We live in a world desperately seeking heroes. Of skepticism: “He ‘looks’ so religious. Hmm, I wonder what the REAL story is!” Of mistrust: “Give me a break – teaching the Quran without an agenda? Not possible.” Of rituals we don’t understand and don’t bother to question. Of giant billboards but stunted role ‘models.’ Yes. Our world is ripe with sophisticated spin-doctors who could sell ice to Eskimos and sun glasses to a bat. And they are packaging and selling Islam to the Muslims with unparalleled bravado. Is it then any surprise that in the world we live in today, Prophet Muhammad (sa) hardly seems real or even possible?
The spectrum of our connection with the Prophet (sa) is limited. For some, God’s gift to mankind is just that – a cliché. He seldom surfaces in their tête-à-tête. However, with an increased interest in religion within fashionable circles these days, the conversation does embark on ‘enlightened moderation.’ One may hear: “Have you read Karen Armstrong’s new book?” Or a trendy talk show on TV may present a flexible, ready-to-wear version of life in Madinah in the days of the Prophet (sa). Of course, there is also intellectual muscle flexing in some elite circles. But the point of reference is the Prophet (sa) as seen through the eyes of the Orientalist and is therefore purely academic. This almost mythical figure who lived some 1400 years ago in a land far away is a great conversational piece. He may well be the most influential man in history, but hey – what has he got to do with our contemporary, avant-garde, high-tech existence? They deliberate.
A large majority has erected impenetrable barriers of reverence between themselves and the Prophet (sa). Utter his name, and thumb and fingers will be kissed and put to the eyes at once. Question the validity of Eid Milad un Nabi, and they will lynch you in public. Their love for their Prophet (sa) has taught them to loot, plunder and burn other people’s property when his cartoons are published in a foreign newspaper. They will keep entire neighborhoods awake with hackneyed Nats sung on filmi tunes on loudspeakers after Fajr prayers. Ask them to emulate the ways of the Prophet (sa), and after many Astaghfurallahs, the retort shall inevitably be: “Us mere mortals? How can we even be the dust of the feet of the Prophet (sa)?”
There is also a darker, more sinister shade on this spectrum – lurking behind well-trimmed beards, impressive vernacular and scholarly logic. These are the Munkar-e-Ahadeeth (deniers of Ahadeeth), who talk about the Prophet’s (sa) person and mission with deference, yet sow the seeds of doubts about the authenticity of traditions handed down to us through the generations. Their convincing and subtle deconstruction of Islamic practice based on the treasury of Ahadeeth gnaws at the very fabric of Islam itself.
If we interpret the Quran in isolation from the Prophet’s (sa) Ahadeeth and Sunnah, then whose ‘lens’ will be reliable? If Allah (swt) intended us to understand and interpret the Quran in a don’t-worry-be-happy-do-as-you-want-with-my-text kind of way, then what is the role of the Prophet (sa) in Islam?
That role has been clearly identified by Allah (swt) Himself in the Quran:
“O Prophet (Muhammad (sa))! Verily, We have sent you as a witness, and a bearer of glad tidings, and a warner. And as one who invites to Allah [Islamic Monotheism, i.e. to worship none but Allah (Alone)] by His Leave, and as a lamp spreading light (through your instructions from the Quran and the Sunnah – the legal ways of the Prophet (sa)).” (Al-Ahzab 33:45-46)
What our relationship with the Prophet (sa) should be has also been defined in the Quran and also by the Prophet (sa):
Allah (swt) says: “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad (sa)) you have a good example to follow, for him who hopes for (the meeting with) Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much.” (Al-Ahzab 33:21)
Abu Hurairah (ratm) has narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “All my followers will enter Paradise except those who refuse. They said: ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Who will refuse?’ He said: ‘Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise and whoever disobeys me is the one who refuses (to enter it).’” (Bukhari)
In the present ‘let us talk Islam’ climate, why then are some people hell bent on reinventing the wheel?
That is why picking up a pen (or a word processor) and writing about the Prophet (sa) is a serious and scary venture. Serious, because we dare not be flippant about the man who is Allah’s (swt) last Messenger till the end of this world. Scary, because of the following Ahadeeth: Anas (ratm) has narrated: “The fact which stops me from narrating a great number of Ahadeeth to you is that the Prophet (sa) said: ‘Whoever tells a lie against me intentionally, then (surely) let him occupy his seat in Hell-fire.’” (Bukhari)
Alhamdulillah, there is a wealth of information available to us on every aspect of the Prophet’s (sa) life. His status and our role in reference to him, has been laid out. What we can safely do is sift through his life and Sunnah with the intention of building a personal relationship of trust, love, understanding and, above all, of finding our hero. This would then be a process of discovery, NOT invention. Taking the cue from the Companions of the Prophet (sa) will certainly be an advantage on this road.
One most remarkable and striking aspect of the Prophet (sa) was his ability to command respect in situations where anyone else would border on undignified. It takes a big man to sit on a mule and be commander-in-chief of an army. Look at the Battle of Hunain – the Prophet (sa) sat on his white mule and Burrah Ibn Azab (rta) narrated: “By Allah! Whenever the battle got intense, we would save ourselves through the Prophet (sa), i.e., we would hide behind him and the brave amongst us was that person who would stand beside the Prophet (sa).” (Muslim)
His greatest strength lies in his humanness and the way he elevated it to perfection. Contrary to popular belief, intimate proximity with the Divine did not make the Prophet (sa) ethereal; rather, it made him more human. We then have a hero with not some out-of-this-world super powers but with a dazzling human factor. It is this very factor that impressed friends and foes in his lifetime and still holds its own amidst venomous attempts to dent his Sunnah. He was ‘Sadiq’ and ‘Ameen’. His unpretentious, modest simplicity did not waver with changing circumstances.
Alas! It is this same human factor that is so lacking in us today.