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Monday, February 23, 2009

Speech by Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, celebrating the life and achievement of Muhammad peace and blessings upon him

In the name of Allah the Most Gracious the Most Merciful

Glimpses into the life of prophet Muhammad

To Muslims we speak about Muhammad the messenger of Allah peace and blessings upon him, we in fact speak about the lives of all preceding prophets of God. Muhammad came to build on top of their foundations, mentioning him, exalting him and praising him is like doing so to all the prophets of Allah from Adam all the way to the final prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon them all..

The Qur`an states: He has established for you in religion what He enjoined upon Noah and what We revealed to you and what We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus, that you establish religion and not to be divided over it, grave is that which you call them to. Allah chooses to Himself whom He wills and guides to Himself those who turn to Him. (42:13)

We sent revelations to you as We did send revelations to Noah and the prophets after him and We sent revelations to Ibrahim, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes, Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron and Solomon and We gave David the Psalms.” (4:163).

Muhammad did not separate or segregate his message from that of the preceding prophets in human history, he insisted that his message was a part that completes and perfects the great moral structure that has been contributed to by all the messengers of Allah and their divine messages. He stated as narrated by Abu Huraira: “My example and that of the prophets before me is like that of a man who built a structure, he beautified it and decorated it except for the place of one brick in one of its corners. The people would walk around this structure and marvel at it and say: only if a brick would be put in this place? I am that brick and I am the seal of the prophets” narrated in Sahih Muslim, Nawawy Exgesis.

As speaking about the messenger Muhammad means speaking about all the preceding prophets, it also is a reference to the complete system of Islam or surrender to God. It is not possible to speak about Islam without speaking about its prophet Muhammad peace and blessings upon him, similarly, it is not possible to speak about the messenger Muhammad without speaking about Islam itself. I hope to introduce you to his attributes and traits on this blessed evening.

Aicha, may Allah be pleased with her, narrated: “The prophet peace and blessing upon him was not given to excess or obscenities, neither would he resort to tumultuous behavior in the markets nor did he reward evil with evil, he in fact would forgo and forgive.”

Ibn Abi Hala described him as: “He was always cheerful, easy going, good natured, he was not rough nor abrasive nor tumultuous in the markets, he was not given to excess nor undue praise, he would ignore his own desires and people who seek him for assistance would not be given cause to despair.”

Anas narrates: “I was with the prophet peace and blessings upon him on an occasion when he was wearing a thick rough garment, a desert Arab grabbed his garment in a very rough manner that it left a mark on his neck, then he said: Muhammad, load my camels with the provisions that Allah gave you, they are not your provisions nor the provisions of your father. The prophet was quiet for a short while then he said: The provisions belong to Allah and I am His slave, but we must bring you to account for your actions. The man said: no you will not. The prophet said: why not, the Arab said: You are a man who never repays evil with evil, the prophet peace and blessings upon him laughed and then had one of the man’s camels loaded with Barley and the other with dates.”

The prophet said: “He is not one of us who does not respect the old, does not show compassion to the young and is discourteous to the learned.”

There are numerous examples from his life of magnanimity and generosity towards his neighbours, business contacts, fellow citizens, wayfarers, even towards his persecutors for whose guidance he would constantly pray.

The prophet peace and blessings upon him stood with parents to ensure that their children are kind and loyal to them and stood with children to make sure that their parents guarantee them a good life and sound upbringing, he stood with the oppressed until their oppression is stopped, he stood with the ill until they are cured and he stood with the lost and confused to ensure that they find the path of guidance. Islam reminds people of the importance of mercy and compassion, he reminds people of the importance of being kind and forgiving and he rejects claims of faithfulness by hard-hearted non-forgiving people.

The Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings upon him was a most humble person and taught us that humility is one of the best paths for spiritual ascent.

The books of Hadith and Seerah (his traditions and his biography) provide many examples of his great love to the prophets and messengers who preceded him. They show his keenness to follow their example even in the way he would overlook some of life’s necessities – in emulation of them and in love for His Lord so that affluence does not distract him from praying to Allah in like manner to his preceding prophets and messengers.

Aicha said: The belly of the prophet peace and blessings upon him was never filled, yet he never complained to any one, being poor was dearer to him than wealth, he would crunch his body out of hunger all night and still fast the next day. Had he wished, he could have asked His Lord for all the treasures of the earth and its fruits and comforts. I used to weep for him out of compassion for his condition, I would run my hand over his stomach when I see him hungry and I would say: I would ransom you with my soul, would you take from this world your sustenance? He would say: O Aicha, what would I want from this world, my brothers, the resolute messengers persevered through what was more strenuous than this, they continued in that condition until they met their Lord, He honoured them and increased their reward, I fear that if I give my self any luxury that I may fall short of their standard, I would love nothing more than to follow my brethren and my beloved, Aicha said: He lived for one month after this and then died.

Ali may Allah be pleased with him said: “I asked the prophet peace and blessings upon him about his life philosophy, he said: knowledge is my principal, intelligence is the basis of my religion, love is my foundation, longing is my vehicle, the remembrance of Allah is my familiarity, trust is my treasure, sorrow is my companion, knowledge is my weapon, patience is my coat, contentment is my booty, debility is my pride, asceticism is my profession, certainty is my sustenance, truth is my advocate, obedience is my goal and the fruit of my heart is in the remembrance of my Lord, my concern is for my community, my longing is for my Lord Exalted and Praised and I find the coolness of my eye in prayer.”

His mission brought salvation for humanity, it introduced people to their Lord through a most truthful path and with the strongest of evidence.

Like his predecessors, Muhammad brought to humanity a faith that commands decency and forbids vice, permitting what is good and wholesome and prohibiting what is harmful, he released people from their heavy burdens and their yokes which bound them.

The system of human interactions revealed by Allah for people is reflected in the great compassion that is exhibited in the prophet’s dealings with others. Even though people issued from two parents, they differ in their talents and social circumstances, this is very testing for people.

This is explained in the verse of the Noble Qur`an: “We made you as a test for one another, will you patiently persevere? Your Lord is Ever Watchful.” (25:20). A society is constituted of the knowledgeable and the ignorant, the strong and the weak, the tall and the short, the black and the white, how are relations to be established amongst all these?

Muhammad taught people to grow through kindness, love and compassion towards others, he put rest to class differences and clan and tribal allegiances, replacing these with allegiance to God and to uphold the standard of justice..

Islam places great emphasis on compassion not just towards people, but also towards animals.

The prophet peace and blessings upon him said: The weak is the prince of the procession. He would say, leave me with those who are weak and needy. He would also say: Do you think that your provisions and victory come for any other reason than to champion those who are weak in your society.

He said: the most beloved person to Allah is the one who is most beneficial to others.

He said: The most beloved action to Allah is one that brings happiness to a Muslim (or a fellow citizen), that you alleviate his suffering, or repay his debt or repel his hunger. He said: To walk with my brother (in humanity) so as to fulfill his need is more dear to me than a month of worship at this mosque.

He also said: if a person suppresses his vengeance when he is able to execute it, Allah will fill his heart with contentment on the day of resurrection, a person who walks with his brother to help him complete a task, Allah will give him a firm foothold on the day when the footholds of people are shaky.

The prophet Muhammad promoted humility, love and compassion amongst his followers creating for them a spiritual bond and producing sentiments in the differing individuals that any pain to one was felt by all and all would rise to allay that pain and bring happiness to him.

In delivering his comprehensive message, the prophet Muhammad is incomparable, not only did he lead an exemplary life, but he also persevered along the road to perfection and paved it for others to follow, providing a comprehensive explanation bearing his suffering with great patience so that we can receive delivery of his message.

We only begin to have a brief glimpse of the greatness of the prophet Muhammad when we start comparing his achievements with other personalities whether they be moral, social or political reformers, statesmen, military leaders, authors of cultural models or founders of nations. He brought a comprehensive system that covers every aspect of life providing guidance for both the spiritual and mundane.

When we celebrate the achievement of historical greats, we do so for the legacies they left behind which attest to their genius and to those aspects of their lives that deserve praise. However, when it comes to the messenger, there is something else altogether.

He was both a spiritual and an intellectual leader, his life example is a role model for all believers throughout history bringing purity to heart from sin and protection to the mind from superstition.

Muhammad is remembered in every call to prayer and even during every prayer where people stand before their Lord, in humility and sincere devotion to Allah witnessing His Oneness and the message of His messenger.

Muhammad is a permanent role model to his followers, Allah says: “You have a beautiful example in the messenger of Allah for those who hope for Allah and the final day and who remember Allah much.”(32:21).

The Muslim learns from Muhammad peace and blessings upon him that plurality and respect for others is not just a matter of personal choice, it is in fact a religious obligation. Plurality and differences in race, language, colour and religion are a fact of life, Unity is for God, everything else is plural and different, this is one of the miracles of creation and a great indication of the Omnipotence of the Creator: “Amongst His signs is the creation of the Heavens and earth, the differences in your tongues (languages) and colours, in that are signs for the learned.” (30:22)

As diversity is a law of existence, there is no sense or necessity in forcing people to carry one creed, the Qur`an states: “Had your Lord willed, everyone on earth, all of them would have believed…” (10: 99)

“Had your Lord willed, he would have made people one community, however, they continue to be diverse.” (11:118).

Historically, Muhammad brought together the purpose of all his predecessors into one era without discrimination between one prophet and another. He called on his followers to believe in all of them without distinction, the foremost of these believers is himself peace and blessings upon him. The Qur`an states: “The messenger believes in what was revealed to Him from His Lord, as do the believers, all believe in Allah, His angels, His books and His messengers, we make no distinction between any of His messengers, they say: We hear and we obey, Your forgiveness Our Lord, to you is the (final) destination.” (2:285)

“Say (you all): We believe in Allah and what He revealed to us and what he revealed to Abraham and Ismail and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets by their Lord, we make no distinction between any of them, to Him (God) we are Muslims.” (2:136)

The source of inspired revelations is One, the source of religious law is One even if some aspects of it may differ in accordance with time, place and the condition of the people.

Muhammad brought together aspects of place and time, uniting people and nations, making believers in the divine messages and messengers as one community regardless of their ethnic differences. The Qur`an states after mentioning a large number of prophets and messengers amongst whom Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Lot, David, Solomon, Job, Jonah, Zachariah, John and Mary the mother of Christ in Chapter 22 verses 69 to 92: “This, your community, is one community and I am your Lord, worship Me.”

Islam and the prophet Muhammad peace and blessings upon him taught believers to look towards Mary with respect, honour and reverence and to see her as a pure and holy woman. Allah Most High declares in the Qur`an: “Behold! The angels said: O Mary, Allah has chosen you, purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.” (3:42).

“Behold! The angels said: O Mary, Allah gives you glad tidings of a word from Him, his name is Jesus son of Mary, honourable in this world and in the final world and will be of those who are near (to God)”. (3:45)

“Behold! Allah said: O Jesus, I will take you and raise you to Me and clear you (of the falsehoods) of those who blaspheme; I will make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith to the day of resurrection: then shall you all return to Me and I will judge between you on the matters wherein you dispute.” (3:54)

“Behold! Allah said: O Jesus the son of Mary, remember my bounty over you and over your mother, I supported you with the Holy Spirit, you would speak to people in the cradle and in maturity, I taught you the book and wisdom and the Taura and the Gospel. You create from clay the shape of a bird with My permission, you blow into it, it becomes a bird with My permission. You cure the blind and the leper with My permission, you bring up the dead with My permission, I restrained the descendents of Israel from (causing violence against) you when you came to them with clear signs, those who rejected amongst them said: This is magic manifest.” (5:110)

“And Zachariah, John, Jesus, Elias, all were righteous.” (6:85).

“Then we sent in their footsteps our messengers, and in their footsteps, Jesus the son of Mary and We revealed to him the Gospel, We placed compassion and mercy in the hearts of those who followed him, but they adopted celibacy (monasticism), We did not prescribe it for them, (they did so) seeking the pleasure of Allah.” (57:27)

“Believers, be supporters of Allah as Jesus the son of Mary said to the disciples: Who are my supporters to Allah? The disciples said: We are the supporters of Allah, a group believed from the children of Israel and a group rejected. We supported those who believed over their enemy and they prevailed.” (61:14).

Now that we have explored the position of Islam in relation to the divine faiths, a position of respect and complete confirmation for the truths that the messengers were sent with, it is not strange to see Islam establishing a standard of just dealings with the followers of other faiths who live in Muslim countries.

Internecine, tribal, and civil wars find no sanction or justification in the Islamic teachings. Muslims have been taught by Islam and by the direction of prophet Muhammad to treat others with kindness and as good neighbours. In general matters of life, Islam has dictated to its followers to exercise respect towards those who differ with its teachings. It does not subject them to Islamic law, it guarantees their complete rights, it does not force them to change their beliefs, it respects their life, property and honour. Islam left others to choose their own creeds. Islam never seeks to impose itself as the only global faith, the prophet Muhammad is the first to know and understand that any attempt to impose a global faith will fail because such an attempt is at odds with human nature and is contrary to the Will of the Creator who said: “Had your Lord willed, he would have made people one community, however, they continue to be diverse.” (11:118).

“Had your Lord willed, everyone on earth, all of them would have believed, so would you compel people (against their will) to believe!” (10: 99)

From this arises the conclusive Islamic principle in relation to freedom of belief: “Let there be no compulsion in religion, truth is clear and distinct from falsehood.” (2:256).

Islam teaches that true faith is the fruit of a free will. Islam designs for us positive steps to honour the humanity of the non Muslim, even if this non Muslim was a heathen or an idolater. If you would turn to Chapter 9 of the Qur`an and read verse 5: “If one of the polytheists was to seek your protection, protect him and give him the chance to hear the words of Allah, then deliver him to safety.” Islam is saying that it is not enough to give them protection and board, it is not satisfied that we just show them the path to guidance and goodness, it in fact orders the believers to protect them and look after them whilst they are transported to a safe place. Islam protects their person, wealth and honour and guarantees their freedom of movement and access to justice to the same level as Muslims. The right to protection of non Muslims in Muslim society extends to the freedom to practice the tenets of their faiths, their rituals of worship and much more than the limited space of this brief treatise. This right can be divided into two: the right to protection inside and the right to protection outside as I will illustrate.

Human societies as we know them require minorities to live by the laws imposed by the majority, Islam has given non Muslim minorities greater rights, even though they are a minority. Islam has raised the position of a minority to that of a nation and entered into an agreement or treaty with them under the Islamic code for international relations. Islam chose a curious title to this treaty referring to it as “The treaty of conscience”.

The conscience in question is that of Allah and His messenger, this grants the non-believer the highest level of respect and protection. We find many verses and traditions in this regard and numerous examples of the application of this principle in Muslim history.

The prophet peace and blessings upon him said: “whoever commits a wrong against a person with a treaty, or short changes him or imposes on him an unjust burden, or takes from him something without his consent; on the day of judgment, I will be an advocate against him to the favour of the person with the treaty.”

He also said: “any one who causes harm to a person who is held in conscience has in fact caused harm to me. Any person who causes harm to me has committed a wrong against Allah.”

His magnanimity was to the extent that he welcomed a group of Christians to conduct their prayers in their own manner inside his mosque. His treaty with the Christians of Najran remains an example of magnanimity, protection and upholding of human rights to this day. Part of this treaty reads: “Najran and its precincts have the protection of Allah and the conscience of prophet Muhammad the messenger of Allah in relation to their money, faith, trade and everything they possess whether little or much and that none of them would be tried for the crime of another.”

In this regard, honouring and protecting people of conscience becomes an act of worship for a Muslim.

Under the treaty of conscience, non Muslims will have the same rights as we do, therefore, where it is sinful to slander a Muslim, it is also sinful to slander a non Muslim, in fact, jurists say that slandering a person of conscience is even more sinful.

Another treaty that the second Caliph made includes: “This is what the slave of Allah, Umar the prince of the believers pledges to the people of Ilya with respect to security: He guarantees their personal security, the security of their wealth, their churches, crucifixes and their properties. Their churches are never to be obfuscated, confiscated or demolished, nothing is to be expropriated from their churches or the church properties, nor from their crucifixes nor any part of their wealth. That they not be harassed in their faith nor any of their members harmed”

The treaty of Conscience also guarantees that the Muslim nation would protect non Muslims from foreign aggression and from internal oppression so that they can have stability and security.

The ruler must protect the people of conscience and must stop anyone from causing harm to them, he must fight off any who intend to cause them harm as long as they do not live within the boundaries of a state at war with the Muslims. Islam also states that if we are invaded by another nation seeking the arrest of a person with a treaty of conscience, we would be morally obliged to defend him and fight them off with all our might and even die in his defence in honour of the conscience of Allah Most High and that of His messenger. Handing such a person over without a fight would be negligence in relation to the treaty of conscience. We must defend him even if this may lead to great expenditure and loss of life in order to honour the pledge and protect the members of the minorities.”

Some testimonials of the magnanimity of Islam: The Nestorian Patriarch Joshua Baf III wrote to Semaan, the head of the Persian priests a letter wherein he stated: The Arabs … do not fight the Christian creed, on the contrary, they sympathise with our faith and they honour our clergy and are generous with the churches and monasteries.”

Sir Thomas Arnold writes: “Christian communities found comfort and forbearance that they had not enjoyed for centuries because of Jacobite and Nestorian differences. Islam allowed them to fulfill the rituals of their faith without anyone questioning them.”

Dr. Philip Hitti who is normally not particularly friendly to Islam, writes,: “The people with a treaty/pledge of conscience enjoyed great religious tolerance under Islamic rule where Muslim rulers allowed them to refer civil and legal matters to their own religious rules.”

Michael the elder, the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch who lived in the second half of the twelfth century after mentioning a long list of Roman oppressions states:

“I see the hand of God in the victories of the Arabs, when God saw the evils of the Romans who had resorted to force and robbed our churches and monasteries throughout their dominions and punished us without mercy or compassion, He sent the children of Ismael from the South to save us at their hands from the Yoke of the Romans, when the cities surrendered to the Arabs, they gave each church its resources. It was not easy to be rid of the harshness of the Romans and their oppression and violent zeal against us. We finally find ourselves living in peace and security.”

This is a glimpse of the legacy of prophet Muhammad, a legacy with protections without hypocrisy, protections for the weak, for minorities, for those who cannot find another protector. If we compare and contrast that with today, we find that in modern society, protection is availed more for the rich who can afford the courts, or the powerful who can manipulate world opinion and circumvent the United Nations and its charters.

We will now have a brief comparison between what Islam did for women and the slow progress of the women’s liberation movement in secular society:

In 586, the French held a conference to determine whether women were human beings or not, they decided that women were human beings created for the sole purpose of serving man.

Whilst the French revolution at the end of the 12th century banned slavery, this ban did not include women, the law stated that women were not fit to enter into contracts without the consent of their legal guardians if they were unmarried. This law stated that minors were: young boys, the insane and women.

Until 1805, English law permitted a man to sell his wife and the price for a wife was six pence.

Until 1922, women in many parts of the non/Muslim world were treated like chattels, many being bought and sold like ordinary goods. Many parts of London displayed women chained and manacled as slaves waiting to be sold. A law was passed in the same year prohibiting the sale of a woman for less than 12 pence.

In Pre-Islamic Arabia, the situation of women was not much different to their situation in the previous ages. Women did not have the right to deal with money, they had no control over their own fate, they did not have the right to inherit, divorce did not free women from their bond to their husbands and there was no limit to the number of wives a man may take. Further, women did not have the right to choose their own husbands. If a man was to die leaving behind a wife and children from another wife, the eldest child would regard his stepmother(s) as part of his inheritance just like all the other property. The birth of a female was also treated as a bad omen.

When Muhammad peace and blessings upon Him was appointed by Allah as His final messenger, his message elevated woman to a position where she was equal to man in substance and she was granted her natural rights as a human being. Islam treated the birth of a female as being more blessed than the birth of a male.

Islam referred to women in a number of different situations, as a mother, we are told that paradise is under her feet and that she must be honoured and treated with kindness and respect. The prophet peace and blessings upon him enjoined on children their duty to their mother as being three folds that of the father, looking after one’s mother is second in importance to devotion to Allah. As a wife, Islam stated that the people who will have the best position with Allah are those who are best to and most gentle with their wives. Islam made it an obligation on the husband to spend on all his wife’s needs in accordance with his own standard of living.

As a daughter, Islam regarded good nurturing or raising a daughter as one of the means of earning the grace of Allah and entry to Heaven.

Islam gave women a collection of material as well as non-material rights:

1 – The right to being treated as equal to man in substance, they are created from the same soul.

2 – She is charged with the same religious duties as man, she is required to practice the same rituals of worship as man.

3 – She is entitled to the same spiritual reward for her actions as man.

4 – She is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect in the same manner as man.

Some of the material rights include:

1 – The right to own property in her own name.

2 – The right to deal with her own property as she chooses, including the right to enter into contracts and gain employment including the right to work as a judge.

3 – The right to inherit from the estate of either of her parents, her husband, her brother or her children. In addition to this right, she does not carry the obligation to spend on anyone.

4 – The right or freedom to choose her own husband, she cannot be forced to marry against her will.

5 – The right to seek annulment of her marriage if her husband does not treat her properly.

6 – The right to vote, the prophet Muhammad peace and blessings upon him used to receive pledges of support from both men and women.

7 – The right to nominate for parliament.

8 – The right to question or advise the ruler.

The Noble Qur`an has named an entire chapter after women but has not done so for men.

Islam has placed all issues relating to women from birth to old age, in a chapter named Nour, or (light).

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