The life of Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, has been the subject matter of countless accounts and narratives ranging from the skeptical, by his opponents, to the hagiographical, by his innumerable followers throughout history. In whatever light he is portrayed, there is no denying the fact that his life and contributions towards the cause of man’s progress cannot be ignored by any impartial student of history. Presented hereunder is a personal appreciation of the personality who revolutionized the course of human history in a period extending over a little more than two decades.
History is a dark body with a few bright patches here and there. One such bright patch is Muhammad. Humanity waits for millenniums for the like of him to appear. It will take a whole page to name the greats of past history; but, who can be named whose deep influence over cultures and civilizations has remained boldly stamped right up and into the 21st century? A history that ignores him in any epoch is not the history of the humanity, but perhaps, history of an isolated people, an isolated culture; a history of the dark.
Those after the Prophet who supplanted burnt out Roman and Persian embers with sparkling beacons that radiated across centuries, were not unaware of who was – after God – the first cause of it all. Early at Makkah, when he presented his call to the tribes around the town, one of the chiefs remarked, “This message will anger the Romans and Persians.” So, they knew what the call was about, and who exactly the caller was. It was natural, therefore, that they should watch his every act, and pick up every word for the eager ears of their sons and grandsons who were destined to live out their lives amid sand dunes and palm trees shepherding camels and collecting dung – if not for Muhammad. Who was it who gave the empires to nomads – worse than dogs as the Romans and Persians would say about them? Who was it who sent Persian carpets and Roman couches into their tents? Who was it that gave them the moral values armed with which they subdued, liberated, and elevated nations after nations?
Talks and gossips in the campfires of the military colonies set up at the end of the first century in Spain, Marrakesh, Tunis, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, Georgia, Kurdistan, Asia Minor, Sindh, Sudan, and dozens of other towns, could not have but centered upon Muhammad, his life and personality – the single man responsible for the lightning pace of military conquests powered by moral, intellectual and spiritual might, that had brought the Bedouins into wonderlands about which they had only heard from stray travelers, but had never dreamt of ever sighting with their eyes in their life.
Wide-eyed and spell-bound they would have listened with attentive ears to the accounts of Muhammad, who was “far removed from them and their recently acquired luxuries” – as they were told. They would hear their military leaders acknowledge their debt to him who lived in a cottage six foot high, as long and as wide, on dates and barley, dictating principles that give life to life, society and culture, from within a hut-like structure called mosque, capacitated to hold eight score men and women, dim during the day and dark at night, where their grandfathers sat, spat on the ground and covered it with sand. Tears rolled down their eyes at the description of his simpler than the simplest life of thirst and hunger, toil and distress, forcing his way across the lands, tearing through the darknesses, subduing tribes, urging them to look deep into the wide eyes of destiny urging them to rise, march into the horizons, challenge the organizers of a despoiled world, and launch a moral and intellectual empire to last a thousand years, on principles and details that he would equip them with as they left.
“O Mua`dh,” he said to a young governor leaving out for the province, “remember that you are heading to a people of Scripture. So, when you meet them, invite them to: there is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger. If they obey you in that, then inform them that Allah has commanded them five prayers during the day and night. If they obey you in that, let them know that Allah has obligated upon them charity. It will be taken from them and distributed among their poor. If they obey you in that, then beware that you seek from them the best part of their wealth. Beware of the invocation of the oppressed, for, there is no veil between it and Allah.”
If they had immense respect for Abu Bakr and `Umar, `Uthman and `Ali, Talha and Zubayr, Abu Dharr and Ibn Mas`ud, Mus`ab and Bilal, Ubayy b. Ka`b and Abu `Ubaydah, Sumayyah and Umm Darda’, `A’isha and Umm Salamah – his Companions all, and nameless others – the examples in piety, wisdom, sagacity, humbleness and ingenuity – then, they could place their master Muhammad only below God in admiration, adoration, love and respect for having molded such men and women out of – as if – dry desert winds. Every word reported of him, every syllable delivered by him was to them only next to the Qur’an in value. Every minor detail about him: what he ate, how he drank, how he bled, they placed on their eye-lids, as they slept tired after the tense, attentive, and exhausting sessions detailing his life and character, the knowledge of which belittled, in their eyes. the Empires they had brought down, the riches they had inherited, the palaces Muhammad would have hated to enter. The carpets and the couches don’t matter; you inherit, you lose. But values, morals, the passion to do justice to the oppressed now in their care, who was it due to? Yes, they even wished to know how Muhammad’s sandals looked like and who repaired them. “That one person,” the men at the campfires, the soldiers of Islam, said with a sigh, “only if we could have seen him once.”
Hearts beating faster, breaths missed, eyes wet, when they visited the city of tranquility, the town of the Prophet, they would visit his grave, witness the simplicity of his house, and couldn’t help but break into tears and say to themselves, as it were, “Muhammad, we haven’t been faithful enough to you, your examples, your message. We are too little before you and seek nothing but God’s forgiveness, yet, we do not wish to be too far away from you on the Day of Final Decisions.”
After Prayers in his mosque, they could not but join the company, for long or short, of those who sat in circles, men and women, from towns near and distant, addressed by those who spoke of Muhammad: Malik and Ibn. `Uyayna, `Ali b. Madini and Zuhri, Yahya b. Qattan and Zayd b. Aslam, Malik b. Anas and Kharijah b. Zayd, Salim and Nafi`, Qasim and Rabi`a, Ibn al-Musayyib and Sulayman b. Yasar, Ibn `Uthman and `Utbah, Yahya b. Sa`id and `Urwah – and countless others of the Madinan scholars. They would hear them narrate what Muhammad was like, what Muhammad said, what Muhammad enjoyed most, where Muhammad fell from the horse, what happened to his nine wives, how could his camel have just disappeared after him, and so on.
The narrators had Muhammad’s life on their lips, and in their lives, insisting on the audience to follow Muhammad to the dot – and the dots they could narrate and explain, while those squatted before them made notes, mental or material. The town reverberated with Muhammad’s name: here is where his wives lived, there is the well he drank from, that is the mosque he visited Mondays, that is the graveyard of his frequent visit, this is the orchard in which he took a meal, that is the house he was invited to, this is the bazaar he inspected, that is the slave-girl’s house whom he had stood with for a long while, this is the lane whose walls Malik kissed because Muhammad could have placed his hand on while passing through – it was Muhammad all the time, all through.
It pleased the visitors – from the military colonies of east and west, north and south – to hear all this, to witness all that, because that was the reason they had come down from the frontier campfires to this tranquil town. Muhammad’s mention filled Madinah, filled the ears, filled the hearts and, as they wrote down narratives, filled their notebooks. They returned from Muhammad’s town with heavy hearts, but hopeful that perhaps the Berbers, the Egyptians, the Copts, the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Persians, the Georgians, the Chechens, the Armenians, the Kabulis, the Turks, the Kurds, and Allah knows how many races they were encountering, wouldn’t revolt against them, after they had known – in little degrees – what they were carrying back with them, for them, as gifts from Muhammad. Perhaps! Yes, perhaps; but you never know.
While they were apprehensive, they had faith that just as they felt about the working principles of life and society laid down by Muhammad, the subdued people would also see the wisdom in them: rules covering the believers and unbelievers, conquerors and conquered, rulers and citizens, civilians and soldiers, tradesmen and artisans, thieves and priests, taxes and levies, bribes and usuries, slaves and free, farms and mines, husbands and wives, marriage and divorce, crimes and punishments, wine and gambling, gays and lesbians, prayers and pilgrimage, loans and mortgages, pigs and donkeys, wills and inheritance, hearts and souls – was there anything under the sky that Muhammad’s directives had not covered?
Would they, sometimes they wondered, be acceptable to the conquered peoples, of so many hues, so many languages, so many cultures, so many idiosyncrasies, and in millions, lying in wait to encounter some injustice, to raise the call to assemble, to revolt?
Would Muhammad’s all-embracing life program act as the balm for the conquered people’s injured pride, cool their anger, and, would they re-organize their lives on principles and precepts that they carried back in their bags, as books and rolls?
Would they see, as they themselves saw, the easiest way to their Lord, Lord of the worlds, who sent Muhammad?
“All considered,” they muttered to themselves, “there is a good chance. We just needed to present it all in Muhammad’s own words.”
They spurred their camels and horses in impatience, eager to take charge of the governance, eager to pass on the gift from Muhammad, eager to re-narrate the narratives narrated to them.