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What is the Place and Position of Muhammad among Prophets and in the General Matrix of Islam?


By Ali Unal


If one were to close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in the world of 1400 years ago, one would find a world completely different from ours. The opportunities for exchange of ideas would be scanty and the means of communication very limited and undeveloped. Darkness would hold sway, and there would be only a faint glimmer of learning which could scarcely illumine the horizon of human knowledge. Man’s outlook was narrow, and his ideas of men and things were confined to his limited surroundings. Humanity was steeped in ignorance and superstition. Unbelief had assumed such mighty proportions and had become so widespread that people refused to consider anything as lofty and sublime unless it appeared in the garb of the supernatural. They had developed such an inferiority complex that they could never imagine a human being to possess a godly soul, and for him to be of a saintly disposition.


The age of ignorance

In that benighted era, there was a territory in which darkness lay heavier and thicker. The neighboring countries of Persia, Byzantium and Egypt possessed a glimmer of civilization and a faint light of learning, but the Arabian Peninsula, which stood isolated, cut off by vast oceans of sand, was one of the most backward areas of the world culturally and intellectually. Specifically the Hijaz, to which the Holy Prophet of Islam belonged, had not even passed through the limited development of the neighboring regions. Nor had it experienced any social evolution or attained any share of intellectual development worthy of mention. Although they possessed a highly developed language capable of expressing the finest shades of meaning, the study of the remnants of their literature reveals how limited was their knowledge. All this shows how low was their standard of culture and civilization, how saturated were their minds with superstitions, how barbarous and ferocious were their customs, and how uncouth and degraded were their moral standards and conceptions.

It was a country without a government. Every tribe claimed sovereignty and considered itself to be an independent unit. There was no law except the law of jungle. Loot, arson, and murder of innocent and weak people was the order of the day. Life, property, and honor were constantly at risk, and different tribes were always at daggers drawn with one another. Any trivial incident was enough to cause a war to blaze up with ferocious fury, which sometimes even developed into a country-wide conflagration continuing for several decades. As Professor Joseph Hell writes in The Arab Civilization (p.10):

These struggles destroyed the sense of national unity and developed an incurable particularism; each tribe deeming itself self-sufficient and regarding the rest as its legitimate victims for murder, robbery and plunder.

Whatever notions they had of morals, culture, and civilization, were primitive and uncouth; they could hardly discriminate between pure and impure, lawful and unlawful. Their life was wild; their methods were barbaric. They reveled in adultery, gambling and drinking. They would stand stark naked before each other without any shame. Even their women-folk would parade nude at the ceremony of circumambulating the Ka‘ba. Out of notions of prestige, they would bury their daughters alive rather than that someone should become their son–in–law and consequently their heir, and they would marry their stepmothers after the death of their fathers. They were ignorant of even the rudiments of everyday routine in eating, dressing, and cleanliness.

They worshipped stones, trees, idols, stars, and spirits, and knew nothing of the teachings of the Prophets of old. They had the idea that Abraham and Ishmael were their forefathers, but they knew next to nothing about their religious preachings and about God Whom Abraham and Ishmael worshipped.


A glimpse of Muhammad’s life before his Prophethood

The Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace and blessings) was born in this benighted country; his father had died some time before his birth, and he lost his mother when he was six years old. Consequently, he was deprived even of the scant training and upbringing which an Arab child of the time would get. In his boyhood, he tended the flocks of sheep and goats in the company of Bedouin boys. Education never touched him; he was completely unlettered and unschooled.

The Prophet (upon him be peace) did not leave Mecca to go outside the Arabian Peninsula except for two brief journeys. The first was with his uncle Abu Talib when he was still a youth in his early teens. The other was in his mid-thirties when he accompanied a caravan carrying the goods of Khadija, a widow of forty when he married her in his age of 25, and with whom he lived for almost twenty years until her death. Because of his inability to read and write, he had no opportunity to read any of the religious texts of the Jews or Christians, nor did he become acquainted with these texts through his environment to any appreciable extent. Mecca was an idolatrous city both in its ideas and customs, into which neither Christian or Jewish religious thought had penetrated. Even the hanifs (men who followed some things of the pure religion of Abraham in an adulterated and unclear form) among the Arab of Mecca who rejected the worship of idols were influenced by neither Judaism nor Christianity. Nothing of Jewish or Christian thought appears to have been reflected in the poetic heritage left us by the literary men of the time. Had the Prophet made any effort to become acquainted with Jewish or Christian thought, this would have been noticed. We observe moreover that the Prophet did not take part, before his Prophethood, even in the intellectual forms of poetry and rhetoric which were popular among the people at that time. There is no mention of any distinction of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) over the rest of the people except in his moral commitments, his trustworthiness, honesty, truthfulness and integrity. He never told a lie; even his worst enemies never accuse him of telling a lie on any occasion whatsoever during his entire life. He used to talk politely and never used obscene or abusive language. He had a charming personality and excellent manners with which he captivated the hearts of those who came into contact with him. In his dealings with people he always followed the principles of justice, altruism and fair-play. He never deceived anyone and never broke his promise. He remained engaged in trade and commerce for years, but he never entered into any dishonest transaction. Those who dealt with him in business had full confidence in his integrity. The entire nation called him ‘Al-Ameen’ (the Truthful and the Trustworthy). Even his enemies would deposit their precious belongings with him for safe custody and he scrupulously fulfilled their trust. He was the very embodiment of modesty in the midst of a society which was immodest to the core. Born and bred among a people who regarded drunkenness and gambling as virtues, he never touched alcohol and never indulged in gambling. Surrounded on all sides by heartless people, he himself had a heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness. He would help the orphans, widows and the poor; he was hospitable to travelers. He harmed no one; rather, he exposed himself to suffer hardships for the sake of others. He kept aloof from the feuds in his tribe, and was foremost in bringing about reconciliation. He did not bow before any other created thing and did not partake of the offerings made to idols, even in his childhood. He hated all kinds of worship devoted to creatures and other beings rather than to God. In brief, the towering and radiant personality of this gentleman, in the midst of such a benighted and dark environment, may be likened to a beacon of light illumining a pitch-dark night, or to a diamond shining amongst a heap of stones.


The message of the Prophet

Lo! all of a sudden a remarkable change came over his person. His heart became illuminated by the Divine Light, giving him the power he had yearned for. He came out of the confinement of his cave, went to the people, and addressed them in the following strain:

The idols which you worship are a mere sham. Cease to worship them from now onward. No mortal being, no star, no tree, no stone, no spirit, is worthy of human worship. There- fore, bow not your heads in worship before them. The entire universe with everything that it contains belongs to God Almighty. He alone is the Creator, the Nourisher, the Sustainer, and, consequently, the real Sovereign before Whom all should bow down and to Whom all should pray and render obedience. Thus worship Him alone and obey His commands. Theft and plunder, murder and rapine, injustice and cruelty-all the vices in which you indulge are crimes in the eyes of God. Leave your evil way. Speak the truth. Be just. Do not kill anyone; “whoever slays a soul unjustly, it shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether; and whoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of mankind altogether.”

Do not rob anyone. Take your lawful share. Give that which is due to others in a just manner.

Set not up with God another god, or you will sit condemned and forsaken. Be good to your parents whether one or both of them attains old age with you, do not say to them even ‘fie’, neither chide them, but speak unto them respectful words, and lower to them the wing of humbleness out of mercy. Give the kinsman his right and give to the needy, and the traveler, and never squander. Do not slay your children for fear of poverty or other reasons. Do not come near unto adultery, surely it is an indecency, an evil as way. Do not approach the property of orphans and the weak. Fulfill the covenant, because it shall come in question. Fill up the measure when you measure, and weigh with the straight balance. Do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge; the hearing, the sight, the heart-of each of these it will be asked. Do not walk in the earth exultantly; certainly you will never tear the earth open, nor attain the mountains in height. Say to each other words that are kindlier, for surely Satan provokes strife between you because of the use of strong words. Do not turn your cheek in scorn and anger towards folk nor walk with impudence in the land. God does not love each braggart boaster. Be modest in your bearing and subdue your voice. Let not some folk deride a folk, who may be better than they are. And do not find fault with one another, neither revile one another by nicknames. Shun much of suspicion, for some suspicion is a sin. And do not spy, neither backbite one another. Be staunch followers of justice and witnesses for God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kinsmen, whether the man be rich or poor. Do not follow caprice, so as to swerve. Be steadfast witnesses for God in equity, and let not your hatred of any people seduce you so that you do not deal justly. Restrain your rage and pardon the offences of your fellow-men. The good deed and the evil deed are not alike, so repel the evil deed with one which is good, then he between whom and you there was enmity will become as though he were a loyal friend. The recompense of evil done on purpose is evil the like of it; but whoever pardons and amends the evil doer by kindness and love, his reward falls upon God. Do not drink alcohol and do not play games of chance; they are both forbidden by God.

You are human beings and all human beings are equal in the eyes of God. None is born with the slur of shame on his face; nor anyone has come into the world with the mantle of honor hung around his neck. He alone is high and honored who is God-fearing and pious, true in words and deeds. Distinctions of birth and glory of race are no criteria of greatness and honor. There is an appointed day after your death when you will have to appear before a supreme court. You shall be called to account for all your deeds, good or bad, and you shall not then be able to hide anything. The whole record of your life shall be an open book to God. Your fate shall be determined by your good or bad actions. In the court of the True Judge-the Omniscient God-the question of unfair recommendation and favoritism does not arise. You will not be able to bribe Him. No consideration will be given to your pedigree or parentage. True faith and good deeds alone will stand you in good stead at that time. He who has performed them fully shall take his abode in the Heaven of eternal happiness, while the one devoid of them shall be cast in the fire of Hell.


The Prophet before and during his Prophethood

For forty years he had lived as an ordinary individual amongst his people. In that long period he had not been known as a statesman, a preacher, or an orator; none had heard him imparting wisdom and knowledge as he began to do thereafter. He had never been seen discoursing upon the principles of metaphysics, ethics, law, politics, economy, or sociology. Not to speak of being a great general, he had not even been known as an ordinary soldier. He had uttered no words about God, the Angels, the revealed Books, the early Prophets, the bygone nations, the Day of Judgment, the life after death, Hell and Heaven. No doubt he possessed an excellent character and charming manners; and he was well-behaved, yet there was nothing striking and extraordinary about him which would make men expect something great and revolutionary from him in future. He was known among his acquaintances as a sober, calm, gentle, and trustworthy citizen of good nature, but when he came out of the cave with a new message he was completely transformed.

When he began preaching his Message, the whole of Arabia stood in awe and wonder and was bewitched by his wonderful eloquence and oratory. It was so impressive and captivating that his worst enemies were afraid of hearing it, lest it should penetrate deep into the recesses of their hearts or the very marrow of their being and carry them off and make them abandon their old religion and culture. It was so without compare that the whole legion of Arab poets, preachers and orators of the highest caliber failed to bring forth its equivalent in beauty of language and splendor of diction when he threw down the challenge to his opponents. Even although they put their heads together they could not produce even a single line like the ones he recited.

When he began preaching his Message, he had to face severe opposition, but he confronted all the opposition with a smile on his lips. He stood firm, undeterred by criticism and coercion. When the natives realized that the threats had failed to frighten this noble man and that the severest tribulations at his person and his followers had not even made them move an inch, they played another trick-but that too was destined to failure.


The Prophet Muhammad was perfectly confident of his mission

A deputation of the leading Quraysh, his tribe, called upon the Holy Prophet (upon him be peace) and tried to bribe him by offering all the worldly glory they could imagine. They said: “If you want to possess wealth, we will amass for you as much as you wish; if you aspire to win honor and power, we are prepared to swear allegiance to you as our overlord and king; if you have a fancy for beauty, you shall have the hand of the most beautiful maiden of your own choice.”

But they wanted him to abandon his mission. The terms were extremely tempting for any ordinary mortal, but they had no significance in the eyes of the Great Prophet. His reply fell like a bomb-shell upon the deputation of the leaders of Arabia. They thought they had played their trump card but they were disappointed. The Holy Prophet said:

Pray! I want neither pelf nor power. I have been commissioned by God as a warner to mankind. I deliver His message to you. Should you accept it, you shall have felicity and joy in this life and eternal bliss in the life hereafter; should you reject the Word of God, surely God will decide between you and me.

On another occasion he said to his uncle, who, because of pressure from the leaders of Arabia, was trying to persuade him to abandon his mission:

O uncle! Should they place the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, so as to make me renounce this mission, I shall not do so. I will never give it up; either it will please God to make it triumph or I shall perish in the attempt.

This faith, this perseverance, and this resolution, with which he conducted his mission to ultimate success is an eloquent proof of the supreme truth of his cause. Had there been the slightest doubt or uncertainty in his heart, he would never have been able to brave the storm which continued in all its fury for twenty-one long years.


Wisdom and learning in the Prophet’s speeches

The unlettered Prophet of Islam spoke with such learning and wisdom the like of which no one has displayed before and none could show after him. He expounded the intricate problems of metaphysics and theology; he delivered speeches upon the principles of the decline and fall of nations and empires, supporting his thesis with the historical examples from the past, and he taught ethical canons and principles of culture. He formulated such laws of social culture, economic organization, group conduct, and international relations that even eminent thinkers and scholars could grasp their true wisdom only after life-long research and vast experience of men and things. Their beauties, indeed, unfold themselves progressively as man advances in theoretical knowledge and practical experience.


The greatest and most peace-loving commander of history

This silent and peace-loving trader who had never previously handled a sword, who had no military training, and who had but once participated in a battle and that also just as a spectator, turned suddenly into such a brave soldier that he did not even once retreat in the fiercest battles. He became such a great general that he conquered the whole of Arabia in nine years, at a time when the weapons of war were primitive and the means of communication poorest. His military acumen and efficiency developed the military spirit to such a high pitch that he was able to infuse a motley crowd of Arabs with the training and discipline necessary to the overthrowing of the two most formidable military powers of the day. These Arabs became the masters of the greater part of the then known world within almost a few decades.


The greatest statesman of history

This reserved and quiet man who, for full forty years, had never given any indication of political interest or activity, appeared suddenly on the stage of the world as such a great political reformer and statesman that, without the aid of press or of any modern tele-communicative means, he brought together the scattered inhabitants of a desert of twelve hundred thousand square miles - a people who were warlike, ignorant, unruly, uncultured, and plunged in internecine tribal warfare- under one banner, one law, one religion, one culture, one civilization, and one form of government. Sir William Muir, a staunch adverse critic of Islam, admits in his book Life of Muhammad:

The first peculiarity, then, which attracts our attention is the subdivision of the Arabs into innumerable bodies... each independent of the others: restless and often at war amongst themselves; and even when united by blood or by interest, ever ready on some significant cause to separate and give way to an implacable hostility. Thus at the era of Islam the retrospect of Arabian history exhibits, as in the Kaleidoscope, an ever-varying state of combination and repulsion, such as had hitherto rendered abortive any attempt at a general union... The problem had yet to be solved, by what force these tribes could be subdued or drawn to one common center; and it was solved by Muhammad.


The greatest of the teachers the world has ever known

He changed people’s modes of thought, their habits and their morals. He turned the uncouth into the cultured, the barbarous into the civilized, the evil-doers and bad characters into pious, God-fearing, and righteous persons. Their unruly and stiff-necked natures were transformed into models of obedience and submission to law and order. A nation which had not produced a single great man worth the name for centuries gave birth, under his influence and guidance, to thousands of noble souls who went forth to far-off corners of the world to preach and teach the principles of religion, morals, and civilization.


The most sublime figure in all dimensions of life

In the cavalcade of world history, the sublime figure in this wonderful person towers high above all the great men of all times who are famous as heroes of nations, so that they appear to be dwarfs when contrasted with him. None of them possessed a genius capable of making any deep impression on more than one or two aspects of human life. Some are the exponents of theories and ideas but are deficient in practical action. Some others are men of action but suffer from paucity of knowledge. Some are renowned as statesmen only, others masters of strategy and maneuvering. Some have concentrated on one aspect of social life in a manner that other aspects have been overlooked. Some others have devoted their energies to ethical and spiritual verities but have ignored economics and politics. Some others have taken to economics and politics, but neglect morals and spiritual side of life. In short, one comes across heroes who are adepts and experts in one walk of life only. He is the only example where all the excellences have been blended into one personality. He is a man of wisdom and a seer and also a living embodiment of his own teachings. He is a great statesman as well as a military genius. He is a legislator and also a teacher of morals. He is a spiritual luminary as well as a religious guide. His vision penetrates every aspect of life and there is nothing which he touches and does not adorn. His orders and commandments cover a vast field from the regulation of international relations down to the habits of everyday life like eating, drinking, and cleanliness of the body. On the foundations of his teaching he established a civilization and a culture and produced such a fine equilibrium in the conflicting aspects of life that there is to be found not even the slightest trace of any flaw, deficiency, or incompleteness. Can anyone point out any other example of such a perfect and all-round personality?


The most modest and the humblest

In spite of the fact that he became the ruler of his country, he was so selfless and modest that he remained very simple and sparing in his habits. He lived poorly, as before, in his humble thatched mud-cottage. He slept on a mattress, wore coarse clothes, ate the simplest food of the poor, and sometimes went without any food at all. He used to spend whole nights standing in prayer before his Lord. He came to the rescue of the destitute and the penniless. He felt not the least insult in working like a laborer. Until his last moments there was not the slightest taint of royal pomp or show of the hauteur of the rich about him. Like an ordinary man he would sit and walk with people and share their joys and sorrows. He would so mix and mingle with the crowd that a stranger, or an outsider, would find it difficult to single out the leader of the people and the ruler of the nation from the rest of the company. Once a Bedouin came to them and asked them who Muhammad was, whilst he was serving his Companions. His answer enshrines an eternal principle:

The master of the nation is he who serves them.

In spite of his greatness, his behavior with the humblest person was that of an ordinary being. In the struggles and endeavors of his whole life he did not seek any reward or profit for his own person, nor did he leave any property for his heirs. He dedicated his all to his nation. He did not ask his adherents to earmark anything for him or his descendants, so much so that he forbade his progeny from receiving the benefit of Zakat, lest his followers at any future time may dole out the whole share of Zakat to them.”


An event demonstrating how much the Prophet Muhammad was loved by his Companions

He was very much loved by his Companions. To show the degree of this deep love, the following episode from the early Islamic history will suffice:

A group from Adal and al-Qarah tribes who were apparently from the same ancestral stock as the Quraish and who dwelt in the proximity of Mecca came to the Holy Prophet in the third year of the Hijra and said: “Some people from our tribe have chosen Islam, so send a group of Muslims to us that they may instruct us in the meaning of the religion, teach us the Qur’an and inform us of the principles and laws of Islam.”

The Messenger of God (upon him be peace and blessings) sent six of his Companions along with them for this purpose.

The envoys of the Messenger set out in the company of this mission that had come to Madina, until they reached the area where the Hudhayl tribe lived, and there they halted. The friends of the Messenger had settled down to sleep, when all at once a group from the Hudhayl tribe fell upon them like a thunderbolt with their swords drawn. It became clear that the mission which had come to Madina either had the intention of acting deceitfully from the beginning, or, on reaching this place had changed their minds. At any rate, it is known that these people sided with the Hudhayl tribe with the aim of seizing these six envoys. As soon as the friends of the Messenger were aware of what was happening, they swiftly dashed for their arms, and got ready to defend themselves. Three of them were martyred and the rest were seized to be delivered to the Quraysh.

The Hudhaili bound these three men firmly with cord and set out towards Mecca. Near Mecca, Abdullah ibn Tariq, one of the three who were captured, managed to get his hand free of the bonds and reach for his sword, but the enemy did not let him take the opportunity and killed him by hurling stones. Zayd and Hubayb were carried to Mecca, and they traded them in exchange for two captives from the Hudayl who were held in Mecca and then they went away.

Safwan Ibn Umayya al-Qurashi bought Zayd from the person to whom he had been sold so as to kill him to avenge the blood of his father who had been killed at the battle of Badr. To kill him, he took him outside Mecca. The people of the Quraish assembled to see what would happen, and they brought Zayd to his place of execution. He came forward with his courageous gait and did not tremble even the slightest in his walking. Abu Sufyan was one of the spectators, and he thought he would take advantage of the circumstances of the last moments of Zayd’s life: perhaps he could get a statement of contrition and remorse or an avowal of hatred of the Holy Prophet from him. He stepped forward and said to Zayd: “I adjure you by God, Zayd, don’t you wish that Muhammad was with us now in your place so that we might cut off his head, and that you were with your family?”

– By God, said Zayd, “Let alone wishing that Muhammad were here in my place so that I were with my family, I do not wish that even a thorn should hurt his foot .”

Abu Sufyan was very much astonished by this answer. He turned to those present, and said: “By God, I swear I have never seen a man who was so loved as Muhammad’s Companions love him.”

After a while, Hubayb Ibn Adiy’s turn fell, and he too was taken outside Mecca for execution. There he requested the assembly to let him perform two rak‘a of prayer. They agreed, and he performed the prayer in all humility, respect, and absorption. Then he spoke to the crowd, and said:

– I swear by God that were it not that you would think that I only delayed out of fear of death, I would have prolonged my prayer.

They condemned Hubayb to crucifixion; and it was then that the sweet voice of Hubayb was heard, with a perfect spirituality which held everyone in its spell, entreating God with these words:

– O God! We have delivered the message of Your Messenger; so inform him of what has been done to us, and tell him my wish of peace and blessings upon him.

Meanwhile, God’s Messenger was returning his peace, saying, “Upon you be God’s peace and blessings, O Hubayb!”

This is to show the indelible mark which God’s Messenger imprinted on peoples of every age:


A striking event which demonstrates the difference between a Prophet and a scientist-philosopher

One of Ibn Sina (Avicenna)’s students said to him one day that if, with his extraordinary understanding and intelligence, he were to make a claim to prophethood, people would gather round him. Avicenna said nothing; then when they were on a journey together in wintertime, Avicenna awoke from his sleep one morning at dawn, woke up his student, and told him he was thirsty, and asked him to fetch some water. The student procrastinated and made excuses. However much Avicenna persisted, the student was not prepared to leave his warm bed in the cold winter. At that moment the cry of the muezzin (caller to prayer) called out from the minaret: “God is the greatest. I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Avicenna saw that this was a good opportunity to give the answer to his student, so he said:

You, who averred that if I made claim to be a prophet, people would believe in me, look now and see how the command I just gave you, who have been my student for years and have benefited from my lessons, has not even had the effect of making you leave your warm bed to fetch me some water. But this muezzin strictly obeys the four-hundred-year (now fourteen-hundred-year)-old command of the Prophet. He got up from his warm bed, as he always does every morning together with hundreds of thousands of others, climbed up to this great height and borne witness to the unity of God and to His Prophet. Look and see how great the difference is!

His name has been pronounced five times a day together with that of God for fourteen centuries all over the world, whilst he is loved heart and soul by so many people whose number is increasing day by day. The present-day conditions of the world gives the good tiding that he will be greeted by the whole world in a near future as the “Ruler of the world”, as was foretold by Jesus Christ.



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