At times of crisis, humanity often turns to faith for answers. When we perceive to be at peace, society tends to fall into a hiatus of spiritual indifference as though faith will take care of itself when a crisis comes, which simply is not the case. It does not matter if you’re an agnostic, a devout follower of your faith, an atheist, or something in between — there’s wisdom to be learned from organised faith, i.e. religion.
Indeed, the advent of Prophets of all religions is for enriching human life and enabling us to traverse into higher levels of consciousness or enlightenment. This is the greatest service a prophet of God renders for mankind.
History is witness to the fact that the greatest Prophet sent for the reformation of mankind was Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). As Michael Hart in his book The 100 states,
“…he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels… It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.”
Accordingly, we present a small snapshot of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in light of the current global situation. His teachings of compassion, empathy and service to humanity are essential for reflection.
The teachings of Muhammad i.e. the religion of Islam can be summarised in the following statement: to fulfil the rights owed to God and to fulfil the rights owed to mankind. Without fulfilling the rights owed to mankind, the followers of Islam cannot claim to be fulfilling their rights owed to God.
Based upon divine revelation, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) thus presented a myriad of commandments for the establishment of the rights of God and that of mankind. The teachings of Muhammad lay a path towards creating an environment that influences and fosters a caring society.
To truly appreciate the teachings presented by Muhammad (peace be upon him), it is important to understand them not only logically and in their entirety, but also within a historical context. In comparison to modern-day society, and even with other surrounding civilisations of that time, the 6th and 7th century Arabian society was considered to be extremely backward.
The Holy Quran describes this situation in the following words:
Based upon historical records, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who is believed to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, His Holiness Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, described the situation of that time in the following manner:
“The immediate object of the Holy Prophet was to reform the Arabs who were then in such a degraded condition that they could hardly be called human beings. There was no evil but was found in them and there was no form of idolatry but prevailed among them. Thieving and highway robbery formed their business and the murder of innocent human beings was to them like trampling insects underfoot. They killed orphans to appropriate their property and buried their daughters alive. They took pride in adultery and openly spoke of these indecent acts in their poems… But when the Holy Prophet rose to regenerate them and when he began to devote himself to purifying them and casting his holy influence upon them, then in a few days they turned from savages to men, from men to civilized men, from civilized men to Godly men, and finally, they became so filled with the love of God that they bore every pain for His sake, as if they were unable to feel it. They were subjected to all kinds of tortures. They were lashed cruelly, dragged on burning sands, put in fetters, and starved to the point of death. But in the face of each affliction, they stepped further onwards… If it was not Divine influence upon their hearts, and the result of the Holy Prophet’s purifying power, then what was it which drew them so powerfully towards Islam and which worked such a miraculous change in them that they threw themselves at the feet of one who once walked the streets of Makka as a poor, solitary, helpless individual? Some great spiritual power raised them from the depths of degradation to the heights above.”
The teachings that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) emulated are embedded within the principles of Islam and the bedrock of Islam is to believe in and worship One God and to lose one’s self in His love. As such, the Prophet taught that true freedom lies in analysing one’s internal state and trying to beautify one’s character with the perfect attributes of God. He explained that peace of mind and freedom from the type of anxiety and depression which is a result of societal peer pressure that inadvertently takes control and makes a map of our lives, can only truly be achieved through analysing one’s inner self and aligning it with the perfect attributes of God.
Through the recognition of God, one excels in levels of consciousness which otherwise would be subject to one’s ego and selfish desires. We all have it within us to attain inner peace so long as we are ready to be liberated from the shackles of this world and emancipated by reaching higher levels of consciousness through adopting Godly characteristics.
The concept of one God was not only presented by the Holy Prophet for establishing internal peace for an individual but to bring about unity amongst all people. Through the very first chapter of the Holy Quran, the Holy Prophet announced that God is the Lord of all creation without any discrimination whatsoever, His favours are not limited to any one religion or nation.
Calling for unity, he declared:
“O People of the Book! Come to a word equal between us and you – that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with Him, and that some of us take not others for Lords beside Allah.”
Enumerating the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, one thing that needs to be remembered is that everything in the Holy Quran is revelation, received and uttered by the Holy Prophet over a period of 23 years and was preserved word for word. This makes him one of the torch bearers of humanity and one of the unifiers of mankind like the prophets before him. His practices are available to us today in the form of Sunnah and Hadith. These sources are cited here. For the sake of brevity, revelations and sayings of Prophet Muhammad have been paraphrased as much as possible.
To achieve inter-religious harmony, the Holy Prophet introduced the golden rule of respecting and venerating the Founders and holy men of various faiths. Failure to follow this golden rule has resulted in creating mutual enmity and ill will, which many times has destroyed the peace of society and resulted in bloodshed.
The Holy Prophet promoted this Qur’anic teaching to put an end to inter-religious quarrels by stating:
He also said:
“We believe in Allah and in that which has been revealed to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and other Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we submit.”
This is because all those appointed by God were imbued with the light of the same One God; therefore, it is incumbent on us to respect them in equal measure.
During the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, a Jew and an Arab were quarreling over the superiority of their respective Prophets. The Jew’s sentiments were hurt by the way the Muslim made his claim. When the Jew complained to the Holy Prophet, he admonished the Muslim’s behaviour, and said, “Do not exalt me above Moses”.
This was the high standard of tolerance and courtesy the Holy Prophet required from his followers. Similarly, he also explained that no religion can monopolise salvation. That salvation is based purely on one’s understanding and recognition of God and the hereafter, and one’s pure intention to excel and progress to greater levels of consciousness in this regard. He also taught that everyone is equal in the sight of God; there is no such thing as racial supremacy.
As the Holy Prophet famously said:
“You are brothers and sisters. You are all equal. No matter to which nation or tribe you belong and no matter what your status is, you are equal. Just as the fingers of both hands are alike, nobody can claim to have any distinctive right or greatness over another… A white person is not superior to a black person, nor a black is superior to a white.”
The differences in race and colour are described in the revelation of Muhammad as only a means to promote education and understanding.
The Holy Prophet also strongly advocated for freedom of expression and belief by categorically stating:
Through the Holy Quran, the Prophet Muhammad also strongly encouraged freedom of consciousness as a means for progress and repeatedly gave reminders to develop an aptitude to think for ones self and speak of what one believes. He also warned against the improper use of any freedom which results in the freedom of abuse, by stating that people should not deride other people for it is possible that they may be or may become better than them.
Concerning household affairs, he also led by example. Citing the sacrifices parents make for their children, in particular, the mother, he instructed to show mercy and kindness to parents always, to love and obey them in all matters, to never show slight displeasure before them, even during their old age.
Reciprocally, he instructed parents to not do anything that may impede a child’s progress, especially due to financial reasons. The Prophet Muhammad also laid special emphasis on treating a daughter and son equally and stated daughters being raised well as the key to heaven for their parents. The Holy Prophet of Islam said that education is compulsory for both boys and girls equally.
He instructed husbands to provide for their wives and children, whilst wives had full autonomy over their own finances. Women were also given the right to divorce and an inheritance, all of which only started being accepted generally in the world three centuries ago. The status of women was elevated so much, that due to their role as mothers, the Holy Prophet claimed that paradise lies under their feet. He repeatedly commanded men to consort with women with kindness and love. He did his own chores and helped in the home as much as he could. Through the Quran, he categorically said:
Meaning that men and women have fundamentally equal human rights. Similarly, the Quran states that men and women were created from the same source, not of one or the other. A husband and wife are reminded that they are to one another like a garment, which protects one from the harshness of the world and guards one’s privacy and secrets.
One famous incident regarding the character of Prophet Muhammad at home is as follows: After he married Khadija, her servant Zaid came under his care. He would treat him with such immense love as though he was his own kith and kin. One day his father and uncle came looking for him in Makkah and asked the Holy Prophet to free him. After asking Zaid if he recognised them, he said that he is free to go. At this Zaid refused, upon which his father in anger, said: “Do you give preference to a life of slavery over that of freedom?” Zaid responded by saying “Yes, for I have witnessed such virtues in him that I can now give preference to none above him.” The Holy Prophet later went on to systematically and gradually abolish slavery during his ministry by declaring that freeing a slave is the highest virtue and making it compulsory to do so in certain circumstances as a way to atone for one’s sins.
Similarly, he gradually emancipated slaves in society by teaching slave owners that slaves should be clothed and fed in the same manner as their own household. Freeing a slave was considered one of the greatest virtues. Likewise, people were made to free their slaves as a form of atonement for certain sins. Slave owners were obligated to give their slaves an opportunity to have contracts with them and buy their freedom. Due to this, there were many slaves who went on to become great generals and governors of the Islamic state. One famous example is that of Hazrat Bilal who was an African man whose parents were from Abyssinia.
The Holy Prophet also emphasised that absolute justice must be shown at all times, so much so that in the Quran it states:
“O ye who believe! be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity; and let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise then with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness”.
In regard to matters of governance, the Holy Prophet explained that governance is a form of trust, thus people should be elected and given this trust, not based on their manifestos or what they promise but on their character, ability to govern, and do justice to their role. Moreover, he reminded those who are in governance to strictly observe justice in all matters and that they should not be swayed by capital gain.
In terms of the economy, he continuously emphasised the importance of giving charity and looking after the needy as a means to purify one’s soul. He led by example and gave all his wealth away in this regard. He explained that wealth should not be made to accumulate within a small fraction of society through an interest-based system. Wealth should be distributed in a manner so that no individual remains hungry or thirsty, or without clothing and shelter – fundamental basic human rights. Aid should be given to societies to rehabilitate them and make them self-sufficient, not to enslave them through debt or to reprimand them of one’s favours upon them.
All this led to the first-ever welfare state established by his second Caliph Hazrat Umar Ibn-al-Khattab. The Holy Prophet also said in regard to one’s employees:
Likewise in regard to someone in debt, he said:
The Prophet Muhammad also explained that charity is not just given in the form of wealth.
Exhorting his followers to look after the environment, Prophet Muhammad said:
Similarly, he said:
There is another famous incident regarding the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s concern for a sick neighbour. This woman in particular, out of spite, used to put garbage in front of his door every day. One day, when the garbage was missing, Prophet Muhammad figured the woman to be sick and went to visit her. She was so astonished, at this act of kindness and consideration, despite her own actions, that she felt compelled to accept him as a true messenger of God.
One of the most powerful incidences of forgiveness and mercy for mankind taught by the Holy Prophet is from the day of the conquest of Makkah. After 20 years of harsh persecution and defensive wars, the day finally arrived where Prophet Muhammad returned to his hometown as a victor. The accounts of persecution experienced prior to victory are so horrendous that one’s skin crawls at recounting them. This was the moment where he could take revenge for everything that was done to him, his family and his followers. However, he looked at his persecutors and uttered the same words the Prophet Joseph said to his brothers, that there is no blame on you today and forgave them all.
This article expounds on only a fraction of the practices and teachings of Muhammad in regard to his service to humanity and mankind.
A cursory study of the atmosphere established by Muhammad in his time will show that all these teachings were not mere claims but were brought in to practice through a proven model of his religion, Islam.
After his demise, his beloved wife Aisha in regard to his character said that:
To conclude, a quote from George Bernard Shaw who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925 sums up beautifully the service of Muhammad for mankind:
“I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality…. I have studied him – the wonderful man, and in my opinion far from being an Anti-Christ he must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today… 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 the much-needed peace and happiness.”