In the Early Hours (Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development)

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  • In the Early Hours (Reflections on Spiritual and Self-Development)


    CHAPTER FOUR: `Relating to Allah's Messenger


    THE Quran's major claim upon us is to put its teachings into practice for Allah demands the whole of our lives:

    O you who have attained to faith! Surrender yourselves wholly unto God, and follow not Shaytan's footsteps, far, verily, he is your open foe[al-Baqara 2: 208.]

    The only way to live by the Quran is to live life as the Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, lived it, for his life was the Quran in practice. His example is the surest guide to its meaning and Message. If you want to `see' the Quran then look at the Prophet's life. For, as Sayyida Aisha said, 'his conduct was nothing but the Quran.' (Muslim.)

    The best way to understand the Quran and follow its Message is to learn what the Prophet said, spend hours and hours in his company, follow his footsteps and cast yourself in the mould that he left behind.

    The Quran provides the essential framework for human life. But the Prophet and his Sunna provide us with the details of that framework. The manner in which that structure is to be given shape in actuality, the method to be adopted in order to live by Divine guidance, and the wisdom that enables one to rise to all occasions and live through all situations in accordance with Allah's guidance.

    If you desire to know what type of person the Quran wants you to be and what type of society the Quran wants you to create, you only need to look at the Prophet's life history.

    Knowing, however, is not enough. We require inner strength to follow the Quranic teachings. We need to have the real flavour of faith inside our hearts. This strength comes out of the love that a Believer must have for Allah and His Messenger. Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet said:

    There are three types of people who will experience the sweetness of faith: he to whom Allah and His Messenger are dearer than all else; he who loves a human being for Allah's sake alone; and he who has as great abhorrence of returning to unbelief after Allah has rescued him from it as he has of being cast into hell. (Bukhari, Muslim.)

    This love is not merely the profession of faith. It is a love that supersedes all other types of love and a love that makes faith penetrate into the heart. It is through this love for God and His Messenger that one tastes the real sweetness of faith. The way to that love and the symbol of that love lies in following the footsteps of the Prophet who was commanded by Allah to say:

    If you love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, most Merciful. [Ali Imran 3:31]



    By the time the Prophet, peace be on him, departed this world, there were thousands of people whose lives mirrored his life. He left behind a society whose every aspect carried his stamp. His guidance, his teachings, his actions and his sayings not only fashioned that society during his time, but also continued to influence it after he had died. He created a new society and led the creation of a new civilisation and culture out of the teachings of the Quran. This he did in accordance with the task given to him by Allah Himself.

    O Messenger! Convey all that has been sent to you from your Lord. If you did not you would not have delivered His Message. [al-Maida 5: 67]



    Muhammad, upon whom be peace, was not simply a `Messenger' who brought a `Message'. His responsibility and his task went beyond merely conveying the word of Allah to mankind. He was assigned the duty of teaching the Book, the Law, and the Wisdom to people, purifying them and making them develop into the human beings that the Quran desired them to be.

    In many places in the Quran, these duties have been explicitly mentioned. In the very first part of Sura al-Baqara, Prophet Ibrahim, on whom be peace, prayed for a new Messenger:

    Our Lord! Raise up in the midst of our offspring a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Your verses and instruct them in the Book and in Wisdom and purify their lives. Verily, You are Mighty, Wise. [al-Baqara 2:129]

    In the above verse, four duties of the Prophet are mentioned:

    - to convey the Message of the Quran to people;
    - to instruct them in the Scripture which means the `code of law' for human life;
    - to teach them wisdom, through which life can make its journey in the light of the Quranic teachings;
    - to vain them in self-purification

    His mission, therefore, was not merely to convey the Quran. He was designated to explain it and provide the guidance for day-to-day situations as the movement he led progressed from one stage to another.

    In other places in the Quran, [ See Quran: 33: 4-5; 5: 67; 2: 151; 48: 28; 9: 33; 61: 9; 7: 157.] Allah has described his mission and duty as:

    - Indhar (warning)
    - Tabshir (bringing glad tidings)
    - Dawa (inviting and calling)
    - Tabligh (communicating)
    - Tadhkir (reminding)
    - Talim (teaching)
    - Tilawa (conveying and propagating)
    - Amr bil-maruf wa nahi anil munkar (enjoining and promoting what is good and right and forbidding and eradicating what is bad and wrong)
    - Iqama (establishing the Din or way of life)
    - Qist (establishing justice)
    - Izhar (making Divine guidance prevail)
    - Shahada (witnessing)

    All these expressions pertain to the same mission, though from different perspectives and with different emphases.

    The Prophet was also given the authority to make things permissible and to make things prohibited: Adopt what the Messenger gives you and refrain from what he prohibits you. [al-Hashr 59: 7.] And he had this authority from none other than Allah.

    It was to accomplish these duties assigned to him that the Prophet Muhammad spent his whole life in changing people's behaviour and establishing a new society. The Quran accords him a unique position which no one else can ever haveWhoever obeys the Messenger, indeed, he has obeyed Allah. [an-Nisa 4: 80.] Those who gave their hands in pledge to you, indeed they gave their hands in pledge to Allah. [al-Fath 48: 10.]

    Once the Prophet has given his decision and his judgment, no believing man or woman has any right to question, doubt, disobey, or harbour any feeling of disapproval. They must submit totally and willingly to him.

    It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision. If any disobeys Allah, and His Messenger, he is, indeed, on a clearly wrong path. [al-Alazab 33: 36]

    In the life of the Prophet, according to the Quran, lies the most beautiful and the most perfect example to follow:

    You have, indeed, in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar, for whoever hopes for Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much. [al-Ahzab 33: 21.]



    One may ask where can the Sunna be found for there are so many books and traditions circulated. What the Prophet has left behind however, is not merely a record of what be did or what he said. He left behind him living human beings and a living society. It is through these living human beings and through this society that one can find the Sunna. The degree of homogeneity, conformity, and consistency that you find in this Umma, even after 1,400 years, are because of this Sunna.

    You may walk into any masjid from Indonesia to Washington and you will find the rites and rituals of the formal acts of worship and the language of Prayer almost identical. You may walk into any Muslim home and you will find every Muslim eating with his right hand. Why? Because that is the Sunna left behind by the Prophet.

    These examples may seem trivial but my purpose in citing them is to point out that even on the minutest of details, uniformity exists in the Muslim Umma and this is due to the Sunna. If the Sunna is given up as a source of guidance and if the Quran is separated from the Sunna, then this Muslim society that has existed for over fourteen hundred years, through many periods of severe strains and tests and tribulations, would disintegrate. It would then be relatively easy for foreign cultures and societies to assimilate it. What gives Muslim society and Muslim communities a distinct identity and colour of their own is the pattern left behind by the Prophet.



    Muslims in Western societies live in a culture which is `alien' in its spirit. To live in this type of culture is your own choice and your own decision. In many instances, you have no other option for the West is your home. Unfortunately, the same can be said for people living in Muslim countries since Western culture is slowly weaving its way and replacing genuine Islamic culture in these countries also.

    To survive and prosper in western society requires great courage to stand up for your beliefs and ideals. You need to have a clear appreciation of the true nature of Islamic culture. The true spirit of Islamic culture lies in an understanding that the 'real' realities of life are all beyond the perception of physical senses. The beginning of Sura al-Baqara states that its guidance is for: Those who believe in al-ghayb [what lies beyond the perception of physical senses). [al-Baetara 2:4]

    So all that is 'real'-Allah, His Angels, Prophethood, the Day of Judgment, Heaven and Hell - are all beyond any measure of physical testing. They all lie beyond human capability to see them, to smell them, to measure them, or to find their real situation.

    Western culture as it exists and as it has spread now throughout the world, in this 'global village', has perpetuated the view that, only that which can be materially measured or found out is 'real'. Whatever cannot be measured has no value. Therefore, both Islamic and western cultures are diametrically opposed.

    Once you have chosen to live in a 'Western type' society, the only source of light for you is the Messenger of Allah. He was also faced with an almost similar situation. As he came down from the cave of Hira, after his experience of receiving the light of Divine guidance, be re-entered a culture and society which were quite 'alien' to his Message. His Message began by linking the whole of life to the name of Allah. That was the starting point. All knowledge, all culture, all civilisation and all human action must be centred on one pivot and that is the name of Allah. This was a totally strange Message for the society in which he had to operate. So, we need to look at the Prophet's Sunna in the context of operating in an `alien' society and see how we can practise a genuine Islamic culture.



    The technical definition of Sunna is all that the Prophet did, said, or approved. When the term Sunna is used, our minds are diverted immediately to the manners and morals which we are so careful to observe, while dressing and eating, walking and praying.

    I have no intention of belittling the importance of these relatively minor acts that he left behind. It reminds me of a beautiful incident from his life. A man and his son came to meet the Prophet. As he came out of his house, the buttons of his shirt were open. Both of them shook his hand and went away. That was the only occasion in their lives when they came face to face with the Prophet. But, for their entire lives they always kept the buttons of their shirts open - not because it was obligatory, but once you fall in love with someone, each and every action that he does, and each and every thing that he says, becomes dear to the heart. It has to be followed.

    If, however, you consider the technical definition of Sunna, and if you look at the life of the Prophet from the moment he received revelation in the cave of Hira till he breathed his last in Madina, what is it that stands out as his most dominant concern and his main activity? The most outstanding feature of his life was that every moment was spent in dawa, in inviting his fellow human beings to live in submission to their Creator. He lived

    every moment of his life in purifying individuals and making them grow in their love and submission to Allah. Every moment of his life, he talked about and carried out his mission. In the streets of Makka, in the valley of Taif, on the battlegrounds of Badr and Hunayn, and to the totality of affairs of Madina -dawa was his essential concern. That was his essential Sunna.



    Dawa is the first and most important duty for Muslims today. In your daily affairs, it is the Sunna that must be uppermost in your mind and heart. It must make the greatest claim on your time and wealth.

    Secondly, while living in an 'alien' culture, you have to preserve your Islamic identity - not only through rational arguments, but through emotional, cultural, and civilisational symbols. It is only the Sunnathat can provide these emotional and civilisational symbols through which you will not only preserve your identity but strengthen and advance it.

    Thirdly, it is the youth who must claim your major attention for that is also the Sunna of the Prophet. They were the people who had the energies and capabilities to carry the burden of his mission.

    Fourthly, in a society where so many misgivings about Islam prevail, where Islam has been misrepresented and distorted so widely, your conduct must be a living example of that mercy to mankind, just as the Prophet was rahmatun lil-alamin a mercy to the worlds.

    We sent you not but as a mercy for all the worlds. [al-Anbiva 21: 107.]

    The Prophet Muhammad was such a model of mercy that he declared that removing an obstacle from another's path leads one into Paradise; to quench the thirst of a dog entitles one to enter Paradise; and to tie a cat until he dies makes one deserve Hell-fire. Such was the mercy of his uswa, his living example. You will only be able to invite people to Islam if you follow his example.



    We must recognise the unique position that the Prophet must occupy in our lives as a focus of our love and obedience and as an ideal we must follow.

    Our biggest challenge is to fulfill our role as ambassadors of the last Ambassador of Allah to mankind for all times. By our words and deeds, by our example of integrity and compassion, we must make our neighbours understand who Muhammad, peace be upon him, was and what his Message for mankind was.

    In this process, we must be the embodiment of mercy that the Prophet was. In this way we will create a new future by making the new generation a living example of his Sunna. Then, perhaps, our presence in this world will prove a great blessing, not only for the Muslim community, but for all mankind.




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