Who was Muhammad?
Muhammad (peace be upon him) lived in 7th century Arabia and was from a noble and distinguished tribe in Mecca. Both his parents passed away by the time he was six. Muhammad (pbuh) first received revelation at the age of 40, which marked the beginning of his prophetic mission. He carried the call of Islam for 13 years before establishing the first Islamic state in Medina. He passed away at age 63. He was the last Prophet sent to mankind and whose example is the sole source of emulation in the practicing of Islam.
What are his characteristics?
Prior to Islam, Muhammad (pbuh) was honoured with the title ‘Saadiqul-Ameen’ (the truthful, the honest) by his tribe. Prior to calling for Islam publically, he first asked his tribe if they would believe him if he warned them of an imminent attack. They replied “we have only witnessed the truth from you”, after which he invited them to Islam.
His wife Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) said of him, “he maintains family relations, he helps the poor and the needy, he entertains guests and stands with oppressed for truth”.
What was he calling for?
Muhammad (pbuh) challenged three core matters, resulting in the upsetting of the status quo in Mecca. These were:
- The irrational idea that material things were worthy of worship;
- The social hierarchy that maintained the superiority of certain tribes and families at the expense of others; and
- The corrupt and harmful practices of society.
Coupled with these, he called for some very positive alternatives:
- He invited people to worship the one and only God, Who created all material things;
- The idea that no human being was superior to another because of race, gender or any physical quality. He argued that it was one’s principles and behaviour that defined a person; and
- A society built around ideas of justice, charity and respect for others, with a strong spiritual and moral underpinning.
What was the impact of his call?
Muhammad (pbuh) convinced many people from amongst the elite of society as well as from amongst the poor and the slaves; whereas those in positions of power responded with anger, intense hatred and slander.
Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers endured violence and torture from the people of Mecca, but they did not retaliate or raise arms. They responded to the aggression by stepping up their non-violent challenge of ideas in society.
After thirteen years of persistence in Mecca, a group of people from another town called Medina invited Muhammad (pbuh) to live with them; accepting him as their leader and pledging to defend him and his message.
This marked a switch from persecution of Muslims by those in Mecca to a declaration of war on Muhammad (pbuh) and his newly founded state.
After many battles over many years, the Prophet’s state, centred in the city of Medina, triumphed – and he entered Mecca victorious; and as was his incredibly magnanimous nature, he forgave almost all his former enemies.
Muhammad (pbuh) then set about carrying his message to the neighbouring regions. He forbade anyone from being forced to convert to Islam. Belief, he said, had to be a free choice without compulsion. But where he saw oppression he used his army to end it, to establish justice and to allow people to choose if they wished to become Muslim, or not.
Muhammad the true political leader
Muhammad (pbuh) was both a Prophet of God and a statesman. His leadership was both comprehensive and dynamic. As a political leader, the Prophet unified the Arabian Peninsula, established the first Islamic state whose capital was Medina, and set the foundations for a distinct political system.
The established state was both unique and timeless; built on justice, accountability and genuine care for all citizens. Whether Muslim or otherwise, all were treated equally in the eyes of the law. The story of Tu’mah ibn Abraq is an excellent example of justice for all people under his authority. Tu’mah was a Muslim who stole someone’s armour in Medina and then he blamed a Jewish man. God sent a special revelation to warn people against such injustice (Quran 4:110-112). The Jewish citizen of Medina was declared innocent and Tu’mah was found guilty.
The state and political system Muhammad (pbuh) established, known as the Caliphate, endured for 1400 years and ruled vast areas of the world encompassing areas as widespread as Spain, Eastern Europe, China, Turkey, The Middle East, Africa, India and the Far East. The Caliphate was known in its heyday as a bastion of innovation, creativity and progress at a time when Europe was going through its dark ages.
Comments from non-Muslims
- George Bernard Shaw: “I believe if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring much needed peace and happiness.I have studied him - the man and in my opinion is far from being an anti–Christ. He must be called the Savior of Humanity.”
- [George Bernard Shaw - The Genuine Islam Vol.No.8, 1936.]
- M. K. Gandhi: "...I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and his own mission. These, and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every trouble."
- [YOUNG INDIA, 1924]
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