Glimpses from his Beautiful Character

While still human, the Messenger of Allah was as close to perfection as a human being can be. In his ordinary life, he ate moderately, drank gracefully, treated his family kindly, his guests generously, his wives lovingly, his Companions humbly, the young ones compassionately, and his enemies mercifully. Here are a few glimpses from his exemplary life that show why did the people who came to meet with him or hear of him love and respect him:  

Unparalleled Generosity

The generosity of our beloved Prophet was legendary; no one would ever be turned away from his door emptyhanded. So much so that when a man asked him for the long shirt that he was wearing, he took it off and handed it to Him.

Jabir ibn ‘Abdullah said that he [the Prophet] was never asked for anything to which he said no. (Bukhari and Muslim)

His young Companion, Anas ibn Malik, reports that no one ever asked the Prophet anything in the cause of Islam without him giving it away. A man asked the beloved Prophet for wealth and received all the cattle between two (given) mountains. He went back to his people saying, “Become Muslims, my people, for Muhammad gives so generously like someone who fears no poverty.”

The petty things of this world meant so little to him that he would give away whatever he could to win over the hearts of short-sighted humans, like many of us, for the sake of Allah.

A Bedouin man came to the noblest of all Messengers, and pulled at the garment around the Prophet’s neck and said rudely, “O Muhammad, give me from this wealth of yours that belongs neither to you nor to your father.” The devoted Companions of the Prophet became upset and grabbed the man. The Prophet asked them to let go of him, and took him inside and asked him to take all that he wanted. The man was pleased and said words complimenting the Prophet. The Prophet said to him, “My Companions are upset with you, so as you leave, repeat these words so they may hear them (and thus hold no grudge against you).” So the man did. After he left, the Prophet came out and said to them: “The likeness of me and this man is that of the owner of a camel that ran away from him, the people ran after it and it got only unrulier. The owner asked the people to leave him alone with his animal, then he took a handful of weed and showed it to the camel, which came willingly to its master.” (Sirah of Ibn Ishaq)

Should we not love the man who taught us lessons of such great humanity and magnanimity? May my father and mother be sacrificed for him!      

Supreme Forbearance

The Arabic term for this virtue is Hilm, which means the ability to control oneself at occasions of anger and desperation from saying or doing excessive or unseemly things.

On the day of Uhud, the Prophet was injured badly, but instead of invoking doom against his enemy, he prayed to Allah,

O Allah, pardon my people, for they just don’t know.

 At another occasion an unruly man said to him, “Be just, this distribution (of wealth) ought to be for God alone.” The Prophet said to him,

Woe to you, who would be just if not I.

He never sought revenge for a wrong done against his person –ever. Nor did he ever hit a servant, a child or a woman. His wife and the mother of the believers, Aisha reported that, “I never saw the Messenger of Allah seeking revenge for any wrong done to him, so long as it was not a violation of Allah’s prohibitions, nor did he ever hit (anyone) with his hands nor did he ever hit a servant or a woman.”

A Jewish rabbi in Madinah, Zayd ibn Sa’nah, came to him to demand repayment of his debt. Pulling at the Prophet’s garment around his neck, he said with insolence, “You people of Banu Abdul Muttalib are always late in repayment!” Umar could not bear this insult, so he grabbed the man and rebuked him. The Messenger of Allah gently smiled and said, “We both needed something better, O Umar: That you advised me to be quicker in repaying my loans, and advised him to ask for it in a better way.” The Prophet then returned the man’s loan, and gave him something extra as a gift. The man, moved by this forbearance and munificence, immediately embraced Islam.

Forgiveness and Mercy

Allah says,

Take to forgiveness, command what is right, but turn away from the ignorant.” [Surat Al-A’raf, 7:199]

The Messenger of Allah asked Gabriel about the meanings of this verse, so he said that he would ask Allah, the All-knowing, the Wise. When he returned, he said:

O Muhammad, Allah commands you that you treat well those who mistreat you, give to those who deprive you, and forgive those who wrong you.

The life the Messenger of Allah was the most splendid embodiment of and submission to these commandments of Allah Almighty.

What could be a greater and more certain witness than that of the Creator and Master of the universe, who witnessed that His Messenger was of the noblest morals and manners. In fact, the Merciful Lord called His servant “a mercy for all the worlds”—not just this mortal world. Despite this status, the Prophet was the farthest from the self-righteousness, pride and harshness that sometimes visits those given to worship and religion.

His wife, ‘Aishah reported that “Anytime the Messenger of Allah had to choose between two matters, he chose the easier of them if it did not entail a sinful action. If it was a wrong action, he was the furthest of people from it. The Messenger of Allah did not take revenge for himself, but if the limits of Allah were violated, he would then take action for it for Allah.” (Muwatta and Bukhari)

What could be a greater show of forgiveness and mercy than forgiving your enemies whom you have spent a good part of your life trying to win over by preaching, and they did not but maltreat you, slander you, hurt you in every possible way, and, most of all, who killed many of your kith and kin? The Prophet’s loving and protecting uncle Hamzah was killed by the Makkans. The prophet’s helpless Companions and devotees were brutalized and even killed.

Finally, when his efforts bore no fruit with them except for a handful of devotees, he had to flee from his dear city, and take refuge in Madinah, where the Makkans were still after him with battles and conspiracies. After years of fierce battles, he was finally victorious: His devotion, faith and wisdom, by God’s grace, had brought the Makkans to their knees. Now he came with his innumerable devotees and marched with discipline and humility to the city that had threatened them for so long. No one was humbler, more moved, and more grateful than the Prophet himself.

The fate of the Makkans was in his hands—and no one would have blamed him if he had punished them for all their deeds. But he forgave them all. “No blame on you today—may God forgive you,” he said, recalling the tradition of the noble prophet Yusuf who had similarly forgiven his brothers.

He forgave his detractors when he had the upper hand—a difficult thing to do indeed—but even more difficult is to forgive when one is weak and overpowered. The beloved Messenger of Allah showed the same largess and clemency when stones and shoes were being pelted at him, along with insults and curses, by the mischievous children and slaves of Ta’if. The leaders of Ta’if not only rejected his appeal to faith and call to Islam, but expelled him in the attempt to humiliate him. But who can humiliate the one Allah has honored among all of creation, in the Heavens and on the Earth!

While trying to take off his shoes now filled with his blood as he took refuge in a garden from insults and stones, his heart naturally ached and grieved. His beloved wife had died just a few months before, followed by his caring uncle Abu Talib, who was his last defense in Makkah. He had become a stranger among his own people, a pariah in his own town. Hoping that the leaders of Ta’if, his distant relatives, might see the truth and give him a hand, he traveled to invite them to Islam but they refused even more vehemently and violently than their cousins in Makkah had. If there were a moment of helplessness and hopelessness in his life, it would have been this. As he himself said to Aisha years later, this was the saddest time of his missionary life.

Rejection and mistreatment of Allah’s beloved messengers has obliterated the people before. The angel Gabriel appeared and told him that if he so prayed to God, the valley of Ta’if would be crushed in between its two mountains in no time. The mountains were ready to chastise those who so cruelly humiliated and expelled Allah’s beloved. The Messenger of Allah, however, gently rejected the offer, saying: “O Allah, forgive my people, they just don’t know.” He said:“I only pray that Allah will bring from their progeny those who will worship Him alone and not associate anything with him!”(Bukhari and Muslim)

His invocation at this occasion was most heart-rending:

O Allah, to You I complain of my weakness, helplessness and lowliness before men. O Most Merciful, You are the Lord of the weak, and You are my Lord. To whom would You leave my fate? To a stranger who insults me or an enemy to whom You have given power over me? If You are not angry with me, I care not what happens to me. Your favor alone is my objective. I take refuge in the Light of Your face by which the darkness is illumined and on which this world and the other depend, lest Your anger descend upon me or Your wrath light upon me. It is for You to be satisfied until You are well pleased. There is no power and no might save through You.

At another occasion, A Companion came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of Allah! The tribe of Daws have reneged (on their alliance) and disobeyed (your commands). Invoke Allah against them!” The Prophet, however, went on to pray,

O Allah! Guide Daws and let them come to us. (Bukhari)

At another occasion when he was asked to curse the polytheists, he replied,

I was not sent to curse, but only as a mercy. (Muslim)

Understanding and Practicing the Sunnah: Principles to Keep in Mind

1. We must separate the authentic Sunnah— proved by authentic and well-established traditions and explained properly by the accepted scholars of the Ummah—from practices based on unauthentic, weak or fabricated traditions. Various traditions and concepts become popular in different cultures based on their extra-Islamic influences, and slowly work to distort the beautiful and just order of Islam.

2. We must understand the priorities in the din. Even among the hadith that are considered authentic, some are more authentic than others, more general than others, more important than others, and more relevant to a given situation than others—and it is for the learned and sincere scholars of the Ummah to explain the difference.

3. More importantly, we must understand what ‘is a rule’ and what ‘is an exception to it’ in the Prophet’s message: Mercy for all Muslims and non-Muslims was the rule of the Prophet, whereas wrath was an exception; peace was the rule, war an exception; leniency the rule, retribution an exception; beautiful exhortation and winning over of hearts the rule, conflict an exception. If we invert this natural order, we lose the spirit of the Sunnah; then only the superficial imitation is left.

4. We must learn and teach, the manners and morals (khuluq) of the Prophet, before detailed rules and regulations. Giving Dawah to others becomes self-righteousness and arrogance if we do not have genuine mercy and concern for the recipients of our message. The duty of commanding right and prohibiting wrong is the most prominent Sunnah of the Prophet, but if we do it without wisdom, humility and mercy, it becomes a source of discord and hatred.

To be continued …

Dr Ovamir Anjum

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

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