The Prophet Muhammad SAW
More than 1400 years ago, Muhammad SAW was born in Arabia. He was destined to have the greatest effect on mankind, as he had been given the role of the final Messenger of God.
The biography of the final Prophet is not like a biography of any other great men whose life can be judged so lightly depending on sheer opinion and observation. While, yes, he indeed was a man, he was unique in many ways. Some aspects of his life can be emulated, while other aspects of his greatness will never be.
Inspired by Revelation from God, Muhammad SAW changed history. The changes, as well as being religious and spiritual in nature, were also educational, social, political, secular, ideological, legal, military, and moral. In fact even some of his critics said of him that there was no aspect of life that was not covered by his example or teachings.
Much has been written and said about the final Prophet by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. One will undoubtedly find two types of literature, one in favor of him while the other portrays him in a negative image.
One thing for certain is that up until the last century due to the preconceptions of Europe it was very difficult to find an unbiased work on the Prophet. Insults were and continue to be raged at him from adversaries, often those who are totally ignorant about him. It is hoped that this short but concise explanation will shed a little light on the life and character of Muhammad SAW and allow the reader a glimpse into his life so as to see for themselves who he was and what he stood for and taught.
The Life of Muhammad SAW
To give an idea of the person of Muhammad SAW we first include here a very short outline of his life. This will include his childhood, his life leading to Prophet Hood, and more importantly, his life after receiving Revelation.
The Prophet’s Early Years
Muhammad SAW was born in the year 570 C.E. in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
Makkah was a small merchant town along the old ‘incense’ route. It was a barren and desolate place, situated about 80km east of the Red Sea. It has always been an important place because the first House of God, the Ka‘bah was built there, By Muhammad’s direct ancestor Ibrahim (Abraham) and his elder son lsma‘ il (Ishmael).
Muhammad SAW, a Semite, was a direct descendent of the Prophet ‘Ibrahim (Abraham) PBUH. He was from the poor but authoritative clan of Banu Hashim from the tribe of the Quraysh. The Quraysh were the guardians of the Ka‘bah. They ranked higher in power and dignity than the other Arab tribes.
Muhammad SAW was born an orphan; his father, ‘Abdullah, died before his birth. His mother Aminah passed away when he was only six years old. His grandfather, ‘Abdul Muttalib took him in to his care after the demise of his mother. However, two years later his grandfather also passed away, leaving Muhammad SAW in the care of his uncle Abu Talib.
The House of God, the Ka‘ bah was once damaged by a ﬂash flood.
The Quraysh decided that they would rebuild the Ka‘ bah anew. While the work was being carried out, the various Quraysh tribes argued as to who was to have the honour of placing the Stone (a stone placed there by Abraham himself which was given to him by an angel) back in its place. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that there was a possibility of tribal war breaking out.
The tribe leaders decided that all should disperse and the first person to enter the mosque in the morning would make the decision. Subsequently the 1st person to enter the mosque in the morning was Mohammad SAW.
He placed the stone on a cloth and had all the leaders of the various tribes to carry the sheet and return the stone to its place. Then with his own hands he placed the Black Stone in its appointed spot.
As he grew up, to earn his livelihood he became a shepherd. He also accompanied his uncle Abu Talib with trade caravans to Syria. He gained valuable experience on these journeys, and coupled with his
honesty, he was soon being sought after by the business people of Makkah to take charge of their merchandise.
At the age of 25, he married a widow named Khadijah. She was 15 years older than he. She was a rich merchant of Makkah, and Muhammad SAW had managed some of her business affairs. It was she who proposed marriage to him. She remained his closet friend and companion till her death 25 years later. She bore him six children, of whom four daughters survived till adulthood.
Muhammad SAW was renowned for his honesty, trustworthiness, integrity,
his compassion for the poor and downtrodden, and his total refusal to
worship any idol or do anything immoral. He was known as al-’Amin the Trustworthy, the honest and as-Sadiq, the Truthful. His wisdom, fairness and judgement was acknowledged by all who knew him.
Muhammad SAW was once presented a slave-boy by his wife Khadijah called Zayd. She had bought him not known that he had been kidnapped from his family. When Zayd’s father and uncle came to try to buy Zayd back from his master, Muhammad SAW was more than happy to return Zayd to his family without any charge or favour, provided that Zayd was happy to go back. Remarkably Zayd refused to return to his father because he was so happy being with Muhammad SAW and also because he was so impressed by his love, kindness, personality and standing. At Zayd’s insistence to stay, Muhammad SAW reassured Zayd’s father that from that moment forth Zayd would no longer be his slave but would be his adopted son. This pleased Zayd’s father, who agreed to allow Zayd to stay with Muhammad SAW .
Due to the lawlessness of Makkah, Muhammad SAW joined a pact for the establishment of justice and the protection of the weak with other members of the Quraysh tribe. He took part in the oath, when all present vowed that henceforth they would stand as one on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor until justice was done, whether the man was a member of the Quraysh tribe or a person outside of Makkah.
Receiving the DEVINE Message
As Muhammad SAW reached the age of 40, he increasingly sought solitude in the Cave of Hira, where he would spend his time in contemplation and worship. Sometimes he would remain there for several days only returning home for provisions.
It was there in the cave one night, the archangel, Jibril (Gabriel) appeared before him. Jibril ordered him to ‘Read’, Muhammad SAW like most of the people of his environment had never learnt to read and, above all, did not know what it was he was expected to read. He answered: ‘I cannot read.’ Where upon the angel took him and pressed him to himself so that Muhammad SAW felt all strength leave him; then he released him and repeated his command: ‘Read!’ and again Muhammad SAW replied: ‘I cannot read.’ Then the angel pressed him again until he became limp and he thought he would die; and once more came the thundering voice: ‘Read!’ and when, for the third time, Muhammad SAW whispered in his anguish, ‘I cannot read…’ the angel released him and spoke:
Read in the name of thy Sustainer, Who created
— created man from a sperm-cell!
Read, and thy Sustainer is the most bountiful:
He who taught the use of the pen,
Taught man what he knew not…
Qur’an, al-’Alaq, 96:1-5
Muhammad SAW recited the words after the Angel. Overawed by the experience, he returned home trembling. ‘Cover me (in a blanket)!
Cover me!’ he said to Khadijah. She quickly wrapped him in a blanket.
Muhammad SAW then told his beloved wife of the events in the cave. She
comforted him saying ‘Fear not! I swear by God, that He will never forsake you. You join ties, you speak the truth, you bear peoples’ burdens, you earn for the poor (to feed them), you entertain guests, and you help against the misfortunes which affect people’s rights.’
His wife Khadijah, his best friend Abu Bakr RA , his adopted son Zayd and his cousin ‘ Ali RA f (the son of Abu Talib – who lived with him), all accepted his message. These four people knew him best; they accepted his message without hesitation.
Khadijah took Muhammad SAW to her cousin Waraqah who had converted
to Christianity and had studied the Holy Scriptures. He had no doubt that the greatly awaited Final Prophet of God had arrived, he believed in him and warned him, that his People will turn against him and he will eventually have to leave Makkah due the persecution from his people.
The Prophet began to spread the Message of Allah in secrecy. As the number of Muslims increased Muhammad SAW received the command to propagate openly. As he did so he was met with hostility, but gradually, people came forward and embraced Islam. they came from all walks of life, rich and poor, freemen and slaves, men and women.
His opposition, first was limited to verbal abuse, thereafter it increased to become more physical. The Muslims were mocked, abused, beaten, flogged, imprisoned, and boycotted. Many of the poorer and weaker companions were made subject of inhumane tortures. Some were made to lie on burning coal until the melting body fat put out the fire. Or they were dragged, at midday, over the scorching desert sand.
As the persecution increased a group of companions around 80 migrated to Abyssinia with the permission of the prophet. He told them, ‘If you go to Abyssinia you will find a Christian king under whom nobody suffers any injustice.’ They were warmly received by the king and given his full protection. incidentally, this King and his people accepted the Message of Muhammad SAW , without even meeting him.
Their descendants, of today ’s Somalia and Ethiopia, are still Muslims.
Ten years passed, but the persecution did not cease. At the same time the Prophet lost his beloved wife, Khadijah and uncle, Abu Talib. Abu Talib had been the Prophet’s main protector from the opposing Makkan tribes. The Prophet now decided to take the Message outside Makkah to a nearby town called Ta’if. Ta’if was known for its agriculture and wealth. Here too, the Prophet was mocked and ridiculed and his Message was rejected. They also set their slaves and youths on the Prophet, to mock, insult and throw stones at him. He was stoned until he bled and left Ta’if.
The Prophet now had to find a secure base from where he could peacefully propagate the religion of Allah.
The Message that Makkah and Ta’if rejected, found a response in Yathrib (later renamed Madinah), a small oasis town 400km to the north of Makkah. After the incident at Ta’if, at the time of pilgrimage six men from Yathrib embraced Islam. They delivered the message of Islam to as many people as they could. At the time of the next pilgrimage, 12 men came and pledged themselves to the Prophet’s mission. This time the Prophet sent Mus‘ ab lbn ‘ Umayr with them to teach the Qur’an and Islam and to spread Islam.
Over the year more and more people embraced Islam in Yathrib. The
following year a group of 73 men and 2 women came to Makkah, to invite the Muslims of Makkah to Yathrib and pledge to the Prophet their firm and unwavering belief in Allah.
They met the Prophet at a place called ‘Aqabah. They pledged to protect the Prophet as they would protect their own families. The way was now open for the tortured and persecuted Muslims of Makkah to migrate to a safe place. The Prophet granted permission to the Muslims, gradually they found their way to Yathrib. When the Makkans found out that the Prophet and the Muslims had found a safe haven in Yathrib the Makkans decided that there was only one way to end this and that was to kill Muhammad SAW .
The plan was made, a young man from each tribe would strike a lethal blow to Muhammad SAW so the blood would be on the hands of all the Makkan tribes therefore the Banu Hashim would not be able to retaliate and avenge his death.
The Prophet was informed of the plot by the archangel Gabriel and instructed to leave Makkah or Madinah. The honour of accompanying the Prophet was given the to Abu Bakr RA. Swift travel arrangements were made and they planned to leave under the cover of darkness. As darkness fell, the conspirators gathered outside the Prophet’s house waiting for him. The Prophet handed over all the trusts left with him for safe keeping to ‘Ali RA . ‘Ali RA that night slept on the prophet’s bed. The Prophet then slipped out, and miraculously walked past his enemies unseen. The Prophet arrived at Abu Bakr RA’s house, from there they travelled to the cave of Thawr. When the Quraysh realised the Prophet had escaped they were furious. All roads out of Makkah were closed and a reward of a 100 camels was offered or the capture of the Prophet dead or Alive.
The Prophet stayed in the Cave of Thawr for three days, he then let and took an unfamiliar route to Madinah. The Migration of the Prophet is known as the Hijrah, and it is from this date the Islamic calendar starts.
A person by the name of Suraqah sighted the Prophet. Hoping to earn the reward, he followed him. Suraqah was unable to capture the Prophet. The Prophet, however, foretold of a day when an event will happen to the benefit of Suraqah. At this, Suraqah was happy and retreated and the Prophet went to Madinah unharmed. Suraqah later accepted Islam. The foretelling of the Prophet (That the emperor of Persia’s gold bracelets, with his defeat at the hands of the Muslims, will be presented to Suraqah) later proved true.
The Prophet stopped and rested at a place 10 kilometres outside at a place called Quba. Here, he built the first Mosque. Three days later he entered Madinah. He was welcomed jubilantly by men, women, and children. The Prophet created a brotherhood between the Ansar (locals) and the Muhajrin (Immigrants). The Ansar offered to help the Immigrants and share equally all that they possessed. After this the Prophet built the Masjid (Mosque) of Madinah where the Muslims could gather and worship one God.
In Madinah the Prophet formed an allegiance with the local Jews and also other tribes in and around Madinah.
The Makkans were determined to destroys the Muslims and kill their leader. They decided upon a military solution. A heavily armed Makkan army marched towards Madinah on the pretext of protecting a trade caravan. The Prophet, despite the small number of Muslims and lack of resources decided to face the Makkan army. On the 1 7th of Ramadan in the second year of Hijrah, the two forces met on the plains of Badr (The Battle was named after this). 313 Muslims faced 1000 Makkan soldiers. The battle commenced with both sides fighting bravely, but the small ill equipped Muslim army was victorious. 70 influential Makkans were killed and many more were captured and later released for ransom.
In the third year of Hijrah, a 3000 strong Makkan army marched again.
Again the Muslims, this time 700 in number, met them in battle. They met at a place outside Madinah at a place called Uhud. The Muslims initially had the upper hand which was soon lost when a small group of Muslim archers placed to protect the rear of the Muslim army left their posts. The Quraysh seeing the opening seized the opportunity and attacked from the rear. While 65 Muslims were martyred, the Makkans were unable to purse the advantage, as the Muslims fought them off advancing.
The Makkans planned one final attack on Madinah they sought the help of the various other Arab tribes and the Jews of Madinah. In the fifth year of Hijrah a force of 24000 men marched towards Madinah.
The Prophet seeing that there were no way the Muslims could defeat them in battle, decided to dig a trench around Madinah. The Makkans besieged Madinah for 25 days eventually due to lack of supplies, cold weather, and high winds the Makkan army lifted the siege and returned to Makkah.
The Jews with whom the Prophet had made an allegiance, were given full rights same as those of a Muslim. Yet they committed treason by aiding the Makkans. Some were expelled from Madinah and others were killed due to the judgement of their own arbitrator (the Torah).
In the sixth year the Prophet with a group of 1400 men left Madinah with the intention of performing ‘ Umrah (the lesser pilgrimage). The Muslims, though unarmed, were refused admission by the chiefs of Quraysh. Eventually a peace treaty was signed between the two parties known as the Treaty of Hudaybiyah.
Although the conditions of the treaty seemed to go against the Muslims, it was a blessing in disguise. The Muslims for the first time were treated as equals politically. Due to the cease-fire people had a chance of seeing Islam first hand and deciding for themselves. The result of the treaty was that many Arab tribes embraced Islam or
entered in to a treaty with the Prophet. The Prophet took this opportunity to invite various leaders of various tribes and nations to Islam. Letters were sent to the chiefs of Arab tribes and to the courts the emperors of Byzantine and Persia.
The Makkans broke the treaty in the ninth year of Hijrah. Because of this the Prophet marched to Makkah with an army of 10,000 and captured it without a battle being fought. Minor skirmishes did take place in which the Prophet was not himself involved.
The Prophet demonstrated why he was known as the Mercy of the World, when, upon entering Makkah as the victorious general, he granted protection to those that stayed indoors or sought sanctuary at the House of God. The Prophet, on this day, forgave many of his most bitter enemies.
The final expedition that the Prophet led was against the Byzantine Empire they had gathered on the borders of Arabia, near the village of Tabuk. The Prophet marched with an army of 30,000 to meet them but the Byzantine army withdrew before the Prophet reached the place.
The Messenger’s Demise
The Prophet performed his Hajj in the tenth year of Hijrah accompanied by 124,000 people.
A few months after returning from the Hajj the Prophet fell ill and thereafter passed away, in the house in which he had lived, in Madinah. The year was 633 of the Common Era.
At Muhammad’s own death an attempt was made to deify him, but the man who was to become his administrative successor killed the hysteria with one of the noblest speeches in religious history:
‘Hear well! If any had worshipped
Muhammad , let him know that Muhammad is dead and no more; but if it be God that you worship, then know that truly God lives and never dies.”’
The Prophet’s Character
The Prophet displayed good character and mannerism that allowed people whether friend or foe to be able to openly speak to him without fear, despite the awe that he emitted. We have included here a few traditions, that describe his mannerisms.
Hussayn the grandson of the Prophet asked his father ‘Ali RA (the Prophet’s son-in-law), about the Messenger’s conduct. ‘ Ali RA replied:
“He was always cheerful, gentle and mild. There was no rigidity or coarseness in his conduct. He was neither a faultfinder nor a boisterous person and he steered away from any kind of futile engagement.”
The Prophet encouraged the achievers and never deprived anybody of hope. He refrained from boasting, hoarding wealth and involving himself in things that did not concern him. He would not rebuke anybody using harsh words and exposing people with the intention to disgrace and defame.
While speaking, he addressed matters constructively with the object of good for all. His audience remained motionless as they gave him their undivided attention. It would be as birds were sitting on their heads. When he finished talking his
companions would talk, they would not argue and wait for the person speaking to finish before another began to speak.
He would laugh at things that were humorous and would get exited by things that excited his companions. He was tolerant towards those visitors to Madinah who were harsh in their tone and doubtful of the Prophet.
He would say ‘When you see somebody in need who is seeking help, help him.’ He would not accept praise from anybody except as a way of showing thanks for his kindness.
When somebody spoke in his company he would not object unless he spoke out of line then he would stop the speaker or stand up and leave (without arguing with or insulting anyone)
The Characteristics of Muhammad SAW , by at-Tirmidhi
Hasan ibn ‘Ali RA (Hussayn’s brother) reported, ‘I asked my maternal uncle Hind ibn Abi Halah, who always described the features of the Prophet, to describe to me the manner in which the Messenger spoke.
The Messenger was a man of continuous sorrows (being so actively conscious of the reality of people’s lives) and deep reflection. He was restless (because of these worries he was not complacent).
He did not speak without need. He always spoke clearly from beginning to end. He spoke concisely. He paused whilst speaking (between sentences). His speech was neither excessive nor deficient.
He was not bad mannered nor was he offensive. He always appreciated the blessings of Allah even though it might be very minute. He did not criticise food, nor praise it (if he liked it he would eat if not he would leave it).
He was never angered by any materialistic thing. If Allah’s boundaries were violated, nothing could bear his anger until he had defended the truth and re-established it. He would not get angry with regards to things concerning him personally and nor would he retaliate.
lf he pointed at something, he did it with his full hand. When he was surprised by something he turned his hand over. When he spoke sometimes he joined his hands. He sometimes hit the palm of his right hand with the inside part of his left thumb.
When he became angry with a person he turned his face away. When he was happy he looked down. Most of his laughter was but a smile (through which) his teeth shone like hail.
The Characteristics of Muhammad SAW , by at-Tirmidhi
The Prophet’s cousin, Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib, told the King of Abyssinia what it was that the Prophet called towards when he was asked about the faith preached by Muhammad SAW :
“O King, we were a people steeped in ignorance. We would worship idols, eat carrion, commit shameful deeds, break ties of kinship and disregard the rights of neighbours. The strong among us would devour the weak. Thus we were, until God sent us a Messenger from out of our midst, one whose lineage we knew, and his honesty, his trustworthiness and his purity.
He called us unto God, that we should testify to His Oneness and worship Him and renounce what we and our fathers had worshipped in the way of stones and idols; and he commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfil our promises, to respect the ties of kinship and the rights of our neighbours, and to refrain from the unlawful and from bloodshed. He forbade us from committing shameful deeds, giving false testimony, devouring the property of the orphan and slandering the chaste woman. He commanded us to worship God alone, setting none along with Him, and he commanded us to pray and give alms and to fast.
So we accepted him as true and believed in him and followed him in what he brought to us and so worshipped God alone, setting none along with Him, counting as forbidden what He has forbidden and as permissible what He has allowed. For these reasons have our people turned against us, and have persecuted us to make us forsake our religion and revert from the worship of God to the worship of idols”
The Collection of traditions of Imam Ahmad ibn Hambal
He was extremely gentle and never addressed anyone harshly, much less abused or cursed them. He even treated the most malicious or foul enemy courteously, he overlooked their apparent rudeness. No person was afraid to talk to the Prophet. He would play with children (to make them laugh), he would talk to the rich and poor. All were equal before him, none were given preference. He was also a humble man who did not like people to fuss over him. He took meals with the servant and helped them in kneading the dough (in preparing food).
Anas bin Malik relates,
“l was walking with the Prophet, who was wearing a Najrani sheet with a thick border, a Bedouin took hold of the Prophet and pulled the sheet forcibly. I looked at the shoulder of the Prophet and noticed that the corner of the sheet had left a mark on it because of the force with which it had been pulled.
The Bedouin then said, ‘O Muhammad SAW ! Order for me some of Allah’s property that you have.’ The Prophet turned towards him, smiled and ordered that he be given something.”
The prophet’s compassion and generosity is unparalleled, he was extremely kind and generous, though he chose to live the life of a poor person, he himself was more generous than kings. He would spend on others, at times even incurring debt to help the needy. He would go hungry so others could eat. He would spend every bit of money donated and would not go home until this was done. He would pay special attention to and look after orphans.
During the month of Ramadan, he was particularly generous (his spending on the needy increased in this blessed month).
Abu Tufayl reports:
“Nothing stopped me from taking part in the Battle of Badr except the fact that, I and Abu Husayl were captives of the disbelievers of the Quraysh. They asked us if we were going to join the Muslim army. We told them we had no intention of fighting, instead we intend to go to Madinah. The Kufar made us swear by Allah that we will go to Madinah and not fight. We came to the Prophet of Allah and we informed him about the oath we were made to take. He told us we could not fight and
must uphold our oaths, and we must seek Allah’s help against them.’
Look at the character of the Messenger of Allah, the Muslim army is in need of soldiers, they are outnumbered three to one yet when two men come who are capable and willing to fight, he turns them away
because they had given their word to the enemy even though this was forcibly done. The Prophet himself would likewise always keep his word. If he promised a person that he would meet them somewhere or he would do something for them then he would do it, and he made sure those around him were the same, that they too kept their word.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
PROPHET MUHAMMAD’S SAW LAST SERMON
This sermon was delivered on the Ninth Day of Dhul-Hijjah 10 A. H. in the Uranah valley of Mount ‘Arafat in Makkah.
After praising and thanking Allah the Prophet PBUH said:
“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.
O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember
that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that he will indeed reckon your deeds. Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligations shall henceforth be waived. Your capital is yours to keep. You will neither inﬂict nor suffer any inequity. Allah has judged that there shall be no interest and that all the interest due to ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al- Muttalib (the Prophet’s uncle) be waived.
Every right arising out of homicide in pre-islamic days is henceforth waived and the first such right that I waive is that arising from the murder of Rabi‘ah ibn al-ljlarith.
O People, the unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calender in order to make permissible that which Allah forbade, and to forbid that which Allah has made permissible. With Allah the months are twelve in number. Four of them are holy, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Sha‘ ban.
Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope of that he will be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.
O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right, then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste. O People, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, say your five daily prayers, fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakah. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. Remember one day you will meet Allah and answer your deeds. So beware: do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me, and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand my words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur’an and my Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray.
All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed Your message to Your people.”
This translation of the last sermon is a compilation of various sources including, al-Bukhari, at-Tirmidhi, and Ahmad. It is not the full sermon but chosen extracts.