If greatness consists of purification of a nation immersed in moral darkness, then he who transformed an entire nation, sunken low as the Arabs were, and made them torchbearers of civilizations, has every claim to that greatness
Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) was born in 570 A.D. in the city of Mecca, an important trading center in western Arabia. Muhammad was a descendant of Prophet Ismael, son of Abraham, through the lineage of his second son Kedar. Muhammad’s father, Abd Allah, died before he was born. His mother, Amina, died when he was 6 years old. His grandfather Abd al-Muttalib then raised him until the age of eight. After his grandfather’s death, Abu Talib, his uncle, raised him. Under the guardianship of Abu Talib, Muhammad began to earn a living as a businessman and a trader. At the age of twelve, he accompanied Abu Talib with merchant caravans as far as Syria. The Meccans popularly knew Muhammad as ‘Al-Ameen’ for his impeccable character. The title Al-Ameen means the honest, the reliable and the trustworthy, and it signifies the highest standard of moral and public life. Upon hearing of Muhammad’s impressive credentials, Khadijah, a rich and noble widow, asked Muhammad to take some merchandise for trade to Syria. Soon after this trip when he was twenty-five, Khadijah proposed marriage to Muhammad. Muhammad accepted the proposal. At that time, Khadijah was twice widowed and forty years old.
Muhammad’s spiritual search had been long. At the age of 40, while in a cave on Mount Hira outside Mecca, he had a revelation in which he was called on to preach the message entrusted to him by God. Further revelations came to him intermittently over the remaining 23 years of his life, and these revelations constitute the text of the Quran. At first in private and then publicly, Muhammad began to proclaim his message: that there is but One God and that Muhammad is his servant and messenger sent to remind people to submit to the Will of God, and to warn them of the Judgment Day. The Meccans responded with hostility to Muhammad’s monotheism. Abu Talib protected him as long as he was alive. In 619, however, Abu Talib died, and the new clan leader was unwilling to continue the protective arrangement. At about the same time Muhammad lost another faithful supporter, his wife Khadijah. In the face of persecution and curtailed freedom to preach, Muhammad and about 70 followers reached the decision to move to Madinah, a city about 400 km (250 mi.) to the north. This move, called the hijra (Arabic: “emigration”), took place in 622, signified the first year of the Muslim calendar.
In Madinah an organized Muslim community gradually came into existence under Muhammad’s leadership. To guarantee the peace and serenity, the Prophet proposed a treaty defining terms of conduct for all inhabitants of Madinah. All Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs and Jews ratified the treaty. After his emigration to Madinah, the enemies of Islam increased their assault from all sides. The Battles of Badr, Uhud and Allies (Trench) were fought near or around Madinah. In these battles until the year 627, the nonbelievers with encouragement from Jews and other Arabian tribes attacked the Prophet and Muslim community. The Muslims lost many men while defending their city and religion. This condition resulted in many widowed Muslim women and numerous orphaned children. In these circumstances, Prophet Muhammad married several women during his fifty-sixth year up to the sixtieth year of his life. He did not contract any marriage in the last three years of his life, following the revelation limiting the number of wives up to a maximum of four. This is the first time in the history of revealed scriptures that a limit on the number of wives was imposed and the terms of conduct were specified. The Prophet was instructed not to divorce any of his wives after this revelation, Surah 33, Ayah 52. All of the ladies he took as wives were either widowed or divorced, except Aishah, the daughter of Abu Bakr, his closest friend and the first Caliph.
In 632, he announced that God perfected and completed the religion of Islam. Three months later, he died. At the end of his mission, the Prophet was blessed with many hundred thousand followers (men and women) of Islam. Thousands of his friends memorized the full text of the Quran, and prayed with him at the mosque and listened to his sermon. Hundreds of sincere Muslims would find every opportunity to be with him following five daily prayers and at other times. They used to seek his advice for their everyday problems, and listened carefully to the interpretation and application of revealed verses to their situation. They followed the message of the Quran and the Messenger of Allah with utmost sincerity, and supported him with every thing they had.
By the time of his death, Muhammad had spread Islam on most of Arabia. His followers carried the message of Islam after the Prophet, and within 100 years the light of Islam reached Spain, North Africa, the Caucasus, northwest China and India, and Islam embraced more territory than did the Roman Empire. In no event, Islam was imposed by force on any population. This is evident because Muslims never attempted to convert anyone according to the instruction of the Quran 2:256. Muslims ruled Spain and India and their people were never converted to Islam. Also the existence of non-Muslims in many Islamic countries attests to the fact that Islam did not spread by the sword.
However, “half the truth” Evangelists claim that, in contrast to Moses and Jesus, Muhammad was a man of war. They ignore the fact that Muhammad fought only a handful of battles in his lifetime, resulting in barely 1,000 casualties on all sides. This might be compared to Moses, who chastises his army for sparing the women and children of the defeated Midianites, Numbers 31:15. Moses then commands his army to go back and slaughter the women and the boys. This also might be compared to David, who is praised in I Samuel 18 for killing his “tens of thousands,” famously earning the murderous jealousy of Saul who only killed his “thousands.”
To compare Muhammad to Moses or Jesus, or against some contemporary standard, is meaningless and obsolete. The world that Moses, Jesus and Muhammad lived in was lawless and violent, different from even the Roman dominated world in which Jesus lived. Strong vested interests opposed the monotheism each preached, genocide was commonplace, and slavery was taken for granted. Women had few rights, and might was the only law.
In this context Muhammad and Moses and all the other Biblical figures sought to create a new society based on justice and on the belief in a Compassionate God. Their achievements in accomplishing this in lasting ways form the only relevant contemporary standard by which they can be truly judged.
Mahatma Gandhi published this statement in ‘Young India,’ 1924:
“I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind. I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume (of the Prophet’s biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of that great life.”
Sir George Bernard Shaw wrote in ‘The Genuine Islam,’ Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936.
“If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam.”
“I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity.”
“I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness: I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today.”
A historian once said, a great man should be judged by three tests:
Did his contemporaries find him to be truthful?
Was he great enough to rise above the standards of his age?
Did he leave anything as permanent legacy to the world at large?
This list may be further extended but all these three tests of greatness are exceedingly satisfied to the highest degree in the case of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh).
Authentic historical records show that all the contemporaries of Muhammad, both friends and foes before and after revelation, acknowledged his spotless honesty, noble virtues, absolute sincerity, and absolute trustworthiness of the apostle of Islam. Before revelation, the tribes of Mecca accepted him as arbitrator in their personal disputes on account of his conscientious fairness. After revelation, some of those who did not believe in his message were forced to say: “O Muhammad, we do not call you a liar, but we deny Him who has given you a Book and inspired you with a message.” Some thought evil spirits possessed him. They tried violence to cure him. But the best of them saw that a new light had dawned on him and hastened to seek that enlightenment. It is a notable feature in the history of the Prophet of Islam that his nearest relation, his wife, his beloved cousin, and his close friends, who knew him most intimately, were thoroughly inspired with the truth of his mission. If these men and women, noble, intelligent, and certainly not less educated than the fishermen of Galilee, had perceived the slightest sign of earthiness, deception, or material motives, Muhammad’s hopes of moral regeneration and social reform would all have crumbled to dust in a moment.
On the contrary we find that the devotion of his followers was such that he was voluntarily acknowledged leader of their lives. They braved for his sake persecutions and danger. They believed, trusted, obeyed and honored him even in the most excruciating torture and severest mental agony even unto death. Would this have been so had they noticed the slightest backsliding in their leader?
To read the history of the early converts of Islam, every heart would melt at the sight of the brutal treatment of innocent men and women. Bilal, an innocent man was thrown on the hot sands with a huge stone on his chest. He was asked to denounce Muhammad and Islam. Instead he kept repeating, “God is One.” The torture in the heat of desert continued until Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, bought him and set him free. Another example is made with Khabbab Bin Adi who was put to death in a cruel manner by mutilation and cutting off his flesh piece by piece. In the middle of his tortures, he was asked whether he did wish Muhammad in his place? He cried out that he was gladly prepared to sacrifice himself, his family and his children and all to save Muhammad from the pierce of a thorn. Scores of heart-breaking incidents of this type may be narrated. But what do all these incidents show? Why was it that these sons and daughters of Islam not only surrendered to their Prophet their allegiance, but also made a gift of their bodies, hearts, and souls? Is it not their intense faith and absolute conviction a sign of the noblest testimony to his sincerity?
And these men and women were not of low class or of inferior mental caliber. In the early days of Islam, his followers gathered what was the best and the noblest in Mecca, its flowers and cream. The first four Caliphs, with their towering personalities, were among the converts of this early period. The success of the Prophet was not a mere accident. It was not a windfall. It was recognition of the fact that his contemporaries found him to be truthful. It was the result of his admirable and compelling personality. Most of all, God, the Omnipotent, willed the success of His messenger.
Standard for All Humans
What a dramatic succession of striking scenes? There was Muhammad, the prophet. There was Muhammad, the general. There was Muhammad, the businessman. There was Muhammad, the warrior. There was Muhammad, the preacher. There was Muhammad, the statesman. There was Muhammad, the protector of slaves. There was Muhammad, the liberator of women. There was Muhammad, the judge. There was Muhammad, the reformer. There was Muhammad, the saint. And above all, he was the highest example of modesty and humility.
Orphanhood is the extreme of helplessness and his life on Earth began with it. From an orphan boy, to a persecuted refugee, then to an overlord – spiritual as well as temporal – of a whole nation, he had stood the fire of the world and came out of it unscathed to serve as a model in every phase of life. His achievements were not limited to one aspect of life, but cover the entire fields of human activity. He is a role model for youths. He is a role model for kings and presidents. He is a role model for Judges. He is a role model for any human at any age, in any field, in any place, and at any time.
If greatness consists of purification of a nation immersed in moral darkness, then he who transformed an entire nation, sunken low as the Arabs were, and made them torchbearers of civilizations, has every claim to that greatness.
If greatness lies in unifying disharmonious elements of society by the ties of brotherhood and charity, the Prophet of the desert has got every title to that distinction.
If greatness consists of uplifting those immersed in degrading superstition and destructive practices of every kind, the Prophet of Islam had wiped out superstitions and irrational fear from the hearts of millions.
If a conqueror is a great man, Muhammad founded a nation that has survived fourteen centuries.
If a devotion that a leader commands is a measure of greatness, the Prophet’s white dress, beard, style of recitation of Quran, what and how he ate, even his way of bathing are followed by millions of Muslims for fourteen centuries.
If the number of followers of a role model is the criterion of greatness, the Prophet’s name even today exerts a magic charm in the hearts of over a billion of souls.
And the list goes on and on.
The Unlettered Prophet
Muhammad had not studied philosophy in the schools of Athens or Rome, Alexandria, India or China, yet he could proclaim the highest truths of eternal values to mankind. Born as an orphan and blessed with no worldly goods, yet he was loved by all. He had studied at no military academy, yet he could organize his forces against tremendous odds and gained victories through the moral forces that he marshaled. In the person of the Prophet of Islam, the world has seen the most exceptional union of a prophet, organizer, and leader. He was unlettered, yet he could speak with an eloquence and fervor that moved men to tears of ecstasy.
His supposed weakness (being unlettered) was his greatest miracle. He was among Arabs who considered the mastering of their language as important as their pride. When the Quran was revealed, the beauty of the language of the Quran overwhelmed the Arabs. They were astounded by the rhetorical miracle of the language. Allah challenged the Arabs to compose ten verses like the Quran. When the Arabs failed, He challenged them to compose only one verse. Once again, they failed. Like Moses’ and Jesus’ miracles, the miracle of Muhammad (the Quran) is in the subject that his people perfected, mastered and held in high regard.
Before the revelation, Muhammad was not known to be among those who mastered the language. It is a known fact that no one can master a language instantaneously at the age of forty. So when Muhammad started reciting the Quran to his people, they accused him of being possessed by evil spirits, because they had not seen him talking this way. Any Arab-speaking student can differentiate right away between any verse in the Quran and a statement from the Prophet. None of the thousands verses in the Quran has any similarity in style to any of the thousands sayings of the Prophets. Because the Arabs did not see anything like the Quran, which was narrated by an unlettered man, and they denied the message, they concluded that the Quran must have been from evil spirits. This is a classic case in all religions. It is the same old story:
Pharaoh accused Moses with black magic, and that Moses was possessed with evil spirits, Surah 20, Ayah 71.
The Jews accused Jesus with black magic, and that Jesus was possessed with evil spirits, Luke 11:15
The pagan Arabs accused Muhammad with black magic, and that Muhammad was possessed with evil spirits.
Now, some Christians and the Jews accuse Muhammad with black magic, and that Muhammad was possessed with evil spirits in Sunday schools and by half the truth TV evangelists!
The Quran refers to the accusation of the pagan Arabs to Muhammad in many verses:
Surah 51, Ayah 52 “Similarly, no apostle came to the Peoples before them, but they said (of him) in like manner, “A sorcerer, or one possessed”!”
Surah 25, Ayah 5 “And they say: “Tales of the ancients, which he has caused to be written: and they are dictated before him morning and evening.”
The pagans spread the rumor that Muhammad, similar to all previous prophets, was a sorcerer, or one possessed with evil spirit. When the beauty and power of the Quran are pointed out, and its miracle as coming from an unlettered man, the pagans hint at other men wrote them, though they could not produce any one who could write anything like the Quran.
Pure and Humble
After the fall of Mecca, more than one million square miles of land lay at his feet. The Lord of Arabia repaired his own shoes, fixed his woolen garments, milked the goats, swept the hearth, and kindled the fire. The entire town of Madinah, where he lived, grew wealthy in the later days of his life. Everywhere gold and silver was in abundance and yet in those days of prosperity many weeks would pass without a fire being kindled in the hearth of his house, his food being water and dates or bread and vinegar. His family would go hungry many nights because they could not get anything to eat in the evening. He slept on rough bed, with a palm mat after a long busy day. He spent most of his nights in prayer, often bursting with tears before his Creator to grant him strength to continue his duties. As the reports go, his voice would get choked from weeping. The house that spread light to the whole world was in darkness because there was no oil in the lamp. He did not accept a salary from the state. He had to work to earn money, yet during his busy day the time to work was very little and his earning was very humble. On the day of his death, his only assets were a few coins, a part of which went to satisfy a debt and the rest were given to a needy person who came to his house for charity. He denied his family any inheritance from the Islamic State. The clothes in which he breathed his last breath had many patches.
Circumstances changed, but the Prophet of God did not. In victory or defeat, in power or hardship, in “prosperity” or poverty, he was the same man, disclosed the same character. He remained “Al-Ameen”, the truthful, the honest, and the poor. That is why Muhammad was ranked number ONE in “THE 100 a ranking of the most influential persons in history” book by Michael Hart.