“You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar,
for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day,
and who engages much in the glorification of the Divine.” [Quran 33:21]
Birth of the Benefactor
The event being celebrated in this month of Rabi’-ul-Awwal, is the commemoration of the birth of the greatest benefactor to humanity. The one whom Allah depicts in the Qur’an as …
– Ar-rasul an-nabiy al-ummi [Q7:157] The Messenger, the Prophet not schooled in the traditional schools of learning,
– Khatam an nabiyyin / Prophet and Final/Seal of Messengers [Q 33:40]
– Raufun raheem /caring and merciful [Q 9:128]
– Sirajan munira / illuminated guiding light [Q 33:46]
– Rahmatan lil-‘aalimeen / Mercy unto all existence [Q 21:107]
– Uswatun hasanah /ideal exemplar [Q 33:21]
– Khuluqun ‘azeem / exalted in character [Q 68:4]
Mawlid-an-Nabi is an appreciative memory of
that moment of the birth and subsequent life of this greatest of creation; that moment when the Divine destined to transform the world and alter the course of history, by sending the best of creation as a final divinely authorized guide to the human race. The birth of the greatest benefactor to humanity is indeed a historical event well worthy of our collective expression of joy.
The uncle and dear friend of the Prophet, (who was 2 years older than the Prophet) `Abbās ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib said:
وأنت لما ولدت أشرقت الارض ونارت بنورك الافق
فنحن في ذلك الضياء وفى النور وسبل الرشاد نخترق
When you were born, the earth shone and your light illuminated the horizon.
We travel in the illumination of that light and in the paths of right guidance.
We should realize that every moment of the Prophet’s life; whether private or public; whether in the mosque or in the street, whether with family or strangers; each aspect of his life serves as a beacon of light.
“It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia, who knows how he taught and how he lived, to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of the Supreme.” [Dr Annie Besant: The Life and teachings of Muhammad
The Prophet was undoubtedly a model of excellence, an embodiment of mercy and an expression of love. His nephew and close companion, ‘Ali bin Abi Tālib described the Prophetic personality with the following tribute: “Prophet Muhammad is the Seal of Prophets, the most generous and the bravest of all. His speech was the most reliable. He was the keenest and the most attentive to people’s trust and was very careful to pay people’s due in full. He was the most amenable and the most yielding companion, seeing him unexpectedly you respect him and venerate him. He who has acquaintance with him would like him. He who described him would say: ‘I have never seen such a person.” [Ibn Hisham][Jami’ At-Tirmidhi].
British historian Professor W. Montgomery Watt testifies in his work “Mohammad at Makkah”: “His readiness to undergo persecution for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement- all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad as imposter raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad. Thus, not merely must we credit Muhammad with essential honesty and integrity of purpose, if we are to understand him at all: if we are to correct the errors we have inherited from the past …”
As we reflect on the comprehensive nature of the Prophetic personality, marvel at the outstanding quality of his character we realize the universal viability of his example
From the vantage point of human passion and love
He is the foremost and the ultimate;
Recipient of the Quran, implementer of the Furqaan/the criterion,
He is Yaseen, he is Taha [‘Allama Iqbal]
Honoured by honouring the Honourable
Our commemoration of the Prophet is not only in honour of him, but we too become honoured by his memory. As the contemporary of the Prophet, poet Hassan bin Thabit said:
“I could not praise Muhammad with my words; rather, my words were made praiseworthy by mentioning of Muhammad”
Imam Abu Hanifah echoed that same sentiment when he said:
و الله يا ياسين مثلك لم يكن في العالمين وحق نباك
O Yaseen! I swear by Allah! There is nobody like you in the entire universe!
I swear to this by Him (Allah) who granted you prophethood
فإذا سكت ففيك صمتي كله و إذا نطقت فمادحا علياك
When I am silent, I am thinking of you
When I speak, I do so in your praise
Thus, in the words of Imam Busayri in his Burdah …
لما دعى الله داعينا لطاعته بأكرم الرسل كنا أكرم الأمم
فمبلغ العلم فيه أنه بشر و أنه خير خلق الله كلهم
When the Prophet invites, he calls us to obedience of the Creator;
By our allegiance to the most honourable Messenger, we have become the most honoured of communities.
The depth of our understanding acknowledges him as great human;
In reality, he is the best of all creation
More than a billion people throughout the world claim to follow this Prophet Muhammad and find in Islam our emotional and spiritual sustenance. Islam is our source of guidance, the spring of our moral guidelines, the fountain of serenity and spiritual enlightenment. Islam offers ethical guidance that fills our lives with tranquillity and motivates us to compassion.
There are elements that make understanding the current Muslim condition particularly challenging. Foremost are acts of horror surrounding the current Muslim situation. Hardly a week passes without a group of “extremist Muslims” featured in the news, typically because of an act of violence that shocks the world. Thus, in the minds of many, Islam has become intimately associated with what can be described as negativity —intolerance, persecution and violence.
What is of grave concern is the fact that there is an escalation in Muslims killing in the name of Islam; coupled with the fact that Muslims are increasingly being killed by Muslims. It is apparent that some among those who proclaim to be part of the Muslim fraternity, have lost sound understanding of the teachings of the Islamic faith and are substituting the sublime message of Islam by a discourse of anger, a rhetoric of rage and heinous deeds of despicable violence.
Reconciling with the Religion of Peace
For any Muslim who cares about his or her faith, this reality arouses intense feelings of concern and anguish. For all of us and more particularly the young Muslim; how do we reconcile between Islam as the faith of Peace brought by the Messenger of Mercy …. and the prevalent negative, violent, public perceptions of Islam and Muslims in the world today. Our religion is Islam/Peace, our Lord is as-Salaam/Source Peace, our course is Subulas-salaam/ pathway of peace, our greeting is as-salamu’alaykum/ greetings of peace and the intended eternal abode is Dar-us-Salaam/the abode of peace. That, however, is unfortunalely not the perception that people have of the faith tradition of Muhammad (pbuh).
To fully appreciate Islam we need to understand that it is more than mere dogma or ideology, far more than the routine of robotic rituals, but rather a comprehensive way of life; with a revelation that has been preserved in its entirety and a Prophet who lived in the full bloom of history and whose life-example as uswatun hasanah (exemplar) is a holistic model of excellence.
Appreciating the Sīrah
In the Arabic language the word sīrah is derived from sāra which means to travel or to be on a journey. A person’s sīra is that person’s journey through life, or biography, encompassing their birth, events in their life, manners and characteristics, legacy and their passing. The phrase sīrat rasūlillāh, or al-sīra al-nabawiyyah, refers to the life and legacy of Prophet Muhammad.
A study of the Prophet’s illustrious life reveals immense suffering, principled dedication, unwavering faith and exemplary character. From the early Makkan period he championed the cause of the oppressed and the needy. A humble shepherd in his youth who gained fame as as-sādiq/truthful and al-amīn/trustworthy eventually had to discharge duties in Madinah as supreme-court judge, commander of the armed forces and head of state of a volatile heterogeneous society; and he fulfilled all this with exemplary style and prophetic excellence.
Professor S. Ramakrishna Rao, a Hindu professor in his book ‘Mohammed: The Prophet of Islam’ writes: “The personality of Muhammad is most difficult to get the whole truth of it. Only a glimpse of him I can catch. What dramatic succession of picturesque scenes? There is Muhammad the Prophet; there is Muhammad the General; Muhammad the King; Muhammad the Warrior; Muhammad the Businessman; Muhammad the Preacher; Muhammad the Philosopher; Muhammad the Statesman; Muhammad the Orator; Muhammad the Reformer; Muhammad the Refuge of Orphans; Muhammad the Protector of Slaves; Muhammad the Emancipator of Women; Muhammad the Judge; Muhammad the Saint… In all these magnificent roles and in all these departments of human activities he is equally a hero.”
Sunnah: The Prophetic Example
In his classical 20 volume work Lisan-ul-Arab ( the most frequently cited and best known dictionary of the Arabic language), Ibn Manẓūr defines “sunnah” as tariq ah al-Mahmudah al-Mustaqimah the commendable upright way of behaviour; implying model conduct and exemplary demeanour; emanating from the Prophet’s deep-rooted piety, noble humanity and high morals. For the Prophet to be a comprehensive guide to all humanity till the end of time, his example has to be holistic. If his mission is global his example has to be universal.
Islam is a comprehensive way of life (deenun shamilun) brought to conclusion by the Final Messenger (khatam an-Nabiyyin) who conveyed a well-preserved revelation (hudal lin naas) to humanity. Prophet Muhammad was inspired by the Almighty to act wisely and in accordance with His will, Prophet Muhammad thus provided an example that complements divine revelation as expressed in the Qur’an. He became the personification of the Qur’an; as the inimitable Qur’an provided certification of the proof of his prophethood. His actions and sayings became a model for human conduct as well as a second primary source of Islamic law.
قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَاللّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“Say: If you desire Divine love then follow the Prophet; He will love you and forgive you your sins. Surely Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Q3:31]
Sunnah is integrative, prophetic words and deeds, approvals and disapprovals, outer expression and inner attitude, religious action and moral guidelines, dealing with experiences of life and contemplating the metaphysical realities of existence. Sunnah then, refers to the Prophetic way of life prescribed as normative for the faithful.
Manifesting the Sunnah
- Sunnah is reflected throughease, not difficulty…
The deen of Islam is a deen of تيسيروتبشير not تعسير وتعذيب .. is easy to understand & simple to implement;
إِنَّ هَذَا الدِّينَ يُسْرٌ وَلَنْ يُشَادَّ الدِّينَ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا غَلَبَهُ فَسَدِّدُوا وَقَارِبُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا وَيَسِّرُوا صحيح البخاري
This way of life is indeed easy (to understand and simple to implement), if anyone is severe/harsh regarding it, it will overwhelm him. So, reach out, seek means of approachability, give glad tidings and make things easy.
يسروا ولا تعسروا، وبشروا ولا تنفروا
Prophet (pbuh) said “Make things easy, not difficult, be positive through conveying glad tiding rather than through harshness that drives people away.”
- Sunnah reflected through Compassion not harshness …
The Revealer /Ar-Rahman(Most Compassionate Creator), Messenger /rahmatan lil ‘aalimin(Mercy unto the worlds) and Message/hudan wa rahmah (guidance and mercy) are overwhelming expressions and embodiments of Mercy.
It was the Prophet who taught us, “Have mercy on creation
ارْحَمُوا مَنْ فِي الأَرْضِ يَرْحَمْكُمْ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاء.
The Creator will have mercy on you
Moulana Altaf Husayn Hali wrote about the Prophet in his Musaddas
وه نبيون ميں رحمت لقب پانے واﻼ مراديں غريبوں كا بر لا نے واﻼ
مصيبت ميں غيروں كے كام آنے واﻼ وه اﭙني ﭙراﮰ كا غم كهانے واﻼ
فقيروںكا ملجا ضعيفوں كا ماۈے يتيموں كا والي غلاموں مولى
The Prophet bore the title of “the merciful one” among Prophets,
Who realized the aspirations of the distressed,
Helped those in adversity,
Showed compassion to the unfortunate despite his own difficulties;
Helper of the needy, supporter of the weak,
Guardian of orphans and the refuge of slaves.
We subscribe to Deen of Peace/ Islam, we Worship Lord of Compassion Ar-Rahman and follow Messenger of Mercy /Rahmatan lil ‘alameen, The most conspicuous sunnah ought to be the sunnah of compassion.
- Sunnah reflected through mahabbahnot hatred
أَحِبَّ لِلنَّاسِ مَا تُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِكَ تَكُنْ مُسْلِمًا )رواه الترمذي وابن ماجة(
A companion was told by the Prophet (pbuh), “Love for humanity what you love for yourself, then you will truly be Muslim” [Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi]
The Prophet was undoubtedly an embodiment of mercy and an expression of love. We say we love the sunnah but where is the sunnah of love? Rumi advises
Pêshaaye mardî ze-Haq âmûkhtêm
Pahlawâné `ishqo yâré Ahmadêm
We attained the status of being genuine human being from God We are the heroes of love and associates of Muhammad [Rumi]
- Sunnah reflected in Balance between religious duty and overzealous religiosity (eg. The three companions who vowed to engage in obsessive ritual and abstention and the Prophet responded …
واللَّهِ إِنِّي لَأَخْشَاكُمْ لِلَّهِ وَأَتْقَاكُمْ لَهُ لَكِنِّي أَصُومُ وَأُفْطِرُ وَأُصَلِّي وَأَرْقُدُ وَأَتَزَوَّجُ النِّسَاءَ
فَمَنْ رَغِبَ عَنْ سُنَّتِي فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي البخاري
By Allah, I am cognizant of Allah more than you and I am most obedient and dutiful to Him, but still I fast (some days) and I don’t fast (other days), I pray at night and I also sleep (meaning he does not pray all night), and I married (having relations). So, whoever does not desire my sunnah (way of life) is not of me.”
- Sunnah of being non-judgemental.
Where the Prophet reprimanded a Muslim who killed a non-Muslim combatant on the battlefield after he proclaimed the shahaadah; saying, “Did you cut open his heart to see if he was sincere in his declaration?” The Prophet (pbuh) advised us;
طوبى لمن شغله عيبه عن عيوب الناس) أخرجه البزار بإسناد حسن(
“Glad tidings to the one more concerned about his own faults than worrying about the shortcomings of others”. Who are we to judge? Divine judgement itself is focused beyond the apparent.
إنَّ الله َ لاَ يَنْظُرُ إِلَى أَجْسَامِكُمْ وَلا إلَي صُوَرِكُمْ ، وَلكِنْ يَنْظُرُ إلَـى قُلوُبِكُمْ وأَعْمالِكُمْ رَوَاهُ مسلمٌ
Surely, Allah does not judge you by your bodies or your appearances; He rather evaluates (the sincerity of) your hearts and (the goodness of) your deeds.
- Sunnah reflected through kindness
إنَّ الله رفِيقٌ يُحِبُّ الرِّفقَ وُيعطِي عَلَى الرِّفقِ ما لا يُعطِي على العُنف،
لَا يَكُونُ الرِّفْقُ فِي شَيْءٍ إِلَّا زَانَهُ، وَلَا يُنْزَعُ مِنْ شَيْءٍ إِلَّا شَانَهُ
Surely, Allah is kind and loves kindness, He has granted to kindness what He has not granted to violence. Kindness is not found in anything except that it beautifies it, and kindness is not removed from anything except that it spoils it. [Sahih Muslim] We thus dare not substitute the sublime message of the “Mercy unto the worlds” by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage.
Deviating from the Sunnah
We can not be following the Sunnah while we abusive, oppressive, cursing
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The Believer is never one who taunts,
ليس المؤمن بالطعان و لاباللعان و لا الفاحش و لا البذىء )مسند أحمد بن حنبل(
nor one who curses, is neither indecent nor abusive.”
We can not be following the Sunnah while we carry envy in our hearts and engage in the practice of backbiting people
وَلاَ تَحَسَّسُوا وَلاَ تَجَسَّسُوا وَلاَ تَنَافَسُوا وَلاَ تَحَاسَدُوا وَلاَ تَبَاغَضُوا وَلاَ تَدَابَرُوا وَكُونُوا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ إِخْوَانًا
Do not undermine, do not spy and do not probe (into others affairs), do not be envious, and do not hate each other, do not betray each other, rather be brothers to each other as servants of Allah. [Bukhari/ Muslim]
We can not be following the Sunnah while we ignore the plight of the poor, oppressed and hungry
لَيْسَ الْمُؤْمِنُ بِالَّذِي يَشْبَعُ وَجَارُهُ جَائِعٌ إِلَى جَنْبِهِ
That person is not a Believer who eats his fill while his neighbour goes hungry [Bayhaqi]
We can not be following the Sunnah while we hate other Muslims and are killing Muslims. The Prophet admonished us of the impermissibility for a Muslim to look at another with a displeasing look; that insulting a Muslim is transgression and fighting him is infidelity.
المسلم مَن سَلِمَ الْمُسلمون مِن لِسَانِهِ و يَدِه
A Muslim is one from whose words and deeds other Muslims are safe [Bukhari]
We can not be following the Sunnah unless we love one another
لَا تَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ حَتَّى تُؤْمِنُوا وَلَا تُؤْمِنُوا حَتَّى تَحَابُّوا )سنن أبي داود(
You will not enter Paradise unless you have faith and you do not truly have faith unless you love one another.
The first act of the Prophet in Madinah, laying the foundation of Islamic civilization… was to build a masjid/mosque and establish bond of brotherhood; the cornerstones of building a healthy, strong and successful Muslim society.
His sunnah built foundation of unity and brotherhood, we often build organizations and institutions of suspicion and division. He guaranteed the existence and protection of the church in St Catherine Monastery Sinai to promote inter-faith tolerance yet had a Mosque of Dirār in Madinah burnt in his lifetime because it was to be a centre of division.
The Prophetic Sunnah makes us cognizant of our responsibility to humanity.
الْمُؤْمِنُ مَن أمِنَهُ النَّاسُ عَلَى دِمَائِهِم و أموَالِهِم
A mu’min/true believer is one in whom humanity at large find safety and security for their lives/their honor and their property. [Tirmidhi]
المؤمن يألف و يؤلف ولا خبر فيمن لا يألف و يؤلف و خير الناس انفعهم للناس
“A Believer loves and is loved. There is no goodness in one who neither offers love nor accepts love; and the best of people are those most beneficial to humanity.”
Sunnah is Pleasant
Yes, indeed, the Prophet’s sunnah is pleasant, attractive and reflected in his smile. Some of us who claim to be followers of the Prophet have a constant morbid demeanour, the more ‘religious’ some consider themselves, the less likely they are to smile. These wear their righteousness with such suffocating self-awareness that it robs them (and sometimes those around them) of their ability to positively relate to others. Relationships are sometimes destroyed simply because people don’t know how to be pleasant or to smile. Far it is indeed from the Sunnah of the Prophet. A companion Abdallah bin Harith said, I have not seen anyone smiling more than the Prophet of Allah. In fact, the Prophet encouraged smiling to the extent that he said;
تبسم على وجه أخيك صدقة
Smiling at your fellow human being is charity.
So integral is the smile to Islamic mannerism that the Prophet’s pious great grandson, Imam Zianul Abideen was described by the poet Farazdaq as …
فلا يُكَلَّمُ إلا حين يبتسمُ
When he speaks words emanate not from his mouth except with a smile.
This is the practice of our salaf/ predecessors who imbibed prophetic characteristics.
O Prophet of Allah, why is it that so many of us who claim to be of you refuse to be like you. We sing for you and dress like you, but do not come near fulfilling the expression of love, care and beauty that generated from you. Why is it that we see in you that which suits our cultural, organizational and chauvinistic interests, yet ignore the essence of what is essential to your being.
Perpetuating the Prophetic Mission
The Prophet’s noble mission to humanity was the teaching of submission to the Supreme, of globally applicable values, of adherence to the Straight Path; the combating of immorality, impropriety, injustice, ignorance and oppression. He conveyed the divinely revealed Final Testament as a universally relevant text, a testimony to his abiding mission.
The sirah and sunnah (life example of the Prophet) should not only be stated, narrated and analyzed but be internalized and utilized as a principled model for righteous and wholesome living. To fully appreciate the significance of the Prophet’s life in this millennium we need to evolve our perception of the sirah from a mere historical narrative into a contemporary map of guidance. It should serve as a source of inspiration and a model for emulation.
As for those of us, who claim to follow the Sunnah, May Allah make us of those who are of benefit to the world, who are a source of alleviating hardships and facilitating ease; those who are just and compassionate, not harsh; neither deviant nor extreme.
It’s our time to build higher and fill the space with love and compassion in a way that would make the Prophet proud and in a way that would please the most compassionate Almighty….it is then that we give life to the seerah and manifest the love of the Sunnah.
The poet-philosopher ‘Allama Muhammad Iqbal said;
قوّت ِ عِشق سے ﮩر ﭙست كو با ﻼ كر دے
دﮩر ميں اسم ِ محمد سے اجا ﻼ كردے
Lighten every part of the world with love,
Let the age be radiant with the name of Muhammad
O Allah, save us from being of those who consider the sunnah of Thy beloved as being expressed only through aimless imitations and who know Thy Prophet only as a conveyor of commands and warnings.
Sunnah as Reflection of Beauty
Wise ones have said
من نفسه بغير جمال لا يرى في الكون شيء جميلا
The one who is devoid of beauty does not appreciate the beauty all around him
But people of conscience recognize beauty. Beauty emanates from beauty
إِنَّ اللهَ جَمِيلٌ يُحِبُّ الْجَمَالَ رَوَاهُ مسلمٌ
Allah is indeed beautiful and Loves beauty
Let the beauty of Islam spring from our presence just as the Prophetic being and character reflected beauty. Mufti Shah Abdul ‘Aziz Muhaddith ad-Dehlawi wrote thus about the Prophet in his Tafseer ‘Azizi…
يا صاحب الجمال و يا سيد البشر
من وجهك المنير لقد نوّر القمر
لا يمكن الثناء كما كان حقه
بعد أز ُخدا توﮰ بزرغ قصہ مختصر
O possessor of beauty! O leader of creation!
The moon lightened at the light of your countenance;
It is not possible to praise thee befittingly,
In essence, after God, thou art the most significant
Shaykh Sa’di Shirazi corroborates ….
بلغ العلى بكماله كشف الدجى بجماله
حسنت جميع خصاله صلوا عليه و آله
The Prophet reached the highest state by his sublime character
He removed darkness by his beauty;
Excellent are all his characteristics and achievements …
Salutations upon him and his family.
Let us keep the prophetic spirit alive every day, (not only on the specific day of his birth). Let our collective resolution be … Our identity is Islam, Our allegiance is to Allah and our supreme leader is the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Every Muslim is my brother/sister, every human being my family and the whole of the universe my responsibility. I stop identifying myself as salafi and sufi, sunni or shi’a, modernist or orthodox. I identify myself as Muslim; a Muslim first, a Muslim last and a Muslim in-between. My faith in Islam and my practical expression of goodness defines me; not the school of thought through which I choose to understand it.
Celebrating the Greatest Legacy
Through Mawlid-an-Nabi, we memorialise the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
We recognize his noble life as both history and biography, a code of law and mode of guidance and a source of inspiration. He came as a mu’allim/teacher, as rahmatan lil’aalimeen/mercy unto the universe, hadi/moral guide, and the khaatam an-nabiyyin/Final Messenger for all humanity an uswatun hasanah /a model for excellence for every dimension of human existence. All this, his noble legacy, reflected through his exemplary sunnah.
Commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, is merely one of many expressions through which we celebrate his principled life, appreciate his selfless sacrifices, and consider his unsurpassed impact; while we recommit ourselves to implement and manifest his noble example in our daily lives.
It is at times like these that we should seize the opportunity to develop a higher consciousness of the sublime dimensions of our faith and promote a better understanding of the comprehensive prophetic mission. It behoves us to replace the preponderance of misunderstanding, hatred and violence with appreciation, love and compassion; in a way that would make the Prophet proud and in a way that would please the Most Compassionate Almighty. Perchance then that we appropriately manifest the beauty of Islam; pay true tribute to the sīrah and reflect the love of the sunnah.