To celebrate the beginning of this holy month, we share with you an excerpt from Adil Salahi’s Muhammad: His Character and Conduct, an excellent source that highlights the beautiful character and conduct of the Messenger of Allah.
Muhammad: the man
So, what sort of man was Muhammad? The answer is that he was an ordinary man who, until he received God’s message, led a very ordinary life. He went through a difficult childhood, which saw him losing his father before he was born, his mother at the age of six and his grandfather two years later.
Yet, with all these losses he was not short of loving carers who could see that the young boy could have a bright future. He profoundly appreciated the love he was given, particularly by his uncle, Abu Talib, and Abu Talib’s wife, Fatimah bint Asad.
When Makkah endured some difficult times during Muhammad’s adult life, he sought to reduce Abu Talib’s burden, suggesting to another uncle, al- Abbas, that each of them should take one of Abu Talib’s children to look after.
To Muhammad, this was merely a gesture expressing gratitude for a favour that he had never forgotten.
From his early years, Muhammad had a keen sense of right and, trusting to his natural instincts, he pursued what was right in every possible way. He never told a lie and was always fair. Perhaps being deprived of the care that only kind parents could provide helped him to realize what loss meant to other people.
This might have encouraged him to try to prevent unwarranted loss by anyone: hence, his desire to pursue right and to enforce it by any fair means. He was an example of goodness, and long before prophethood, his reputation for honesty and fairness was second to none. His treatment of a slave lad given to him as a gift by his good wife was so benevolent that the lad preferred to stay with him to being reunited with his parents and family. To soften the blow for the lad’s disappointed father, Muhammad adopted the lad as a son, with full rights of inheritance.
Such was Muhammad before becoming aware of the role God wanted to assign to him. God then entrusted him with His message, which aims to provide a way of life for all mankind in all generations. By definition, this message taps into every good thing in man and enhances it; neutralizing or countering every negative trait. Muhammad (peace be upon him) was to become the role model for all future generations of humanity. His life after he became God’s Prophet and Messenger shows that he lived up to that. He was the teacher of all goodness. He defines his role in these simple words:
“I have been sent to bring good manners to perfection.” (Related by Ahmad, al-Bukhari in Al-Adab al- Mufrad, al-Hakim and al-Bayhaqi.)
His wife, A’ishah, describes his manners as a “practical implementation of the Qur’an.” (Related by Ahmad and al-Bayhaqi.)
The best description of his character is that given by God Himself:
“Most certainly, yours is a sublime character.” (68: 4)
Several ahadith, by different reporters, highlight the fact that the Prophet never used foul language. Anas ibn Malik reports: “God’s Messenger was not given to the use of foul language, cursing or abusive names. When he expressed displeasure with someone, he would say, ‘What is wrong with him; may he have dust on his forehead.’” (Related by al-Bukhari.)
In answer to a question about the Prophet’s manners, A’ishah said: “He never used foul or obscene language. Nor was he quarrelsome in the market place. He did not repay a bad turn with a similarly bad one, but would rather forgive and forebear.” (Related by Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi, al-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi.) Another hadith mentions that Ata’ ibnYasar asked Abdullah ibn Amr about the Prophet’s description in the Torah. He said:
‘He is described in the Torah in similar terms as his description in the Qur’an. It says: “You, Prophet! We have sent you as a witness, one who brings happy news and gives warnings. You are a guardian for the Arabs. You are My servant and Messenger. I have called you al-Mutawakkil [i.e. one who puts his trust in God]. You do not use foul or hard language and are not quarrelsome in the market place. You do not repay evil with evil, but forgive and forbear. [This Messenger] shall not be gathered to God until God has brought the distorted faith back to its right form so that people will declare that ‘there is no deity other than God, opening with it blind eyes, deaf ears and hardened hearts.’” (Related by al-Bukhari.)
“May he have dust on his forehead” was an often-used metaphorical expression of displeasure. Its meaning has nothing to do with the literal sense of its words. Some linguists say that it is a prayer that the person concerned will be a devout person who prays often.
Some people put on an appearance when they are out and meet others. The Prophet, however, did not put any appearance other than his real manners. For example: “Some of his Companions visited Umm Salamah, his wife. They said to her: “Mother of the believers, tell us what is God’s Messenger like in the privacy of his home.” She said: “He is always the same in public and in private.” She then regretted answering them, feeling that she told them something that he might not wish to reveal. She reports: “When he came home, I told him.” He said: “You have done well.” (Related by Ahmad and al-Tabarani.)
These ahadith together give us a picture of a person who turns away from whatever is unbecoming and to whom good conduct comes naturally; he realizes that whatever comes from God is good. He is the first to implement it, at home and in public. The Prophet was the same in public and with his own family: he never used abusive or insulting language, cursed or engaged in a verbal quarrel. He was aware of his task of “bringing good manners to perfection.”
He had a generous nature. When, within the space of a few years, his fortunes changed – from being driven out of his hometown, with a great prize on his head, to being the undisputed master of the whole of Arabia – the Prophet could have led a most luxurious life. However, he preferred to lead a simple life, free of all pretences of power, grandeur or material luxury. At times, he could have plenty in his hand, but he would give it all away within a very short period of time. Jabir reports: “God’s Messenger never said, ‘No’, to anything he was asked.” Even when he and his family were in need, he would give away whatever he had. He did not mind eating the simplest of food. Anas reports: I took to the Prophet some barley bread and a little fat that had already started to go bad. He even pawned his body armour with a Jewish pawnbroker to buy some barley for his family. I heard him saying: “Muhammad’s family do not have even a small amount of wheat or grains.” He had nine wives at the time. (Related by al-Bukhari.)
It appears that the Prophet wanted to lead a very simple life, so that he would not be distinguished from the poor in his community. This fits with the Islamic view of this present life as transitory: it is the life to come that is more important, because it is everlasting and people’s lots in it are determined by what they do during their present life on earth. Another report that illustrates his interaction with his community is given by Uthman, who says: “We accompanied God’s Messenger in travel and in town. He would visit the sick, attend our funerals and fight with us. He would lend us support with whatever he had.” (Related by Ahmad and al-Bazzar.)
Some people think that the harder they drive themselves in fulfilling religious duties, the higher the position they will achieve in God’s eyes. Yet Islam does not require people to overstrain themselves, as it steers a middle way. Indeed, it is referred to, in some religious text as “the middle way.” The Prophet’s practical example shows that he understood this and put it into practice. A’ishah reports:
Whenever the Prophet was given a choice between two options, he would choose the easier, unless it be sinful. If it was sinful, he would move furthest away from it. Never did he seek revenge for himself. However, if something God has prohibited was violated, he would seek to avenge that for God’s sake. (Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
A similar hadith mentions that God’s Messenger never beat anyone with his hand: he never beat a woman or a servant. [He used his hand] only when he was in jihad for God’s cause. Never did he avenge himself for something done to him. Only when something God has prohibited was violated he would seek to avenge that for God’s sake. (Related by Muslim.)
The Prophet’s character shines as being that of a very modest man who never sought to press an advantage in anyway. At the same time, he was clearly dedicated to his message and would do everything in his power to ensure that people understood it clearly and could see how to put it into practice. He felt for others and would try hard to make it easy for them to understand God’s message and implement what He required of them. In his speech during the farewell pilgrimage, for example, he outlined the major principles of Islam. At the end of every point he stressed, he would ask his audience: “Have I delivered God’s message?” When they affirmed that he had done, he appealed to God to witness their acknowledgement.
The Prophet’s modesty was apparent in the way he treated his followers. He realized that his Companions would be emulated by later generations of Muslims. Hence, he made sure to explain how he should be treated by them and by all Muslims. Umar ibn al-Khattab quotes him as saying: “Do not overpraise me like the Christians overpraise Jesus, son of Mary. I am only a servant of God. [In reference to me] say: God’s servant and Messenger.” (Related by al-Bukhari and Ibn Hibban.) How did they react to this? Anas ibn Malik says: “No one was dearer to them than God’s Messenger. Yet when they saw him coming, they did not stand up because they knew he disliked that.” (Related by Ahmad and al- Tirmidhi.) He wanted to be seen as one of them.
The Prophet also impressed on his Companions that people distinguish themselves only by their manners and behaviour. In his address during his farewell pilgrimage, he said:
People, your Lord is one and your father is one. No Arab has an advantage over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor does a red skinned man over a black one, nor a black one over a red skinned one, except through God-fearing. (Related by Ahmad.)
What can we say in conclusion? Whatever praise we may say will always fall short of what Muhammad, God’s Messenger, deserves. He was the man who showed the way, and he taught goodness to humanity so that he would fulfil the aim of his mission that he expressed in his own words: “I have been sent so that I would bring good manners to perfection.”
Peace and God’s blessings be to Muhammad, God’s servant and Messenger.
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