also offers an everlasting example of contentment. After carrying out all duties the city required, Muhammad went to his cousin Ummi Haani?s house to eat. Only a very stale piece of bread, too hard to swallow, was available. Muhammad smiled and said, ?Surely, Ummi Haani, 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.? He said, ?That would be excellent.? He then soaked the bread in water and, when softened, ate it with the few drops of black vinegar, rendering thanks to God as if it were a banquet. Thanking his cousin Muhammad observed, ?Ummi Haani, what a bounty bread and vinegar is.? This was the victory feast of the de facto ruler of Arabia ? a man who, along with his companions, had suffered 20+ years of relentless persecution at the hands of his countrymen.
Ultimately, Muhammad demonstrated that the end is obtainable only through the very same means: contentment.
The Light and Islamic Review Jan-Mar 04
Muhammad: Sinner or Savior
By Fazeel S. Khan
For Muslims, upon hearing the name ?Muhammad? the emotions of admiration, praise, gratitude and allegiance are instinctively generated. Contrary to this, the name ?Muhammad? creates in the western mind images of war and oppression, sexual exploitation of women, and above all, the inspiration for terrorism. This drastically diverse impulse is primarily the result of a concerted campaign to promulgate the view that the Prophet Muhammad was, God forbid, a sinful man who did not possess the qualities required of a prophet. The validity of this opinion, unfortunately, is sustained by propaganda linking un-Islamic acts by some who claim to be Muslims to the character of the Prophet Muhammad. A comparative analysis of the fictitious Muhammad being instilled in the psyche of the west, with, the factual Muhammad evidenced by history can aptly be characterized as contrasting a sinner with a savior. The recipients of this recent informational-crusade, launched by the resurrected Christian Evangelical Movement in America, are sadly provided with a confusingly unsound theory to accept; that being, that a man who was a sinner, as Prophet Muhammad is portrayed to have been, was able to produce the greatest spiritual reformation the world has ever known, as is evidenced by history. Logic and reasoning alone demand discontent for such a supposition. Accepting the status of the Holy Prophet Muhammad as a ?savior? is the only means in reconciling the acceptance of this man?s historical existence with the precedent setting transformation brought about through him in the Arabian Peninsula 1400 years ago and which continues to induce spirituality into one in every five persons on earth today. This true status of the Holy Prophet is historically sound and is expounded in various intricate ways in the Holy Quran.
The distinctiveness of one prophet, that is Muhammad
As Muslims, we firmly believe that not only Prophet Muhammad, but all prophets of God to have been sinless, righteous, noble men, without exception, raised for the purpose of furthering spiritual advancement of man. We respect and honor them all on this basis equally. However, where a distinction can be made between the prophets is in the scope and success of their respective missions. This is hinted at in the Holy Quran in the following words: ?and some of them (i.e. messengers of God) He exalted by (many) degrees of rank? (2:253). The possessor of this exalted degree of rank is meant the Holy Prophet Muhammad. His mission was not for a specific people under particular conditions nor was he sent for a certain, limited period in history. As the Quran testifies: ?and We have not sent thee but as a mercy to all nations? (21:107). The reference to ?all nations? signifies the expansiveness of the mission, neither being confined by space nor time.
The transformation affected by the Holy Prophet was the greatest spiritual conquest in the history of mankind, as admitted by independent sources. For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica concludes: ?Of all the religious personalities of the world, Muhammad was the most successful?. An often over-looked fact by western critics when analyzing the life of the Prophet Muhammad is that he ended his mission triumphantly. The Prophet Muhammad lived to see the results of his reformative undertaking, witnessing his very opponents and persecutors transform their hatred and vengeance for him into love and admiration. No other reformer can be named whose advent was at a time of such great need, whose departing was after the victorious fulfillment of that need, and whose opponents eventually bore witness to their own disobedience and misconduct. We see in the example of Prophet Moses that he was sent to rescue his people from the tyranny of Pharaoh and guide them on the straight path. This in itself is proof that he was not concerned with the spiritual corruption of the world as a whole. Moreover, although Prophet Moses was a savior to his people in that Pharaoh was eventually destroyed, he was unable to rescue them from the destructive effects of polytheism and they continued being disobedient to him embellishing in impurity till Prophet Moses died while they remained in that condition. As for Prophet Jesus, it is verified in the Gospels that he was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the Gentiles were not his concern. He accumulated a handful of disciples and even among them were those who betrayed him for minimal worldly gain.
How distinctive is the conclusion of the Holy Prophet?s mission who departed from the world at a time when hundreds of thousands of people had abandoned paganism and idol worship for the belief in the Unity of God and the straight path all under his lead. Our critics must sincerely be asked: could this possibly have been the accomplishment of a sinner? Does common sense not dictate that this could only be the achievement of a savior?
Prophet Muhammad as the embodiment of a perfect submitter to the Divine
The obvious question resulting from these facts is: how was it possible for the Holy Prophet to have been so successful and to have been blessed with such Divine support, more so than any other reformer? The answer, in a simple form, is that far from resembling anything sinful (which means being in a state detached from God), the Prophet Muhammad had the closest relationship to God, acquiring all the perfect attributes and being a reflection of the Divine on earth. We are told in the Holy Quran that Prophet Muhammad had declared: ?I am the first of those who submit? (6:164). Thus, he was the most subservient to God, acquiring closeness with the Divine on the most intimate level. We are also told in the Quran that the Holy Prophet had prayed: ?My Lord, increase me in knowledge? (20:114). Hence, he was also constantly in search of the perfect knowledge of God?s greatness, understanding and attributes. The Quran indicates the vastness of the Prophet?s knowledge by stating: ?And Allah has?taught thee what thou knewest not, and Allah?s grace on thee is very great? (4:113). This verse reveals that the Almighty taught the Holy Prophet what man could not have possibly learnt on his own and that by Divine grace he was blessed more than any other. The Prophet Muhammad had exceeded everyone in his knowledge and understanding of the Divine and the Almighty had blessed him in return with a spiritual status unmatchable by any other ? and that status comprised of being a manifestation of God?s perfect attributes on earth.
It may be difficult to comprehend how only one person in all of creation is granted this blessing and how only one person?s essence is of such magnitude as to obtain the complete Divine impress and reflect those qualities fully to others. However, if we reflect upon the system God has created in our material universe, we find the whole of creation compiled as if in a straight line; from the smallest insignificant particle at one end, to the largest, most resourceful body, the sun, at the other. So too, in the spiritual realm, do we find at one end defective souls who in their conduct, mentality, and significance resemble lower animal life and at the other, the Prophet Muhammad who resembles the perfect attributes of God and is above all mankind. The Quran in fact eludes to this analogy by referring to the Holy Prophet as a ?light-giving sun? (33:46).
Prophet Muhammad?s unmatchable nearness to God
Only the person who may radiate God?s attributes in its full resplendence is worthy of this final and supreme point in creation; one that may be so attached to the Divine that he loses his own identity and become as if God Himself were on earth. In the Quran, we find that there are three grades of nearness to God that man may attain and these are illustrated by three types of associations or relationships. The first type is that of the relationship of ?servant and master?, as the Quran states: ?those who believe are stronger in (their) love for Allah? (2:165). Thus, the believers, or obedient servants, love Allah above everything else and wish only to serve and please the Almighty. The love progresses to such a degree that one sacrifices all of their own interests for the cause of their Master. The second type of nearness to God resembles the relationship between ?father and son?, as the Quran states: ?And?laud Allah as you lauded your fathers, rather a more hearty lauding? (2:200). Here, the remembrance of Allah is done more eagerly than that of remembering one?s own father. Not only does a son obey and want to please his father (like a loyal servant to a master), but a son does this while not comprehending the service to be a prescribed duty, and rather performs out of genuine love for him. And just as a son resembles his father in many ways, so too does the believer acquire the qualities and characteristic of God. The third type of nearness resembles one?s very own reflection. Here, one?s entire being is perfectly duplicated and it becomes as if there is no difference between the original and the reproduction. Accordningly, this type of nearness, being a perfect replica, is greater than the two previously mentioned. This degree of nearness can neither be acquired by obedient service nor by being a son. It can only be achieved by one who is placed equally between servitude and Divinity and is so close to both that he loses his very own existence, as if he was a mirror between the two. This mirror obtains the impress of the Divine by way of reflection and conveys it to mankind under the appropriate circumstances.
The Holy Prophet, being named Muhammad meaning the ?most praised? due to his manifesting the divinity on earth and Ahmad meaning the ?most praising? due to his perfect service and obedience to God, had attained this ultimate degree of closeness to God and became the intermediary through whom all could find the Almighty. It is also for this reason that Prophet Jesus cannot be considered the intercessor for mankind for his life and teachings were deficient of a full range of conditions, emotions and trials. For instance, although Prophet Jesus had taught lessons of ?forgiveness?, he was not able to reveal its practical implementation for he was never in a position of authority over his persecutors, which is essential for one to truly develop this faculty. Although reaching the high stage of being a ?son of God? in a spiritual sense, he was insufficient in attaining the highest position of being a true reflection of the all-encompassing Divine attributes.
Prophet Muhammad as the ultimate ?intercessor? between God and man
The word for ?intercession? in Arabic is based on the root word meaning ?pair?. Thus, a necessary pre-condition of an intercessor is that he be related to both sides. Accordingly, not only is an intercessor to possess that extreme close connection with God, but he is also to have such an overpowering passion for those on whose behalf he is interceding that he sacrifices his very being for them more so than even a parent would for their own child. The Holy Prophet?s yearning for the reformation of mankind and for their salvation is recorded in the Quran as it states: ?Perhaps thou wilt kill thyself with grief, sorrowing after them, if they believe not in this announcement? (18:6). Substantiating the view that the Holy Prophet Muhammad is in fact this perfect intercessor, the Quran provides a beautiful analogy, which states: ?One Mighty in Power has taught him, the Lord of Strength. So he (i.e. Muhammad) attained to perfection, And he is in the highest part of the horizon. Then he drew near, drew nearer yet, So he became as a chord between two bows or closer still? (53:5-9). What is meant here is that the Holy Prophet ascended towards God and approached as near to Him as was possible and acquired all the perfect attributes of the Divine then leaned perfectly towards the earthly station and partook fully of the pure essentials of humanness, namely love and sympathy for mankind, and became as it were a chord between two bows. If we try to conceptualize this analogy in material terms, we see wholeness, or completeness, being symbolized by a circle and the Holy Prophet being a chord or a line in the center of the circle, dividing it into two halves or two bows and thus perfectly fulfilling the condition of a true intercessor occupying the central point between the two sides of Divinity and mankind.
Prophet Muhammad as the Manifestation of the Divine on earth
The Holy Quran reveals that the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad, being a reflection of God?s perfect attributes, was as it were a manifestation of God on earth. For instance it is written: ?those who swear allegiance to thee (i.e. Prophet Muhammad) do but swear allegiance to Allah? (48:10). The implication being that there was no difference between the Holy Prophet and God Almighty for the Prophet had become a manifestation of God?s attributes. Thus, accepting the Holy Prophet was in essence accepting the One true God.
Clearer still, we read in the Quran: ?Say: O my servants who have been prodigal regarding their souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives sins altogether? (39:53). The Quran being written throughout in the first person reveals that this verse implies that the Holy Prophet and the Almighty are as one; for, the verse does not tell Prophet Muhammad to say: ?O servants of Allah? but rather ?O my servants? (i.e. Prophet Muhammad?s servants). The verses deeper significance lays in the illustration of how high a rank the Messenger of Allah has attained by perfect obedience so much so that he has acquired all the Divine attributes in their perfection and has become one with the Almighty and this being all due to the expansive mercy of God. The Prophet Muhammad?s advent being referred to as a manifestation of God is not only indicated in the Holy Quran, but is in fact referenced in prophesies in previous religious scriptures. One example is found in Deuteronomy, the fifth book of Moses, in which we read: ?The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; and he shined forth from mount Paran? (33:2). This declaration by Prophet Moses confirms that the manifestation of the Lord reached its climax at Paran, shining forth in its full glory. Paran, being a mountain of Mecca as evidenced by the Torah itself, authenticates the application of this prophecy to no other than Prophet Muhammad.
Prophet Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets
It is argued in many of the recent anti-Islamic publications that Prophet Jesus is afforded the respect of being named ?Word of God? and ?Spirit of God? in the Quran and this, their reasoning suggests, is proof furnished from the Quran itself of Jesus? superiority over Prophet Muhammad. Without going into the merits of this allegation, it should be noted that the Prophet Muhammad is provided a distinction in the Quran that is above and far beyond all other designations provided to any other reformer. And this is the incomparable distinction of being khatam an nabiyyin or ?seal of the prophets?.
The Quran states: ?Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the seal of the prophets? (33:40). The primary significance being that Prophet Muhammad was to be the ?last? of the prophets, for, with his advent, religion became complete and there was, therefore, no need for any prophets after him. This in itself reveals the magnitude of the Prophet?s status; it was this ?finality of prophethood? through which God ?perfected? His religion. However there is a secondary significance; the term khatam an nabiyyin reveals that prophethood itself had been ?perfected?. Thus, Prophet Muhammad was the final as well as the most perfect prophet. Being a perfect reflection of the all-encompassing Divine attributes is what is being implied. Understanding this secondary significance allows one to fully appreciate this verse?s implications on the Holy Prophets? status. The verse states that ?Muhammad is not the father of any of your men?, meaning he does not have any sons or heirs as such to pass on his qualities, as already touched on earlier, like a father does to a son, ?but?, the verse continues, ?he is the Messenger of Allah and the last and most perfect of the Prophets?. The latter part of the verse reveals, by the grammatical use of the word ?but?, which necessitates some sort of logical rebuttal or persuasive alternative, that even though he does not have any physical sons, he will be granted innumerable spiritual heirs for it is only through him that man can appreciate the complete religion of God and reach one?s spiritual potential. The verse indicates that Prophet Muhammad is the ?savior? without whom one cannot truly know God; without whom one cannot see God?s true reflection; without whom one cannot observe the manifestation of the Divine attributes; and, without whom one cannot establish the intermediary link between mankind and the Divine. This is the grand status of the Holy Prophet as expressed in the Quran. It is also in fact the greatest proof of the truthfulness of the Holy Prophet, for the Muslim nation has in every generation been blessed with saints who reveal Divine signs solely due to their following him. The continuance of Prophet Muhammad?s spiritual children who manifest the Divine qualities, like the moon reflecting light on earth solely due to borrowing it from the sun, is in fact a promise by God implied in the term ?khatam an nabiyyin?.
Prophet Muhammad in the Kalima Shahada, or ?profession of faith?
The Holy Prophet?s status is further revealed and clarified in the kalima shahada, or profession of faith. It is mandatory for one accepting the religion of Islam to affirm that ?there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah?. The 2-part formula demonstrates the high status of the Prophet Muhammad by making the acceptance of the Holy Prophet as essential as the acceptance of the One true God. It is an indication at the very outset of the Holy Prophet being so attached to the Almighty as if the two were inseparable. It is a further indication that one cannot truly appreciate the Unity of God, or even the very Existence of God, without faithfully accepting the Holy Prophet as one?s guide. The Prophet Muhammad being a reflection and a manifestation of the Divine is clearly implied here as well. However, and just as importantly, the formula also clarifies that no matter how high a status the Holy Prophet attained, he is ONLY a Messenger and that only Allah is the One true God, for no matter how perfect a reflection may resemble the original, the reflection can never be the real thing and does not have an existence without the original source. Thus, the kalima also serves as a precautionary measure in that it guarantees that Muslims will not mistake the Divine reflection of the Prophet for Divinity itself, as followers of previous prophets had done. And finally, the kalima, like everything else in Islam, provides man with not only an ?objective?, but also the ?means? needed to achieve it. The acceptor of Islam is provided in the first part of the formula with the objective of Islam, which is knowing and serving the One true God, and is forthwith also provided in the second part with the means required in achieving it, and that is by becoming a faithful follower to the example of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet?s status of being the true ?intercessor? between man and God is the underlying significance.
To conclude, the Holy Prophet Muhammad is regarded in Islam as the savior of mankind in that it is only through following him, that one may know God in the complete and perfect sense. As we read in the Quran, the Holy Prophet had announced: ?If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you, and grant you protection from your sins? (3:30). This status of the Holy Prophet needs to be conveyed to the world. This can be done by explaining from the Quran the true essence of his being. This can also be done by refuting the particular allegations leveled against him by Islam?s critics. Moreover, as touched on earlier, there is also another way in which all Muslims may reveal the status of the Holy Prophet being a savior to mankind; and that is by becoming his spiritual heir and shining the Divine attributes obtained from his reflection to all persons we come in contact with each day. As trees are always, and quite reasonably so, judged by their fruit, it is imperative that each and every Muslim conduct themselves in a way that discloses the noble character of our savior, the Prophet Muhammad. May Almighty Allah guide us all in this most essential endeavor.
The Light - London Edition April 2006
Suhail Ibn Amr
The man the Holy Prophet refused to punish for making speeches abusing him
In the article on Islam?s teaching on response to abuse and mockery I had mentioned briefly, without giving reference, the incident of a man Suhail Ibn Amr who used to employ his skill of eloquence and oratory against the Holy Prophet. Being captured at the battle of Badr, a Muslim suggested that his teeth should be knocked out as a punishment. The Holy Prophet Muhammad emphatically rejected this, saying that if he allowed this to happen then Allah would punish His Prophet in the same way.
One of our young members from Pakistan, Usman I. Malik, asked me for the source of this incident. It is given in the famous biography of the Holy Prophet Sirat-un-Nabi by Maulana Shibli, who refers to the well-known history of Islam by Tabari. This story is also found in Muhammad Husain Hykal?s renowned life of the Holy Prophet, and a slightly different version is recorded in the classical biography Sirat Ibn Hisham. It turns out that Suhail Ibn Amr was an important person who later became a Muslim and thus one of the Companions of the Holy Prophet. Biographies of some Companions can be found at the University of Southern California Muslim Texts website (USCMSA), where there is one of Suhail Ibn Amr. For the interest of our readers we quote from it below.
? At the Battle of Badr, when Suhayl fell into the hands of the Muslims as a prisoner, Umar ibn al-Khattab came up to the Prophet and said: ?Messenger of God! Let me pull out the two middle incisors of Suhayl ibn Amr so that he would not stand up and be able to speak out against you after this day.
?Certainly not, Umar,? cautioned the Prophet. ?I would not mutilate anyone lest God mutilate me even though I am a Prophet.? And calling Umar closer to him, the blessed Prophet said:
?Umar, perhaps Suhayl will do something in the future which will please you?.
Suhayl ibn Amr was a prominent person among the Quraysh. He was clever and articulate and his opinion carried weight among his people. He was known as the khatib or spokesman and orator of the Quraysh. He was to play a major role in concluding the famous truce of Hudaybiyyah. ?
His conversion to Islam took place when the Muslims conquered Makka. This life story relates the following about it:
? Ten thousand Muslims converged on Makkah ? The Quraysh realized that there was no hope of resisting let alone of defeating the Muslim forces. They were completely at the mercy of the Prophet. What was to be their fate, they who had harried and persecuted the Muslims, tortured and boycotted them, driven them out of their hearths and homes, stirred up others against them, made war on them?
The city surrendered to the Prophet. He received the leaders of the Quraysh in a spirit of tolerance and magnanimity. In a voice full of compassion and tenderness he asked: ?O people of the Quraysh! What do you think I will do with you?? Thereupon, the adversary of Islam of yesterday, Suhayl ibn Amr, replied: ?We think (you will treat us) well, noble brother, son of a noble brother.? A radiant smile flashed across the lips of the beloved of God as he said: ?Go, for you are free.?
At this moment of unsurpassed compassion, nobility and greatness, all the emotions of Suhayl ibn Amr were shaken and he announced his Islam ? His acceptance of Islam at that particular time was not the Islam of a defeated man passively giving himself up to his fate. It was instead, as his later life was to demonstrate, the Islam of a man whom the greatness of Muhammad and the greatness of the religion he proclaimed had captivated.?
Now we come to how the words of the Holy Prophet, ?perhaps Suhayl will do something in the future which will please you?, were fulfilled. This account goes on to relate:
? When the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, passed away, the news quickly reached Makkah, where Suhayl was still resident. The Muslims were plunged into a state of confusion and dismay just as in Madinah. In Madinah, Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with him, quelled the confusion with his decisive words: ?Whoever worships Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. And whoever worships Allah, Allah is indeed Living and will never die.?
In Makkah Suhayl performed the same role in dispelling the vain ideas some Muslims may have had and directing them to the eternal truths of Islam. He called the Muslims together and in his brilliant and salutary style, he affirmed to them that Muhammad was indeed the Messenger of Allah and that he did not die until he had discharged his trust and propagated the message and that it was the duty of all believers after his death to apply themselves assiduously to following his example and way of life.
On this day more than others, the prophetic words of the Messenger shone forth. Did not the Prophet say to Umar when the latter sought permission to pull out Suhayl?s teeth at Badr: ?Leave them, for one day perhaps they would bring you joy??
When the news of Suhayl?s stand in Makkah reached the Muslims of Madinah and they heard of his persuasive speech strengthening the faith in the hearts of the believers, Umar ibn al-Khattab remembered the words of the Prophet. The day had come when Islam benefitted from the two middle incisors of Suhayl which Umar had wanted to pull out. ?
(See the link: usc.edu o.SUHAYL_IBN_AMR.html)
The talent and skill which Suhail Ibn Amr used to employ against Islam he employed the same in support of Islam. If the Holy Prophet had agreed to injuring or killing him after the battle of Badr, or had inflicted harsh punishment on him and others after conquering Makka, a man of Suhail?s abilities would have been lost to Islam.
Muslims of today must learn a lesson from this in how to respond to their foes. If they follow the Holy Prophet?s example, those who use their energies and resources to revile Islam today will be using the same to help Islam tomorrow. It is stated in the Holy Quran:
?And who is better in speech than one who calls to Allah and does good, and says: I am surely of those who submit? ? Repel (evil) with what is best, when lo! he between whom and you is enmity would be as if he were a warm friend. And none is granted (to do) it but those who are patient, and none is granted (to do) it but the owner of a mighty good fortune.? (41:33?35)
AAIIL April 2,000 UK Bulletin
We are devoted to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). But before we speak of our beloved prophet's life, I want to reiterate some thing. In many parts of the world, the Holy Prophet's birthday is celebrated with great pomp and ceremony. Millions, if not more, are spent on pageants and parades, on decorating streets, on lighting up massive buildings etc in the name of service to Islam. Yet, in the same countries people lack access to sources of education, to health facilities, even to such basic things as clean water and sanitation. I am sure that Allah and His Prophet would prefer that our Muslim brothers spend this money on solving the problems of the poor and the needy. Another fascinating aspect of these celebrations is that those who claim that celebrating the Holy Prophet's birthday is a part of Islam, are also people who take bribes, usurp peo-ple's rights, mistreat the weak and the poor, and are themselves full of arrogance and pride. Its a pity that they are so far removed from the character of the man whose birthday they are celebrating. Many will complain that I am using very strong language but I believe the whole thing smacks of hypocrisy.
The right way to celebrate this occasion would be to gather together in meetings. Discuss the objections raised against Islam and the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) and talk about how to answer them. One could also consider ways and means of propagating Islam. People could think about how to reflect the morals and qualities of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in their own lives and become a true embodiment of a Muslim. But these things are too hard for us to do. So we light up buildings, hold marches and sing songs in praise of the Holy Prophet and think that we have done our duty.
We also fail to understand what it is to follow in the Sunnah or the footsteps of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. In some instances, we emphasize some physical aspect of the Holy Prophet's appearance, such as having a beard and the length of that beard, and think that adopting it would earn us great reward in heavens. If this is what is meant by the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him), why do we not follow other aspects. The Holy Prophet slept on a rough bed. Are our beds rough? The Holy Prophet never ate his fill. Do we do the same, or do we stuff ourselves? The Holy Prophet always traveled by horse or camel. Do we do the same? He used swords etc in fighting the enemy. Even the Holy Quran tells us to have ready horses to defend ourselves. Does any one propose that the armies of all Muslim countries should be armed with swords and spears and use horses and camels only! To do so, is to make fun of the example set by the most noble benefactor of humanity. The Holy Prophet and his companions sat on the ground. We do not do so now. Does it mean we are abandoning the Sunnah?
We must understand that, to follow the Sunnah means to apply the lessons we learn from his actions and deeds to every walk of our daily lives, not a mechanical physical observance of what was done.
Born an orphan -he showed them how to behave with dignity and honour. An orphan does not have to beg favours from the rich and powerful to become successful. Later on in life, when he became rich and powerful, he set an example of how to treat the orphans. The Holy Quran is full of injunctions telling us that the orphans are our brothers and sisters. The Holy Prophet showed us both sides of the coin. A poor person at the start of his life, he showed that - one does not have to lie or cheat to become successful; the poor do not have to beg favours of the rich; pursuit of money is not the ultimate object of life. Even when he had access to the riches of the whole of Arabia, he continued to live a simple and a humble life. He still slept on a rough bed, still wore the same patched clothes, still did not eat his fill.
Some business people tell us that, if they are to make a profit, they have to be devious. The Holy Prophet became a successful merchant without resorting to dishonesty. His truthfulness and honesty were legendary earning him the title Al Amin. When the Holy Prophet was Commanded by Allah to make a public announcement of his mission, it was his character that he put before them, as proof of having been chosen by Allah to deliver His Message to humanity.
He bore all opposition with patience and prayer. For thirteen long years he was persecuted in Makkah. His companions were tortured, they were killed and there was a danger that the whole Muslim community may perish. When he took his message to the people of Taif, they stoned him with such severity that his boots filled with blood; even then, when asked to curse the town, he refused and, instead, he prayed for them. When persecution failed, his opponents tried to seduce him by temptation. They offered him riches, kingship and the hands of the most beautiful women. Yet, he did not waver for the tinniest moment in his conviction that the One True Allah had chosen him to bear the final message to humanity.
When his opponents could not bring him back to the path of his forefathers, they decided to do away with him. Allah informed the Holy Prophet of the plot to slay him. The great Ali, knowing that it probably meant certain death, took the Holy Prophet's place in his bed while the Holy Prophet and Hazrat Abu Bakr slipped away. So strong was the Holy Prophet's faith in Allah that, when their persecutors arrived at the mouth of the cave where they were hiding, he was still calm. When Hazrat Abu Bakr showed fear, saying that there were only two of them, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: "No, there are three of us. Allah is with us."
It is easy to set an example of tolerance, patience etc when one has no other choice. But soon after the flight to Medina, the Holy Prophet found himself the head of a community and leader of a city consisting of many different communities. There were Muslim from Makkah (the Emigrants), Muslims of Medina (the Helpers), the hypocrites who had embraced Islam for political reasons and the Jews. The Holy Prophet treated all of them equally. Muslims were not shown any favours because they had embraced Islam, nor were others discriminated against because they had not. When asked not to punish the daughter of an important chief for stealing, he replied: "if Fatima had been caught, I would have meted out the same punishment." Political considerations did not enter dispensing justice. It was the example of respect, equality, justice and rule of law without fear or favour that the Holy Prophet and his companions had set, which attracted people to Islam.
In the matters of state, the Holy Prophet consulted the whole community. Matters were openly discussed and all those present gave their opinion freely. At the end, the Holy Prophet happily accepted the decision of the majority, even if it was contrary to his own, as is shown by the incidents prior to the battle of Uhud. In all matters, he consulted his companions and prayed to Allah for guidance.
In battle, he led his armies personally and engaged in combat. He did not sit at home, praying while others went out to fight. During one battle, the Muslim armies began to give way under enemy pressure. The only person who stood his ground was the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Unafraid, he rallied his troops to victory.
He gave dignity to work and labour. Those who worked honestly, however humble the task may seem, were to be honoured. If ditches needed to be dug to defend Madina, he joined the whole community in undertaking this task. If shoes or clothing needed to be mended, he mended them. If dishes needed to be washed, he washed them. Honest work was made a matter of pride.
Lineage, wealth, influence etc were no longer matters of pride. There was no racial superiority. All men and women were equal. It was their deeds or actions which made them superior or inferior to others. He raised women to the level of equality with men in all material, religious and spiritual matters. He treated his foster mother with the greatest respect, always standing up to greet her. He showed the greatest consideration and affection for his wives. He removed the idea that the daughter of Eve carried the burden of the Original Sin which made her unclean. He abolished the notion that matrimonial relations were dirty and that the pangs of child birth were a punishment for all women to endure because of what Eve did.
He even gave animals rights. He forbade overloading of animals used for transport. He stopped torturing of animals for fun. Even when animals were to be killed for food, it was to be done quickly, sparing them pain and distress. It is said that when the Muslim army was marching on Makkah an order went out for the army to move a few yards to one side. People were puzzled by this for their appeared no reason to move the whole army to one side. As they marched by, they saw that a dog was giving birth. They realized that the Holy Prophet had moved ten thousand men to avoid distressing her. On another occasion, the Holy Prophet and his companions saw a woman save the life of a dog by giving it water. The Holy Prophet said: "Today the doors of heaven were opened for this woman." In reply to their enquiries, the astonished companions heard the Holy Prophet reply that he knew that the woman was a prostitute!
When the Muslim army moved on Makkah, the whole of Arabia waited with baited breath. They wanted to see what slaughter will take place in the battle for the Holy City and how the Holy Prophet will avenge years of torture and murder of his near and dear. The City was captured almost without bloodshed. He, the poor orphan driven out of the city, returned triumphant at the head of a mighty army. The world waited as he looked down and surveyed his enemies. There was only one question in every mind - How many will be killed today? The Holy Prophet showed that indeed he was Rehma tul alaimeen. He forgave all their sins against him, even the killings of his clansmen. Proof, if proof were needed, that the Kingdom of God on earth had been established.
Real Sunnis are the ones who implement in their lives the lessons these incidents teach. Following the Sun-nah is not about the length of beards and height of garments above the ankle, it is about emulating the character of the Holy Prophet.
REVIEW OF A NEW BIOGRAPHY OF HOLY PROPHET MUHAMMAD
By Dr Zahid Aziz, Nottingham, England
'Muhammad, his life based on the earliest sources', by Martin Lings Published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., and the Islamic Texts Society, London 1983. Pp. 357 Martin Lings' book consists of a collection of the least reliable (and in many cases false and damaging) reports and stories about the Holy Prophet's life. When it first appeared in 1983 or 1984 it was awarded the first prize in the Seerat competition of the religious department of the government of Pakistan. The author was presented with a prize of 3000 dollars in the Pakistan embassy in London (I still have the newspaper cutting).
I published a review of this book at that time, which I have been considering reviving. (below)
Amongst all the founders of the great religions of the world, the Holy Prophet Muhammad holds the distinction of being a historical figure, about whose life a wealth of authentic information and detail is available. This unique information covers not only the general events of Muslim history during his lifetime, but also details relating to his personal life, habits and character. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that more is known of the life of the Holy Prophet than of any other figure in human history, ancient or modern.
The collection and compilation of the details of the Holy Prophet's life, which took place in the early days of Islam, was done not merely for historical or sentimental interest, but also because his deeds and sayings are regarded as an indispensable part of the teachings of the faith, being a practical illustration and a commentary of the precepts given in the Holy Quran. The Holy Prophet is recognized in Islam as the "best model" (the Quran 33:21) for a Muslim to follow and emulate, and as a "teacher of the scripture and wisdom" (62:2), and therefore details of his life both mould the moral outlook of Muslims and are used to derive laws and regulations of Islam (whether `religious' or `secular', using these terms in their modern sense). Hence it is vitally important for both Muslims, if they are to be true to their faith, and for non-Muslims, if they are to appreciate Islam, to have a correct and accurate account of the Holy Prophet's life before them.
Sources of Life
The Holy Quran, which was recorded contemporaneously with the Holy Prophet and which is admitted by all to have survived intact since that time, refers to many events and features of the Holy Prophet's life. Any information that it provides on any such aspect must be regarded, from a purely objective, historical point of view, as the most authentic and reliable. Then there are the collections of the sayings and deeds of the Holy Prophet, such as Bukhari and Muslim, from which much detail can be obtained of various facets of his life. These collections of `Tradition' or Hadith, made about two hundred years after his time, do not contain any continuous accounts of the Holy Prophet's life as such, but consist of reports of his sayings and actions, traced back to him through lines of known narrators by the compilers of these books, and arranged according to subject. Lastly, we have the earliest continuous biographies of the Holy Prophet and histories of early Islam which are, of course, interesting and engaging to read, as narrative accounts are, but whose authors made little attempt to discriminate between true, muddled, and blatantly false reports in the mass of raw information current at the time.
Martin Lings' book, subtitled "His life based on the earliest sources", is a narrative account culled and compiled largely from the biographies just mentioned, with some additions from the books of Tradition and occasional references to the Holy Quran. It is an unusual biography, especially among such Western works, in that the author does not give any views, comments or conclusions of his own regarding the Holy Prophet and his life, not even a preface explaining the author's purpose or approach except for a list of authorities at the end, but has apparently prepared a biography based wholly on the texts of ancient Islamic sources. It is this aspect, we fear, which is very likely to mislead readers into believing that this book is an objective and impartial reflection of the Holy Prophet's life, as given in classical Muslim sources, untinged by the author's own views and conceptions. Had Martin Lings simply translated one of these source works as a whole, he could not have been blamed for any lack of authenticity in the contents, nor could a charge of bias be laid against him. However, in the book under review, he has obviously used his judgment and discretion to give far more weight and credence to one type of source (the biographies) than the others (Quran and Hadith), and is also responsible for making particular selections, as well as omissions, from his own preferred sources. We shall show that Lings can be heavily criticised on both these counts, and that the `image' of the Holy Prophet's life in this biography is indeed very much influenced by the author's use and editing of the source-material.
Lings' use of source material
As is indicated on the page where the sources are listed, Lings' book is based mainly on the classical biographies of Waqidi, Ibn Sa`d and Ibn Ishaq, with some references to the Hadith works such as Bukhari. Although he does not list the Quran among his authorities, his references to it in the book show that he considers it to be a source as well. As noted in the brief discussion of the sources of the Holy Prophet's life above, in order of authenticity of information the Quran comes first, then the Hadith books, and finally the popular biographical works to which we have just referred. Lings, in his approach, simply follows the biographies, and makes use of the Hadith and the Quran only to support or supplement some point made in those works. In cases where the Quran or Hadith can be shown to contradict the biographies, the author makes no reference to what these two authentic sources have to say. The result is that his book is full of spurious, discredited stories of various so-called `miraculous' occurrences, and relates those highly superficial accounts of wars, raids, and marriages of the Holy Prophet which have been the basis of so many distortions about the Founder of Islam and his teachings over the ages. The biographies from which Lings has acquired these details, as we now intend to expand, contain many reports which are devoid of authority and have been condemned as fictitious by Muslim scholars throughout history who spent their lives investigating the authenticity of these accounts. Just because a report occurs in these classical biographies does not mean that it is an acknowledged fact of Islamic history accepted by Muslims.
Muslim scholars and classical biographies
The early Muslim scholars who compiled books of Hadith and scrutinised this particular field undertook thorough and painstaking investigations to determine the authenticity of the reports from the Holy Prophet's time by tracing them back to eye-witnesses of the time, through unbroken lines of reliable narrators. As a result, they never held a high opinion of the biographies whose authors had simply copied masses of reports without check or criticism. One such scholar of Hadith, Hafiz Zain al-Din of Iraq, says about the biographies:
"The student should know that the biographies contain all kinds of reports, both true and false."
Turning to the three particular biographies which are the main sources of Lings' book, he has most often referred to Waqidi, as is apparent from his footnotes. Now regarding Waqidi, all scholars are agreed that he used to fabricate reports. As Maulana Shibli Numani writes in his excellent, renowned Urdu life of the Holy Prophet, Sirat an-Nabi, published about 65 years ago:
"Of the classical biographies, Waqidi is to be dismissed completely. The scholars of Hadith unanimously say that he fabricated reports. In fact, Waqidi's book itself provides proof of this because the manner in which he gives the most minute and interesting details of every minor event, even today the greatest writer could not record events seen by himself in this manner" (p. 48).
As regards the biographies of Ibn Sa`d and Ibn Ishaq, and the historical work of Tabari, these individuals were themselves trustworthy and reliable, but, as Shibli adds:
"Unfortunately, these persons being reliable does not have any effect upon the reliability of their writings. These people were not witnesses of the events, and so whatever they relate is through narrators. However, many of their narrators are weak in reporting and unreliable . . . More than a half of the reports of Ibn Sa`d have come through Waqidi, and therefore have the same position as Waqidi's own reports. Of the rest, some are reliable and others not" (p. 49).
In his highly informative discussion on the standard of reports passed down from the Holy Prophet's time, Shibli underlines various weaknesses of the reports contained in the classical biographies, contrasting this with the stringent tests applied by the compilers of Hadith to the reports before approving them for their collections. Without going into the technicalities of this field of criticism, the conclusions drawn in his discussion can be summarised as follows. The biographers copied all sorts of reports about the events of the Holy Prophet's times, without caring to trace them back to any eye-witness of the time, and they ignored all the tests relating to the conditions to be met with in a reporter before his narration may be accepted. Besides these drawbacks, the biographies appear to be compiled as chronicles of events, centred around battles, which simply list various events, especially accounts of battles, without at all inquiring into or indicating their causes. It is this feature of the biographies which, due to the popularity of these works, has created the widespread impression that Muslim armies were sent on battles, campaigns and raids for aggressive purposes.
Shibli also quotes a rather interesting comment about Damyati, a biographer of a later period who died around 1300 C.E. A classical scholar, Ibn Hijr, made the following observation:
"This saying of Damyati proves that in most matters regarding which he had followed the biographers and gone against reliable Hadith, he eventually recanted from his original views. However, since his book had spread widely, he could not correct it" (Sirat an-Nabi, p. 55).
Thus many reports contained in biographies - reports relating to battles, concubinage, and certain miraculous occurrences - are contradicted by the much more authentic information recorded in works of Hadith. Damyati lived to realise this, but did not get the opportunity to correct his earlier writing.
Detailed look at typical chapter
We now briefly examine a group of chapters in Lings' book, those relating to the battle of Badr (chs. XLI to XLV), which illustrate all the worst features he has copied from his sources, and are quite typical of the tenor of the whole book. The two main misconceptions conveyed in these chapters, which are both contradicted by the Quran and authentic Hadith, are that it was the Muslims who initiated aggression against the Makkans after the emigration to Madina, and that the `angelic' help that came to the Muslims during the battle consisted literally of armies of angels descending from heaven!
After the Muslims were forced to leave Makka, having borne great persecution there, and they settled in Madina, the Divine revelation permitted them to take up the sword to defend themselves, should they be attacked by a Makkan army. The first revelation on this point said:
"Permission to fight is given to those upon whom war is made , because they have been wronged . . . " (22:39).
Lings, at the head of chapter XLI as well as within it, quotes the above verse as: "Permission to fight is given to those who fight because they have been wronged." This is clearly incorrect, for the Qur'anic text uses the passive yuqataluna (those fought against), not yuqatiluna (those who fight). Furthermore, Lings' translation makes no sense, for what is the meaning of giving permission to fight to those who fight! Lings adds:
"The Prophet had received this Revelation not long after his arrival in Medina. He knew moreover that permission here was a command and the obligations of war had been stressed in the covenant with the Jews" (p. 135).
Who is his authority for saying that the Holy Prophet considered this permission to be a command? As to the covenant with the Jews, it expressly stated that, should either party be victims of aggression, the other would be bound to come to its aid. Lings' mistranslation of the Qur'anic verse above, his misreading of the Holy Prophet's mind, and his misrepresentation of the pact with the Jews, are the basis of his implied suggestion that the Muslims initiated the fighting. If Lings had used the Quran as his primary source, a book earlier than his "earliest sources", rather than dragging in and misquoting occasional Qur'anic passages when they can be made to suit the biographies and his own prejudices, he would have quoted the following:
"Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but be not aggressive" (2:190).
and the significant observation:
"Fighting is enjoined upon you, though it is disliked by you" (2:216).
We do not know how the last verse above escaped Lings' notice, since in the same chapter (XLI) he has occasion to reproduce the very next verse (2:217). What can be said with great certainty is that if this verse had only said, "Fighting is enjoined upon you", and had omitted to describe the Muslims' dislike of war, Lings would surely have quoted it to prove that "the permission to fight was a command".
After this, Lings mentions what he calls "raids" by Muslim detachments on Quraish trading caravans, in the period of tension leading up to the battle of Badr. The impression created by him, in pursuance of the biographers, is that the Muslims were on the offensive, harassing the Quraish. Yet if we consult the Hadith we find that it was the Muslims who were harassed and threatened by their opponents:
"When the Holy Prophet and his Companions came to Madina, and the helpers gave them shelter, all the Arabs combined to fight them. The Companions had to sleep by their weapons, till the morning" (Hakim and Darimi, quoted in Shibli's Sirat an-Nabi, p. 308; interestingly enough, Darimi is listed by Lings among his
The so-called "raids" were, in fact, reconnaissance missions whose purpose was not only to detect any move by the Quraish, but also to approach tribes living in the vicinity of Madina to secure pacts of neutrality with them. Even Lings admits the fact that these "raids" failed to intercept any Quraish caravan, but to fit this fact to his theory he ascribes this to the inaccuracy of the Muslims' information about the caravan movements.
According to Lings, following the biographies, the cause of the battle of Badr was that a Muslim army, led by the Holy Prophet, left Madina on one of these "raids" to intercept and capture a Quraish trading caravan returning from Syria with merchandise. In response to this threat, runs this account, the Quraish sent an army from Makka, and the Muslims found themselves having to fight these troops rather than being able to capture the caravan. According to this account, when the Muslim army left Madina, they did so solely with the intention of capturing the caravan, being unaware that a Quraish army had set out. It was only sometime after they had marched out that they learnt of the approach of the armed enemy force, and decided to encounter it. The Holy Quran, however, acknowledged by friend and foe as the most authentic record, begins its account as follows:
"Even as thy Lord caused thee (O Muhammad) to go forth from thy house on the side of truth, though a party of the believers were surely averse, disputing with thee about the truth after it had become clear - as if they were being driven to death and could see it in front of them" (8:5,6).
This, then, was the state of mind of some of the Muslims - "as if they were being driven to death" - as the army was leaving Madina. Could it possibly have been so if they were proceeding eagerly to "waylay" an unarmed caravan with its easy, rich pickings? It is perfectly plain from this that the ill-armed Muslim army numbering a mere 300 (including raw youths and aged men) was marching out to face the three-times larger and much better-equipped Quraish invasion force, and this was why some of the Muslims did not like it. Hence the Muslims set out from Madina only to repel the Quraish invasion, not to capture their caravan.
To clarify the true situation, namely that the Muslims fought only in self-defence after the enemy had first raised the sword, and did not initiate the aggression by raids on caravans or by any other means, is not some academic point of historical interest only, or quibbling over details. As stated earlier, actions of the Holy Prophet carried out in pursuance of the Qur'anic teachings are an important source of Islamic law, and the basis of the moral standards of the Muslims. The circumstances under which Muslims may engage in war according to Islam are determined crucially by the reasons for which the Holy Prophet Muhammad took up arms on any occasion. Similarly, his conduct in battle lays down the Muslim code of conduct under such conditions. If, as is certainly the case, the Muslim army left Madina to fight in self-defence, it sets the seal of confirmation on the Qur'anic teaching permitting war only for defensive purposes, and makes it unlawful under Islam for a Muslim state ever to use aggression.
Angelic help during Badr
It is undoubtedly stated in the Quran regarding the battle of Badr:
"When you (O Muslims) sought the aid of your Lord, so He answered you: I will assist you with a thousand of the angels, following one another" (8:9).
From his "earliest sources", however, Lings has copied various stories of angels actually being seen by some as arriving and fighting at the scene of the battle, and putting the Quraish to rout. These fables are just too ridiculous to be repeated here. The Quran has itself clearly explained that "God gave it only as good news, so that your hearts might be at ease thereby . . . when He made slumber fall on you (during the night before the battle) as a security from Him . . . that He might fortify your hearts and make firm your feet thereby . . . I (God) will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve" (8:10-12). Thus the coming of the angels took place, as it always does, spiritually and upon the hearts. The Muslims were inwardly calmed and strengthened, while the enemy felt terrified, such was the force of truth and shakiness of falsehood. It is also true that some external circumstances of nature, such as rain at an opportune time for the Muslims, came about through Divine support for their cause. This was the Divine assistance which came to the small and weak Muslim army to serve as a fine and subtle sign showing that truth can be triumphant over superior physical might, even on the field of battle. The instances, quoted by Lings, of angels being seen to descend in clouds, mounted on stallions, and actually fighting the enemy, can only be described as extremely crude. If Divine assistance had come in such a palpable and visible manner, how could the disbelievers have continued to reject and oppose Islam? And why was it that when, earlier in Makka, they had demanded the coming of an angel instead of a mortal messenger, or in his support, the disbelievers were told that angels could not come to them as they demanded (see the Quran, 6:8-10; 17:94,95).
If it were argued that Lings has merely reproduced these stories of angelic intervention from his classical Muslim biographical sources, and therefore our criticism cannot be directed at him, we would refer the reader to chapter XXXII of the book, in which the author has described the `ascension' experience (mi`raj) of the Holy Prophet. This was the `night journey' of the Holy Prophet, during which he was "transported" from Makka first to Jerusalem, and then on to "heaven". Now while Lings' sources would consider the whole of this journey to be physical, yet as for the second part of this journey (to heaven), he writes:
"Led by the Archangel, who now revealed himself as a heavenly being, they ascended beyond the domain of earthly space and time and bodily forms . . . Everything he now saw, he saw with the eye of the Spirit" (p. 102).
Thus Lings believes the Ascension to heaven to be a spiritual flight (as indeed we do too), and has drawn a conclusion different from the views of his biographical sources. He thus allows himself the discretion of differing from the standard position of his sources when he so wishes, and therefore cannot be considered as a mere translator immune from any criticism as regards the contents of the book.
Other supernatural signs
At this point we broaden the discussion for a moment to include the other supernatural signs in support of the Holy Prophet that Lings refers to in the book. When the Holy Prophet, in his youth, traveled to Syria with a Quraish caravan a Christian monk noticed that there was "a small low-hanging cloud" following them overhead "so that it was always between the sun and one or two of the travelers", and the tree under which they sheltered "lowered its branches over them, so that they were doubly in the shade" (p. 29). These were supposedly signs of the presence of the Prophet-to-be among the caravan. Lings reports other such signs as well. Now although many Muslims subscribe to these supernatural happenings, yet the great characteristic of their belief in the Holy Prophet is to regard him as a human being, who led a completely human, down-to-earth life with human needs. To those unfamiliar with Islam, Lings' book is very likely to convey the gross misimpression that the Muslims have filled the Holy Prophet's life with myths and miraculous occurrences in the same way as such are to be found in the lives of founders of other religions. Yet another danger for the novice is that, with there being no discussion in the book concerning the historicity of the information in sources of the Holy Prophet's life, the mention of all these supernatural signs will suggest that there is no sure historical knowledge of any of the other, quite natural, events either. Such an impression would be a tragedy considering that a unique feature of the Holy Prophet, among founders of religions, is the reliability, soundness, and undisputed nature of the information about his life.
Captives of Badr
Turning back to the battle of Badr, Lings' chapter on 'The Captives' taken by the Muslims during the battle, and brought back with them to Madina after their victory, uses a selection of material which creates quite a distorted and unrepresentative picture of the Muslims' attitude towards the prisoners. The incidents relating to the release of the prisoners that he quotes suggest that the Muslims were simply interested in exacting the highest possible monetary ransom from the captives' relatives to effect their freedom. He only notes the cases of rich captives from whom a large ransom was obtained. There is no mention by Lings of the fact that poor prisoners were released without any ransom, except that those of them who were literate were required each to teach ten Muslim children to read and write as the only condition of their freedom. These facts are not only recorded in Lings' own sources, but quite well-known to Muslims generally, and show both the great mercy and love of learning which characterized the Muslims at a time when the very opposite of these qualities prevailed in the world generally.
Lings quotes an incident from Waqidi according to which a man who came to pay the ransom for his son threatened to kill the Holy Prophet if he got the chance. The Holy Prophet is said to have replied, "Nay, it is I who shall slay thee, if God will" (p. 157). An incident which Lings does not quote, but which is found in one of his sources, namely, Tabari, and is also well-known among Muslims, is that one of the captives was discovered to be a certain individual who used to deliver bitter speeches against the Holy Prophet. Someone suggested to the Holy Prophet that now that he was in their power, his front teeth should be knocked out to incapacitate his speech. The Holy Prophet replied, "If I disfigure one of his limbs, God will disfigure mine". On what grounds, we ask, did Lings omit this famous incident but mention the former one (which, being from Waqidi, is highly doubtful in any case)? Obviously this is a result of the author suffering from that widely-prevalent prejudice regarding Islam according to which this faith is violent and vengeful, not forgiving and merciful.
Another notable omission in this chapter is any mention of the general treatment accorded to the prisoners by the Muslims amongst whom they were divided for the short duration of their captivity. The fine, brotherly manner in which the Muslims treated them, as later described by many of the captives themselves, is recorded in Lings' sources. One prisoner recalled:
"The helpers who kept me in their house during my captivity would, when meal times came, give me a meal but have dates themselves . I would be embarrassed and return the food to them, but they would not touch it and would give it back to me. And this was because the Holy Prophet had directed that the prisoners should be treated well" (Tabari, quoted by Shibli in his Sirat an-Nabi).
Lings, of course, does not actually say that the prisoners were treated cruelly or badly, but the complete omission by him of facts such as the above, and the sole inclusion of only a certain kind of material as seen earlier, gives a highly misleading picture of the Muslims' behaviour and policy in this respect.
Another instance of selectivity
Having dealt with Lings' treatment of Badr, we move to one of his isolated examples of selectivity in using only a particular kind of material from his sources to reinforce the false, stereotyped image of Islam. This is the case of Rayhana, the widow of a Jewish chieftain taken as a captive, who came into the Holy Prophet's household. It may be noted that the most authentic source by which the Holy Prophet is to be judged - the Holy Quran - rules out concubinage (see 4:25), and therefore he cannot be considered to have resorted to this practice. Here, however, we are dealing with the comparative accounts given in the less authentic biographical sources used by Lings. According to Shibli's scholarly work quoted earlier, the biographers offer three different types of report about Rayhana: that she was set free by the Holy Prophet and went to live with her family; that the Holy Prophet offered to set her free and marry her but she chose to become his concubine ; and that the Holy Prophet set her free and married her (Waqidi, Ibn Sa`d). Now Waqidi, Ibn Sa`d and Ibn Ishaq are Lings' chief sources, and in his footnotes the first two will be found referred to most frequently. Yet in connection with Rayhana, Lings opts for Ibn Ishaq's report, according to which she said: "O Messenger of God, leave me in thy power; that will be easier for me and for thee" (p. 233). What other reason can there be for Lings to abandon his two most favourite sources and to use the third one, except the desire to fit his book to the popular Western image of the Holy Prophet? He would rather have the world believe that the Holy Prophet kept Rayhana as a slave-girl than disclose the reports that she was set free, even if he has to reject the view of his two prime sources on this point.
Lings' work is no doubt a product of great labour, study and scholarship on the author's part. It makes available a cross-section of the information about the Holy Prophet's life as contained in the well-known, popular and voluminous biographies and histories referred to in this review. The book is also well-written and very interesting to read. The publisher's note on the jacket says:
"Based on Arabic sources of the eighth and ninth centuries . . .it owes the freshness and directness of its approach to the words of the men and women who heard Muhammad speak and witnessed the events of his life."
But the question is, In which sources is the testimony and record of these men and women preserved most accurately, authentically and without spurious addition? Certainly not the works on which Lings' book is based, however far these might date back. Unfortunately, the readers will not be aware of the strictures passed against these works by eminent Muslim scholars of Tradition and history (for example, the renowned Imam Shafi`i described the writings of Waqidi as "collections of lies").
Nor will the readers know that from even within these particular sources it is possible to choose selections which contradict the stereotyped portrayal of Islamic history given by Lings. His book will, therefore, only serve to reinforce the existing false Western misconception of the noble Prophet's times and teachings as standing for violent war, plunder and concubinage.
In the end, it must be added in all fairness that the greatest responsibility for the continued prevalence of such a picture of early Islamic times rests with the `popular' Muslim authors and writers who have elevated these biographies to the rank of reliable, historical works.
Apart from rare and noble exceptions such as Allama Shibli in his Sirat an-Nabi and Maulana Muhammad Ali of Lahore in his English Muhammad The Prophet, the rest of the modern Muslim historians of Islam persist in slavishly following the biographies and giving them precedence over both the word of God (the Quran) and the labour of their forefathers who compiled the authentic Hadith books. Till they are bold and independent-minded enough to overthrow this attitude, authors such as Lings can continue to claim that their books reflect accredited Islamic sources.
The first edition contained that story about the Holy Prophet by chance catching sight of his married cousin Zainab when he went to her house and the weak sources from which he takes that story do mention that Zainab hurried to open the door to the Holy Prophet without completing her dressing. (I am sorry, readers, but Lings did write this), and both of them realizing that they had fallen in love ("love" is the word used by Lings). One wonders who was present to report all these details! Then according to this story the husband, Zaid, agreed to divorce Zainab and she was brought to the Holy Prophet's house without necessity of nikah because (says Lings' book) Allah in the Quran says: "We have given her to thee", so nikah was not required! (Read: Truth about Zainab, Zaid's divorced wife)
In the second edition Lings has toned this down. I think he has removed the word "love".
This story was always used by Christian missionaries to attack the character of the Holy Prophet, and in 1984 Lings won a prize from the Pakistan government of Zia-ul-Haq for a book which repeats it.
At one annual meeting of our Movement at our Lahore Centre some years ago, I made a speech about Lings' book.
Another story given by Lings is that the sahabi Abu Zarr belonged to a tribe whose occupation was highway robbery. Lings writes that after he came to Makka and embraced Islam and went back to his tribe, he continued this occupation, with the difference that now when he robbed anyone he would ask them to accept Islam and if they did so he would return their belongings!
Is this what he learnt by accepting Islam? Does Islam teach that you should not rob, or does it teach that you may rob people but return their possessions if they agree to accept Islam?