Before the advent of Islam, Arabia was inhabited by warring tribes, whose inter-tribal feuds lasted for generations, and at times culminated in bloody conflicts in which hundreds of precious lives were lost. Idolatry was prevalent among the Arabs and the sacred house of God built by Prophet Abraham housed hundreds of deities of demigods which were worshipped by the Arabs. They suffered from false sense of prestige and killed their female issues remorselessly. The Arabian society had degenerated to its lowest depths-feudalism was at its zenith and the poor were ruthlessly oppressed and exploited. Justice was denied to the weak and the maxim “might is right” was at no other time more applicable.
In such a gloomy atmosphere which had encompassed pre-Islamic Arabia, there glittered a light in the birth of Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Never before or after any individual placed in such adverse circumstances had so completely purged his society of the multifarious deep-seated evils, giving it a new and healthier shape, and had so much influenced the course of contemporary and future history. Muhammad’s (PBUH) practical teachings had transformed a savage race into a civilized people who brought about the most wonderful revolution in the history of mankind. He was the benefactor of humanity and being the last and greatest of all the prophets, his teachings were universal and for all times to come.
Born in Makkah in 571 A.C., Muhammad (PBUH) sprang from Arabia’s noblest family, Banu Hashim of Quraish, to whom had been entrusted the custodianship of Kaaba, built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ismail. Muhammad’s (PBUH) father, Abdullah, the youngest son of his grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, the Custodian of Kaaba, had died before his son was born, His mother, Amina, too, died, six years later.
Young Muhammad (PBUH) was afterward brought up by his grandfather Abdul Muttalib and on his death, two years later, by his uncle Abu Talib, the father of famous Ali, the lion-hearted.
Islam, the religion sponsored by Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through the injunctions of the sacred book of God, Holy Quran, evolved a complete code of life, and the great Prophet translated its precepts into practice which made a lasting salutary effect on his countrymen. He stood like a rock against the surging waves of opposition and ultimately won the field. His forbearance, magnanimity, patience, and the city for organization stand unparalleled in the annals of mankind.
Muhammad (PBUH) proclaimed the sovereignty of God and liberated mankind from the thraldom of unholy associations with His Divinity. He upheld the dignity of man and practised the high ideals of equality, fraternity and justice he preached.
He advocated the unity of God and thereby the unity and equality of mankind. He denounced the differences of colour and race and was the “Prophet in human colour and consequently a true specimen of Islamic unity and brotherhood”.
He was a great promoter of education and advocated the “pursuit of learning even unto distant China”. He inculcated a love for learning among the illiterate Arabs which paved the way for their outstanding intellectual achievements, ultimately making them pioneers in the domains of science and arts during the Mediaeval times.
As a peace maker he set an example for the world to follow. The peace terms dictated by him on the conquest of Makkah stand as a landmark in the annals of treaties made among various nations of the world from time immemorial. No conqueror has ever offered more generous terms to the conquered, who were his sworn enemies and who harassed and maligned him throughout his life. Even his greatest living enemy, Abu Sufian, the leader of the nefarious Quraish group, was not touched. So much so, when his ten thousand crack troops were gasping to avenge the misdeeds of the Quraish of Makkah, the erstwhile enemies of Islam, the Prophet due to his boundless magnanimity and spirit of tolerance, gave orders not to strike anyone and declared that anyone who would take refuge in the house of Abu Sufian would be safe.
As an administrator, the Prophet accomplished what looked like an impossible task and overcame situations which would have defied the ablest administrators of the world.
The mission of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was to emancipate mankind from the shackles of slavery-mental or physical. He translated his noble ideas into practice by establishing a State in Medina based on equality, liberty, fraternity and justice.
The Prophet of Istam fulfilled during his lifetime the almost impossible task of knitting together the warring tribes of Arabia, who forming into an irresistible force, heralded the greatest revolution in the annals of mankind -both material and mental.
The four obligatory duties prescribed by Islam, namely Prayer, Fasting, Zakat and Haj, enabled the Prophet to realise the moral as well as material well-being of his follower.
Prayers-five times a day-in which the ruler and the ruled stood shoulder to shoulder, taught them the inestimable advantages of fraternity, and instilled in their hearts the spirit of equality of man.
Fasting-infused in them the spirit of sacrifice and abstenation from worldly pleasures. It elevated their moral standard.
Zakat-enabled the adherents of the new faith to evolve an egalitarian economy, as it provided a check on the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. This added immensely to the equitable distribution of wealth and to the material well-being of the poorer classes of the community.
Haj-Annual pilgrimage to Makkah-enabled the Muslims all over the world to meet one another and exchange views on problems facing the world of Islam.
The Prophet of Islam, being a great leader of men, both in war and peace, proved his mettle during the defensive wars fought against his enemies, including Badr, Ohad, Khandak and Khyber. His organising capacity and the spirit which he had inculcated among his warriors, won the field for him despite enemy’s superiority in men and arms.
Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) possessed innumerable qualities of head and heart. He was a very kind-hearted man, who never abused or cursed anybody. Whenever such occasion arose and his Companions implored him to curse his torturers, he prayed for the latter’s reformation. Once, while praying in Kaaba, when he prostrated, one of his opponents placed the heavy skin of a camel on his back. He remained in this condition for a pretty long time till he was rescued by some of his Companions. Even then he did not curse the miscreant. On another occasion, when he had gone to Taif, the hostile elements instigated the hooligans and children to shower stones on him and his Companions. He was badly injured and his Companions requested him to curse the children. But, kind-hearted as he was, he said instead: “O God, forgive these ignorant ones and show them the right path”. Once an evil-minded Jew became his guest. He entertained him to his fill and gave him his bedding to sleep, but, out of spite, the Jew discharged feces on the bedding and slipped away, leaving his sword behind. The Prophet, finding his guest gone, was sorry because he had left his sword behind, and began to wash the bedding with his own hands. Meanwhile, the Jew returned to fetch his sword and observed the Prophet washing the dirtied bedding. The Prophet did not utter even a word of complaint. Instead he said: “Dear friend, you had left behind your sword. Here it is”. Struck by the unusual courtesy and angelic character of Muhammad (PBUH), the Jew instantaneously embraced Islam.
The teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam created a society based on principles of equality and justice, thus demolishing all barriers tatween one man and the other. He was the greatest benefactor of mankind who liberated them from the shackles of race and colour bars. This spirit of equality taught by the Prophet later led to the birth of several slave ruling dynasties in Muslim countries.
The Prophet of Islam was totally impartial in his dealings with his relations and strangers. He refused a maid servant even to his dearest daughter, Hazrat Fatima, who was overworked and badly needed such a help. He, no doubt, advised his followers to help their relations, neighbours and needy persons according to their means. “No religion of the world prior to Islam”, says Ameer Ali, “had consecrated charity, the support of the widow, the orphans and the helpless poor, by enrolling its principles among the positive enactments of the system”. Mercy and kindness were the virtues mostly emphasised by Muhammad (PBUH) who, according to a Hadith in Bukhari, once said: “The man who plants a tree is blessed when people and birds are benefited by its fruit. A man was sent to Paradise, simply because he saved a thirsty dog from death by offering him water and the other was condemned because he tied and starved a cat to death”. (Bukhari).
The Holy Prophet defined and prescribed the rights of individuals as set forth in the Holy Quran. He said: “It is the part of faith that you should like for your brother what you like for yourself” (Bukhari). He enjoined upon the faithful to show the greatest respect for one’s mother after God when he said : “Paradise lies under the feet of your mother.” (Bukhari). For other relations he said: “Anyone who is not kind to his youngsters and obedient to his elders is not from us” (Tirmizi). As regards Muslims as a whole, he proclaimed: “The Muslims are a single hand like a compact wall whose bricks support each other” (Muslim).
Even during his early life, when Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) had not yet been bestowed the mantle of Prophethood, he was known for his piety, truthfulness and trustworthiness. He was known by the title of “Amin” (Trustworthy) among the Makkahans, who kept their valuables with him. When he migrated to Medina, he left behind his cousin Hazrat Ali, to return to their owners the articles kept with him as a trust. Even his sworn enemies acknowledged his truthfulness. Once he climbed the hill of Safa and addressed the Quraish, asking them. “If I tell you that there is a huge army hidden behind this hill ready to attack you, will you believe me?” All shouted with one voice: “Surely, because you have never spoken a lie.” Such was the high reputation of the Prophet of Islam, even before God conferred Prophethood on him.
The generosity of the Prophet of Islam knew no bounds. Indeed, it was one of the greatest characteristics of the House of Muhammad (PBUH) that no supplicant was ever refused, and this principle was rigidly followed not only by Hazrat Fatima and her sons but even by their grand children. Once while he was grazing his herd of goats he gave the entire herd to a person who asked for it. The supplicant was surprised by his extraordinary generosity. During the last days of the Holy Prophet of Islam, the Muslims had become very prosperous. Nevertheless, he lived abstemiously contending himself with frugal diet and at times going without food.
He always resisted the temptation of power and vengeance. His was the sublimest morality of returning good for evil: to the weak and undefended he was a helper; to the defeated he showed unusual mercy. Never proud or haughty, known for his strict adherence to justice, one who undertook his share of common labour, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shunned no hardship and led the life of a common man.
Delivering his last address to the Muslims from Mount Arafat, the Prophet said:
“O, People! Listen to my words as I may not be with you another year in this place. Be humane and just among yourselves. The life and the property of one are sacred and inviolable to the other. Render faithfully everyone his due, as you will appear before God and He will demand an account of your actions. Treat women well; they are your help-mates and can do nothing by themselves. You have taken them from God on trust. O People! Listen to my words and fix them in your memory. I have given you everything; I have left to you a law which you should preserve and be firmly attached to a law clear and positive: the Book of God and the Sunnah” (i.e., Practice of the Prophet):
This greatest benefactor of mankind and the last Apostle of God passed away from this world on 12th Rabiul Awwal 11 A.H., 632 AC and was buried in the room occupied of his wife, Aisha Siddiqa. He had accomplished his task.
Muhammad (PBUH) led an exemplary life. Even before he was assigned his mission, he spent his time in meditation, devotion, contemplation, fasting and service to his fellow beings. His virtuous life earned for him the title of ‘Amin’ (Trustworthy). Later the Revelation commanded him to preach the faith to the people.
He taught them the unity of God and the four obligatory duties enjoined by Islam-namely Prayer, Zakat, Fasting and Haj (Annual Pilgrimage to Makkah). He himslef practiced what he preached and set an example for others. He stood sometimes so long in prayers during the night that his feet got swollen. He spent the major part of night in prayers and meditation. He prayed not only for himself but for the entire creation.
His prayers and devotion to God enabled him to check such worldly desires and impulses which could distract him from the supreme goal. Islam enjoins upon its followers to observe one month’s fast in a year. This has proved to be a very effective source of controlling one’s worldly desires. The Holy Prophet of Islam fasted for more than three months during a year, besides one month’s obligatory fast.
His was a comprehensive life. He went through all sorts of trials and tribulations for establishing the kingdom of God on earth. Faithfully and sincerely he performed his duties to God and His creatures, to wife and children, to relations and neighbours, to friends and foes, to the needy and disabled, to allies and aliens-in fact to all human beings. An account of his comprehensive life preserved in Traditions (Hadith) has served as a beacon light not only for his followers but to entire humanity during the last fourteen centuries or more. His exemplary life covering different spheres of human activity continues to inspire and guide human beings for the last more than 1,400 years.
Such were the exceptional qualities of head and heart possessed by the great Prophet of Islam whose noble teachings produced a society of virtuous people who laid the foundation of true democracy in the world in which there was no distinction between the ruler and the ruled.
Writing in the Legacy of Islam, David De Santillana says: “The Prophet uttered some charming words with regard to neighbourly relations: “Be kind to your neighbour. Draw the veil over him. Avoid injury. Look upon him with an eye of kindness, if you see him doing evil forgive him. If you see him doing good to you, proclaim your thankfulness”.
The celebrated British writer, George Bernard Shaw, in his letter to Mr. Najmi Saqib of Cyprus acknowledges that Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) teachings on the status of women, exposure of female children and kindness to animals, were “far ahead of Western Christian thought, even of modern thought”.
The great Western historian, Edward Gibbon observes: “The good sense of Muhammad (PBUH) despised the pomp of royalty; the Apostle of God submitted to the menial offices of the family; he kindled the fire, swept the floor, milked the cows and mended with his own hands shoes and his woollen garments. Disdaining the penance and merit of a hermit he observed without effort and vanity, the abstemious diet of an Arab and a soldier. On solemn occasions he feted his Companions with hospitable plenty; but in his domestic life, many weeks would elapse without a fire being kindled in the hearth of the Prophet”.
“Muhammad (PBUH) was a man of truth and fidelity”, says Thomas Carlyle, “true in what he said, in what he spoke, in what he thought; he always theant something; a man rather taciturn in speech, silent when there was nothing to be said but pertinent, wise, sincere when he did speak, always throwing light on the matter”.
“His intellectual qualities, “says Washington Irving, “were undoubtedly of an extraordinary kind. He had a quick apprehension, a retentive memory, a vivid imagination and an inventive genius. His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vainglory as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So, far from affecting a regal state, he was displeased if on entering a room any unusual testimonial of respect was shown to him. If he aimed at universal domination it was the dominion of the faith: as to the temporal rule which grew up in his hands, he used it without ostentation, so he took no step to perpetuate it in his family.’
In his Histoire de la Turqui, Lamertine observes: “Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of national dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of 20 terrestrial Empires, that is Muhammad (PBUH). As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?”
“It is impossible,” says Mrs. Annie Besant, “for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia who knows how he taught and how he lived to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of the Supreme. And although in what I put to you I shall say many things which may be familiar to you, yet I re-read them as a new way of admiration, a new sense of reverence for the mighty Arabian leader.”
The famous English writer and literary critic Dr. Johnson says: “His purely historical character, his simple humanity, claiming to be a man among men, his intense realism, avoiding all mystical remoteness; the thoroughly democratic and universal form under which his idea of the divine monarchy led him to conceive the relations of men, the force of his ethical appeal all affiliate Muhammad (PBUH) with the modern world”.
The celebrated English writer Robert Briffault pays rich tributes to the teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam, when he says: “The ideas of freedom for all human beings, of human brotherhood, of the equality of all men before the law of democratic government, by consultation and universal suffrage, the ideas that inspired the French Revolution and the Declaration of Rights, that guided the framing of the American Constitution and inflamed the struggle for independence in the Latin-American countries were not inventions of the West. They find their ultimate inspiration and source in the Holy Quran. They are the quintessence of what the intelligentsia of medieval Europe acquired from Islam over a period of centuries through the various societies that developed in Europe in the wake of the Crusades in imitation of the brotherhood associations of Islam. It is highly probable that but for the Arabs modern European civilization would never have arisen at all, it is absolutely certain that but for them it would never have assumed that character which has enabled it to transcend all previous phases of evolution.”