The best of Creation
Muhammad the man
Ash-hadu anna la ilaha illa Allah wa ash-hadu anna Muhammad rasul Allah (I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah). This is the testimonial of faith, recited by nearly a quarter of the people on earth as a declaration of their faith. It is sounded every day in cities across the world, five times in the call to prayer, twice in every prayer. The declaration mentions Muhammad as the Messenger of Allah.
Muhammad, the last prophet, remains to be the inspiration and role model for billions across the globe, not only as a Prophet and Messenger, but as a man. It is precisely his humanity that brings him alive to so many—that allows people to accord to him the integrity of reality and consequently relate to him in every aspect of their lives. Although Prophet Muhammad is the chosen one, favored from among all humanity to be the last messenger of God, he himself recognized the limits accorded by his humanity and repeatedly exhorted his followers not to impute to him superhuman characteristics or to deify him. His insistence on his humanity is what endears him to his followers and makes them aspire to be like him, to be more fully human.
What follows is by no means a detailed account of Prophet Muhammad’s life. Rather, the intent is to highlight certain aspects of his life that illustrate his character and ethics. The article follows a life filled with all the strengths and weaknesses, emotions, fears, and insecurities that go with humanity.
Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in present day Saudi Arabia. Mecca, home of the Kaaba, was at the time of Muhammad’s birth a thriving commercial and religious center. Muhammad was a member of the tribe of Quraysh, an influential tribe that looked after the Kaaba and held its custody.
There is some disagreement on the exact date of Muhammad’s birth, but most reports suggest it took place in 570 A.D., the “Year of the Elephant” when Abrahah the ruler of Yemen launched his attack against Mecca. As for the month and day, it is widely believed that he was born on 12 Rabie’ al-Awwal.
Muhammad was orphaned before he was born. His father, Abdallah, was the youngest and dearest son of Abdul Muttalib, chief of the Hashim clan that was a sub-branch of the Quraysh tribe. His mother was Aminah, daughter of Wahb Ibn Abdul Manaf Ibn Zuhrah. Soon after his marriage, Abdullah went on a trading trip to Syria. After some months’ absence, Abdullah died on his way back and was buried in Medina.
When Aminah gave birth to Muhammad, she sent her slave-girl to her father-in-law to announce to him the birth of a grandson. Abdul Muttalib, who was still grieving for the loss of his son, was overjoyed at the news. He hurried to Aminah and took his grandson to the Kaaba where he prayed for him and thanked God for his birth.
It was Abdul Muttalib who gave Muhammad his name. Muhammad was an unfamiliar name in Arabia at the time but not totally obscure. Muhammad means the ‘often praised’ or ‘worthy of praise’. Abdul Muttalib chose this name for his grandson because he wished him to be praised by human beings on earth and by God in heaven.
Soon after his birth, Muhammad was given to Thuwaybah, a servant of Muhammad’s uncle Abu Lahab, who nursed him for a while. He was then sent to the desert to be breastfed by a Bedouin wet nurse, as was the practice of the nobles of Mecca.
Life in the desert
Muhammad spent his first years with Halimah, his wet nurse, and her family in a tent in the open desert. Nurtured by Halimah’s milk and the desert air, Muhammad grew strong and sturdy. After weaning him at the end of two years, Halimah took Muhammad back to the city to his mother. However, he was returned once more to live in the desert with Halimah and her family.
It was during this time when he was living in the desert that Muhammad learned the Arabic language in its purest form. It was reported that he himself commented on his eloquence and fluency in the Arabic language with the words, “I am the most Arab among you,” i.e. the most eloquent.
Muhammad finally returned to his mother and to life in the city after having lived with his nurse mother for five years.
A double orphan
After he returned from the desert, Muhammad went to live with his mother who must have doted on him as her only child. Aminah did not remarry after Abdullah’s death. Perhaps she preferred to devote her life to the upbringing of her child. However, it was not long after that tragedy struck and the young boy who was only recently united with his loving mother was orphaned for the second time.
During the time he lived her, Aminah must have talked to her child about the father he had never met. From Aminah’s stories, young Muhammad must have conjured a mental image of the young, handsome man his mother talked about and cultivated a connection with him. And although Muhammad’s grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, stepped in to fill in the void left by his son’s death, it is only likely that Muhammad must have wondered about the man his mother so lovingly depicted.
When Muhammad was about six years old, his mother took him on a trip to Yathrib (Medina) to visit his maternal relatives, the Banu al-Najjar. Aminah, Muhammad, and Umm Ayman the servant who accompanied them on the trip, stayed in Yathrib for a month before Aminah decided to return to Mecca. On their way back, in the village of Abwa only a short distance from Yathrib, Aminah fell ill and died soon afterwards.
A child is created united to his mother, fused to her body. And even after birth, he remains dependent on her as a source of warmth, protection, security, love, and comfort. Consequently, the death of a mother is the most profound loss a young child can ever experience. How did young Muhammad react to his mother’s illness and subsequent death? Did he remain at her side as she lay dying, holding her hand while she tried to comfort him even at her final moments? What were his thoughts and feelings after his mother took her last breath? Did he understand the finality of her death? Was he confused and frightened by the wailing and crying of Umm Ayman? Was his first reaction to run crying into the arms of Umm Ayman or did he stand back, looking with frightened eyes at his mother’s lifeless body? Far away from home and family, it is only reasonable to suppose that Muhammad did experience a variety of emotions. In the immediate aftermath of such a traumatic event, he must have felt that without his loving and protecting mother, the world was a dark and scary place. Looking on as his mother was being buried and dust heaped onto her body, the young child must have realized that she was not coming back. And as Umm Ayman led him to the camels which would take them back to Mecca, he must have looked back at his mother’s grave, feeling sad, lonely, and confused.
Muhammad never forgot his mother and even as an adult, he could still feel a need and longing for her. The pain he felt at his mother’s death may have been hidden but it was never lost. The impact of Muhammad’s early loss is evident in the tradition reported by al-Baihaqi that when the Muhammad visited his mother’s grave, he moved his head as though addressing someone and wept.
More loss and sorrow
The death of Aminah left Muhammad in the hands of Abdul Muttalib, Muhammad’s aged grandfather. Abdul Muttalib was deeply moved by his grandson’s doubled orphanhood and lavished him with the adoration and protectiveness of a loving father. His affection for him was so great that during his meetings with the Meccan leaders, he would seat his young grandson next to him on the cushion reserved for him in the shade of the Kaaba, while his own grown up sons would remain standing. And whenever Muhammad’s uncles tried to remove him, Abdul Muttalib would tell them, “Leave my son alone.” Abdel Muttalib made no secret of his special bond with the child and none of his sons ever objected.
Muhammad’s peaceful life was shattered once more by the death of his grandfather. Abdul Muttalib was approaching eighty and knew that he did not have much longer to live. He felt it necessary to arrange for Muhammad’s future. He charged his son, Abu Talib, to take care of Muhammad after his own death. A kind-hearted man with great love for his nephew, Abu Talib readily agreed to his father’s request.
No sooner after this, Abdul Muttalib died. For most children, death is a new experience, but not so for Muhammad. The pain, grief, confusion, and uncertainty he felt when his mother died must have come at him anew and triggered feelings of loneness and abandonment. Muhammad has now lost the only father figure he has known, the man whose love and affection was unequalled by any other. It was reported that at Abdul Muttalib’s funeral, eight-year-old Muhammad followed the bier, crying continuously for he realized that he would no longer see his beloved grandfather ever again.
In Abu Talib’s care
Abu Talib was the noblest and kindest of all of Abdul Muttalib’s sons. Perhaps it was for this reason that Abdul Muttalib chose to put the young orphaned Muhammad in Abu Talib’s care. Another reason that may have influenced Abdul Muttalib in his choice of custodian for his grandchild was that Abu Talib was Abdullah’s full brother.
Abu Talib received the young orphan into his household with open arms. Muhammad’s stay with his uncle was to be one of the happiest and most stable periods of his life. Abu Talib had great love and affection for his nephew, so much so, that it was reported that when Muhammad was twelve, his uncle was preparing to go on a trading trip to Syria, he could not bring himself to part with his nephew and decided to take him along with him. Abu Talib looked after Muhammad until he became a man and continued to protect and assist him until his death. When Muhammad started to preach his message, Abu Talib defied his tribe and protected and supported his nephew in the face of strong opposition from the Quraysh.
Normally children as young as Muhammad was at this stage of his life do not have to worry about problems or difficulties of any kind. But Muhammad had a strong sense of responsibility from an early age and decided to pitch in and work to earn his own livelihood. He worked as a shepherd, tending flocks of sheep for the people of Mecca. And although Muhammad’s meager earnings did little to relieve his uncle’s financial load, his decision to work demonstrated a sense of responsibility and dutifulness, noble-mindedness, and gratitude towards his uncle.
Out alone in the desert, without the sound of another human, Muhammad’s days were solitary, with nothing but the sound of bleating sheep, the wind, and the desert. There is little for a shepherd to do except watch his flock graze. Muhammad was naturally insightful and the time he spent alone allowed him to listen perceptively and observe his surroundings. During his time alone, his thoughts must have turned to the universe around him and its creator. His long silent days and contemplations grounded a spiritual sensibility in him at a very early age long before their significance became apparent to him.
Muhammad’s occupation developed in him the skills of patience, tolerance, compassion, tenderness, and mercy without which he could not have tended his sheep and later his community.
The trustworthy merchant
Muhammad continued to work as a shepherd until financial constraints made it necessary that he find a higher paying job. Muhammad therefore found work as an agent, trading on merchants’ behalf. It seems that he had no difficulty in securing such a position for he had gained a solid reputation for honesty, truthfulness, honesty, trustworthiness, prudence, and sound character. For all of these fine qualities, he was known among the Quraysh as “al-amin” (the trustworthy) and “al-sadiq” (the honest one). It was reported that he once entered into a partnership with al-Sa`ib Ibn Abu al-Sa`ib who, speaking of Muhammad’s flexibility, said that he never came across a business partner who was better than Muhammad. According to him, Muhammad was never strict in business dealings with others and never deceived anyone nor wrangled with anyone.
At twenty-five years of age, Muhammad worked for Khadijah, a wealthy merchant woman of the Quraysh who employed men to trade her goods on a profit-sharing basis. Because of his reputation for honesty and trustworthiness, Khadijah offered Muhammad better terms than she did other merchants.
Marriage to Khadijah
Khadijah, daughter of Khuwaylid, was a woman of honor and wealth. She was married twice and after the death of her second husband, she turned down several noblemen who asked for her hand in marriage. Despite the age difference between them (she was 40 at the time), Khadijah was won over by Muhammad’s truthfulness, loyalty, modesty, and humility. Her interest in him turned into love and she decided to communicate her wish to marry him. According to some reports, she intimated her desire to her friend Nufaysah who made the offer to Muhammad.
The marriage was a happy and stable one. Although Khadijah was neither young nor a virgin, Muhammad had great love for her and treated her with the greatest affection. He never took advantage of her wealth and she in turn had great respect for him.
Muhammad and Khadijah had six children together, two sons and four daughters. Unfortunately his sons, al-Qasim and Abdullah, died in their infancy.
Muhammad remained faithful to his wife and did not think of taking another wife, as was the custom in those days, for as long as she lived. How deeply must her death have cut into the heart of Muhammad! Her loss deprived him of his only source of strength, comfort, and support. Muhammad would forever remember fondly the woman who believed in him and remained at his side when everyone turned against him.
And thou (standest) on an exalted standard of character
Muhammad gained a solid reputation quite early in life and was known in all Quraysh for his impeccable character. His life abounds with incidents attesting to his righteousness and virtuousness that even his staunchest enemies could not deny.
After Muhammad embarked upon his mission and was ordered to preach his message in the open, he climbed the mount of Safa and cried out to the people, “If I were to inform you that I see a cavalry on the other side of the mountain, would you believe me?” This was a very crucial question as it was a test of his credibility in the eyes of his people. But even a claim about such an unlikely event could not shake their faith in his honesty. They replied, “Indeed, for we trust you and we have never known you to tell a lie.” And when Muhammad proclaimed the message of Islam to them, they did not question his truthfulness. Although he feared that Muhammad’s words would impress upon the people, Abu Lahab could not discredit him but only said, “Woe to you on this day! Did you assemble us for this?!”
Jealousy and competition for supremacy prevented the leaders of the Quraysh from accepting Muhammad’s message. When al-Akhnas asked Abu Jahl whether Muhammad was truthful or a liar, he could not deny Muhammad’s credibility and said, “Woe to you! By, Allah, Muhammad is truthful. Muhammad has never told a lie in his life! But if the family of Qusay enjoyed alone the privileges of leadership, guardianship of the Sacred House, the honor of providing pilgrims with water and the honor of prophethood, what would be left for the rest of the Quraysh?”
The books of hadiths record a report about a meeting between Heraclius and Abu Sufyan, one of the staunchest enemies of Islam, who was on a mercantile tripe to Syria. Muhammad had sent letters to various kings around Arabia, including Heraclius, inviting them to Islam. He therefore sent for Abu Sufyan to inquire about Muhammad and the new religion. When Abu Sufyan came before him, Heraclius asked him several questions that included a question about Muhammad’s truthfulness and honesty among his people. Abu Sufyan could not answer but with the truth for he knew that if he lied, his companions who were present with him, would contradict him. So when Heraclius asked him, “Did you ever accuse Muhammad of lying before he made his claim?” Abu Sufyan had no choice but to attest to Muhammad’s veracity.
Muhammad never spoke loudly nor in an unseemly manner. He always had a smile for everyone. Abdallah Ibn al-Harith once narrated that he has never seen anyone more in the habit of smiling than the Messenger of God. And whenever someone spoke to him, he listened with the greatest attention to their questions or requests, never turning his face away from his interlocutor. He spoke little and listened much. When a person would extend his hands to greet him, Muhammad would always shake his hands and wait for the other person to withdraw his hand first.
Muhammad lived a calm and quiet life as a merchant before he was called upon to preach his mission. He participated in the public life of the city and was respected as much for his honesty as for his wisdom.
Years before Muhammad started his mission, Quraysh decided to rebuild the Kaabah after a flood had shaken its foundations and cracked its walls. Moreover, its ceiling had fallen in disrepair and the treasures that were housed inside it were exposed to robbery. The rebuilding of the Kaabah was a combined enterprise by all the clans of the Quraysh who had established a fund for this purpose and personally undertook the reconstruction itself. When the time came to place the Black Stone in its place, they fell into dispute. They all vied for this honor and the competition over this was so fierce that it almost led to a civil war. Eventually, they agreed to let the first man to enter through a certain gate of the Kaabah to be the arbitrator in this dispute. That man happened to be Muhammad. When they saw him, they said, “This is al-amin; we are satisfied.” To resolve the problem, Muhammad told them to bring a robe. When it was brought to him, he placed it on the ground, placed the Black Stone in its center, and said, “Let the elders of each tribe hold one side of the robe.” After they carried it to the site of the construction, Muhammad himself positioned it in place. Through his wisdom, bloodshed was averted and the dispute resolved.
Honesty and trustworthiness
The people of Mecca trusted Muhammad and never doubted his reliability both before and after he began his mission. And although they eventually turned against him, they knew of no other man whom they could trust more and continued to entrust him with their valuables. After Muhammad learnt of Quraysh’s plan to kill him, he decided to emigrate to Yathrib (Medina). But before he left, he asked his cousin Ali to stay behind to return to the people the items they had deposited with him.
His mercy and kindness
Muhammad respected all creatures, man and animals, big and small. The mother of Anas Ibn Malik took her son when he was a young boy to Muhammad and asked him to let her son serve him. Muhammad took him in and treated him with kindness and mercy. Anas spent ten years in Muhammad’s house. He narrated that during that entire time, Muhammad never once struck him; whenever he did something he was not asked to do, Muhammad never asked him why he did it and whenever he did not do something he was asked to do, Muhammad never asked him why he did not do it. Such was his mercy and compassion—he never burdened anyone beyond their capacity.
Mercy to children
Anas had a little brother called Abu Uamyr who had a little bird that he used to play with. Whenever Muhammad saw Abu Umayr, he would ask him about his bird. Once he visited the family and noticed that Abu Umayr was distressed. When he learned that Abu Umayr’s bird had died, Muhammad spent some time joking and playing with the little boy to console him.
Mercy to animals
Muhammad’s mercy extended to non-humans. On one occasion, he visited a farm in Medina belonging to one of the Ansar (Helpers). He noticed a camel on the farm that was distressed and suffering from malnourishment. He went over to it and gently rubbed its back and then called its owner and reprimanded him for overworking and underfeeding it. Whenever he saw any animal carrying a heavy burden, he would pull up its owner and say, “Fear God with regard to your treatment of animals.”
Once Muhammad was on a journey with some of his Companions when one of his companions seized a bird’s chicks. The bird’s painful note and distress attracted Muhammad’s attention. He asked, “Who has distressed this bird over its offspring? Return them to it!”
Mercy to non-believers
When Abu Talib died, the Quraysh treated Muhammad and his followers worse than they had ever done since the start of his mission until he could bear it no more. He therefore decided to go to the city of al-Ta`if to solicit the support of the tribe of Thaqif. However, they incited their slaves to revile him and pelt him with stones. He ran away from them and retreated under a tree to supplicate to his Lord. The archangel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that God has deputed the angel of the mountains to bring down upon the people of Ta`if the mountains and destroy them. Even at this point, when he was insulted and utterly humiliated, Muhammad only supplicated God to guide them to the straight path and refused the angel’s offer of punishment.
The Quraysh were Muhammad’s enemies. Throughout the thirteen years he was in Mecca before he emigrated to Yathrib, they mocked, abused, insulted and even plotted to kill him. Even after he left Mecca, they incited the tribes of Arabia against him and waged war against him. Yet for all of this, he did not seek revenge after the conquest of Mecca. Instead, he forgave all his enemies and granted them a general amnesty.
Respect for people of other faiths and races
Muhammad respected everyone, regardless of their faith. One day, he was sitting with his companions when the funeral procession of a Jew passed by. Upon seeing it, Muhammad immediately stood up. His astonished companions exclaimed, “O Prophet of God! He is a Jew!” He replied, “Was he not a soul created by God?”
He loved everyone alike irrespective of race, color, and creed. He said, “You are all from Adam and Adam was created from clay.”
Muhammad was a man before he was a prophet and exhibited all human behavior. Muhammad’s attitude towards humor is well documented and records show that he liked to laugh. Although he joked frequently with his companions, he only said what is true.
Once an old woman came up to him and asked him to pray to God that she enter paradise. With gentle humor, he told her, “Do you not know that old women do not enter paradise?” The woman started crying and as she was leaving, Muhammad stopped her and said, “God will make old women young again and then they will enter paradise.”
Another report tells us more about Muhammad’s humor. Once Muhammad was passing through the market when he saw Zahir, a common merchant, selling his goods and crying, “Who is going to buy this from me?” Muhammad playfully grabbed him from behind and locked his arms around Zahir’s arms and chest and said, “Who will buy this slave [of God]?” Seeing that it was Muhammad playing a practical joke on him, Zahir laughed and said, “O Messenger of God! Whoever buys this slave will surely get a bad bargain.” Muhammad smiled and replied, “You are of great value in the eyes of God.”
Fear and doubt
Muhammad received his first revelation when he was 40. He had developed a custom to devote a period of each year to a retreat far from his people to meditate. The exercise of thought and contemplation was not new to Muhammad. His early life in the desert and his occupation as a herdsman had provided him with plenty of time to ponder and contemplate. The scorching sun of the day; the moon and the brilliance of the stars during the night; the sprawling desert that blanketed much of Arabia; and the innumerable movements and manifestations of nature, all created a heightened awareness in him and fostered in him a deep desire to understand the power that guarded the order of this complex universe. It was with such a state of mind that he retreated each year to a cave in the mount of Hira for the entire month of Ramadan in the hope of finding the truth. Although his mind teemed with questions, he was aware of one certainty—that the idols his people worshipped were mere stones, mindless and powerless.
One day towards the end of the month of Ramadan, Muhammad experienced the most frightening event in his life. He was in the cave, dozing off when Gabriel came to him in the form of a man holding a scroll. “Read!” the angel commanded him. “I am not a reader,” Muhammad answered. Then the angel took him in his embrace and pressed hard until Muhammad reached the limits of his endurance. Gabriel overpowered Muhammad three times, each time commanding him to read and every time Muhammad answered with, “I am not a reader.” Finally, the angel released him and recited, “Read in the name of thy Lord Who created! He created man from a clot of blood. Read and thy Lord is the Most Bountiful, He Who hath taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not.” Then just as suddenly as he appeared, the angel was gone. For a while, Muhammad remained there paralyzed with panic. He tried to make sense of what had happened. Was it real or was it a hallucination? It felt real enough and he could still feel the effects of the angel’s intense embrace. Had he gone mad or was he possessed by an evil spirit? Muhammad’s first impulse was to turn and run down the mountain. Still trembling with fear, Muhammad stopped mid-way when the same voice called him from above. When he looked up, Muhammad saw the same figure filling the horizon and looking down at him. There was no escape—wherever he looked or ran, the angel was right there before him. Shivering and panic-stricken, Muhammad hurried to his home and burst through the door crying, “Cover me, cover me!” This was how Muhammad received the first revelation. For Muhammad, alone in the darkness and stillness of the cave, this miraculous event had generated neither spiritual elation nor exultation. There was no dawning of truth, only overwhelming fear and doubt. It is precisely this fear and this doubt that binds us to him and anchors our hearts for they are the only natural human response to such a shattering experience.
Muhammad and women
For the most part, women in 7 th century Meccan society had virtually no legal status. In many instances, they were oppressed, deprived of their inheritance, and treated as chattel. Their personal consent regarding anything related to them was considered unimportant and their counsel was not sought. The birth of a daughter was regarded with humiliation and female infanticide was rampant. But Muhammad came to change all that, not only by conveying God’s injunctions regarding jahilliyah practices, but through personal example by which he demonstrated the equality of men and women. The way he treated women was groundbreaking in a culture that marginalized women.
For Muhammad, women were no less equal than men—they were an integral part of society. He said, “Women are the twin halves of men.” He encouraged men to view women as equals and to value their opinion.
Muhammad stressed the importance of women and the respect that should be shown to them. Regarding mothers, he said, “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.”
Muhammad demonstrated equality inside family life when he assisted his wives and performed household chores to alleviate their burden. In one report, Aisha said that he “would do chores for his family and he would go out when it was time for prayer.”
He was the most compassionate even to women and he advised his followers with the words, “Take care of your precious pearls (women),” and “Be kind to your wives and be patient with them.”
Muhammad advised men to remember all of the good qualities in their wives and to disregard any negative characteristics.
In the sermon he gave during the farewell pilgrimage, Muhammad made a heartfelt plea to Muslims to treat women well, to honor and protect them, and to give them their rights. He said, “Be conscious of God with regard to women.” There was no reason for Muhammad to mention women in his most important sermon that summed up his life and the principles of his teachings except to underscore their value.
A loving husband
Muhammad is the best example of an ideal husband. He was the most gentle, loving, caring, generous, and tolerant of husbands and treated his wives with utmost affection and kindness. He respected their opinions, involved them in his affairs, and took their advice into consideration. Although his love for Aisha was the greatest after his first wife Khadijah, the equality and fairness with which he treated all of his wives, made each one of them think that she was his most beloved. He said, “Everything other than the remembrance of Allah is considered wasteful except four: a man humoring his wife, … .”
Muhammad did not give preferential treatment to any of his wives at the expense of the others. He treated them all equally. Aisha said, “When the Messenger of God intended to undertake a journey, he would cast lots among his wives. Whichever one had her arrow chosen would accompany him on his journey.” He also allotted for each of his wives a day and a night, which he would spend with her.
Muhammad encouraged his followers to treat their wives kindly and taught them that the way a husband treats his wife reflects his character and faith. He said, “The most perfect in faith are the best in character. The best of you are those who behave best to their wives.”
Muhammad expressed his affection and kindness to his wives and always made gentle gestures to exhibit his love for them. When Aisha would drink from a cup, he would take the cup and put his lips on the same place. He would then drink the contents of the cup. On other occasions, when they ate together, he would take the food from her hand and bite from the very place where she ate from. He reinforced the importance of such gestures with the words, “You will be rewarded for anything you spend, even the morsel of food you lift to your wife’s mouth.”
Muhammad assisted his wives in the housework without being asked and saw to his needs himself. He did not consider this above him. Aisha narrated that he used to help in household chores and even washed his clothes, milked the ewes and served himself.
Muhammad was considerate of his wives’ feelings, even when they appeared to be unreasonable. It was reported that once his wife Safiyyah cried because she was made to ride a slow camel. When he saw that she was crying, Muhammad gently wiped her tears and comforted her. He even tried to find her another camel.
Muhammad valued his wives’ opinions and consulted them when making decisions. His wife Umm Salamah acted as his advisor during the negotiations over the treaty of Hudaybiyyah and he appreciated and followed her counsel.
Muhammad was keen to spend quality time with his wives and engage in recreational activities with them. It was reported that Muhammad once challenged Aisha to a race and she won. Sometime later, they raced again. This time he won and he jokingly teased her that she lost the race because she had gained weight.
Humility and modesty
Humility and modesty are virtues that many people find difficult to cultivate. Muhammad was the most humble and modest of people. No where in the history of man would we find an example of such fine humility as when he rode victorious with his army into Mecca after its conquest. This was one of the most glorious moments in the life of Muhammad. The Quraysh had not only persecuted and tortured the Muslims but insulted and humiliated him in person. The scene of Muhammad as he entered the city with a huge army contrasts sharply with any that may come to mind. For Muhammad there was no overt display of victory. Narrations tell us that as Muhammad entered the city, he was so hunched over in humility that his beard almost touched the saddle. He did not enter as an arrogant warrior, but went in humbled by the victory he saw was from God.
An essential part of humility is knowing our limits, strengths, and weaknesses.
Muhammad recognized the limits of his knowledge of worldly matters and seldom made a decision without engaging his companions. When he was alerted of an imminent attack by the Jews, the Quraysh, and other tribes, Muhammad summoned his companions to a consultation on the best course of action. Salman al-Farsi suggested a strategy of defense, digging a trench around the city. Those present received Salman’s plan with favor and so Muhammad immediately implemented it. It was reported that Abu Huraira said, “I have never seen anyone who consults with his companions more than the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.”
Muhammad did not wish his followers to raise him above his station as an ordinary human being. He said, “I am a mere human being. When I command you to do anything about religion in the name of God, accept it, but when I give you my personal opinion about worldly things, bear in mind that I am a human being and no more.”
Muhammad’s companions acknowledged him both as their religious and political leader. Yet, in spite of this, he lived in a hut and wore simple clothes. He did not accumulate any wealth nor did he seek special privileges.
Muhammad built his dwellings and those of his family around his mosque. They were small rooms built from palm leaves covered with mud and consisted of meager furnishings. Aisha said, “I used to sleep in front of the Messenger of God with my legs in his qibla [direction of prayer], facing him. Whenever he prostrated [for prayer], he would push my feet and I would bend them and whenever he stood, I would stretch them.”
He had few clothes that sometimes required mending but he kept them spotlessly clean. On rare occasions, he would wear clothes presented to him by foreign emissaries during the latter part of his life.
Muhammad did not seek wealth and it was reported that at his death, his armor was mortgaged to a Jew for 30 sa’ of barley. Amr Ibn al-Harith said, “The Messenger of God did not leave a dinar, a dirham, a slave, or a slave-girl—he left nothing except for his white mule that he used to ride, his weapons and the land that he left as a charitable bequest for wayfarers.”
Although Muhammad was the leader of an entire community and people from all Arabian Peninsula followed and obeyed him, he did not have any inflated sense of self, arrogance, or superiority. Quite the contrary, he told his companions not to stand up for him when they saw him. And when Muhammad led his companions in prayer while he was seated because he was ill and they prayed while standing, he told them, “Do not venerate me as the Persians venerate one another.”
Muhammad did not consider it above him to join his companions in manual labor. He himself participated in the construction of the mosque upon his arrival in Medina. And before the battle of the trench, he worked shoulder-to-shoulder with his followers digging out the ditch and carried away the dirt till dust covered his stomach.
Muhammad’s humility is most apparent when towards the end of his life during the farewell pilgrimage; he sought the reassurance from his community and asked them, “Have I fulfilled my mission?” These are not the words of a leader, seeking his place in history, but of a humble man who needed to know whether he has fulfilled God’s mandate to him.
The amount of literature written about Muhammad is extensive; indeed, the details of his life are probably better known, more than that that of any other religious figure. Muslim scholars made careful efforts to record every aspect of his life based on the traditions narrated by his companions and followers. It is important for Muslims to know the complexities of his life as a prophet who brought the word of God to humanity. Equally important for them is to know the human story of the man who is the source of how they are to behave and how to seek the values that are expressed most clearly in his story. The story of Muhammad is basically the story of every human; it is the story of an orphan, a child, a youth, a son, a citizen, a neighbor, a worker, a husband, a father, a guide, and a states-man. It is a story that, in all of its complexities and components, portrays the picture of a living man.