By Salman Al-Oadah
The Prophet…His Biography
God has selected Muhammad as the finale of the divine message. He said:
…he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets. (Al-Ahzab 33:40)
As such, God made him a model for people:
Truly in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example for him who looks to Allah and the last Day, and remembers Allah much. (Al-Ahzab 33:40)
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Prophet’s biography be so apparent to those who lived during his time, both friends and enemies, men and women, young and less young, those nearby and those at a distance. They knew every detail about his life; nothing of his personality was hidden from them. And that which they could not see about his private life was reported to them in detail by his wives.
So much so that we know of his private life – his ways of eating and drinking, traveling and home staying, while he was awake or sleeping, and other everyday activities, more than we know about any celebrity. We know more about him than we know about our parents or teachers.
I would not be exaggerating if I said that we know more about him than we know about our own selves: some of us do things that we may pay little attention to. But once others have commented on us, we may say that we were not aware of what we were doing if what is said about us is really true. However, we know about the life of our Prophet down to the smallest detail. And what an exalted and fascinating biography it is!
A Well-Preserved Biography
It is with the will of God that this biography was preserved in minute detail. When you read such books on the Prophet’s special features as Al-Shamayl Al-Muhammadiya, by At-Tirmidhi, or its simplified version Al-Mokhtassar, by Al-Albani, as well as other similar works, you see a very detailed portrayal of the Prophet. For example, they would talk about the white hairs in his hair and beard.
Anas reported that “I did not count in the Prophet’s hair and beard more than fourteen white hairs.” (Ahmad and Ibn Hibban) Or, in another report, “…and there were less than twenty white hairs in his hair and beard”. (Ahmad, Al-Bukhari, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, and Ibn Hibban)
In another report, a Companion states that “Allah had the soul of His Apostle without betraying his age with white hair: there were hardly thirty white hairs in his hair and beard”. (Ahmad) Even the number of white hairs in the hair and beard of the Prophet was documented.
Not only that, the very location of those hairs was specified.
One of the most attractive features of this biography is that by preserving it and making it a model for mankind, God left no excuse to humans. This biography has been carefully preserved by scholars and historians like no other biography has been. And none of the other prophets’ lives has been documented the way this prophet’s life has.
For example, if asked about the life of Moses, the Jews will give scattered accounts from parts of his life, with little historical evidence based on scientific facts. The Muslims, however, have paid attention to the smallest details about him, with utmost rigidity as to the credibility of the reporters of the accounts as well as their names.
The discipline of ‘Al Jarh wa al-Ta’deel’ (Criticism and Commendation (of reporters)) enumerated about five hundred thousand names at the time, although people had no printers, computers, or other assisting machines. However, they reached exceptional levels of memorization and accurate distinctions of names and people which surpassed many of the machines which technology has produced today. All this was done for one purpose– the conservation of the Prophet’s biography, tradition, and guidance.
An Exalted Biography
God – the All Wise – did not choose His Messenger at random. He made pure his interior and exterior, his speech and acts, his body and his heart.
But when you read his biography – when you read about his biography, every aspect of his life stirs further admiration in you for him. When you read about the details of his look, his face, hair, stature, clothing, etc. you feel more love in your heart for him, and your soul bolsters in faith.
His behavior, his manners, and the way he treats all people are all the more amazing!
In a word, the more you discover about him, the more you love him. This is why loving him is a sign of faith. It is a condition of believing in him as a messenger to find in your heart a great place of sincere love for this noble prophet.
The article is excerpted from the book “In the Company of the Prophet (God’s Chosen Messenger)” , by Salman Al-Oadah, published by IslamToday, 2012.
Changing the Qiblah was intended as the abolition of the sanctity of space whatever it may be and the confirmation of the sanctity of God Alone wherever the Qiblah direction may be. Learn how…..
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emigrated from Mecca to Medina to survive disbelief, polytheism, and persecution and find a wider, vaster and more fertile environment, namely Medina.
It is Yathrib (Medina’s old name) which encompassed a pluralistic society which integrated the tribes of Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj known later as (Al-Ansar “Supporters”) with various Jewish tribes and clans.
Since this new homeland hosting Prophet Muhammad as well as his mission was a fertile soil for the message of Islam and the monotheistic cause and this message managed to attract most members of Al-Aws and Al-Khazraj, Prophet Muhammad wished for the Jews’ conversion to Islam so that Medina would be a purely Muslim society.
However, unfortunately, Prophet Muhammad’s wish was not fulfilled, nor did his earnest endeavors achieve the desired results. Instead, he was faced with the same disbelief and obstinacy as those expressed by the pagans of Mecca despite the rapprochement and bridge-building efforts he exerted.
Prophet Muhammad established the first religion-based state(1) which allowed for religious, cultural and ethnic pluralism and secured all rights and freedoms by drawing up the Charter of Medina which was considered a precociously unique, fair pluralistic constitution which has had no match until very recently, i.e. after many centuries of religious persecution, extremism and fanaticism.
Prophet Muhammad was under no obligation to draw up this charter simply because such tolerance was not popular at the time, where the logic of dialogue was not recognized and only the logic of power and domination was adopted.
In spite of the religious and worldly gains Jews got, they did not make any encouraging response to Prophet Muhammad’s call to Islam. They even misunderstood the clemency, leniency and tolerance shown by Prophet Muhammad as propitiation and appeasement. That is why they were very pleased with Muslims’ taking Jerusalem as a Qiblah (the direction towards which prayer is offered). They thought that this was a token of subordination to their faith and implicit recognition of the Jewish superiority on the part of Islam and Muslims. As a result, the Jews persisted in their haughtiness and arrogance.
Though Prophet Muhammad used to offer prayers while facing Jerusalem in Mecca, he would also face the Ka`bah in the same direction as Jerusalem. However, when he immigrated to Medina, he could no longer face the Ka`bah and Jerusalem at the same time, which aggravated Prophet Muhammad’s feelings of sadness, pain, and agony driven by homesickness and estrangement.
Therefore, Prophet Muhammad wished to face the Ka`bah while offering prayers and take it as a Qiblah as a sort of mitigation and alleviation and out of the desire to be distinguished from the Jews who only showed arrogance and obstinacy when Prophet Muhammad faced their Qiblah.
Thus, Prophet Muhammad was very willing to declare Islam’s independence and distinction from the Jews as a way for deterring them and causing them to feel misguided and beguiled.
In this regard, God says in the Qur’an:
We have certainly seen the turning of your face, (O Muhammad), toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you (believers) are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And God is not unaware of what they do. (Al-Baqarah 2:144)
Thus, the Jews took the change of the Qiblah as a very strong slap which made them feel misguided and humiliated so much so that they asked Prophet Muhammad to face their Qiblah once again. Therefore, God warned him against that. He said:
And if you brought to those who were given the Scripture every sign, they would not follow your qiblah. Nor will you be a follower of their qiblah. Nor would they be followers of one another’s qiblah. So if you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, indeed, you would then be among the wrongdoers. (Al-Baqarah 2:145)
Though the change of the Qiblah was not an easy or facile affair, given the ensuing skepticism and the apostasy of a small number of faithless Muslims, it involved paramount religious and mundane interests, which were blessings in disguise. In this respect, God says:
And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom God has guided. (Al-Baqarah 2:143)
The Muslim community was at a stage of building and creation and in dire need of several changes and serious provisional gradations which could not take place without such an effective vaccine which could give this nascent community strong immunity against shake and fluctuation, grant it a crystal clear purpose and, at the same time, distinguish the faithful from the faithless.
It is worth noting that the revelations sent down at Mecca were mostly restricted to the call to monotheism. The Islamic rulings were not established at Mecca. Early Muslims were not used to abrogation, change or alteration. Most of the Islamic injunctions were revealed in Medina. Gradation in legislation required the abrogation and replacement of some rulings with others.
The change of the Qiblah was the first case of abrogation in the Islamic legislation and the Qur’an. It debunked the hypocrites and the deviants. Subsequent to it, the Muslim community became stronger, more immune and ready for the change, amendment or gradation which lied ahead.
Here is the Qiblah, which Muslims faced at least five times a day and whose direction was seen as the holiest ever in the sight of Muslims, undergoing change, alteration and replacement. Thus, abrogation, alteration and gradation became more acceptable and palatable among the Muslim masses.
This even paved the way for such graded rulings as those of usury, intoxicants etc. Such rulings could not have been passed smoothly without an effective vaccine like the change of the Qiblah which gave the Muslim community strong immunity against doubt, suspicion and shakiness.
Qur’anic verses were revealed, emphasizing that God does not care about the Qiblah direction, be it eastbound, westbound, northbound or southbound. All of those directions still lie within the dominion of God. The Qiblah direction does not affect prayer itself for the latter is a spiritual rather than physical act given the acceptance of the prayers of the first-generation Muslims who passed away before the change of the Qiblah. In this effect, God says:
The foolish among the people will say, “What has turned them away from their qiblah, which they used to face?” Say, “To God belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path.” (Al-Baqarah 2:142)
He also says:
And never would God have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed God is, to the people, Kind and Merciful. (Al-Baqarah 2:143)
After all, the change of the Qiblah was intended as the abolition of the sanctity of space whatever it may be and the confirmation of the sanctity of God Alone wherever the Qiblah direction may be.
This is one of the exclusive characteristics of Islam and something which distinguishes Muslims from the followers of the previous divine messages. In Islam, sanctity is God’s Alone and whatever He may declare sanctified no matter how changing it may be. There is no sanctity for anyone other than God. A man cannot be sanctified or worshiped along with God, nor can a temple or synagogue be sanctified for itself. There is no sanctity that may tower above or be equal to that of God, the Most Holy One, hence came the moderateness of Islam. It is moderation between two notable extremes, namely the sanctification of man (as in Christianity) on the one hand and the sanctification of space (as in Judaism) on the other hand so that sanctity will exclusively remain God’s Alone. In the Qur’an, God says:
And to God belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of God . Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. (Al-Baqarah 2:115)
(1) Note: The concept of the “Religion-based State” or even “Theocracy” is not always a negative concept as may be thought by many people. The reason for rejecting this concept is the failure of the Christian Western pattern as well as other contemporary patterns. Those patterns were mostly based on rejecting the other and imposing a certain religion, doctrine or lifestyle on them. However, this is not always the case. The religion-based state established at the dawn of Islam in Medina was a unique pattern of coexistence, justice and integration. Its slogan was: “Let there be no compulsion in the matters of religion.”
In his seminal authoritative book on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Ibn Hisham – the author of the first account of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, which has come down to us as As-Seerah An-Nabawiyah (The Prophet’s Life) – informs us that Ibn Ishaq has clearly and precisely established the Prophet’s birth date:
He was orphaned and poor, and for that reason he is reminded and ordered never to forsake the underprivileged and the needy.
“The Messenger (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) was born on a Monday, on the twelfth night of Rabi` Awwal, in the year of the elephant.”
Other accounts mention other months of the year, but throughout history there has been broad acceptance of that date among scholars and within Muslim communities. The Muslim calendar being a lunar one, it is difficult to determine exactly the solar month of his birth, but the “year of the elephant” to which Ibn Ishag refers corresponds to 570 CE.
Noble Birth… Noble Origin
The Last Prophet was born in one of Makkah’s noble families, Banu Hashim, which enjoyed great respect among all the clans in and around Makkah. This noble descent combined with a particularly painful and debilitating personal history. His mother, Aminah, was only two months pregnant when his father, `Abdullah, died during a trip to Yathrib, north of Makkah.
Fatherless at birth, young Muhammad was to live with the tension of the dual status implied in Makkah by a respectable descent, on one hand, and the precariousness of having no father, on the other.
Ibn Ishaq reports that the name Muhammad, quite unknown at the time in the Arabian Peninsula, came to his mother in a vision while she was still pregnant. (Ibn Hsham, As-Seerah An-Nabawiyah)
This same vision is also said to have announced to her the birth of the “master of this people” (sayyid hadhihi al-ummah); according to the vision, when he was born she was to say the words “I place him under the protection of the One (Al-Wahid) against the treachery of the envious.
Torn between her grief at her husband’s death and the joy of welcoming her child, Aminah said repeatedly that strange signs had accompanied the gestation, then the extraordinarily easy birth of her child.
Aminah soon became aware that she was the mother of an exceptional child. This feeling was shared by Muhammad’s grandfather, `Abdul-Muttalib, who took responsibility for him after his birth. In Makkah, it was customary to entrust infants to wet nurses belonging to the nomadic Bedouin tribes living in the nearby desert.
Because he was fatherless, one nurse after another refused to take the child into her care, fearing that his ambiguous status would bring them no profit. Halimah, who had arrived last because her mount was tired, decided with her husband that it was better for them to take the child, although he was an orphan, than to risk being mocked by their tribe when they went home. They therefore went back with the infant Muhammad, and Halimah, just like Aminah, tells of many signs that led her and her husband to think that this child seemed blessed.
For four years, the orphan was looked after by Halimah and lived with the Banu Sa`d Bedouins in the Arabian desert. He shared the nomads’ life in the most barren and difficult natural environment, surrounded, as far as the eye could see, with horizons bringing to mind the fragility of the human being and spurring contemplation and solitude.
Although he did not yet know it, Muhammad was going through the first trials ordained for him by the One, Who had chosen him as a messenger and was, for the time being, his Educator, his Rabb (Lord).
The Qur’an would later recall his particular situation as an orphan as well as the spiritual teachings associated with the experience of life in the desert:
Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter? And He found you wandering, and He gave you guidance. And He found you in need, and made you independent. Therefore (for that reason), do not treat the orphan with harshness, nor chide him who asks. But the bounty of your Lord, proclaim! (Ad-Duha 93:6-11)
For each human being: never to forget one’s past, one’s trials, one’s environment and origin, and to turn one’s experience into a positive teaching.
Those verses of the Qur’an carry several teachings: being both an orphan and poor was actually an initiatory state for the future Messenger of God, for at least two reasons. The first teaching is obviously the vulnerability and humility he must naturally have felt from his earliest childhood.
This state was intensified when his mother, Aminah, died when Muhammad was six. This left him utterly dependent on God, but also dose to the most destitute among people. The Qur’an reminds him that he must never forget this throughout his life and particularly during his prophetic mission. He was orphaned and poor, and for that reason he is reminded and ordered never to forsake the underprivileged and the needy.
Considering the exemplary nature of the prophetic experience, the second spiritual teaching emanating from these verses is valid for each human being: never to forget one’s past, one’s trials, one’s environment and origin, and to turn one’s experience into a positive teaching for oneself and for others.
Muhammad’s past, the One reminds him, is a school from which he must draw useful, practical, and concrete knowledge to benefit those whose lives and hardships he has shared, since he knows from his own experience, better than anyone else, what they feel and endure.
The article is an excerpt from Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s book “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).
The Night Journey experience, presented in classical accounts of the Prophet’s life as a gift from God and a consecration for the Messenger, the Elect (AI-Mustafa) was a real trial for Muhammad and those around him.
The Night Journey marked the boundary between those believers whose faith radiated in their trust in this Prophet and his message and the others, who were taken aback by the improbability of such a story.
A Quraysh delegation hastened to go and question Abu Bakr about his mad and senseless friend,but his immediate, forthright answer surprised them: ”If he says such a thing, it cannot but be true!”
Abu Bakr’s faith and trust were such that he was not in the least disturbed, even for a second. After that, he personally went to question the Prophet, who confirmed the facts.As a result, Abu Bakr repeated forcefully: ”I believe you, you have always spoken the truth.”
It is from that day on, the Prophet called Abu Bakr the epithet As-Siddiq (he who is truthful, who confirms the truth).
The trial that Muhammad’s Night Journey presented for his fellow Muslims occurred at a moment when they were struggling with a most difficult situation. Sunnah reports that a few Muslims left Islam, but most trusted Muhammad.
A few weeks later, facts confirmed some elements of his account, for instance the arrival of caravans whose coming he had announced (having seen them on his way back) and of which he had given a precise description.
Thanks to the strength of this faith, the community of Muslims would be able to face future adversity. From then on, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and Abu Bakr were always to stand in the front line of this spiritual force.
Muslim scholars have, from the outset, pondered the question of whether the Night Journey was of a purely spiritual nature or whether it was also physical. The majority of scholars consider that the journey was both physical and spiritual.
All things considered, however, this question is not essential in the light of the teachings that can be drawn from this extraordinary experience undergone by the Messenger (peace be upon him).
There is first of all, of course, the centrality of the city of Jerusalem: at the time, the Prophet prayed facing the holy city (the first qiblah, or direction of prayer),and during the Night Journey it was on the site of the Temple that he led the prayer together with all the prophets. Jerusalem thus appears at the heart of the Prophet’s experience and teaching as a dual symbol, of both centrality (with the direction of prayer) and universality (with the prayer of all the prophets).
Later, in Madinah, the qiblah (direction of prayer) changed from Jerusalem to the Ka`bah to distinguish Islam from Judaism, but this by no means entailed a diminution of Jerusalem’s status, and in the verse:
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees (all things). (Al-Israa’ 17:1)
The references to the “Sacred Mosque“ (the Ka`bah, in Makkah) and the ”farthest Mosque“(Al-Aqsa, in Jerusalem) establish a spiritual and sacred link between the two cities.
The other teaching is of a purely spiritual essence: all revelation reached the Prophet in the course of his earthly experience, with the exception, as we have seen, of the verses that establish the fundamental pillars of faith (iman) and the duty of prayer (as-salah).
Night Journey & Prescribed Worship
The Prophet was raised to heaven to receive the teachings that were to become the foundation of Islamic worship and ritual, `aqeedah and `ibadat (religious duties of worship required of all Muslims who are of age and of sound body and mind), which require that believers should accept their form as well as their substance.
Unlike the field of social affairs (al-mu`amalat), which calls for the creative mediation of people’s intellect and intelligence, human rationality here submits,in the name of faith and as an act of humility, to the order imposed by revelation; God has prescribed requirements and norms that the mind must hear and implement and the heart must love.
Raised to receive the injunction of ritual prayer, the Prophet and his experience reveal what prayer must in essence be: a reminder of and an elevation toward the Most High, five times a day, in order to detach from oneself, from the world, and from illusions.
The mi`raj (the elevation during the Night Journey) is thus more than simply an archetype of the spiritual experience; it is pregnant with the deep significance of prayer, which, through the eternal world, enables us to liberate our consciousness from the contingencies of space and time, and fully comprehend the meaning of life and of life.
The article is an excerpt from the author’s book “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).
By: Tariq Ramadan
What do you know about the Prophet’s miraculous night journey? What happened on that journey? Who did he meet?
Beginning of the Night Journey
The Prophet liked to go to the Ka`bah enclosure at night. He would stand there in prayer for long hours. One evening, he suddenly felt deeply tired and in great need of sleep. He, therefore, lay down near the Ka`bah and fell asleep.
Muhammad (peace be upon him) has related that the Angel Gabriel then came to him. Gabriel shook him twice to awaken him, but Muhammad slept on; the third time the angel shook him, Muhammad awoke, and Gabriel took him to the doors of the mosque, where a white animal looking something like a cross between a mule and a donkey, but with wings) was waiting for them. He mounted the animal, which was called Al-Buraq, and started with Gabriel toward Jerusalem.
There Muhammad met a group of prophets who had preceded him (Abraham, Moses, and others, peace be upon them), and he led a group prayer with them on the Temple site. When the prayer was over, the Prophet was raised with the Angel Gabriel beyond space and time.
On his way, rising through the seven heavens, he again met the various prophets, and his vision of the heavens and of the beauty of those horizons permeated his being.
He at last reached Sidrat Al-Muntaha (the Lotus of the Utmost Boundary). This was where the Prophet received the injunction of the five daily prayers and revelation of the verse that established the `aqeedah (elements of the Muslim creed). (There were initially to be fifty prayers, but the number was reduced to five after successive requests from the Prophet acting on Moses’ advice.)
The Messenger believes in that which has been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) believers. Each one believes in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers – We make no distinction between any of His messengers – and they say: “We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Thy forgiveness, our Lord. Unto Thee is the journeying”. (Al-Baqarah 2:285)
Muhammad was taken back to Jerusalem by the Angel Gabriel and Al-Buraq, and from there to Makkah. On the way back, he came upon some caravans that were also traveling to Makkah. It was still night when they reached the Ka`bah enclosure.
The angel and Al-Buraq left, and Muhammad proceeded to the home of Um Hani, one of his most trusted Companions. He gave her an account of what had happened to him, and she advised him not to tell anybody about it, which Muhammad refused to do.
The Qur’an Tells the Story
Later on, the Qur’an was to report this experience in different passages. One is in the Surah whose title, Al-Israa’ ( the Nocturnal Voyage), directly refers to the event:
Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees (all things). (Al-Israa’ 17:1)
It is also in Surat An-Najm (The Star):
It is no less than inspiration sent down to him: He was taught by one Mighty in Power, endued with wisdom: for he appeared (in stately form); while he was in the highest part of the horizon. Then he approached and came closer, and was at a distance of but two bow-lengths or (even) nearer. So did (Allah) convey the inspiration to His Servant- (conveyed) what He (meant) to convey. The (Prophet’s) (mind and) heart in no way falsified that which he saw. Will you then dispute with him concerning what he saw? For indeed he saw him at a second descent, near the Lote-tree beyond which none may pass. Near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold, the Lote-tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!) (His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong! For truly did he see, of the signs of his Lord, the Greatest! (An-Najm 53:4-18)
The Night Journey and ascension were to give rise to many comments, both when the Prophet recounted the facts and later among Muslim scholars. When Muhammad went to the Ka`bah and reported his experience, jeers, sniggers and criticisms quickly followed.
The Quraysh believed that, at last, they had proof that the so-called prophet was indeed mad since he dared claim that in one night he had made a journey to Jerusalem (which in itself required several weeks) and that he had, furthermore, been raised to the presence of his One God. His madness was obvious.
To be continued…
The article is an excerpt from the author’s book In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press (2007).