By Imam Murtadha Gusau
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation. May Allah extol the mention of the Prophet in the highest company of Angels and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, his family, his Companions and all those who follow him exactly till the Day of Judgement.
Dear brothers and sisters, teaching the people is an important, respected and well-regarded profession in every society and community. People from all walks of life find it professionally and personally a well-rewarding career. It is an exciting and challenging career too. Islam itself is a school and its Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was the loving leader, tutor and the teacher of teachers whose teachings and sayings still guide, inspire and instruct the whole humanity. As a teacher, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) not only taught us the principles of our Faith, but guided us how the minor foundations and the most complex questions of Islam and its related teachings applies to our daily lives. He was the passerby of this worldly life but his entire life is an example to the humanity in this life and enlightenment in the life after the death.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was an orphan. His father died before he was born and his mother died when he was only six years old. Arabia at the time was a very tribal society. Orphans were the lowest class in society because they lacked protection. This left him feeling vulnerable at such a young age. This left him completely dependent on Allah but also allowed him to feel a strong connection to the most destitute of people in society. The Qur’an reminds the Prophet (Peace be upon him) to never forget his past and always care for the less fortunate, as follows:
“Did He not find you an orphan and give you refuge? And He found you lost and guided you. And He found you poor and made you self-sufficient. So as for the orphan, do not oppress him. And as for the petitioner, do not repel him. But as for the favour of your Lord, report it.” [Qur’an, 93:6-11]
Muhammad (Peace be upon him) became a Prophet at the age of forty. Prior to that he was living a normal life in society. He conducted business, married, attended social gatherings, and mingled with all types of people. He did not lie even when he told jokes and never cheated in business. He had one characteristic that quickly became apparent to all those who interacted with him; honesty. He was never known to have lied and even those who rejected his message referred to him as the truthful one (Al’amin).
Despite the fact that the Qur’an is the greatest Arabic literary work, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) did not know how to read or write. The 6th and 7th century were considered to be the golden age of Arabic. The Arabs mastered the language and recited poetry in their gatherings, religious festivals, love poems, and tribal wars. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was not a poet and known to have never recited poetry. When he became a Prophet at the age of forty, he presented the Qurʾan to the Arabs and they were in awe of its unmatched linguistic beauty. They knew that this could not be the word of a human, especially one who did not read or write. On several occasions, the Qur’an challenges the Arabs to produce something even similar to the Qur’an:
“Were all mankind to come together and wish to produce the like of the Qur’an, they would never succeed, however much they aided each other.” [Qur’an, 17:88]
“If you have doubts about the revelation We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a single chapter like it and enlist whatever supporters you have other than Allah – if you truly [think you can]. If you cannot do this – and you never will – then beware of the fire prepared for the disbelievers, whose fuel is men and stones.” [Qurʾan, 2:23-24]
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) lived in a time when men considered themselves superior to women. Many men considered themselves to be too manly to do household chores. Aisha, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, explains that he used to milk the goats, mend his sandals, and patch his own clothes. He was busy helping his wife and taking care of the home. Aisha was asked “What did the Prophet used to do in his house?” She replied, “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer he would go for it.” [Bukhari]
Before his death the Prophet warned his followers that they should not worship or make idols of him like the followers of other Prophets did. He continuously educated them of his mortality and his being a man, except that he is the Messenger of Allah. The declaration of the Islamic faith highlights the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was not divine, but a Messenger of Allah:
“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
Muslims do not worship Muhammad and therefore should not be referred to as Muhammadans.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) also said:
“Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary (i.e. Jesus), for I am only [Allah’s] servant. So, call me the servant of Allah and His messenger.” [Bukhari]
On another occasion the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
“O people, say what you have to say and do not allow shaitan (satan) to deceive you. I am Muhammad, the servant of Allah and His Messenger. I do not like you to raise me above the status at which I have been placed by Allah, Noble and Majestic is He.” [Ahmad]
“Say (O Muhammad): ‘I am only a man like you. It has been inspired to me that your Lord is One Lord (Allah). So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.” [Qur’an, 18:11]
“And Muhammad is no more than a Messenger; many Messengers passed away before him; if then he dies or is killed will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least and Allah will reward the grateful.” [Qur’an, 3:144]
Since he became a Prophet many people tried to kill him. They successfully exiled him from Makkah, tortured and killed his followers, spread false rumours about him, and did their absolute best to end his life and message. As the message of Islam grew, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and the large number of Muslims would later return to Makkah. The Makkans were the ones who tortured and killed many of the Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Muslims had the upper hand and one might imagine this to be a moment where they rightfully seek revenge. However, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) entered Makkah with his head lowered in humbleness and forgave all of his enemies. He said to them:
“Today I say to you as Yusuf (Joseph) said to his brothers: ‘This day there is no blame on you.’ Go your way for you are free.” [Muslim]
In 7th century Arabia, women had very few rights. Even their right to life was questioned and the Arabs had a custom of burying their daughters alive. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the Qur’an chastised the Arabs for such a practice. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) introduced several revolutionary changes to the status of women in Arabia at the time. He allowed women to inherit, taught that they were equal to men in the sight of Allah, prohibited adultery and sexual abuse of women, elevated the status of mothers as being greater to that of the father and much more. In his farewell sermon he said:
“I order you to be good to women.” [Tirmidhi]
He also said:
“The best of you is the best to his wives.” [Tirmidhi]
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) consulted women and weighed their opinions seriously. Women prayed in Mosques, sought knowledge, and were both teachers and students in the early period of Islamic history. The Prophet’s close Companion and second Khalifah, Umar was corrected by a woman when he tried to limit the amount of dowry a woman can receive. He also appointed women in various governmental positions and officials in the markets of Madinah.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) prohibited animal abuse. He said that the one who kills an animal for sport is cursed. He also chastised people who overload their horses or camels and told them to:
“Fear Allah concerning these animals that cannot speak.” [Abu Dawud]
He also taught that people can go to heaven because they cared for animals. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, where he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.” So, he went down the well again and filled his shoe with water and watered it. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him. The people said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being).” [Bukhari]
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) had a strong presence. His charismatic nature left a strong impact on all those who met him. A lady named Umm Maʿabad who met him on his way to Madinah and described him as follows:
“I saw a man, pure and clean, with a handsome face and a fine figure. He was not marred by a skinny body, nor was he overly small in the head and neck. He was graceful and elegant, with intensely black eyes and thick eyelashes. There was a huskiness in his voice, and his neck was long. His beard was thick, and his eyebrows were finely arched and joined together. When silent, he was grave and dignified, and when he spoke, glory rose up and overcame him. He was from afar the most beautiful of men and the most glorious, and close up he was the sweetest and the loveliest. He was sweet of speech and articulate, but not petty or trifling. His speech was a string of cascading pearls, measured so that none despaired of its length, and no eye challenged him because of brevity. In company he is like a branch between two other branches, but he is the most flourishing of the three in appearance, and the loveliest in power. He has friends surrounding him, who listen to his words. If he commands, they obey implicitly, with eagerness and haste, without frown or complaint.” [See Ash-Shama’ilil Muhammadiyyah, of Imam Al-Tirmidhi]
Unlike many previous Prophet’s, Muhammad’s place of death and burial is known. He has a marked grave in the city of Madinah in modern day Saudi Arabia. His grave is in Islam’s second holiest site known as the Prophet’s Mosque. Muslims from throughout the world visit this Mosque every year and visit the Prophet’s grave. They do not pray to the grave, but rather they pray to Allah while facing the city of Makkah (Qiblah).
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) once said:
“Who from my Ummah (universal nation) would learn five qualities to act upon or teach to those who would (in turn) act upon them?” Abu Hurairah said, “I, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) took Abu Hurairah’s hand and counted the five qualities on it, saying: Guard yourself against things forbidden, you will be the most worshipful (devout) of people. Be content with what Allah has allotted you, you will be the richest of people. Be good to your neighbour, you will be a believer. Love for people what you love for yourself, you will be a Muslim. And do not laugh much; much laughing deadens the heart.” [At-Tirmidhi]
He (Peace be upon him) drew a square on the ground, then a line in the middle of it that extended beyond it, and a number of small lines around that middle line. He told his Companions that the line in the middle represented man. The square represented his inescapable lifetime. And the small lines around it represented the afflictions that would happen to him (sickness, pain, bereavement, infirmity, and so on). He explained: “If this one misses him, that one gets him, and if that one misses him, this one gets him.” As for the line that extended outside the square, it represented man’s extended ambitions in this worldly life (ambitions that he believed he would attain before his death, but he would not). [Al-Bukhari]
Respected brothers and sisters, there was not, and there cannot ever be, a better teacher. The wisest is the best of people. That was Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). His goodness of mind was only excelled by his goodness of character, whose ampleness and magnanimity was not narrowed or ruffled by anything.
He was always overflowing with knowledge and benefit, always easy with people, approachable, informative, supportive, kind, generous, friendly, and cheerful; teaching people through his noble manners and actions as much as through his noble words.
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)’s doors were not shut like today’s leaders, nor his doors have guards. He was within people’s reach. Anyone who wished to meet him could easily do so.
His accessibility did not in the least detract from his majesty and honour. At first sight, awe was the primary emotion, which would soon, after a little association with him, dissolve into amiability.
“Calm yourself,” the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said soothingly to a man who came to talk to him and started trembling: “I am not a king. I am only the son of a woman who used to eat jerked meat (dried meat).” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
He smiled without laughing, was sad without frowning, strong without violence, modest without servility, and generous without extravagance.
He shook hands with the rich and the poor, the young and the old, and was the first to greet whoever met him, whether young or old, black or red, free or a slave.
If a man met and shook hands with him, he (Peace be upon him) never withdrew his hand first; he waited for the other man to withdraw his hand. He was never the first to turn away his face; he waited until the other man had turned away his face.
He never said no to anything for which he was asked. And whenever given the choice between two matters, he chose the easier option, unless it involved a sin, in which case he would be the furthest from it.
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was constantly mindful of Allah, wasted no time in useless talk, prolonged his prayers, shortened his sermons, and was never too proud to walk with the widows and the poor, to help them and fulfill their needs. His pattern of life was much like that of the common people.
He used to buy items from the marketplace and carry them with his own hands, give fodder to and tether his own camel, sweep the house, milk the sheep, mend his shoes, patch his garment, eat with his servant, and grind the wheat instead of him if he asked him to.
Aisha (his wife, may Allah be pleased with her) was asked:
“What did the Prophet used to do in his house?” She replied: “He used to be in the service of his family, and when the time for Salah (Prayer) came, he would go out to Salah.” [Al-Bukhari]
He (Peace be upon him) never fully satisfied his hunger nor complained of anything to anyone. He found poverty preferable to affluence and wealth.
He gave to people as one fearless of poverty, saving nothing for tomorrow. He used to say:
“Allah brings the provision of every tomorrow.” [Imam Al-Baihaqi reported it, in Shu’ab Al-Iman]
He forbade exaggerated praise of himself, including people standing up for him as people stand up for kings and leaders, or walking behind him. Rather, he would walk at the rear of his Companions, guiding their steps, and would initiate greetings with anyone he met.
He would sit among his Companions as one of them, without distinguishing himself, and would participate in whatever work they did.
“O Messenger of Allah, I will slaughter the sheep,” said one of the Companions. “O Messenger of Allah, I will skin it,” said another. “O Messenger of Allah, I will cook it,” said another. “And I will gather the wood,” said Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). They said: “O Messenger of Allah, we will spare you work.” He said: “I know you can spare me (work), but I hate to be distinguished among you. Allah, the Most Exalted, hates to see His servant distinguished among his Companions.” [See Subulul Huda war-Rashad fi Sirati Khairil Ibad, by Al-Muhib At-Tabari]
He was the most merciful of people to others. He would start the prayer intending to prolong it; but on hearing the cries of a child, he would shorten his prayer:
“Because of the intense sadness I know his crying causes his mother.” [Al-Bukhari]
Harm and harassment only increased his patience and forbearance. On the Battle of Uhud when his people fought him and wounded his face, he was heard saying, while wiping blood off his face:
“O Allah, forgive my people, for they know not.” [Al-Bukhari]
He was never angry about worldly life or worldly things, seeing them as merely transient.
“In worldly life I am but a traveler who sought shade under a tree, then he departed and left it behind.” [At-Tirmidhi]
But when a right was violated, he stood angrily in defense of it until it was redressed. He was shyer than a virgin in her seclusion.
He never confronted anyone with what he disliked about him. Rather, he would exclaim:
“What is the matter with those people who do such and such?”
He always lowered his gaze and never fixed it on anyone. He spent more time looking towards the ground than toward the sky. Most of his looking was contemplative.
He was in a state of continuous grief and thought (for his people). He had little rest, periods of long silence, and never spoke needlessly.
He always started and ended his words with Allah’s Name. His words, which he repeated three times to ensure they were well understood, were clear, precise, pithy yet comprehensive, never more or less than needed, and easy to memorise.
He used to praise and support good things and condemn and undermine the bad.
He (Peace be upon him) was always thoughtful of others, enquiring after his Companions and asking people about what troubled them. He would occupy himself with people’s concerns and guide them towards solutions to set right their affairs, answering what they asked about and telling them what they needed to know.
His method of assembly was one of knowledge, tolerance, modesty, truthfulness, and patience, in which he was always cheerful, lenient, and good-natured. He was never rude, tough, noisy, fault-finding, or complimentary.
He only talked for a good purpose. He never censured, criticised, or sought to know the lapses of anyone.
No voices were raised during his assemblies. When he talked, those sitting with him bowed their heads and listened, as if there were birds perched on their heads. They did not speak until he had stopped. None interrupted the other, nor did he interrupt anyone. The first to speak, regardless of rank, was the one listened to until he had finished. He laughed at what his attendants laughed at and admired what they admired.
He never rose or sat down without mentioning Allah. He would seat himself where he found a place (not in a particular place) and advised others to do the same (Peace be upon him).
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, writes from Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.