Just after I was born, the very first words whispered into my ear were those words of Shahadah, the simple statement of faith. “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is God’s messenger.” Like most Muslims, the first name whispered into my ear was of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), but not that of my mother or father.
Over 1400 years ago, almost 600 years after Christ died, a man was born in a world of tyranny. Polytheism camouflaged the city of Mecca, the central trading hub of the world. Kaabah, once the holy shrine of Abraham, became the house of idolatry, hosting three hundred and sixty different gods. There were Jews, Christens, and Arab of the desert who followed analyst type religion. The world was in the lust of power, luxuries, enslaving the poor and the abuse of women. Tribal loyalty and customs were the only sources of protection. Justice was harsh, arbitrary, and it was swift, and the punishments were brutal. The daily struggle for survival left very little room for compassion. For entertainment, they enjoyed poetry, drinks and talent shows. In trade, it was a practice to fool innocents and cheat. The rich harassed the poor and weak, and power was in the hands of cruel. Muslims describe this era as ‘The Age of Ignorance’.
Those were times when old civilizations were at the end of their era. The vast emptiness of Arabia was sandwiched between the two of the ancient world greatest powers. To the north, was Christian Byzantium, the last remnant of the Roman Empire, with its capital in Constantinople. To the east was another ancient civilization, the Sassanids, the remains of the Great Persian Empire. In between were hundreds of Arab tribes and clans, constantly competing in a battle for supremacy and survival. The new dawn was to begin, and no one knew the world could change forever.
Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was a merchant from a very early age, and he gained the reputation for integrity and was known as ‘Al Sadiq Al Amin’ (The Honest and Trustworthy). A rich successful businesswoman, Khadija was 40 when she proposed Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) who was 25, for whom he worked earlier. She was impressed by his character and personality. Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was twenty-‐five years old when he married Khadija and the marriage lasted twenty-‐five years until Khadija died of sickness. At the age of forty, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was approached by overpowering presence of angel Gabriel in cave ‘Hira’, about four kilometers from Mecca, a place where Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) occasionally meditated and fasted. Gabriel brought him the tiding that God has chosen him to be His messenger of this world, and ordain upon him the duty to lead the world out of sin, error and ignorance into the light of Guidance, Truth and Knowledge. Gabriel asked Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to read the following verses:
“Read in the name of thy lord and cherisher who created: Created man out of a clot of congealed blood. Read! And thy lord is most bountiful, He who taught the use of pen; Taught man that which he knew not”. (Quran)
Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) changed the course of world history in tremendous ways. After a struggle of about twenty-‐three years of his mission, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) reached the level of success, which no man could have ever achieved. His message shaped and set the world into the right path. He gave light to the world. Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was not a son of God, unlike Jesus. For him there was no miraculous birth, no healing miracles and no resurrection after death, he was just a man. He was not just a spiritual genius, but he also had political gifts of a very high order. The teachings of the use of war and peace justly were part of his mission. He laid the foundations of the religion Islam that after his death developed into a culture and civilization of faith.
The message of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was to bring justice and equality in the society, yet structured in detailed philosophies and literature. His words and answers might not be welcomed, but they always had a representation of a situation in relation to past, present or to the future. His steps maintained the constant pattern of deep and intense justification to every action and reaction. He came with an idea of a society comprising of; compassionate towards humanity, social justice, and a state where weak has stronger support. He believed that nations would not succeed i the idea of justice, showing responsibility towards the people, nature, animals and most important, to self.
He came to the realization that tribal and racial differences would drift people apart and creates a war of individuals; instead he approached in a way that transformed the mindset of the few in the very beginning, but later the impact of metamorphosis stretched out to the whole world. He announced there are no racial or tribal differences. A foreigner and native have same rights on the land.
Emphasis was made on sharing the wealth of own with poor and weak in terms of food, shelter, clothes, justice and social up being. His literature is so intense that it constantly reminds humans of their self-‐reflection and brings the noble to self-‐realization. “A man who goes to bed with his belly full, while his neighbor is hungry, he is not a Muslim.” (Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him))
“One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by God…” (Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him))
Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) reinstated people towards knowledge and education. He believed that without knowledge nothing is possible, and change within the people is an abstract. He knew that countries were built on knowledge. He prioritized pen and paper over a weapon and battle. He went further saying, “An ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr.” On another occasion, he mentioned, “Learn to read, and when you have learned, teach”.
Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)’s message taught peace and tolerance in the society. The practice begins from an individual, and collectively individuals, make an ocean of calm and tolerant society. He reminded of making peace with the believers and non-‐ believers of Islam. It is against the teaching of Islam to force one to change his or her faith, or to force for anything without one's will. “You must respect the people of the books, Jews and Christens, for their books likewise came from God.” (Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)). He reinstated full security and equality in the society for all Muslims and Non-‐Muslims in the books of laws. In compliance with the laws of Islam, Christian or a Jew can live by their true set of guidance (life according to their holy book) in a Muslim governed state.
In a state of war Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) commanded not to cut down the trees, not to kill women, old and kids. Fight with the use of tongue and pen, indeed when the use of your sword is required, you may pursue. Using military as only a part of the whole political strategy is the key to peaceful and prosperous society. “Do not oppress and do not be oppressed.”(Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)). His laws have the highest degree of tolerance, instating a just society. According to his laws, a war prisoner should not be torched and should be treated with gentleness. A prisoner is free upon teaching ten Muslims to read and write.
Humans do not function without humanity. Humanity does not exist without compassion. “You must not take anything from your brother, except what is given freely.” (Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)). He demanded not steal and hold anything unlawful in possession. Upon hearing the request to forgive a thief from his people, he said, “I swear upon God, even if my daughter steals, I will demand to cut her hand as well.” In the eyes of law, everyone is equal, and no one is superior to another. The duty of a Muslim imposed by Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), “It is incumbent upon those who are present to inform those who are absent because those who are absent might comprehend (what I have said) better than the present audience."
Cleansing and taking care of oneself and the environment is as important as the rest of Muhammad’s message. He said, “Cleanliness is half faith.”
Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) united people under the banner of Islam. The word Islam is derived from ‘Salema’, which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. He taught the world the best of ethics. Gave them laws, namely, not to eat carrion, not to speak falsehood and not to engage in fornication. “Every Muslim is a brother of another Muslim and all Muslims are brothers of one another. Between Muslims, there are no races or tribes.” (Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him))
For a Muslim, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is the ultimate role model and his life is known is every detail. The set of laws he implemented in the state he first ruled were the first of its kind in the world history. Today majority of his laws are part of our democracy. It was the first time in the history of mankind that people were united, not by their cast, creed, racial or blood relations, but by faith; faith in the oneness of God, the divine creator of these worlds and hereafter. Faith is the submission and devotion of hearts and mind.
There is a clear distinction between the messenger and the message. Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) may be held in high esteem, but to worship Him is considered ‘Shirq’, a heinous and unforgivable corruption of Islam. Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) reminded people, “You must not think of Muhammad more than a man. God does not like a man who considers himself above another man. I’m the prophet of God, even then I do not know what will become of me.”
Just after I was born, the very first words whispered into my ear were those words of Shahadah, the simple statement of faith. “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is God’s messenger.” Like most Muslims, the first name whispered into my ear was of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), but not that of my mother or father. The footsteps of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) are exemplary and priority to every Muslim and is the soul guidance to peace.
“My choice of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.” Michael H. Hart
It (Islam) was the first religion to preach and practiced democracy; for, in the mosque, when the call for prayer is sounded and worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied fives times a day when the peasant and kings kneel side by side and proclaim: ‘God Alone is Great’…” (Sarojini Naidu)
“If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam. No other religion has had such a record of success in uniting, in giving equality of status of opportunity and of endeavors to so many and so varied races of mankind as Islam did.” (George Bernard Shaw)
After the death of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), Abu Bakar became the first Caliph of Islam, the administrative successor of Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). He began his journey after speaking out wise words to guide the people, "O People! If anyone among you worshipped Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), let him know that Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is dead. But those who worshipped Allah, let them know that He lives and will never die.”
In the beginning, Muslims ruled from Medina in the name of Islam and made its model city. After a long struggle, they then re entered Mecca, who earlier expelled Muslims from the city. Muslims later entered Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt and rout the Byzantine army. Muslims considered their conquest as the liberation of subjugated people since they were under the oppressive rule. Islam followed to North Africa, and India. Almost the entire Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain, Portugal, Andorra, and part of France) was under Islamic control. Islam continued to spread in Asia including Malaysia and Indonesia. Sadly, it was unfortunate that Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) did not live up to see his legacy.
Muslims all around the world became interested in knowledge and performed their skills immensely after mastering the skills. They shared their scholarly knowledge within their strong massive empire in the hope of further study and exploration by other scholars that in return brought innovations and ideas to the people. They introduced the first ever police system in the world, making state responsible of life and wealth of the people. State taking responsibility of poor, orphans, weak, old and widows. Hospitals were first ever built to provide healthcare to public. They launched the taxation system, an equal distribution of wealth in the society to uplift the life of an ordinary. They presented their states with ‘rule of law’ and maintained strict checks and balances that eventually uplifted the life of hundreds and thousands of people. Muslims introduced travel cheques system in the early days when traders and tourist used to travel within the Muslim empire of faith. The boarders were to pass freely by anyone living in the empire of faith.
Cordoba was the greatest city of that time built by the empire of faith. The concept was to build a model city for the western world to introduce them to Islamic empire. It was the first city in the world to have running tap water and streetlights. The first ever university was built in Morocco, University of Al-‐Karaouine, which was originally a mosque. The second university, Al-‐Azhar was established in Egypt, and the third was built in Iran called Nizamiyya. Muslims traded coffee for the very first time in the Yemini port of Mocha and further expanded to the largest trading center of the world, Mecca. “The first coffeehouses were opened in Mecca and called Kaveh Kanes.”(Bussing-‐Burks
XII) Coffee followed to Turkey and to Egypt. Coffeehouses in the early days were famous in Middle East among people to drink coffee, sing, tell stories and poetry and listen to music. Ibn-‐Al-‐Haitum, known as the father of optics gave us the cameras we have today. He studied the movement of an eye. It was almost a century before west has ever dared to carry out an open eye surgery, Muslim doctors already mastered the skills. Islam has attracted great world architectures including, Taj Mahal in India, Dome of the Rock in Israel, Mosque of Sultan in Turkey, The Alhambra in Spain, to name the few.
From the same land of desert, with the same resources, Muslims became the superpowers of the world of that time. It was the idea of knowledge, peace and devotion that changed the course of the people and the Muslim empire lasted 700 years that no other empire could have lived that long in the past.
It was unfortunate that the empire ended remarkably. The destruction of the empire was the resultants of the leaders diversion, which lead the nations into lust of the worldly heavens. They expanded their empires to enjoy the power instead of serving the people, unlike their previous departed leaders. Slowly, the whole empire was detracting from the original message. It took them about a century to lose the superpower model completely. The detraction arose within the leaders that were followed by the public. A Chinese proverb ‘Fish rots from the top’ explains the idea of quality leadership hierarchy that would encourage and lead the people by example.
In today's world, Muslims have to pursue life further. They must raise the standards of their living and avoid oppression. It can only be obtained with knowledge; knowledge that would lead them to gates of heaven, knowledge that would win them this world over and knowledge about their purpose of self-‐existence. Knowledge makes the man pious, so among one of the pious man, becomes the leader, chosen by the people. It is the gateway that can help not only Muslims, but also all the detracted nations and people out of ignorance to enlighten their life with prosperity and modernization.
Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), a man defines who Muslims are.
Author: Aala Rahman
a documentary filmmaker