Prophet Muhammad’s life — offering friendship and peace to the world
From Islam, Peace and Tolerance (2nd Edition) by Dr. Zahid Aziz
1. Prophet Muhammad’s life — offering friendship
and peace to the world
The Prophet Muhammad (c. 571– 632 C.E.) was born among a people of no established religion, consisting of different tribes who worshipped tribal idols and other objects, although they believed in a supreme God above their gods. Knowledge and learning were very limited, and no system of justice, rights or law existed in the land, although there were tribal customs and codes. Might was right and moral values in all walks of life were at a low. Exploitation of the weak, slaves and women prevailed. Arabia had largely been untouched by the great civilizations and cultures that passed to its north.
There were a few Jewish tribes and some Christians living in Arabia with claims to civilization, culture and high morals, but by the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s advent their condition had also deteriorated and they had little reforming effect upon the Arabs.
The Prophet Muhammad, born in Makkah* in the leading Arab tribe of Quraish, had largely an uneventful life till the age of forty, going about his own business. He was, however, renowned for his honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and service to the poor. He felt more and more grieved at the fallen state of society around him. He began to retreat to a cave a few miles outside Makkah for prayer, contemplation and fasting in isolation. He pondered on the meaning of life and how people could be reformed. During his exertions he suddenly received his first revelation and with that his mind was illuminated and he was given a commission from God to be His Prophet. This happened in the year 609 C.E. Great founders of religions before him, Moses, Jesus and Buddha in particular, had subjected themselves to similar rigours before receiving law or teachings or enlightenment from God.
The Holy Prophet’s revelations came to him over the next 23 years during the most varied circumstances of his life. It was revealed to him that God is One and He has ever been sending His messengers to the various nations of the world to deliver His guidance, and now God was raising Muhammad as a messenger and prophet just like they were raised. His mission was to present the same basic teachings as they had done, but in a broad, universal sense for the whole of humanity. So God is described at the very beginning of the Quran as “Lord of all the worlds” (1:1), and is not the Lord exclusively of some particular nation. As Lord of all the worlds He sent His guidance to all nations, and Muslims are required to accept, as an article of faith, that the prophets and the Divine books of the earlier religions were sent by that same God. A Muslim accepts Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and many others as true prophets of God, and as constituting a brotherhood to which the Prophet Muhammad also belongs. Sacred figures of other great religions, such as Krishna, Buddha and Zoroaster, may also be placed in the same category. Whatever may be the views of a Muslim about the modern state of Israel, still he respects and honours the man after whom Israel is named, that is, the prophet Jacob. Muslims also accept the kingdoms of David and Solomon as the kingdoms of the prophets of God.
The second way in which the revelation of the Prophet Muhammad gave universal teachings was by declaring, in these words, that “mankind is a single nation” (2:213). All its races, peoples and religions are treated fairly and justly in God’s ordinance. The Quran clearly states:
Excellence is not based on race, heredity, colour, language or even religious label, but on integrity and regard for duty. Salvation is also not based on belonging to a chosen nation, or holding some dogmatic belief, or applying some religious label to yourself. The Quran refers to the claims of Jews and of Christians that: “None shall enter the Garden except he who is a Jew, or the Christians” (2:111). It rejects such claims as “vain desires”. It then does not go on to say: Not you, but Muslims will enter the Garden. Instead, it says:
It means that to whatever extent a person can do this, he receives his salvation accordingly. In another place the Quran tells mankind that:
What different religions should compete in, is in the doing of virtuous deeds, not fighting each other.
His revelation taught that everything should be based on principles of right and wrong, and not on favouritism towards the people of your own religion and injustice against others. Muslims are told:
So Muslims must join their fellow Muslims in the doing of good works, but not in committing wrongdoing and injustice out of misguided support for one’s co-religionists. This verse also upholds the noble principle of correcting the people of your nation when they are on the wrong path. Muslims are also required to side with those who are truthful and not support those who act dishonestly, regardless of their religion:
The Prophet Muhammad began his mission by preaching to his kinsfolk at Makkah and its vicinity. A few people accepted him. Opposition to him by his own tribesmen also began to grow, and he and his followers began to be persecuted. The persecution increased and became more intense with the passage of time. Muslims were tortured and butchered. In some places the Prophet was attacked and injured by stoning. At Makkah the Prophet’s mission was rather like that of Jesus — a persecuted teacher. Some Muslims even had to seek refuge in Abyssinia, East Africa.
Later, people in the city of Madinah, located just over 200 miles or 360 km to the north of Makkah, started accepting Islam, and the persecuted Muslims of Makkah began to emigrate to Madinah. The Prophet Muhammad, with two closest followers, waited till gradually almost all other Muslims had left Makkah. Then, while his opponents had finalised plans to murder the Prophet in his house, he and his senior-most follower, Abu Bakr, managed to leave Makkah and they hid in a cave a few miles outside while being pursued by their enemy. The lowest point in the history of Islam was reached when their pursuers reached the entrance to that cave. But they turned away, believing that cob- webs at the mouth of the cave indicated that no one could have gone inside. The Prophet Muhammad’s escape from the jaws of death represents his “resurrection”, and this event was akin to the “sign of Jonah” prophesied by Jesus, of being in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew, 12:39–40).
At Madinah, a completely new phase of the Prophet’s life began in 622 C.E., after 13 years of his mission at Makkah. He was now the head of a community as well as a city-state. It was here, over the next ten years, that the teachings of Islam relating to practice, as distinct from faith and doctrine, were revealed. These related both to purely religious functions, such as prayer and fasting, and to all material aspects of human life, such as social institutions, financial dealings, war and peace, state organisation. Like Moses, the Prophet Muhammad became a law-giver.
It was also in this period that the Muslims had to take up arms for the first time. Their enemies from Makkah, of course kinsmen of the Prophet Muhammad, raised an army to attack Madinah. It was then that the Prophet Muhammad received revelation allowing Muslims to fight, but to fight only in self-defence against only those who attacked them. And in this case fighting was allowed specifically to establish freedom of religion. That first revelation stated:
This shows that the Muslims were fighting for the right of every religion to be practised freely and openly, and that they are required by the Quran to protect places of worship of all faiths.
Each of the three major battles fought was close to Madinah, the last being a siege of Madinah itself, the Muslims being vastly outnumbered in all cases, which shows that Muslims were fighting in sheer self-defence. But their enemy failed every time and gave up in the end. Like David, the Prophet Muhammad fought in battle in person. Eventually, a peace was agreed, and during the time of peace Islam spread very rapidly in Arabia. Two years later, when the people of Makkah violated the peace treaty the Prophet Muhammad marched on Makkah and they had no option but to surrender. He took Makkah almost bloodlessly, eight years after he was forced by the people of that city to leave it.
Upon his victorious entry into Makkah, he addressed the leaders of that city, who had been his enemies, torturers and per- secutors, asking:
“What treatment do you expect from me?”
Knowing that he was not vengeful but forgiving, they replied: “You are a noble brother, son of a noble brother”.
He then announced:
“There will be no reproof against you this day”
There would be no charges, trials or punishments, even for those who had tortured his followers in the most brutal manner. He forgave all his former persecutors. They were free to accept Islam or not.
The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad raised his people morally, spiritually, intellectually, and in terms of culture and civilization, to a height which greatly exceeded anything existing at that time. This was why, after his death, within a century Islam spread over a large part of the then known world, establishing a great civilization of learning and enlightenment. That civilization prospered for a thousand years, until the rise of modern Western civilization.
In the Quran, God describes the role of the Prophet Muhammad in the following words in ch. 21, verse 107:
To all nations, races, peoples and religions of the worlds, the Prophet Muhammad is destined to be a mercy.
* Often spelt as Mecca