A plethora of literature has been produced on the life of the Last Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh), which is generally denoted by the Arabic term Seerah. Seerah is, thus, one of the most prominent genres in the Islamic literary tradition. A large number of biographies of the Prophet (pbuh) exist in all Islamic languages as well as in the European languages (especially English) in prose, poetry, and more recently even in films. Interest has recently increased, in the West, about the popular as well as scholarly Seerah works. Among the recent scholarship on this theme, a good number have been written by Western (Muslim and non-Muslims alike) scholars.
Scholarship on Islam in general, and on different aspects of Qur’an and Prophet (pbuh) in particular, have continued from centuries, and, indeed, has seen an impressive growth in post-9/11 era. In this backdrop, this write-up presents a summary of the views of some selected Muslim and non-Muslims scholars/ writers on the life of the Last Prophet (pbuh) in the light of Muslim and non-Muslim writers.
The Quran is the Last Divine Book of Allah, and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the person whose words and deeds are the first and most important commentary and explanation of the Quran. Every detail of his blessed life (Seerah) is thoroughly known to us. Professor Carl W. Ernst, in his Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World, writes: “While the Qur’an as divine revelation may be the most important resource of the Islamic tradition, we would not have it in its present form without the Prophet Muhammad [(pbuh) who has] … served as an ongoing model for ethics, law, family life, politics, and spirituality in ways that were not anticipated 1,400 years ago. There are few people in history who have had a greater impact on humanity, and it is through the historical elaboration of tradition that we must seek to understand that impact”.
The Prophet (pbuh) was a devoted husband, an affectionate father, and a sincere friend; a successful businessman, a far-sighted reformer, a brave warrior; a skillful general, an efficient administrator, an impartial judge, a great statesman, and more. “In all these magnificent roles and in all these departments of human activities he is equally a hero”, writes K. S. Ramakrishna Rao, in his ‘Mohammed: The Prophet of Islam’.
“The Prophet [pbuh] came to humankind”, writes Tariq Ramadan in his ‘In The Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad’/ The Messenger, “with a message of faith, ethics, and hope, in which the One reminds all people of His presence, His requirements, and the final Day of Return and Encounter”. The Prophet (pbuh) touched every aspect of human life and proved to be the greatest reformer the world has ever produced. He was a great savior, liberator, and protector of the ‘oppressed’ humanity. He removed all kinds of social inequality; reconciled different creeds; bestowed security of life and property to all the people; united warring and opposing tribes; gave women their due status and place; and did much more. In modern times, Prophet (pbuh) is presented as a ‘reformer’ who considerably raised the social and ethical level of the Arabs of his time. Leo Tolstoy said, “Undoubtedly, Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] is one of the greatest reformers who rendered extensive service to the human community. He guided an entire nation to the light of truth and made it inclined to serenity and peace. …Such a man, indeed, is highly respectable and estimable”.
The Prophet (pbuh) was a great administrator as well. After the hijrah (migration) from Makkah to Medina in 622 CE, he presided over the Commonwealth of Islam for ten years (622-632 CE) which brought numerous transformations in the Arabs during the short span over two decades. Syed Ameer Ali, in his A Short History of the Saracens, writes: “During the ten years Mohammed [Muhammad (pbuh)] presided over the commonwealth of Islam, a great change had come over the character of the Arab people”. He further states: “The work done within that short period [of 10 years] will always remain as one of the most wonderful achievements recorded in history”. On the same lines, Gerhard Bowering, an ‘Islamicist’ (in the ‘Introduction’ of his Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought) is of this opinion: “That one man could achieve so much in such a short time is astounding. … His message has stood the test of time for more than a thousand years, and his community has grown steadily over the centuries”.
A savior and liberator of oppressed humanity, the Prophet (pbuh) transformed the Arabs, within a short span of 23 years, into a civilized and religious nation. Justice, equality, and truth were his motto; and modesty, kindness, patience and generosity pervaded his conduct. Hadrat Anas (RA) is reported to have said: “I served the Prophet (pbuh) for ten years, and he never said to me, ‘Uf’ (a minor harsh word denoting impatience)”.
The Prophet (pbuh), as a leader and as political head of the City-State/ Commonwealth of Medina, never led the life of a king: he was a “King without kingly pretension”. He had no arms, no standing army, no body guard, and no palace. Bosworth Smith, in his well-known book ‘Mohammad and Mohammadanism’, describes him in these words: “Head of the State as well as of the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legion of Caesar: without a standing army, without a body-guard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue; if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammad [pbuh], for he had all the power without its instructions and without its supports”.
The Prophet (pbuh) devoted all his life to the realization of his mission. A mission which every Prophet is bestowed by Allah: To illuminate humanity’s way (Q. 51: 56; 21: 25; 16: 36); to guide people to the service of Allah (Q. 3: 164); to teach people Allah’s Laws (Q. 5: 67); to be Role Models (Q. 6: 90; 33: 21); to establish ‘Balance’ (Q. 28: 77); and to be Allah’s Witnesses (Q. 4: 165). The Prophet’s (pbuh) mission was also the same: “To liberate man, to unite man, to educate man, in a word to humanize man”.
The nobility of soul, purity of heart, austerity of conduct, refinement of feeling, and stern devotion to duty and responsibility, were the distinguishing traits of the character of the Prophet (pbuh). The Qur’an describes his character as “Uswah-e-Hasanah”: “Verily, in the Apostle of God you have a good example for everyone” (Q. 33: 21). Professor Tamara Sonn, in her ‘Islam: A Brief History’, admits that Prophet’s life is “a model for humanity of how to live every moment, and make every choice, in accordance with God’s will. The way he lived his life is described by the Quran as the best example of Islam”; and together with the Quran, his example (Sunnah) comprise the guidance and direction “Muslims need in their collective responsibility to establish justice”. Hadrat Ayesha (RA) was questioned about the Prophet’s personality and she replied: “His character [the ethics underlying his behavior] was the Qur’an”. Truly a “Living Quran”! John L Esposito, an illustrious and well-respect ‘Islamicist’, in his The Future of Islam, writes: “Muhammad [pbuh] is one of the great ﬁgures of world history. Few have had more of a global religious and political impact…. In his lifetime, throughout Muslim history, and today, the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] is seen as the ‘living Quran’, the embodiment of God’s will in his behavior and words”.
The Prophet (pbuh) was a human being; a special human being as the Quran (18: 110) states: “Say, ‘I am only a human being, like you, to whom it has been revealed that your God is One”. John L. Esposito in his ‘What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam’ writes: “In contrast to the often spiritualized Christian view of Jesus [Prophet ‘Isa (AS)], Muslims look upon Muhammad [(ﷺ)] as both a prophet and a very human figure, one who had great political as well as spiritual insights. Thus Muslims look to Muhammad’s [pbuh] example for guidance in all aspects of life: how to treat friends as well as enemies, what to eat and drink, how to mourn and celebrate. … [Prophet] Muhammad’s [pbuh] life translated the guidance revealed in the Quran into action; he lived the revelation, giving concrete form to the laws that God revealed for the various conditions of ordinary human life. For Islam, no aspect of life is outside the realm of religion.”
The Prophet (pbuh) has been described by the Quran with many titles: “the best of the creation” (Q. 33: 21); “a mercy to the worlds” (Q. 21: 107); “the seal of all Prophets” (Q. 33: 40); and numerous others. Moreover, the Quran shows respect for him in these words: “Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet: [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender!” (Q. 33: 56).
Furthermore, the Prophetic Tradition states: “None of you is a believer till I am dearer to him than his child, his father and whole of mankind” (Muslim). Thus, all this brings us to the point that while God and the Quran have a higher status, it is Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who, par excellence, is the “human face of Islam”. Abdul Hamid Sidiqqi (the translator of Sahih Muslim), has made this point clear and simple in the following passage: “It is often asked why love for the holy Prophet [pbuh] has been made the test of a man’s faith. The answer is quite simple. It is in his august personality that we can know the Will of the Lord, His love for humanity, and his view, how man should live in this world. In him all those values which our Lord wanted us to uphold took flesh and blood without compromise and without alloy. He had been, therefore, made for us the focus of loyalty because it is through him that we have learnt the true concept of God, the real implication of Tauhid [monotheism], the role of man, his accountability in the Hereafter—in fact the whole of the religion”.
All those who study the Prophet’s life, irrespective of their personal religious belief or ideology, can derive teachings from this. Dr. Annie Besant in her book, ‘The Life and Teachings of Muhammad’, says: “It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia, who knows how he taught and how he lived, to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of the Supreme”.
Calling the Prophet (pbuh) “the Savior of Humanity”, George Bernard Shaw (in ‘The Genuine Islam’) is of the opinion that for the general peace and comfort the present world needs leaders like the Prophet (pbuh); he states: “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 the much needed peace and happiness”.
It is apt to conclude with these two statements summarizing the mission and message of the Prophet beautifully: Syed Ameer Ali in his The Spirit of Islam writes: “Fourteen centuries have passed since he [Prophet (pbuh)] delivered his message, but time has made no difference in the devotion he inspired, and today, as then, the Faithful have in their hearts and on their lips those memorable words: ‘May my life by thy sacrifice, O Prophet of God’.” Tariq Ramadan in his The Messenger concludes: “The Prophet carried a universal message, both in the experience of love present throughout his life and in his reminders to people of the need to adhere to a universal ethics that transcends divisions, affiliations, and rigid identities. … He was beloved by God and an example among humans. He prayed, he contemplated. He loved, he gave. He served, he transformed. The prophet was the light that leads to Light, and in learning from his life, believers return to the Source of Life and find His light, His warmth, and His love. The Messenger may have left the human world, but he has taught us never to forget Him, the Supreme Refuge, the Witness, the Most Near. … [R]ecognizing Muhammad [pbuh] as the Messenger is essentially learning to love him in his absence and to love Him in His presence. Loving, and learning to love: God, the Prophet, the creation, the humankind.”
Courtesy: Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray