the prophet's leading example
by abdul-lateef abdullah
an anonymous religion
islam is now the second largest religion in the world in terms of number of adherents, and is still arguably the fastest growing religion in the west. despite this, its final messenger, muhammad (peace be upon him) appears to remain unknown in any real way to the masses of non-muslims.
a recent poll conducted in the u.s. indicated that nearly 60% of those surveyed admit knowing 'little or nothing' about islam (council on american-islamic relations, 2006). if this is the prevailing level of ignorance about islam itself in the west, how much can we expect people to know about muhammad?
as muslims, we should first and foremost blame ourselves as the primary cause of this gap in understanding, for it is our religious duty to spread the message brought by this beautiful man. clearly, however, the danish cartoon controversy as an example, indicates that we have not upheld our religious responsibility.
as a community numbering over one billion people living in the age of information that also retains a large portion of the world's vast oil reserves, muslims have no excuse for the overall level of ignorance about prophet muhammad (peace be upon him).
ignorance of who he was, what he represented, why he is so dear to muslims and why, based on his teachings, religious beliefs should be universally respected, even those that are not our own, still prevails.
our present world needs to know muhammad (peace be upon him). at this time in history humanity needs inspiration from exceptional people whose teachings transcend race, sex, religion, culture and even time by speaking directly to the human heart.
with globalization forcing people of different backgrounds and religions to integrate economically, socially and politically, it is time for humanity to learn more about an individual who is described in one of the world's great holy books, the qur'an, as "a mercy to all the worlds," and about whom george bernard shaw, the great western literary figure and nobel prize winner, said:
…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 much needed peace and happiness…
shaw, george bernard, the genuine islam. vol. 1 no. 8, 1936.
a dangerous business
over the past several years islam has been implicated with the actions of certain groups and individuals who, in response to perceived injustices by western powers, have raged their own personal 'holy war' targeting non-muslims, civilians, women, children and even muslims that do not agree with their worldview.
these misguided attempts at 'defending islam' using any means available, even if such means go against the core teachings of islam have created confusion and prejudice in the minds of non-muslims and muslims alike as to the real essence of islam as a religion.
however, those who know islam and its prophet (peace be upon him) and know what he stood for, believe that one cannot mistake the misdeeds of men for the teachings of religion.
religion, islam included, should never be used for the purpose of fulfilling one's political agenda. the prophet's mission was a spiritual one first, not a political one. nowhere in the qur'an is he or his mission referred to in political terms.
rather, he spent 23 years spreading the good news of one all-merciful and all-forgiving creator and sustainer inviting all of mankind to the vast oceans of divine bounty and mercy for anyone who deems himself worthy of such an invitation.
through his call, the prophet showed us why we need to overcome worldly ambition rather than how to become a slave to it.
through muhammad (peace be upon him) islam was sent to guide humanity to its created purpose and highest potential; it is a roadmap, a light, a beacon pointing the way home to that pure state from which we all came.
muslims, on the other hand, are the community of individuals that strive to follow this body of knowledge and path; but being human, we often fall short.
that is why the prophet himself said that when a believer commits a sin, at the moment of commission he is not in a state of belief, but rather he is in a state of forgetfulness of god and his own true nature:
an adulterer, at the time he is committing illegal sexual intercourse is not a believer; and a person, at the time of drinking an alcoholic drink is not a believer; and a thief, at the time of stealing, is not a believer (al-bukhari).
one of the ways to begin to understand that there is a difference between the reality of islam and the reality of its very human adherents is to learn about its messenger, and what he means to those who choose to follow him.
in a time of tribalism and ignorance, muhammad's , peace be upon him, way was to seek understanding and truth and teach it to others, for he taught that only truth can set man free.
it was narrated that the prophet said "forgive him who wrongs you; join him who cuts you off; do good to him who does evil to you; and speak the truth even if it be against yourself." (ahmad)
the prophet said "forgive him who wrongs you; join him who cuts you off; do good to him who does evil to you; and speak the truth even if it be against yourself".
so are we, the global community of muslims, personifying these lofty standards and values that muhammad , peace be upon him, personified and taught? arguably not.
moreover, at the final reckoning we will be unable to offer the excuse that we had no model, guide or example to follow. for he, muhammad, is with us everyday in our hearts, in the stories and annals of history and in the great works of islam's erudite scholars.
by far, no other prominent religious figure in history has such a vast library of authentic accounts about his life and words than muhammad.
islamic scholars, particularly those of the early generations of islam, devoted their entire lives to preserving the life and teachings of muhammad with a passion and commitment to detail never seen before and never to be seen again. the sciences that have evolved from this labor of love are unparalleled in human literary or historical tradition.
is this just the beginning?
the current world is going through a period of massive flux and increasing insecurity. this is causing much fear and anxiety among people who are being forced to accept changes that are foreign to them, above all those who are being directly victimized by violence and war.
the vast and growing inequalities in wealth, power and influence between the world's haves and have-nots are leading to increased tensions between people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
though there may be little that one man or woman acting alone can do to alter the tide of change, the time is now for people of understanding and tolerance everywhere to come together in both body and spirit to forge alliances of peace and cooperation on those issues that are most fundamental to human progress and well-being.
the underlying driver behind the current age of globalization is excessive competitiveness, which, unlike healthy competition, exploits differences. competition, when tempered with justice and concern for the greater good, is healthy. the current global economic environment is far from healthy.
the gaps between rich and poor are growing at lightning speed, governments are becoming less able to ensure peace and even their own sovereignty, and people are turning to extremes in all aspects of life in their attempt to cope with change.
we, as a human family, have reached a defining moment in our mutual history. a couple of years ago, the danish cartoon issue further highlighted this through its intensification of the buy-in by the masses to a perceived 'clash of civilizations' between the western and the muslim worlds.
this theory, first penned by samuel huntington, a harvard intellectual whose views have been associated with the extreme right-wing in america, is far from inevitable, but is being stoked by an international financial and corporate ruling elite that is determined to use religious differences, economic inequality, social turmoil, ultra-competitiveness and even war to pit people against one another and loot the world's sovereign nations of their valuable resources.
the influence and power these international elites now wield is massive, and globalization is their modus operandi to expand their power grip.
the importance of muhammad (peace be upon him) at this crucial time in human history is the guidance his teachings provide on how to respond to situations like the ones in which we currently find ourselves.
far from overly idealistic approaches to such challenges, prophet muhammad provided men and women with practical and universally appealing methods for living lives of harmony and peace.
in a world that has lost its equilibrium, the teachings of muhammad are a cure for regaining that all-important sense of balance that so many of us seek in life.
his example gives us confidence that whatever obstacles we might face nothing is insurmountable. for his own life was the ultimate example of how a simple, humble and honest man can become the leading example for billions of people all over the world.
, he spends much time writing about his experiences as a muslim-american convert.