Muslims throughout the world celebrate with great fervour the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) the noble Messenger of Allah during this Islamic month of Rabi-ul-Awwal. The deep attachment the more than a billion Muslims in the world have for the Prophet is reflected in the celebrations of this event, with great reverence and enthusiasm throughout the world.
This is understandable in view of the great love and affection Muslims have for the Prophet whom Allah Himself has described as Uswathun hasanah (an excellent example) in the Holy Quran (33.21). As the last and final Messenger, he is a guide and light for all humanity till eternity (Holy Quran 9:40). The Quran also commands Believers to "obey Allah and His Messenger” (4:59).
As is the case of the whole Quran, no amount of study of and reflection on the Seerah (life history of Allah's Messenger) can be considered enough beyond which a Muslim can feel he knows it all; the Prophet (PBUH) is a source of guidance and inspiration in all situations and at all times.
Muslims know from the Quran and Seerah that he led a pure and simple life, even before he was formally commissioned as Allah's Messenger, earning the title of Al-Amin (the trustworthy one) in the conflict-ridden society of Arabian Makkah and its environs. He was soft-spoken, kind and compassionate and had an engaging personality. Allah, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, has called his beloved Prophet a "Mercy for all the worlds” (Holy Quran 21:107)
The Creator also commands those who have made a faith-commitment to Him," to obey Allah and obey the Messenger” (4:59) in all matters. In fact, Allah reminds His servants that if they really love and revere Allah, they should show it by loving and obeying the Messenger of Allah. Most Muslims are aware of these lofty qualities of the noble Messenger.
Allah says, in the Holy Quran, that the Prophet was sent with clear signs, in order to bring those who commit themselves to Allah and do good deeds out of darkness and into the light (Holy Quran 65:11).
Shaheed Seyed Qutb, one of the great Islamic thinkers and writers, has said that any action or behaviour that does not conform to the commands of Allah, is darkness. Similarly, all action and behaviour that is in consonance with Allah's prescribed path is good and wholesome. Thus, even a single act of kindness to one's family, friends, relatives, neighbours or even strangers becomes an act of Ibadah (worship or devotion) because it is pleasing to Allah.
However, the Prophet (OWBP) was not sent merely to correct people's personal behaviour and morals, important as these are. As the last and final Messenger of Allah, he was and continues to be an example in all spheres of human endeavour, from the personal to the collective, from family to society and from community to state. The noble Messenger transformed both individuals and society collectively. Given the Muslim's present predicament, with crises gripping us everywhere, the need to understand the Seerah in these trying times, for mere survival and to revive the Ummah, has never been more urgent.
When we compare the present plight of the Muslims with the Seerah, we have to mention, with regret, the lack of commitment of present-day Muslims and how it pales on comparison with strong commitment of the early Muslims. During the Prophet's time, the Muslims were few, but they achieved great successes because of their commitment. Today the Muslims number more than a billion, yet exist on the margins of life, being suppressed, persecuted and ridiculed all over the world.
The mechanical and ritualistic Islam practised by large number of Muslims of today should be contrasted with the 13-year-old struggle. Most non-Muslims in the West have worked out a rationale to separate religion from politics. This is also being prescribed for Muslims, some of whom have subconsciously accepted this separation, although in public they would vehemently argue the opposite proposition.
During the Prophet's time Muslims were subject to immense persecution but withstood the test. After failing in the attempt to break the Muslims' spirit, the established powers in Makkah then resorted to propaganda to try and discredit the Prophet and his Message.
Muslims, many of them, have lost that commitment and today seek refugee in rituals. As Imam Muhammad al-Asi of Washington has pointed out. Throughout his 13-year mission in Makkah the Prophet (PBUH) neither practised rituals, nor had they been mandated from on high. Does this mean that the Prophet and his companions were not Muslims in Makkah. The ritual-obsessed contemporary Muslims have replaced the social character of the Prophet by his personal character; they see the individual trees of the Prophet's personal sunnah but miss the forest of his noble personality and high purpose. The Prophet Muhammad, indeed all the Prophets of Allah, took on the powers-that-be by proclaiming the divine message without compromise.
Like the Prophet's experience in his own blessed life, Muslims will have to go through the same struggle. Understanding and following the Sunnah and Seerah of the Prophet, means much more than just observing the rituals of Islam. Today the rebellious forces have become so intoxicated with their technological prowess that they feel there is no power on earth than can challenge them; they are prepared to kill millions of people all over the world to achieve their nefarious designs. Muslims may not be able to match such technological superiority in the immediate future, but we can eventually overcome them by the power of IMAN, Insha Allah.
Since Muslims today are not in the driving seat of history, we could agree with Imam al-Asi that the Prophet's Seerah, like so many other aspects of Islam, has been reduced to a few rituals, like the length of the beard and the trouser or the use of the miswaak. Muslims, the large majority of them, have lost touch with the real message that the Prophet came to deliver in numerous ayats (verses) of the Holy Quran. Allah says "He (Allah) is who sent the messenger with clear guidance and the deen of Haqq so that it may become dominant over all other systems, however much the disbelievers may detest this” (9:33; 48:28; 61:9). In other words, the Prophet's purpose was to establish the Deen of Truth (Haqq) on earth. We now live at a time when foreign forces are waging wars against Muslims all over the world that may push us to resort to un-Islamic practices.
The suffering of Muslims may tempt some to repay their enemies in kind, but it would be wrong. No matter how horrible our enemies' crimes, we must uphold our own values and principles. We need to keep in mind the example of the Holy Prophet (OWBP). In the battle of Uhud, Abu Sufyan's wife Hind ripped open his uncle Hamza's body and tried to chew his liver.
The Prophet was greatly distressed but when Makkah was liberated, and Hind came to pledge allegiance, the Prophet's only reproach was that she should not appear before him because it revived painful memories of his uncle's mutilated body.
Some may argue that he was a Prophet of Allah and we are ordinary Muslims: but that is precisely the point. Allah has made the Prophet an example for us (33:21), and it is his example that we must follow.
The writer is Chairman,
Al Islam Foundation