The Character & Personality of Prophet Muhammad

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The Mosque of Medina, first built by the prophet Muhammad himself. The Muslim Times has the best collection of articles about the Muslim heritage and the prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him

 

Muhammad, may peace be on him, was a human being-no more, no less-and therefore he could serve as an example for mankind.

He possessed and claimed no supernatural powers.

He was subject to the same conditions and limitations as the rest of us.

He suffered more than most and achieved outstanding success in his lifetime. His life had many facets and passed through many phases.

Like other men he was a son, a husband, and a father. He had been a servant employed by a master, a citizen subject to the authority of his town. God appointed him a teacher and a guide. He immediately became an object of scorn and ridicule and soon of bitter persecution. He was a loving and anxious shepherd of his little flock. Through bitter persecution and hard fighting, he gave proof of the highest courage, endurance, and perseverance.

During the last ten years of his life he was called upon to discharge the duties of chief executive and chief magistrate of a heterogeneous community. In addition to the heavy duties and responsibilities pertaining to his Prophetic office, he was called upon to display qualities of administration and statesmanship which taxed him to the utmost.

Aside: The following two are the best Western movies / documentaries about him.  The first one is the Message:

He was a man of peace. He hated war and conflict, but when war was forced upon him he strove to render it humane. He abolished all savage and barbarous practices. He commanded in battle, but scrupulously refrained from personally shedding blood. His strategy was faultless and was always designed to reduce loss of life and human suffering to the minimum. Binding obligations and demands of justice imposed upon him the duty of avenging wrong and punishing evil in a harsh world, but his judgments were always tempered with mercy.

The Prophet was fair of feature and form. He was a model of health, strength, and manliness, withal gentle of heart, sensitive, full of sympathy, tender toward suffering of every description. He had been early commanded to “lower the wing of tenderness” toward those with him (26:216). This became his second nature. His habits and ways were simple; he was modest and humble. In his personal life he was austere, yet he was, like Abraham, appreciative of the “bounties of his Lord” ( 16: 122).

The testimony of Khadeeja with regard to his character and qualities has been noted already.

Someone inquired from Ayesha, daughter of Abu Bakr, whom he married two years after the Emigration, how the Prophet occupied himself during the time that he was at home. She said that he helped in the performance of household duties, patched up his clothes, mended his shoes, and was a kindly and affectionate companion. She was asked for her estimate of his character. She answered: “His character was the Quran.”

During the period of persecution in Mecca he endured all without complaint and proved himself a good and law-abiding citizen. Yet he was never afraid and was not deterred from doing all that be considered was due from him.

Even during the Meccan period, the widow, the orphan, the needy, the wayfarer, the slave, and the distressed were the objects of the persecuted Prophet’s special care and concern.

At Medina he continued his simple ways and austere habits. For days together his hearth remained unlit. He and his family subsisted on a meager diet of dates, or parched and ground barley. Sometimes water alone sufficed. He had but one change of clothes. His dwelling was of the simplest and barest. He slept on a leather sack filled with twigs and branches of trees. He never slept in a bed; never ate bread made out of ground flour; never ate his fill.

At night, between the prescribed services, he spent long hours in Prayer. He stood so long in Prayer that sometimes his feet became swollen. This once moved Ayesha to venture a mild protest. The Prophet said: “Ayesha, God has been so profuse in bestowing His bounties upon me that it behooves me to be the most grateful of His servants.”

The character of his domestic life may be gathered from one of his own well-known sayings: “The best among you is he who treats the members of his family best.”

He constantly exhorted his people toward moderation in all respects.

He did not disdain humor and with all his grave preoccupations did not altogether neglect the lighter side of life.

He was often called upon to decide disputes and give judgment.

The Prophet had been sent as a manifestation of God’s mercy to mankind (21 :108). His mercy was all-embracing, without limit, and without discrimination. He was not niggardly about it, as lesser men might have been (17:101).

But that which inspired him first and last was his duty to God. His beneficence toward all human beings was only one aspect of the performance of the duty which he owed to his Maker. No consideration could stand in the way of the performance of that duty.

With him God always came first. So much was this so that even his enemies in Mecca were wont to say, “Muhammad is intoxicated with love of God.”

Such is the testimony of man and events.

His fellow townsmen bestowed upon him the title “El-Ameen,” the Trusty, the Faithful.

Yet all the time he had to stress that he was but a man like the rest, lest, observing the security that he enjoyed in the midst of constant danger, the success that he extracted even from persecution and defeat, and the ultimate triumph of his cause to which the whole of Arabia was witness, some might be tempted to ascribe to him supernatural capacities and powers or superhuman status. “Say: `I am but a man like yourselves. I have received revelation that your God is only One God. So let him who hopes to meet his Lord act righteously, and let him join no one in the worship of his Lord”‘ (18:111)

When challenged by his opponents to show them a sign, like causing a spring to gush forth from the earth, or causing the heavens to fall upon them in pieces, or ascending to heaven and bringing down with him a book which they could read, he was commanded to reply: “Holy is my Lord. I am but a man sent as a Messenger” (17:91-94).

It was necessary to stress this both in view of what had happened in the case of some previous prophets who were exalted as divinities by their followers and also for the simple reason that only a man can be an exemplar for men. An angel or a god cannot set an example which man can follow. The dimensions would be utterly disparate. It is a curious inversion that a prophet’s opponents often seek to justify their rejection of him on the ground that he is but a man, a single individual from among themselves (54: 25). Yet, as the Quran points out, it is only a man who can serve as God’s Messenger to men. An angel would be sent as a prophet if the earth were peopled with angels (I7:95-96).

The Prophet’s disclaimer of any supernatural powers or capacities is repeatedly emphasized in the Quran. For instance, he is commanded to say that he does not possess knowledge of the unseen, save only that much which God reveals to him (2:256; 72:27-28). Had he possessed such knowledge, he would have collected abundant good for himself, and no evil could have touched him (7: 189). It is true that the Prophet had full faith in God’s promises of help and the ultimate triumph of the cause, but he set a clear example that faith in God and in His promises entailed the putting forth of the utmost effort toward the achievement of the purpose and the goal which God himself had appointed.

For instance, the Prophet had been assured of God’s protection against his enemies (5:68), of his victorious return to Mecca (28:86), of the ultimate success and triumph of his cause (58:22-23), but he did not for one moment slacken his vigilance or his effort in respect of the complete discharge of his own duty and of exhorting his followers to do the same (3: 140, 201).

He was not only kindly and affectionate toward those who came in contact with him, praying for them and exhorting them constantly to order their lives in accordance with Divine commandments and guidance, but also exerted himself to the utmost to train them in every aspect and sphere of life, so as to prepare and equip them for the discharge of the responsibilities that lay upon them and for much heavier ones that were due to be placed upon their shoulders (3: 150). He was commanded to exhort his followers to pray for even those who persecuted them and paid no heed to the warnings of God, and to overlook and forgive their trespasses (45:15).

He was “a mercy for mankind.” God called him so and he did indeed prove himself such in every respect (21:108) It was grievously painful for him that his people should be distressed, and he was ardently desirous of promoting their welfare -tender and compassionate at all times and anxious to apply balm to their oft-harassed and wounded spirits (9:128).

When persecution became unbearable in Mecca, the Prophet directed those of his followers who could do so to migrate across the Red Sea to seek shelter and peace in the dominions of the Emperor of Ethiopia. Later, when life was made almost impossible for him and for the Muslims in Mecca, the migration to Medina was decided upon but the Prophet himself stayed on in Mecca till all those who could be the objects of the Meccans’ resentment and who were free to do so had departed from Mecca. Of the free, male adults only Abu Bakr, Ali, and himself were left. Abu Bakr accompanied him, and Ali, who had been entrusted with the return of money and articles which some Meccans had left with the Prophet for safe keeping, soon followed him.

On one occasion when there was an alarm in Medina at night, the people began to collect in the mosque, as they had been directed by the Prophet, awaiting his instructions. Presently they saw him riding into the town from the plain. He had already been out to investigate, and assured them that there was no danger, that they could go back to sleep. He was the most alert of them at all times concerning their security, as a good shepherd should be concerning his flock.

Passing along one afternoon he noticed a freed man sweating over his task. The Prophet approached him quietly from behind and covered his eyes with his hands as children sometimes do in sport. The man put up his hands to his eyes and from the softness of the hands covering them concluded that this intimate and affectionate gesture could come only from the Prophet. The Prophet began to laugh and removed his hands from the eyes of the man. This was his way of bringing comfort to one who might have considered himself lonely and friendless and might have been weary of his task.

On shaking hands with a laborer and perceiving that his hands were rough and calloused from hard toil, the Prophet held the man’s hands within both of his and massaged them gently, repeating several times: “These hands are very dear to God.'”

That is why God affirmed that the Prophet possessed the highest moral excellences (68:5) and that God’s Grace had been bestowed upon him in abundance    (17:88) .The highest yearning of the human soul is to win the love of God through its own devotion to, and love of, Him. The Quran succinctly points the way for the satisfaction of that yearning. The Prophet was commanded to say: “If you love God, follow me: then will God love you and forgive you your faults. Surely, God is Most Forgiving, Merciful” (3:32).

When Ayesha said that the character of the Prophet was the Quran, she meant that the Prophet illustrated in his own person to the highest degree the excellences that the Quran teaches. It was because he had become a living example and illustration of the highest excellences that man is capable of achieving, that God’s testimony affirmed: “Verily, you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar, for him who fears Allah and the Last Day, and who remembers Allah much” (33:22).

Muhammad’s soul being in travail over the moral and spiritual degradation of his people did strive to approach the Majesty of God, seeking and praying for a remedy. His striving found favor with God, Who, on Muhammad’s approach, drew near to him, and the spiritual communion between the two wrought a unity of purpose. Muhammad’s will and purpose were completely subordinated to those of God, and were, so to speak, fused with them. This spiritual fusion is metaphorically expressed in the Quran as “one chord serving two bows and even closer still.” God then revealed to Muhammad that which was needed for the guidance of mankind (53:9-11 ).

The Prophet has explained this experience very simply. He has said that if a servant of God submits himself wholly to the will of God, and commits the whole direction of his life to it, he gradually achieves a condition in which God becomes the eyes with which he sees, the ears with which he hears, the hands with which he labors, and the feet with which he walks. This comes as close to expressing the mystic spiritual reality involved as it is possible to do within the limits of human speech.

The Quran expresses the same idea in several contexts. In the battle of Badr, what appeared to be an utter impossibility was converted into an achievement and the three hundred-odd ragged, half-starved, ill-armed Muslims gained complete victory over the thousand or so well-armed, seasoned Qureish warriors, proud of their might and arrogant in their pride. During the height of the battle, the Prophet took up a handful of pebbles and sand, throwing it in the direction of the Meccan army. A fierce gust of wind happened to rise suddenly, blowing from the Muslim side in the direction of the Meccans, and carried with it a whole storm of pebbles and sand, which so confused and bewildered the Meccans that they could not see aright, and were seriously handicapped. It contributed materially to their defeat. This incident is referred to in the Quran as: “You slew them not, but it was Allah Who slew them.Thou threwest not when thou didst throw, but it was Allah Who threw, that He might overthrow the disbelievers and that He might confer on the believers a great favor from Himself. Surely, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing” (8:18).

Again, the Quran affirms that those who swear allegiance to the Prophet swear allegiance to God. “God’s hand is upon their hands” (48:11).This verse has particular reference to an incident during the negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, but it is of general application also. The expression “God’s hand” is, of course, metaphorical. God has no physical attributes of any kind, but the meaning is obvious: those who swear allegiance to the Prophet enter into a covenant to subordinate their wills and purposes completely to the will and purpose of God. Thus, though they make a covenant by placing their hands upon the Prophet’s hand, their true purpose is to make a covenant with God; and in that sense God’s hand is upon their hands.

In short, the whole of the Prophet’s life-every thought, every motion, every action, his very being-was devoted to God in the effort to seek closer communion with Him. This is clearly affirmed by Divine testimony: “Say:

My prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. He has no associate. So am I commanded, and I am the first of those who submit wholly to Him”‘ (6:163-164.).

Such was the Prophet in the eyes of man and in the estimation of God.

God has proclaimed:

Allah sends down His blessings on the Prophet, and His angels constantly invoke His blessings on him; do you, O believers, also invoke Allah’s blessings on him and offer him the salutation of peace” (33:57)

In obedience to this command, all through the centuries Muslims have constantly prayed for, and invoked Allah’s blessings upon, the Prophet. It is estimated that there are over one billion Muslims in different parts of the world-and the number is daily increasing-of whom at least half carry out this Divine command several times daily. An average Muslim invokes God’s blessings on the Prophet forty times during the course of each day, and many of them do it a great many more times. In fact, every time the Prophet is referred to in conversation, by name or by reference to his Prophetic office, Allah’s blessings are invoked upon him and Allah’s peace is called down upon him. Thus, having regard to the distribution of Muslim peoples round the world, every moment of the night and day millions of hearts supplicate the Almighty for His blessings on His Prophet. One who devoted his life so utterly to the service of God and His creatures as did the Prophet is deserving of the deepest gratitude on the part of the whole of mankind. By constantly invoking the blessings of God upon him, those who do so seek to repay a fraction of the debt that humanity owes him.

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