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A Perspective on the Human Dimensions of Prophet Muhammed’s Personality

Here is an in-depth look at the holy Prophet’s personality, and the layers of meaning behind what is ‘sunnah’.

The various dimensions of the Prophet’s (s) personality have always been a subject of consideration by Prophetic biographers. In the last century in particular, more attention has been paid to it than ever before, especially in the Arab world where various interpretations of his life have been presented.

Despite this, however, little consideration has been given to the influence of these dimensions in the practice of legal derivation (istinbāṭ), for various reasons — the most important of which may be the existence of ideological obstacles and certain indisputable assumptions, what jurists and uṣūlī scholars have expressed about this within their writings has been neglected. This has ultimately caused us to think that everything the Prophet (s) said or did was on the basis of his ‘prophetic’ or ‘apostolic’ dimension. In brief, we have closed our eyes to the other dimensions of the Prophet’s (s) personality.

Perhaps it was the predominance of this view that led ʿAlī ʿAbd al-Rāziq’s book ‘Islam and the Foundations of Governance’ (al-Islām wa uṣūl al-ḥukm) to provoke so much controversy in the period after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. One of the claims of ʿAbd al-Rāziq in this book was that the political actions of the Prophet (s), as well as the establishment of what we call the Islamic/Prophetic government, were merely in accordance with the exigencies of that time and his own personal discernment and that they had no connection to ‘revelation’ (waḥy).

In any case, the interesting and noteworthy point here is that the bases of this claim already existed in books of uṣūl, and before that in ḥadīth collections, Sunnī historical works and in works related to political jurisprudence (within discussions of political rulings), despite it not being emphasised.

For example, Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī has discussed this issue in ‘al-Faqīh wa al-Mutafaqqih’. In the book[1], he has referred to the existing differences of opinion regarding this idea in a chapter entitled:

باب القول في سنن رسول الله (ص) التي ليس فيها نص كتاب، هل سنها بوحي أم بغير وحي

‘The chapter concerning the Sunnan of the Messenger of God (s) that have no explicit textual source; did he establish them as Sunna through revelation or through other than revelation?’

Similarly, the foundations of this issue can be traced in ‘al-Risāla’ of al-Shāfiʿī. In several places, he has introduced the different types of Prophetic Sunna and also engaged with the results of this differentiation in discussions about the differences in ḥadīth (ikhtilāf al-ḥadīth).[2]

Another supporting evidence of the existence of these discussions is the diversity and difference of opinion that is found among the uṣūlī scholars and traditionists regarding the definition of ‘Sunna’. This itself is rooted in the statements of companions such as Ibn ʿAbbās, in accordance with which a distinction can be made between various behaviours of the Prophet (s) such that not all his actions and conduct were considered to be Sunna. In some sources, this variation is even seen in the form of questions and answers between the Prophet (s) and the companions, in which the Prophet (s) himself explicitly states that his conduct or decisions are not revelatory.

For example, in the Sīra of Ibn Hishām, Tārikh al-Ṭabarī, Ansāb al-Ashrāf of al-Balādhurī and some other sources, a report is transmitted which alludes to this[3]:

 قَالَ ابْنُ إسْحَاقَ: فحُدثت عَنْ رِجَالٍ مِنْ بَنِي سَلمة، أَنَّهُمْ ذَكَرُوا: أَنَّ الحُباب بْنَ الْمُنْذِرِ بْنِ الجَموح قَالَ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ؟ أرأيتَ هَذَا الْمَنْزِلَ، أَمَنْزِلًا أنزلَكه اللَّهُ لَيْسَ لَنَا أَنْ نَتَقَدَّمَهُ، وَلَا نَتَأَخَّرَ عَنْهُ، أَمْ هُوَ الرأيُ والحربُ وَالْمَكِيدَةُ؟ قَالَ: “بَلْ هُوَ الرَّأْيُ وَالْحَرْبُ وَالْمَكِيدَةُ”. فَقَالَ: يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، فَإِنَّ هَذَا لَيْسَ بِمَنْزِلِ، فَانْهَضْ بِالنَّاسِ حَتَّى نَأْتِيَ أَدْنَى مَاءٍ مِنْ الْقَوْمِ، فَنَنْزِلَهُ ثُمَّ نُغَوِّر مَا وَرَاءَهُ مِنْ القُلُب، ثُمَّ نَبْنِي عَلَيْهِ حَوْضًا فنمْلؤه مَاءً، ثُمَّ نُقَاتِلُ الْقَوْمَ، فَنَشْرَبُ وَلَا يَشْرَبُونَ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: “لَقَدْ أشرتَ بِالرَّأْيِ”

Ibn Isḥāq said: it was narrated on the authority of men from Banī Salama, that they mentioned that:

al-Ḥubāb b. al-Mundhir b. al-Jamūḥ said: “O Messenger of God, have you seen this place [where we have settled], is this a place which Allah has ordered you to occupy, so that we can neither advance nor withdraw from it, or is it a matter of opinion and military tactics?

He [The Messenger of God] said: “Indeed, it is [a matter of] opinion and military tactics.”

Then he [al-Ḥubāb] said: “O Messenger of God, this is not a place [to settle], so [let us] rise [and continue] until we come to the closest water well, make a cistern full of water, and destroy the other wells. Then we can fight our enemy and we will [have water to] drink while they will not.”

Then the Messenger of God (s) said: “Indeed you have indicated the [correct] opinion.”[4]

At any rate, it seems that a comparison of the various definitions of ‘Sunna’ before and after the 5th century AH can explain the roots of this issue more than ever. In Saʿd al-Dīn al-ʿUthmānī’s short book ‘The Conduct of the Messenger in Leadership’ (Taṣarrufāt al-rasūl bi al-imāma), there are noteworthy examples central to this topic that are collected from books of ḥadīth and uṣūl.

Among the uṣūlīs, a number of scholars such as ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām in ‘Qawāʿid al-Aḥkām’, al-Qarāfī in ‘al-Furūq’ and al-Shahīd al-Awwal in ‘al-Qawāʿid wa al-Fawāʾid’ have all mentioned three dimensions of the Prophet (s): legislative (tashrīʿī), administrative (tadbīrī) and judicial (qaḍāʾī). Others such as Ibn ʿĀshūr in ‘Maqāṣid al-Sharīʿa al-Islāmīyya’ have enumerated up to twelve different dimensions of the Messenger (s).

Among the contemporaries, strong ḥadīth researchers such as Aḥmad Muḥammad Shākir in ‘Ḥukm al-Jāhilīyya’ have mentioned the importance of this issue with the following statement[5]:

القاعدة الجليلة والدقيقة التي لم يحققها أحدٌ من المتقدمين، فيما نعلم إلّاَ إن أشار إليها إشارة موجزة… هي الفرق بين تصرف رسول الله بالفتوى، وبين تصرفه بالإمامة، وبين تصرفه بالقضاء…

The lofty and precise principle that not a single classical scholar has elaborated as far as we know, unless they mentioned it in brief […] is the difference between the action of the Messenger of God in fatwa, his action in leadership, and his action in adjudication…

Among the Shīʿa, scholars such as Imām Khomeinī, Shahīd al-Ṣadr and Sayyid Sīstānī — within Qāʿidat lā Ḍarar wa lā Ḍirār and some other discussions of uṣūl such as when addressing the contradictory evidence and differences in ḥadīth — have taken note of the multidimensional personality of the Prophet (s).

In the discussion on the principle of lā Ḍarar, Imām Khomeinī says:

فلو ورد: أنّ رسول اللَّه- صلّى اللَّه عليه و آله- قال لفلان: أنت رئيس الجيش، فاذهب إلى كذا، يكون بقرينة المقام ظاهراً في أنّ هذا الأمر صدر مولويّاً من حيث إنّه سلطان، و لو ورد: أنّ رجلين تخاصما عنده في كذا، و أقام أحدهما البيّنة، فقال- صلّى اللَّه عليه و آله-: إنّ المال لصاحب البيّنة، يكون ظاهراً بحسب المقام في أنّه قضى بذلك، و يكون قوله ذلك هو القضاء بالحمل الشائع.

و بالجملة: الألفاظ المتقدّمة مع قطع النظر عن القرائن ظاهرة في الحكم و الأمر منه، و يمكن أن يقال: إنّ قوله: «أمر بكذا» ظاهر في الأمر المولويّ السلطاني، و «قضى بكذا» ظاهر في فصل الخصومة، و «حكم» مردّد بينهما يحتاج إلى قرينة معيّنة، و أمّا ما هو من قبيل «قال» فدلالته على القضاء أو الأمر المولوي تحتاج إلى قرينة حال أو مقال، نعم صيغ الأمر في حدّ نفسها ظاهرة في الأمر المولوي، و كونها إرشاديّة يحتاج إلى القرينة.

الرابعة: لا بأس لتأييد ما ذكرنا بنقل بعض الروايات الواردة بالألفاظ المتقدّمة و بعض ما يكون بقرينة المقام دالًا على أنّ الأمر الصادر أمر مولوي سلطاني أو حكم و قضاء، و إن لم يرد بلفظ «قضى أو أمَرَ أو حكَمَ» فنقول: أمّا ما ورد بلفظ «قضى و حكم» فأكثر من أن يحصى، فمن ذلك:

ما في الكافي عن أبي عبد اللَّه- عليه السلام- قال: (قال رسول اللَّه- صلّى اللَّه عليه و آله-: إنّما أقضي بينكم بالبيّنات و الأيمان (دائع الدرر، ص۱۰۹)

If it were recorded that the Messenger of God ﷺ said to so-and-so: “you are the head of the army, so go to X place”, it would be evident, by the contextual indicator, that this was a binding command because he was a ruler. If it were recorded that two men with him quarrelled about Y thing, and one of them established evidence, then he ﷺ said: “the wealth belongs to the one with the evidence”, it would be evident, according to the context, that he adjudicated as such, and his statement here would be adjudication in the sense of an informative predication (al-ḥaml al-shā’i).

In sum: the aforementioned linguistic expressions, irrespective of the indicators, are evident in that they are commandments and rulings from him [the Messenger]. It can be said that his statement “he commanded X” is evident [in meaning] a binding, political command, and his statement “he adjudicated in Y” is evident in [meaning] settling disputation, and “he ruled” alternates between the two [meanings], requiring a specific indicator [to determine its actual meaning]. As for “he said”, [determining whether] it points to adjudication or a binding command requires a circumstantial or oral indicator. Yes, the wording of the command in and of itself is evident in [being] a binding command, and for it to be an advisory [command] requires an indicator.

Fourthly: to support what we have mentioned, there is no harm in transmitting some of the narrations recorded with the aforementioned wordings as well as some of that which — by the contextual indicator — would point to the command issued [from the Messenger] being a binding political command or a ruling and adjudication, even if he did not respond with the [specific] wording “he adjudicated, or he commanded, or he ruled”. Thus, we say: as for what is recorded with the wording “he adjudicated or he ruled”, there are too many [narrations] to count.

For example: in al-Kāfī, Abī ʿAbdallah (a) said: The Messenger of God said: “Indeed I adjudicate between you on the basis of evidence and oaths”[6]

Other than the aforementioned scholars however, the new religious thinkers of Lebanon, and their students, have perhaps engaged with this issue more than others. For example, in ‘al-Ijtihād wa al-Tajdīd fī al-Fiqh al-Islāmī’, Muḥammad Mahdī Shams al-Dīn has openly discussed this neglect of the other dimensions of the Prophet’s (s) personality and its influence on reconciling contradictory narrations.

Additionally, there was also a book entitled ‘Dimensions of the Prophetic Personality’ (Abʿād al-Shakhṣīyya al-Nabawīyya) written by Ḥusayn al-Khashin (one of the students of Sayyid Faḍlallah and Shams al-Dīn) who tried to collect in one place the most important writings of Shīʿa and Sunnī scholars on this topic.[7] One of the special aspects of the book which further increases its importance is that it has pursued new religious thinking from within the fiqhī-uṣūlī tradition and has avoided speaking in terms that are too general, which is the style of some religious intellectuals and new thinkers.

Among contemporary jurists, Muḥammad Mahdī Shams al-Dīn considers the insufficient attention devoted to the various dimensions of the personality and behaviours of the Prophet and the Imāms to be one of the existing deficiencies in the science of uṣūl and religious thought. He explains that the source of this deficiency and methodological defect may be the indisputable belief held by jurists and uṣūlī scholars that the sole duty of the Prophet is to elucidate Islamic law. As such, they have forgotten that he was also the ruler of a government, the leader of society, a manager of familial affairs, a member of society, and other similar things. Therefore, he inevitably interacted with the environment surrounding him as well as the people and conditions present within it.

Shams al-Dīn then links the neglect of these conditions, and their influence on the life of the Prophet, to the discussion of ‘generalisations’ (iṭlāqāt). He points out that the spectrum of cases in which laws are non-generalisable, or what is technically called a qaḍīya fī wāqiʿa[8], are far greater in number than that which the uṣūlī scholars propose. Of course, this does not mean that Shams al-Dīn did not devote attention to aḥādīth; in fact, he uses this as a basis to present the discussion of ‘the objectives of the Sharīʿa’ and expresses another noteworthy point which I will discuss in another article.[9]

Likewise, Sayyid Sīstānī highlights various examples of administrative laws (as one of the roles of the Prophet) within his discussion on the differences between ḥadīth. In an article published in the journal al-Minhāj, Shams al-Dīn refers to cases similar to those discussed by Sayyid Sīstānī and says the following:

من الموارد الخاصة للأحكام التدبيرية الواردة عن النبي والأئمة المعصومين، من قبيل: نهي رسول الله عن أكل لحم الحُمُر الأهلية يوم خيبر، حيث كانت حمولة المسلمين، فخشي رسول الله‘ عليها من النفاد، ولم يكن أكلها بحرام، ويشهد لذلك الروايات الكثيرة الواردة في ذلك، منها: ما روي عن محمد بن مسلم، وزرارة، عن أبي جعفر× أنهما سألاه عن أكل لحوم الحمر الأهلية؟ قال: «نهى رسول الله‘ عنها وعن أكلها يوم خيبر، وإنما نهى عن أكلها في ذلك الوقت لأنها كانت حمولة الناس، وإنّما الحرام ما حرّم الله عز وجل في القرآن في رواية أخرى عن أبي جعفر× قال: «نهى رسول الله‘ عن أكل لحوم الحمير، وإنما نهى عنها من أجل ظهورها؛ مخافة أن يفنوها، وليست الحمير بحرام، ثم قرأ هذه الآية

Among the specific cases for administrative laws recorded from the Prophet and the infallible Imāms is the Messenger of God forbidding the consumption of the meat of domesticated donkeys on the day of Khaybar. Since they were the means of transport of the Muslims, the Messenger of God feared that they would be depleted. Their consumption was not ḥarām, and many narrations in this regard testify to this, among them: what is narrated from Muḥammad b. Muslim, and Zurāra, from Abī Jaʿfar (a) that they asked him about the consumption of domesticated donkey meat, and he said: “The Messenger of God forbade its consumption on the day of Khaybar, and he only forbade its consumption in that time because it was the means of transport for the people. Only that which God, Glorified and Sublime be He, has made ḥarām in the Qur’ān is ḥarām”. And in another narration, he (a) says: “The Messenger of God forbade the consumption of donkey meat, and he only forbade it in order to preserve their presence, afraid that they would perish, and [eating] donkeys is not ḥarām.” then he recited this verse.

This article was originally published on Iqra Online, found here


FOOTNOTES

[1] See: al-Faqīh wa al-Mutafaqqih, v1, pp. 90-94.

[2] For example, see: al-Risāla (Taḥqīq of Aḥmad Muḥammad Shākir), pp. 85-105, p. 214.

[3] Ibn Hishām al-Ḥimyari, Sīrat Ibn Hishām, v2, p. 192.

[4] This translation is adapted from Sīrat Ibn Hishām: Biography of the Prophet (Abridged by: ‘Abdus-Salām M. Hārūn), p. 130.

[5] See: Ḥukm al-Jāhilīyya, pp. 129-130, as transmitted from Ḥusayn al-Khashin, Abʿād al-shakhṣīyya al-nabawīyya, p. 16.

[6] Imām Khomeinī, Badāʾiʿ al-Durar, p. 109.

[7] Both this work and the book ‘Comprehensiveness of the Sharīʿa’ (Shumūlīyya al-Sharīʿa) by Shaykh Haidar Hobbollah ought to be published in Persian. These two books can be seen as complementary to each other because in ‘Dimensions of the Prophetic Personality’, the views of the jurists and uṣūlī scholars are collected while in ‘Comprehensiveness of the Sharīʿa’, the ideas of the religious intellectuals are also studied. Furthermore, both works contain interrelated topics and discuss other things such as the scope of the Sharīʿa, the knowledge of the Imām, the consideration and utilisation of other’s personal experiences by the Prophet and the Imāms, and other similar issues.

[8] This is a technical term used to refer to non-generalisable narrations which are argued to be specific to the person or case being addressed therein.

[9] See: Shams al-Dīn, al-Ijtihād wa al-Tajdīd fī al-Fiqh al-Islāmī, p. 87.

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