“And Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers the like of whom have passed away before him If he then dies or is killed, will you turn back upon your heels? And whomever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm unto Allah in the least, and Allah will reward the grateful.” – The Holy Quran (3:144)
In recent years, the world has seen the growth of a campaign which we didn’t dream of taking the streets of London, the States, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and other such countries by storm. Who is Hussain is a campaign which has brought the world tiny tad bits of information which seeks to feed the curiosity of passers by and pushing them to ask who this man is who changed the world so greatly with his sacrifice.
The pertinent question however is, what of the man who said, ‘Hussain is of me, and I am of Hussain?’ The question is, who is Muhammad, who so greatly changed the world that the fastest growing religion of the modern world was the one he was sent with. Allah (swt) in Surat Aale Imran suggests that “Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers the like of whom have passed away before him,” so what was it about his message that changed Arabia and ultimately, the world as we know it?
The people of Arabia
The Prophet came to the people of Arabia, a region known for its love of poetry, idolatry, nomadic lives, pride, misogyny and ever-warring tribes. The tribes in the region would be at war with one another constantly; battles being the only way to resolve even the most trivial of issues. They were known to think of themselves as a superior race, something that isn’t too unheard of in this day and age, and so the idea of human equality, let alone equality between the genders, was something unheard of, which isn’t a surprise – considering young girls were killed for being born female instead of male. The Kaaba was filled with idols, and the people of Arabia believed that stone idols were the bringers of all their good fortune. So imagine the world that Prophet Muhammad was brought up in – one that saw all these things, so much jealousy, pride and hatred. The jealousy of Abraha of Ethiopia marked the year of his birth – the Year of the Elephant – whereby this King (although not an Arab) showed insane levels of jealousy towards the Kaaba for drawing so many tourists and visitors towards it.
Annually, hundreds would flock towards the Kaaba and would visit it and hardly any would go towards the church Abraha had built which lead to him taking his army of elephants towards the Kaaba, the rest of the story I’m sure you are all aware of. The significance of the Prophet’s birth in this year is that Allah (swt) vowed to protect what belonged to Him and that He would continue to do so by sending a man forward who would change the behaviour of those he was sent to and ultimately, the rest of the world too. And with this, Muhammad was sent as a social reformer to a community of people who held no sanctity towards life, heritage or history.
You may be thinking, he was a Prophet, chosen by Allah (swt) and he was destined for greatness, so how can I ever really be like him?
The response to this is that Allah (swt) has created us all to the level of perfection and we are all destined for greatness; we tend to sell our souls cheap and think that we cannot become anything significant. We are all created with the innate ability to socially reform the community in which we live; sometimes it can be something as simple as holding gatherings to ensure the youth stay off the streets, campaigning for change and making your voice heard in a world where oppression and injustice take reign. With this, the Prophet was a messenger just like any other messenger who had passed before him, but the significance of his message is what made him such a powerful agent of change to our world. In the same way, we can channel our efforts and when working in the way of Allah (swt), we too can be like him, by leaving a legacy behind us and socially reforming the microcosm of our world as best as we can.
Life in the desert
The earlier life of the Prophet is one which is often overlooked in history – people will usually be able to tell you a fair amount about his life after the age of 40 where be was visited by Jibra’eel in the cave of Hiraa. The early years in the Meccan region are important in understanding how this man came to be such an agent of change. His father had died before his birth and so he was left in the care of his mother and the family of his father Abdulla. The people of Arabia would usually send their new borns to the desert for several years, for breastfeeding and for them to gain valuable life skills in the vital years of the primary socialisation. There lies an importance in the place whereby he spent the initial years of his life. First and foremost, he was breastfed by a woman who was God-fearing and though his mother was equally so, allowing for him to stay within Makkah was dangerous as the climate was hot and dusty and at many times, there would be wide spread illnesses and epidemics which could potentially have ended the life of the Prophet.
Further to this, the desert was a great place for a child to grow – just think of this – we live in an extremely busy and industrialised area and bringing a child up in such a place is difficult. In the desert, a child would be able to explore freely, learn vital life skills and above all, would be able to think freely. It would invite lengthy periods of solitude whereby one could reflect on life and not be moulded into someone who thought as others would. The Arabian peninsula was, as we mentioned earlier, a place of pride, jealousy, injustice, barbarism, and any child who was exposed to this could easily pick these things up and see it as the correct way to live their lives – as the Quran mentions, when the people of that region were questioned on their actions, they would say: “This is what we saw our parents do, so we did the same.” Once more, we can take from this message, and I’m not suggesting that we should all send our children to the desert to be key thinkers, but I am saying that we should not always follow those we see around us blindly.
Halima Al-Sa’diya (the Prophet’s wet-nurse) came to Amina (his mother) several times to ask her if she should bring the Prophet back to Makkah and she would continue to send her back, for fear of her sons well being. With this, his mother passed away, followed soon by his grandfather, Abdul Mutallib. Allah (swt) did this as if to ensure that He, the Creator and primary caregiver, would be the only one to look after the Prophet; He even says in the holy Quran:
“Did he not find you an orphan, and then gave you refuge, and found you lost [with the loss of his parents], and then he guided these same people to you and found you in want and fulfilled all your needs and made you free from want.” – Surat al Dhuha.
Allah (swt) wanted to ensure that He was the sole being that the Prophet relied upon and with this we see that Allah (swt) wants this for us all; He wants to be the sole being to whom we turn to at all times of our despair, the sole being we depend on in times of all our wants and needs.
In the house of Abu Talib
After he lost everyone, he came to the house of his uncle and in his house, he found the best of care and later, the best of support from them all in the sanctity of his house, especially in the form of Imam Ali (as) who later became the first supporter in the time of his message. Which brings me to this message: as the Prophet continued to see such a bad community around him, he would often retreat to the mountains for moment of solitude and at one such point, he was sent the revelation of the Quran in the hands of Angel Jibra’eel. He came to and said to him: Iqra – read. “Read, in the name of your Lord.”
We often overlook the importance of these first few verses from Surat Al-Alaq; the Prophet is commanded to read, in the name of the most honourable Lord who taught people everything or facilitated for them to do so. This is something we can all learn from – that we should never limit ourselves or say, I can’t do this. Allah (swt) has given us the ability to learn and increase our knowledge, and to say we cannot do something is to belittle the wealth of abilities we have been granted with by Him.
The eloquence of the Holy Quran
Literature is an underestimated form of communication and by far, the miracle of the Quran is the greatest example of this. Hussain Ayad, a scholar who delves into the exegesis, the tafseer of the Holy Quran says:
“Given that the society of Arabs revolved around the love of language, it naturally follows that the Prophet’s miracle should be a literary masterpiece which exceeded the abilities of human power, in terms of eloquence, style, understanding, and clarity or expression.”
He continues to describe how the Quran came to be the miracle of the seal of the Prophets, Mohammed. The nature of a miracle is that it is “an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.” This being said, the brilliance of the Quran lies in the very faculty of the language in which it was revealed.
The time in which the Prophet was born and raised was known as the ‘Jahilia’ (from the Arabic word ‘yejhel‘, meaning ignorance) and it was an era that held roots in paganism and barbarism. Despite this, the Arabs took pride in their poetic abilities, regularly holding competitions to showcase their poetry. From this came the seven eloquent poems known as the ‘Mu’alaqaat’ (The Suspended Odes) that were hung upon the walls of the Kaaba. It must be noted that these poems existed mainly through the oral tradition and were composed by men who had little or no knowledge of an alphabet; these were later scribed upon papyrus in gold ink by men who were hired for this very purpose.
The excellence of these poems, indicated by the grand display of them upon the walls of the Kaaba and the gold ink in which they were penned with, was by all means demoted when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet. The Prophet came forth with this book and subsequently shook the Arab world with it. It exceeded the abilities of all those who took pride in the eloquence of their tongues. It was written in refined speech, perfect prose and brought forward by a man who could not possibly have fabricated its words. The Quran addresses this in Surah Yunus when it talks of those who suggested he had fabricated it, whereby Allah (swt) then challenges them to:
“bring a chapter like this and invite whom you can besides Allah, if you are truthful.” (10:38)
Quran and the Ahlulbayt
The importance of this is that the Quran exceeded all realms of understanding and within its pages, we learn unparalleled stories and moral messages which were ultimately sent as a guidance for us. When we turn away from its pages and do not give it its full justice, we are harming ourselves by lessening our ability to take in its wonders and to look briefly at one of the final messages of the Prophet. On the day of Ghadeer, he spoke of two weighty things, the Quran and the Ahlulbayt, that “if you hold on to these valuable things, the Quran and the Ahlulbayt, you will never be lost after my death.”
This brings us back to the ayah with which we started from Surat Aale Imran:
“Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him. Will it be that, if he dies or is slain, you will turn back on your heels? He who turns back on does no hurt to Allah, and Allah will reward the thankful.”
Allah (swt) brought down this verse during battle whereby people thought that he had died. Here, He reminds the people that should Muhammad have died at this stage, then so be it, he is a messenger just like many of the messengers before him. He then poses the question – if he dies, or is killed, will you then turn back to your ways? This is the question that was as important then as it is now – with the death of the Prophet, they went back to their ways of being proud. They were barbaric, killing people left, right and centre for no reason. They would abuse the women, taking away their rights, as they did with his daughter Fatima and her inheritance of Fadak. And with us, with the absence of the Prophet in our lives, do we still live by his ways, or have we turned into people of jahiliya who worship the inanimate objects that we so often cradle within the palms of our hands.
Allah (swt) continues to say, if you do turn back, this won’t harm Allah in any way but rather that this is detrimental to ourselves. However, those of us that continue to take hold of what Allah (swt) has given us, we will be rewarded for our thankfulness and gratitude for the blessing of belief. The message here is that we need to be the people who really live by the morals that the Prophet brought to us, and not forget that his absence in our lives is a trial, to which we need to step up and face. If we are to be true Muslims, we need to embrace his traditions and ensure that we are not of those who turn back to the ways of jahiliya and become those who no longer honour the message of the Prophet.