Last updated: 4 October 2017 From the section Biography of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
Alter he received the Divine Call his every word, act, and gesture were observed, and a complete record of them has been preserved. That was necessary, for otherwise not only would there be lack of certainty and confidence, but his life could not furnish us with an example of what he taught.
Perfect role model for humanity
Muhammad was a human being - no more, no less - and therefore he could serve as an example for mankind. He possessed no supernatural powers, nor did he claim any. He was subject to the same conditions and limitations as his contemporaries. He suffered more than most and achieved outstanding success in his lifetime. His life had many facets and passed through many phases. Like other men, he was a son, a husband and a father. He had been a servant employed by a master, and was a citizen subject to the authorities of his town. God appointed him a teacher and a guide. He immediately became an object of scorn and derision, and soon of bitter persecution. He was a loving and watchful shepherd of his little flock. Through bitter persecution and hard fighting he gave proof of the highest courage, endurance and perseverance.
A just governor
During the last ten years of his life he was called upon to discharge the duties of Chief Executive and Chief Magistrate of a heterogeneous community, divided into sections in conflict with each other. He thus became the head of a state fraught with internal frictions and beset with external dangers of every description. In addition to the heavy duties and responsibilities pertaining to his prophetic office, he was called upon to display qualities of administration and statesmanship that taxed him to the utmost. He was a man of peace. The due discharge of the trust and responsibility, which God had been pleased to place upon him demanded the establishment and preservation of peace. His enemies would let him have no peace. They forced him to take up arms in defence of the most fundamental human right: freedom of conscience. He hated war and conflict, but when war was forced upon him, he strove to render it humane. He abolished all savage and barbarous practices. He commanded in battle, but scrupulously refrained from personally shedding blood. His strategy was faultless and was always designed to reduce loss of life and human suffering to the minimum. During eight years of fighting, punctuated with pitched battles and numerous pre-emptive expeditions, the total loss of life suffered by his enemies was 759, and that suffered by his own people was 259. Binding obligations and demands of justice imposed upon him the duty of avenging wrong and punishing evil in a harsh world, but his judgments were always tempered with mercy. He did not fail to exercise sternness when the occasion demanded it, for any such lack would have been a failure in the discharge of his obligations. He would not tolerate treason or treachery, but was never vindictive. He was most forgiving and forbearing in respect of personal wrongs suffered by him.
Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, whom he married two years after the Emigration, when asked about his character replied, ‘His character was the Quran,’ than which there could be no higher praise.
When Aisha said that the character of the Holy Prophet was the Quran, she meant that the Holy Prophet illustrated in his own person to the fullest degree the excellences that the Quran teaches. It was because he had become a living example and illustration of the highest excellences that man is capable of achieving, that God’s testimony affirmed, ‘Verily, you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar, for him who fears Allah and the Last Day, and who remembers Allah much’ (33:22).
Weaker people's needs became his life's objective
Even during the Meccan period the widow, the orphan, the needy, the wayfarer, the slave and the distressed were the objects of the persecuted Prophet’s special care and concern. At Medina he continued his simple ways and austere habits. For days together his hearth remained unlit. He and his subsisted on a meagre diet of dates or parched ground barley. Sometimes water alone sufficed. He had but one change of clothes. His dwelling was of the simplest and barest. He slept on a leather sack filled with twigs and branches of trees. He never slept in a bed; never ate bread made out of ground flour; never ate his fill.
All good, halal things in moderation
At night, between the prescribed services, he spent long hours in prayer. He stood so long in the course of these prayers that sometimes his feet became swollen. On one occasion Aisha was moved to venture a mild protest against such prolonged devotion. The Holy Prophet answered, ‘Aisha, God has been so profuse in bestowing His bounties upon me that it behoves me to be the most grateful of His servants.’ The character of his domestic life may be gathered from one of his own well-known sayings: ‘The best of you is he who behaves best towards the members of his family.’
He constantly exhorted his people towards moderation in all respects. Noticing that some were inclined to carry austerity to the extreme, and to occupy themselves so much with prayer and fasting that they were apt to neglect their normal obligations, and to injure their health, he admonished them: ‘I fear God more than any of you fear Him, yet I fast and I eat; I pray and I discharge all my obligations towards my family and my people. It is not right to carry any matter to the extreme. God loves best those acts of worship and piety, which though moderate, are carried out without being felt a burden. Having performed that which is prescribed, pray and fast and worship God while you may do so cheerfully; stop when your spirit or your body begins to feel the strain.’
He did not disdain humour and with all his grave occupations did not altogether neglect the lighter side of life. On one occasion, when he was sitting at home with Aisha, an old woman came to visit her. Thinking that it was a good opportunity to ask a favour of the Holy Prophet, the visitor begged him to pray that she might be admitted to heaven when her time came to depart this life. The Holy Prophet replied, ‘There will be no old women in heaven.’ Distressed, the old lady began to bewail her fate. The Holy Prophet hastened to explain that what he had meant was that there would be no question of age, of old or young, in heaven; all would be alike. He comforted her till she was restored to cheerfulness. On one occasion he challenged Aisha to a race, which she won. A year or two later he challenged her again and this time he won. He laughed, saying, ‘Aisha, we have come out even.’
Aisha once confessed to him that she had suspected him of an unfairness, but had soon found out that she was mistaken. He remarked, ‘Aisha, there is a Satan in everyone of us, of whose promptings we should beware.’ ‘Is there a Satan inside you also?’ she inquired. ‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘but he has accepted submission.’)
The Holy Prophet’s clemency and compassion were well known. A poor man confessed to him publicly that he had been guilty of a certain wrong. The Holy Prophet imposed a mild penalty by way of a fine, which would be distributed in charity; but the man pleaded that he was unable to pay. Just then someone brought a basket of dates to the Holy Prophet to be distributed in charity. He bade the wrongdoer to take the dates and distribute them among the poor. Said the man, ‘Messenger of Allah, I know of no one more deserving of charity than myself.’ The Holy Prophet laughed and replied, ‘Well, then, take them yourself and that will suffice as your penalty.’
On another occasion someone confessed having committed a wrong, but the Holy Prophet paid no attention to him and, as it was Prayer time, stood up to lead the Prayer. After the Prayer, the man again confessed his wrong. The Holy Prophet inquired, ‘Did you not join us in the Prayer service?’ On the man replying in the affirmative, the Holy Prophet observed, ‘Well then, your Prayer has wiped out your offence.’
When the Meccans gave his uncle, Abu Talib, the choice between adhering to Muhammad or retaining the chieftainship of the tribe, Abu Talib put the matter to the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet told him that he could withdraw his protection, but that as for himself, he must continue till the end to do what God commanded him. He would not desist even if the Meccans placed the sun on his right and the moon on his left. That stand he maintained without the least swerving till the last. With him God always came first. So much was this so that even his enemies in Mecca were wont to say of him ‘Muhammad is intoxicated with the love of his Lord.’ God had, of His grace and wisdom, commanded the Holy Prophet to shoulder the responsibility of conveying His message to mankind and of leading them back to Him. His enemies did not believe in his mission, nor what he proclaimed as revelation was received by him from God, so God posed a challenge to them, which they never took up and to which they had no answer. He was commanded to proclaim, ‘If God had so willed, I would not have recited the Quran to you, nor would He have made it known to you. I have lived among you a whole lifetime before this. Will you not then understand?’ (10:17) Thus God put forward the purity and righteousness of the Holy Prophet’s life, which those who opposed him so bitterly had observed at close quarters, as proof that he was not capable of uttering a lie against God. Faced squarely with this challenge, not one of them attempted to assert that Muhammad had on any occasion been guilty of saying or doing that which was not utterly true, completely righteous. The exemplary life that he had led, before their very eyes, up to the moment that the Divine Call came to him, was a guarantee of the truth of his claim.
Yet, all the time he had to stress that he was but a man like the rest, lest, observing the security that he enjoyed in the midst of constant danger, the success that he extracted even from persecution and defeat, and the ultimate triumph of his cause to which the whole of
Arabia had progressively become witness; some might be tempted to ascribe to him supernatural capacities and powers of superhuman status. He was commanded to proclaim, ‘I am but a man like yourselves. I have received revelation that your God is only One God. So let him who hopes to meet his Lord act righteously, and let him associate no one in the worship of his Lord’ (18:111).
When challenged by his opponents to show them a sign, like causing a spring to gush forth from the earth, or causing the heavens to fall upon them in pieces, or ascending to heaven and bringing down with him a book which they could read, he was commanded to reply, ‘Holy is my Lord. Jam but a man sent as a Messenger’ (17:91-4).
It was necessary to stress this both in view of what had happened in the case of some previous prophets who were exalted as divinities by their followers, and also for the simple reason that only a man can be an exemplar for men. An angel or a god cannot set an example, which men can follow. The dimensions would be utterly disparate. It is a curious inversion that a prophet’s opponents often seek to justify their rejection of him on the ground that he is but a man like them, a single individual from among themselves (54:25). Yet, as the Quran points out, it is only a man who can serve as God’s Messenger to men. ‘An angel would be sent as a Prophet if the earth were peopled with angels’ (17:95-6)
The Holy Prophet’s disclaimer of any supernatural powers or capacities is repeatedly emphasized in the Quran. For instance, he is commanded to say that he does not possess knowledge of the unseen, save only that much as God reveals to him (2:256; 72:27-8). Had he possessed such knowledge, he would have collected abundant good for himself, and no evil could have touched him (7:189). It is true that the Holy Prophet had full faith in God’s promises of help and the ultimate triumph of his cause, but he set a clear example that faith in God and in His promises entailed the putting forth of the utmost effort towards the achievement of the purpose and goal which God Himself had appointed. For instance, he had been assured of God’s protection against his enemies (5:68); of his victorious return to Mecca (28:86); of the ultimate success and triumph of his cause (58:22-3); but he did not for one moment slacken his vigilance or his effort in respect of the complete discharge of his own duties and of exhorting his followers to do the same (3:140, 201).
He was not only kindly and affectionate towards those who came in contact with him, praying for them and exhorting them constantly to order their lives in accordance with divine commandments and guidance, but also exerted himself to the utmost to train them in every aspect of life, so as to prepare and equip them for the due discharge of the responsibilities that lay upon them and much heavier ones that were about to be placed upon their shoulders (3:150). He was commanded to exhort his followers to pray for even those who persecuted them and paid no heed to the warnings of God, and overlook and forgive their trespasses (45:15).
Later, when life was made impossible for him and for the Muslims in Mecca, the Migration to Medina was decided upon, but the Holy Prophet himself stayed on in Mecca till all those who could be the objects of the resentment of the Meccans, and were free to do so, had departed from Mecca. Of the free male adults, only Abu Bakr, Ali and himself were left. Abu Bakr accompanied him and Ali, who had been entrusted with the return of money and articles, which some Meccans had left with the Holy Prophet for safekeeping, soon followed him.
In short, the whole of the Holy Prophet’s life - his every thought, every movement, every action, his very being - was devoted to God in the effort to seek closer communion with Him. This is also clearly affirmed by divine testimony. He was commanded to say, ‘My Prayer and my sacrifices and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds. He has no associate. So am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit wholly to Him’ (6:163-4).
The West has, with a few honourable exceptions, through fourteen centuries consistently ignored all that was patently good and beneficent in the life of the Holy Prophet and in Islam and, when confronted by his example and his doctrine, has taken shelter behind flimsy and untenable excuses. Its favourite objection has been that the sword spread Islam. By whose sword? The Holy Prophet was but one man against the whole world. Through thirteen long years of his ministry at Mecca, under the severest persecution and the gravest provocation, he and his small band of followers set the example of steadfast law-abiding citizens, who offered no violence against violence. Finally, some of them having left for Abyssinia, the greater part of them migrated to Medina and the Holy Prophet followed them later. His Meccan enemies should have then left him alone, calling it a good riddance. But they would not leave him and his in peace. It was they who unsheathed the sword against him and his followers. It was then that he was, under divine command, compelled to take up the sword in defence of freedom of conscience, which is proclaimed in positive and emphatic terms by the Holy Quran. It was the persistence of Quraish in the use of force against the Muslims, much inferior to them in numbers and equipment of every type that brought ruin upon Quraish; the same happened after the fall of Mecca to other tribes.
He was to all of easy access - even as the river’s bank to him that draweth water from it. Embassies and deputations were received with the utmost courtesy and consideration. In the issue of prescripts bearing on their representations, or in other matters of state, Muhammad displayed all the qualifications of an able and experienced ruler. What renders this the more strange is that he was never known himself to write.
Muhammad is not only a warner to those who reject God's revelation, but also a bearer of good news for those who abandon evil, listen to the divine word and serve God. Muhammad's mission also involves preaching monotheism: The Qur'an demands Muhammad to proclaim and praise the name of his Lord and instructs him not to worship idols apart from God or associate other deities with God.
The key themes of the early Qur'anic verses included the responsibility of man towards his creator; the resurrection of dead, God's final judgment followed by vivid descriptions of the tortures in hell and pleasures in Paradise; and the signs of God in all aspects of life. Religious duties required of the believers at this time were few: belief in God, asking for forgiveness of sins, offering frequent prayers, assisting others particularly those in need, rejecting cheating and the love of wealth (considered to be significant in the commercial life of Mecca), being chaste and not to kill newborn girls.