By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholars tend to devote their scholarship to the institutional history of the Prophet drawing almost entirely on the Prophet’s classical biographic accounts (Sira). However, the classical Sira is based almost entirely on the earliest biographic account compiled by Ibn Ishaq (d.151 AH/768 CE) more than 125 years after the death of the Prophet and edited and published some fifty years later by Ibn Hisham (d. 218/834). This work, based entirely on popular oral accounts in circulation is suffused with speculative accretions and sensational and emotional underpinnings to meet the taste and temperament of the audience . Besides, it was inevitably informed by the literary style of the era that was characterised by exaggeration an embellishment . Accordingly it is replete with fanciful conjectures and inaccuracies. Through countless repetitions down the centuries, the fanciful conjectures and inaccuracies of Ibn Hisham’s work have become institutionalized and taken for granted as the representation of the Prophet’s personal life and mission. However, since the Qur’an predates it by at least a hundred 175 years and was recorded in full light of history, the data it furnishes or otherwise yields by omission can be taken as historically accurate . Besides, as an unaltered Word of God and text on hand, its record must be treated as authentic and command unqualified privilege over the classical biography of the Prophet. Hence this exercise!
One problem that is often faced in constructing the personality of the Prophet prior to the revelation from the illustrations of the Qur’an is its near silence on the Prophet’s life from birth through to the onset of the revelation. It does not name, nor bear any information about his parents, wives, offspring, friends or acquaintances, though it leaves the following laconic remarks about his early life:
“Did He (God) not find you (O Muhammad) an orphan and give shelter (93:6)? And He found you wandering, and gave guidance (7); and He found you needy, and gave sufficiency” (93:8)
The Qur’an, however, abounds with comments on the immediate circumstances of the Prophet with the unfolding of the revelation. These comments - though mostly cryptic and in the passing can be scanned to construct the persona of the Prophet.
As the Prophet began to recite the revelations as he orally received, they (the Meccans) took Muhammad for a joke: they laughed at his followers, winking at each other as they passed by and made fun of them as they reached home (21:36, 25:41, 83:29-31). They called Muhammad an impostor, a madman (30:58, 44:14, 68:51) and an insane poet” (37:3) They questioned why Muhammad could not show any miracles (6:37, 11:12, 13:7, 17:90-93, 21:5, 25:7/8, 29:50), and why the Qur'an was not revealed to a man of importance from the two cities” (43:31). They also declared that other people coached him or dictated to him morning and evening (25:5, 44:14).
We notice that all these charges were centered round the revelation; they never ever questioned the moral character of the Prophet. This clearly demonstrates that he must have been a person of impeccable moral character, who never gave himself to any form of vices – social, moral, political or ethical, indicating that he was a quiet and unobtrusive person, who never meddled in anyone’s affairs. Delving into the Qur’an further we see it asserting that unless God willed, the Prophet would not have recited the revelation to his audience, nor God would have taught it to them - it asks his audience to reflect on this as he had lived with them for a lifetime before the revelation commenced (10:16, 12:3, 42:52). This demonstrates that the Prophet had not displayed any literary or poetic genius or any philosophical, psychological, political or theological insight all his life prior to the revelation. This in turn indicates that the Prophet neither had any aptitude, nor grooming, nor ambition to found a faith or lead a faith community, let alone becoming the virtual ruler of the whole of Arabia towards the end of his life. His greatest gifts, apart from the power of revelation, were his noble personal qualities.
The Qur’an goes on to testify that the Prophet was mild to his men even after their lapses in Uhud expedition (3:159). He readily excused others from taking part in Tabuk expedition (9:43). He offered food to uninvited guests, and cordially entertained them, even if they caused him annoyance by staying on after the meal for socializing (33:53). The Prophet also displayed the most pristine form of generosity by praying for the forgiveness of his enemies (9:80/84/113). Accordingly, the Qur’an describes him as a noble messenger (81:19), endowed with a sublime character (68:4), and an unshakeable stability that prevented him from the prompting of his enemies to making some compromises (17:74).He was faithful to his trust (amin, 81:21),and (a manifestation of God’s) mercy to the believers (9:61), and to all humanity (21:107).
Furthermore, the Qur’an’s omission of the names of his most eminent and learned companions who were later to become Caliphs, Governors and Generals, who all accepted his leadership as most humble and obedient followers, clearly shows his exclusive and extraordinary position in the community. According to early reports, the very presence of the Prophet had a compelling appeal, and his personality radiated some beautiful characteristics and aura (kiramat) that only those who were present in his company could perceive. As a result of these extraordinary virtues and characteristics, the Prophet developed a very special relationship with his companions that impressed all the contemporaneous observers and has perplexed his opponents ever since. This goes to explain why his companions would defy and sacrifice everything for the sake of the Prophet.
However, on a personal level, the Prophet was a mortal like others (3:144, 18:110, 41:6). He had no power to avert harm from himself, or to benefit himself, or to harm or guide others (7:180, 10:49, 72:21). Like most of fellow Meccans, he was unlettered (7:157/158), and could not read a book - for had it been so, the prattlers would have been sceptical (29:48). He was a messenger of God and his only mission was to convey (God’s message) ( 5:99, 7:158,13:40, 42:48) with clarity (5:92, 16:82, 24:54); that he may deliver humanity out of darkness into Light (14:1, 57:9).
It also goes without saying that as the conveyor of the divine guidance, and exemplifier of the Qur’an (33:21) the Prophet must have personally actualised its do’s and don’ts. It may therefore be reasonable to infer that he forgave others and avoided arguments with the ignorant (7:199); he helped even unfriendly neighbours (4:36, 42:40) and those who tried to harm him previously (5:2); he spent for the needy even in bad times by making personal sacrifices (3:134, 108:2); he suppressed anger and forgave others even in state of anger (3:135, 42:37); he was courteous in returning greetings to others (4:86); he refrained from speaking ill of others (4:148); he spoke good of others to help avoid conflicts in the society/ family (17:53). he behaved graciously at places of worship (7:31), walked humbly and invoked peace on the ignorant when they addressed them (25:63); he was neither wasteful, nor miserly but took a position in between (25:6); he spoke what was just and relevant (sadida) (33:70), fair and reasonable (ma‘ruf) (4:5) in a goodly manner (hasana) (2:83) and a soft tone (31:19). He said with his mouth what was in his heart (3:167).
Ascribing the don’ts of the Qur’an to the Prophet, he kept away from what is vain, gross and ignoble (23:3); he did not walk, speak or behave arrogantly (17:37, 31:18/19); he did not speak in a deceitful or ostentatious manner (22:30); he was not miserly and did not encourage others (to be) miserly (4:37); he did not hide whatever he possessed to avoid sharing it with the needy (4:37); he believed in wealth sharing – that he had only a share in his income (4:32) as much as the needy had a share in it (70:24). He never held back from spending for the needy in the community (47:38) and was not miserly when affluent (92:8-11); he never mocked other people (49:11) or found fault in others (49:11) or insulted them with (insulting) nicknames (49:11); he was not excessively suspicious of others (49:12), did not backbite others, and did not amass wealth (104:2).
The synopsis omits any references to the Prophet’s conjugal life as the Qur’anic references to his spouses are limited to a few verses and passages, which have, however, been interpreted in a highly colourful and embellished manner by the early / classical biographers.
To sum up, let this write up shed light on the noble persona of the Prophet and reassure the readers in general that no matter what the propagandist literature contrives, the Islam.crtical and revisionist politicians claim, the cartoonists draw, or the film makers produce, Muhammad was indeed a noble man, even if he is not given the credit of being God’s messenger. As for the Muslims exposed to any unsympathetic account of the Prophet or his wives or marriages, they must understand that these are invariably extracted from the Prophet’s early biographic accounts which are largely embellished and speculative, verging at times on the fantabulous, the grotesque and the bizarre .
As for the cunning and malicious provocateurs and Islam.critical Muslims as well as non-Muslims, assassinating the character of the Prophet or spinning colourful stories about his wives by drawing on his highly embellished biographic accounts, the Muslims must ignore their machinations in the spirit of the following Qur’anic pronouncements.
“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy - Satans from among men and jinn, some of them inspiring others with seductive talk (in order to) deceive (them), and had your Lord pleased, they would not have done it. Therefore, leave them and what they forge” (6:112)
“Thus we made for every messenger an enemy among the criminals - but enough is your Lord (O Muhammad,) as a Guide and Helper” (25:31)
1. This can amply be demonstrated by the following illustrations from his work:
One section of the work shows a martyred companion of the Prophet, Khabib, articulating his deep parting emotions in a poetic imagery as he stood on the gallows just before he was hanged . Another section contradicts this imagery suggesting that the martyr was weeping unceasingly as he stood on the gallows .
The work quotes the parting dialogue between the propagandist poet Ka‘b Ibn Ashraf and his wife, just as he was coming out from ‘under the blanket’ at the call of Abu Naila, who had gone to his house to kill him . The poet was killed suddenly, and it is inconceivable that his widow would tell the parting words of her slain husband to those who killed him. The quoted words were obviously speculative.
2. Contemporaneous reports describe King Solomon embedding with all his one hundred wives one night , and Sir Key of King Arthur’s court throwing a stone ‘as large as a cow’ to dislodge the ‘stranger’, who had leaped up to the top of a tree, two hundred cubits high in a single bound .
3. To quote Maxime Rodinson, an internationally acclaimed biographer of the Prophet, otherwise sceptic of the divinity of the revelation: “the Qur’an “does provide a firm basis of undoubted authenticity.”[Muhammad, English translation, 2nd edition, London 1996, p.x, Foreword
4. This is demonstrated by quoting the following account the Prophet reportedly narrated to the Prophet Adam relating to his ascension to haven during his Night Journey, of which all that the Qur’an says is this: “Glory to Him who journeyed His servant by night, from the Sacred Mosque, to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, in order to show him of Our wonders. He is the Listener, the Beholder.”
“Then I saw men with lips like those of camels. In their hands were balls of fire which they thrust into their mouths and collected from their extremities to thrust into their mouths again. I asked, ‘Who are these O Gabriel?’ He said, ‘these are men who robbed the orphans.’ …. I then saw women hanging from their breasts and asked, who are these, O Gabriel? He said, ‘These are women who fathered on their husbands’ children, not their own.’… He then took me into Paradise where I saw a beautiful damsel with luscious lips. As I was attracted by her, I asked her, ‘To whom do you belong?’ She answered, ‘To Zayd Ibn Harithah.’”- Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, English translation by Ismail Ragi, 8th edition, Karachi 1989, p. 143.
5.Ibn Hisham, Sirrat un Nabi, Urdu translation by Gholam Rasul, Delhi 1984, Vol.2, Chap.124, p. 197.
6. Ibid., Vol. 2, Chap.124, p. 198.
7. Ibid,, Vol.2, p. Chap.109, p. 35. .
8. Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.7, Acc. 169.
9. Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, USA 1988, P. 23
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.