by Sheikh Salman al-Awdah
During his lifetime, he experienced strength and weakness, wealth and poverty, plenty and scarcity, victory and defeat, being uprooted and being settled, starvation and contentment, grief and joy. Throughout all of this, he was an example to follow. Whatever the circumstances, he demonstrated how Allah was supposed to be worshipped. He had stayed in Mecca for thirteen years with only a few people believing in him. He did not grow despondent or angry. When his Companions came to him complaining about their difficulties and beseeching him to pray to Allah to relieve them and help them, he made an oath by Allah that the religion would be victorious and everything would be fulfilled, but he also chastised them for their hastiness. The future was, in fact, just as he promised it would be, and this was a sign of his prophethood and a manifestation of Allah's help. It was a victory given by Allah for the faith, not for the benefit of certain individuals. This became even clearer when after delegations came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) from every corner of Arabia pledging their allegiance and their obedience to him, he did not change in any way or show the least sign of pride. He did not even seek revenge against those who had attacked him, abused him, and fought against the religion.
Sufyân b.al-Hârith testified to this in verse when he said:
Upon your life! On the day that I carried the standard
So that the calvary of al-Lât could overcome the calvary of Muhammad
Like an uncertain person who sets out at night,
This was the time that I was offered guidance and was guided.
I was guided by someone other than myself;
I was guided to Allah by the very one I had striven so hard to drive away.
No camel has there been who ever bore upon its back
Anyone more righteous or more faithful in his pledge than Muhammad
In this way, he gently dispelled all enmity and resentment. He reconciled the hearts of the people and restored their solidarity. His enemy knew for sure that this was prophethood even before his friends realized it. They could see he was not after personal gain or aggrandizement, even if some of their soldiers may have had such aspirations. They were amazed at his leniency and at how he eschewed difficulty in all of his affairs. They were equally amazed by the way he maintained his composure, good nature, and balanced perspective no matter how much the circumstances around him changed and no matter how severe and unexpected the turn of events.
There is scarcely a person on Earth who does not suppress some aspects of his personality, aspects which inevitably surface in difficult circumstances. When they do, they lead to partiality towards some at the expense of others and biases his decisions and taints his conduct.
Not so Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him). He would give his full attention to anyone who shared his company. He would address each group of people in their own dialect and speak to them on their own level. He would show everyone the utmost courtesy, concern, and mercy unless they came forward fighting and brandishing their weapons in the face of truth and hoping in that way to extinguish its light and rid the world of its illumination.
Any kind of lawful food was good enough for him. Any bedding offered to him was good enough to rest upon. Any person who approached him was worthy to sit in his company. He did not fret over what he did not have, nor did he spurn what was available. He never criticized the meanest of food, nor eschewed anything because of its good quality, whether it be food, drink, furniture, or clothing. He used to love things of good quality but did not find difficulty when such things were unavailable.
The story of his life is an open book, readily available to both those who love him and those who hate him. Every detail of his appearance has been meticulously recorded for us, including the number of gray hairs in his beard and on his head. Every aspect of his behavior has been preserved for us: how he moved his hand, how he ate, drank, and sat on his steed. His travels and places of residence are known to us. We know how he worshipped his Lord. We know what pleased him and what angered him. We even know how he conducted himself with his wives, the Mothers of the Believers: how he treated them, divided his time between them, provided for them, joked with them, and behaved with them when he was angry. We know how he was when he was serious and when he was joking. Every detail of his personal life has been recorded.
A person who reads his biography today will know more about the details of the Prophet's life than he knows about the living people that he is concerned with. He will know more about him than close friends or even spouses often know about each other. The Jews and Christians knew less about their Prophets (peace be upon them) when they were alive than we know about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) today. This is because his life is an example for humanity to follow in every aspect of their lives. It is guidance for presidents, managers, scientists, businessmen, spouses, and parents. It shows how to a person should behave in wealth and in poverty and in every contingency of life. No one can ever get to a level in life wherein the Prophet (peace be upon him) will cease to be the best example of good conduct.
If we consider the biography of some other eminent personality, we may find ourselves amazed at the greatness exhibited by that person, but then we have to think about how well suited that person is to be a role model and an example for others. We invariably find that though this person may be a most noble and exemplary person in and of himself due to his unique characteristics or psychological makeup, he is not a practical example for others to follow. We find among our predecessors those whose steadfastness in worship, devotion to knowledge, or renunciation of the world reached a level that we might feel to be the utmost humanly possible. Our feelings about this person might reflect the sentiments of the poet who said:
Do not mention our meager selves along with them;
For a healthy person who walks cannot be compared with the indigent.
However, when we read the biography of Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him), we immediately sense how accessible his life is and how practical it is to follow. When some Companions fell into hardships, he consoled them with words such as the following:
"I am more humble before Allah than any of you, I fear Allah more than any of you, I have more knowledge than any of you, for I know better than anyone else the One who I fear."
"Engage in the works that you are capable of performing."
"This religion is easy. No one becomes harsh and strict in the religion without it overwhelming him. So fulfill your duties as best you can and rejoice. Rely upon the efforts of the morning and the evening and a little at night and you will reach your goal."
This is why the best way for a person to develop his character is to immerse himself in the study of the Prophet's life and guidance and draw out the lessons and profound meanings that it provides. He should take the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as a cohesive whole without focusing exclusively on certain particulars or going off into tangents.
Allah has not given this noble status to anyone besides Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him). He is the only example for all of humanity, because he possessed the culmination of the guidance of all those who came before him who Allah had commanded humanity to follow, plus he had the singular virtues and qualities that Allah had uniquely blessed him with. Allah says: "You have indeed in Allah's Messenger an excellent example for those whose hopes are in Allah and the Last Day and who remember Allah often." [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 21]
The life of Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him), as well as the lives of the Rightly Guided Caliphs who came after him, gives the living, practical explanation of the sacred texts. Therefore, it is necessary to keep this biography in its authentic form without introducing additions, embellishments, and hyperbole that storytellers are prone to coming up with and that can turn this noble biography into a bunch of morality tales emphasizing miraculous and astounding events. This would lessen its appeal to the people and make them less willing to follow it. They would be content to read it shaking their heads, shedding tears, and shuddering.
The miraculous signs that came with the Prophets (peace be upon them) were true, but they were exceptions employed to establish the rule. That rule is the natural order that we witness every day.
Many Muslims, even some scholars, limit their following of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to outward acts of worship and behavior. They follow him in matters of prayer, for he said: "Pray as you have seen me praying" and in the pilgrimage, for he said: "Take from me your rites of pilgrimage." They emulate him in matters of dress, how he entered places and departed from them, and in other similar matters.
This, however, is only one aspect of what it means to follow him, and it is surely not more important than other dimensions of his life. The prophetic guidance is to be followed in our relationship with Allah, in our sincerity and devotion, and in how we are to be critical of ourselves. We must follow this guidance in cultivating our inward hopes and fears. These matters have more right to be emphasized and attended to, even though there are less opportunities in them for competition among people. People generally compete in matters that can earn the praise of others. Such matters necessarily need to be conspicuous so everyone can see them. Subtle matters that only Allah can see rarely ever get the attention that they deserve. This is why a person often goes overboard in applying a certain conspicuous quality of the Prophet (peace be upon him) without ever pondering its implications or thinking about the wisdom behind it and the effect that it should have on a person's character.
These matters, even those that are pure acts of worship, were only prescribed for humanity to benefit them in this world and in the Hereafter. The value of these qualities is not merely in their existence for their own sake. These matters have value in the effects that result from putting them into practice when they are witnessed by the one applying them and by others.
It behooves every Muslim to embark upon a program of reading the Prophet's biography. The following books are recommended:
1. For small children: Batal al-Abtâl by Azzâm.
2. For young adults: al-Shamâ'il al-Muhammadiyyah, either the book by that title written by Ibn Kathîr or the one by al-Tirmidhî. Also recommended are: al-Fusûl by Ibn Kathîr, al-Rahîq al-Makhtûm (available in English translation under the title The Sealed Nectar)or the abridged version of Ibn Hishâm's Sîrah.
3. For scholars: The complete version of Ibn Hishâm's Sîrah or the Sîrah of Ibn Kathîr.
4. For in depth study: the lengthy tomes Subul al-Hadî wa al-Rahsâd and Nadrah al-Na`îm.
May Allah increase our love for His Prophet (peace be upon him) and assist us in following him in both our outward and inward actions. And may Allah gather us together with those who will receive His blessings - the Prophets, their upright followers, the martyrs, and the pious - for they are the best of companions.