By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, Editor, Wordforpeace.com
Karen Armstrong, a renowned British author known for her seminal works on comparative religions and a former Roman Catholic nun, presented a fascinating portrait of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in her book: “Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time”. She held the view that Prophet Muhammad’s life and teachings are more relevant today than ever before, because “they offer crucial insight into the true origins of the misinterpreted and increasingly radicalised version of Islam”.
Countering those who wrongly attribute to the Prophet (pbuh) a fanatical, retrogressive, misogynist and violent narrative of faith, Ms. Armstrong offered a moderate portrait of the Prophet (pbuh). She describes him as a compassionate messenger who lived a wholly merciful life. She also argues that although Islam has often been described in the West as an inherently intolerant ideology, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) epitomised his teachings of tolerance, forbearance, mercy, co-existence and compassion towards the adherents of other religions.
Today and on every occasion of the Prophet’s birthday, we Muslims need to relook at our attitude towards the very prophetic personality traits that we abysmally lack. What we should particularly recall today are the holy Prophet’s mercifulness for all mankind, his truthfulness, forgiveness, generosity, gentleness and all his noble behavioural attributes.
I begin with ‘sociability’ or the quality of being sociable which is a bright side of the Prophet’s teachings and traditions. We Muslims often overlook the fact that the more sociable a Muslim is towards others; the more pious and virtuous are his faith and personal life. For the Prophet (pbuh) described the attributes of being sociable, amiable, good-tempered and kind-hearted as the signs of a true believer. He said in this context: A true believer is someone who is ‘ma’laf’ (amiable, good-tempered and kind-hearted) and there is no good in someone who neither likes others nor is liked by them.
He (pbuh) disliked and prohibited individualism and exclusivism, as is reported to have said: “Always stick to the group and beware of individualism, for Satan is with the one, but he is more distant from the two. And whosoever seeks the bliss of Paradise has to stick to the group” (Tirmizi, Narrated by Umar Ibn Al Khattab r.a)
The Prophet (pbuh) had great belief in altruism, a selfless concern for the well-being of others. His efforts to ameliorate the situations of the weaker sections of society were completely selfless and free from vested interests. He was a sincere and true well-wisher of all mankind regardless of faith, creed and race. An irrefutable proof is that he prayed for the leader of the Munafiqeen (hypocrites) who are considered in Islam the worst people who will suffer the wrath of God in the hereafter. The incident has been narrated by the Prophet’s companion Ibn Abbas (r.a):
“When Abdullah bin Ubai (the chief hypocrite) died, his son Abdullah came to the Prophet (pbuh) and asked him to give him his shirt in order to shroud his father in it. He gave it to him. Then Abdullah asked the Prophet (pbuh) to offer the funeral prayer for his father. The Prophet of Allah (pbuh) stood up to offer the funeral prayer for him. Umar (r.a) also stood up and got hold of the garment of the Prophet (pbuh) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Will you offer the funeral prayer for him though your Lord has forbidden you to offer the prayer for him?” The Prophet (pbuh) said, “But Allah has given me the choice by saying: “Whether you ask forgiveness for them, or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times….” (9:80) So I will ask more than seventy times.” Umar (r.a) said, “But he (Abdullah bin Ubai) is a hypocrite!” However, the Prophet (pbuh) did offer the funeral prayer for him.” (Bukhari)
Conforming to the spirit of this glorious universal characteristic of the Prophet (pbuh), Muslims today must give up peddling hatred towards others, people of other religions or even atheists and wantonly declaring their own co-religionists kafir (infidel) and gumrah (misguided). It is an opportune time for us to seriously reflect on it in an effort to develop true understanding of Islam, which comes by delving into the lovely universal Prophetic ideals rather than relying on the obnoxious fatwas and self-made polemical judgements of the radical Islamist clerics.
Today when the Islamist and Jihadist goons are indiscriminately killing the innocent civilians, the school children in Peshawar for instance, on religious prejudices, Prophet’s affection towards the children must be recalled and revived by Muslims. We should not forget the Prophet’s emotional attachment with children that the Prophet himself described. He said: I stand up for prayer and intend to prolong it. In the meantime, I hear the wailing of a baby and I shorten my prayer, being apprehensive lest my lengthy prayer may tell upon the baby’s mother (while praying Salat behind the Prophet).
He respected the children so much that he would seek permission from small boys. Hazrat Sahl bin Sa’d Ansari (r.a) reported that once, milk was brought to the Prophet (pbuh). He drank it. On his right was a boy and on the left were elderly Companions. He said to the boy: If you permit, I shall give first to these persons (on the left). The boy said: No, by Lord, O Messenger of Allah, I do not want to let anyone have my share of what is left from your lips. The Prophet (pbuh) then gave it first to the boy (Muwatt’a Imam Malik).