The Religion Of Islam vol.1

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  • The Religion Of Islam vol.1

  • VIII

    The Person and Character of

    the Prophet Mohammad

    It is only right that, before bringing the biography of the Prophet to a conclusion, I should give illustration of his chief traits and character, as already brought to light and passed as authentic by distinguished European critics. Sir William Muir writes.[1]

    “Personal Appearance and Gait (of the Prophet): “His form, though little above mean height, was stately and commanding. The depth of feeling in his dark black eyes and the winning expression of a face otherwise attractive gained the confidence and love of strangers, even at the first sight. His features other unbended into a smile full of grace and condescension. “He was” say his contemporary biographers, “the handsomest and bravest, the brightest faced and most generous of men.” Yet when anger kindled in his piercing glance, the object of his displeasure might well quail before it. His stern frown was an augury of death to many a trembling captive. In later years, the erect figure began to stoop but the step was still firm and quick. His hail has been likened to that of one descending rapidly a hill. When he made haste, it was with difficulty that one kept pace with him. He never turned, even if his mantle was caught in a thorny bush, so that this attendants talked and laughed freely behind him, secure of being unobserved.”


    His Habits: “Through and complete in all his actions, he took in hand no work with-out bringing it to a close. The same habit pervaded his manner in social intercourse. If he turned in conversation towards a friend, he turned not partially, but with his full face and his whole body. In shaking hand he was not the first to withdraw his own; nor was he the first break off in converse with a stranger, nor to turn away his ear”


    Simplicity of his life: “A patriarchal simplicity pervaded his life. His custom was to do everything for himself. If he gave an alms, he would place it with his own hand in that of petitioner. He aided his wives in the household duties, mended his clothes, tied up the goats, and even cobbled his sandals. His ordinary dress was of plain white cotton stuff, made like his neighbours; but on high and festive occasions he wore garments of fine linen, striped or dyed in red. He never reclined at meals. He ate with his fingers; and when he had finished, he would lick them before he wiped his hands. He lived with his wives in a row of low and homely cottages, built of unbaked bricks, the apartments separated by walls of palm branches, rudely daubed with mud, while curtains of leather, or of black haircloth, supplied the place of doors and windows. He was to all easy of access -‘even as the river’s bank to him that draweth water from it’- yet he maintained the state and dignity of real power. No approach was suffered to familiarity of action of speech. The Prophet must be addressed in subdued accents and in a reverential style. His word was absolute; his bidding law. Embassies and deputations were received with the utmost courtesy and consideration. In the issue of rescripts, bearing on their representations, or in other matters of state, the Prophet displayed all the qualifications of an able and experienced ruler, as the reader[2] will have observed from the numerous examples given. And what renders this the more strange, is that he was never known himself to write.”


    Urbanity and Kindness of Disposition: “A remarkable feature was the urbanity and consideration, with which Mohammed treated even the most insignificant of his followers. Modesty and kindliness, patience, self-denial and generosity pervaded his conduct and riveted the affections of all around him. He disliked to say, “No” If unable to answer a petitioner in the affirmative he preferred silence. “He was more bashful,” says his wife Ayesha, “than a veiled virgin; and if anything displeased him, it was rather from his face, than by his words, that we discovered it; he never smote anyone, but in the service of God, not even a woman or a servant”. He was not known ever to refuse an invitation to the house even of the meanest, nor to decline a proffered present, however small. When seated by a friend, he did not haughtily advance his knees toward him. He possessed the rare faculty of making each individual in a company think that he was the favoured guest. If he met any one rejoicing at success, he would seize him eagerly and cordially by the hand. With the bereaved and afflicted, he sympathized tenderly. Gentle and indulgent towards little children, he would not disdain to accost a group of them at play, with the salutation of peace. He shared his food, even in time of scarcity, with others; and was sedulously solicitous for the personal comfort of every one about him. A kindly and benevolent disposition pervades all these illustrations of his character.”


    Friendship: “Mohammed was also a faithful friend. He loved Abu Bakr with the close affection of a brother; Ali, with the fond partiality of a father. Zaid, the slave of his wife Khadija, was so strongly won by the kindness of the Prophet, that he preferred to remain at Mecca, rather than return home with his own father: “I will not leave thee,” he said, clinging to his patron, “for thou hast been a father and a mother to me.” The friendship of Mohammedsurvived the death of Zaid and his son Osama was treated by him with distinguished favour for the father’s sake. Othman and Omar were also the objects of his special attachment; and the enthusiasm with which at Al Hodeibiya, the Prophet entered into “the Pledge of the Tree”, and swore that he would defend his beleaguered son–in–law even to death, was a signal proof of faithful friendship. Numerous other instances of Mohammed’s ardent and unwavering regard might be adduced. And his affections were in no instance misplaced; they were ever reciprocated by a warm and self–sacrificing love.”

    Moderation and Magnanimity: “In the exercise of a power absolutely dictatorial Mohammed was just and temperate. Nor was he wanting in moderation towards his enemies, when once they had cheerfully submitted to his claims. The long and obstinate struggle against his mission, maintained by the inhabitants of Mecca, might have induced its conqueror to mark his indignation in indelible traces of fire and blood. But Mohammed, excepting a few criminals, granted a universal pardon; and nobly casting into oblivion the memory of the past, with all its mockery, its affronts and persecution, treated even the foremost of his opponents with gracious and even friendly consideration. Not less marked was the forbearance shown to Abdallah and the disaffected citizens of Medina, who for so many years persistently thwarted his designs and resisted his authority, nor the clemency, with which he received the submissive advances of tribes that before had been the most hostile, even in the hour of victory.” [3]


    Some Christian biographers of the Prophet dwell too much on what they termed his cruelty towards his enemies. Honestly speaking, cruelty was nowhere shown in the conduct of the Prophet, as the reader will have observed in his Life, as given in this book.

    It is not the intention of the author of this book to occupy too much space in refuting the numerous misrepresentations made by hostile biographers. However, as one instance of the false charge of cruelty, brought against the Prophet or his followers without foundation, I quote a statement on the subject by Mr. George Sale:-“Dr. Prideaux, speaking of Mohammed’s obliging those of Al Nadir to quit their settlements, says that a party of his men pursued those who fled into Syria, and having overtaken them, put them all to the sword, excepting only one man that escaped. “With such cruelty,” continues he, did those barbarians first set up to fight for that imposture they had been deluded into.”[4] But a learned gentleman has already observed that this is all grounded on a mistake which the doctor was led into by an imperfection in the printed edition of Elmacians; where after mention of the expulsion of the Nadirites, are inserted some incoherent words, relating to another action which happened the month before, and wherein seventy Moslems, instead of putting others to the sword, were supervised and put to the sword themselves, together with their leader Al Mondar Ebn Omar Caab Ebn Zeid alone escaping. (Vide Gagnier, not in Abulf. Vit Moh. P.72).”[5]

    Sir William Muir continues his remarks on the person and character of the Prophet as follows:

    Domestic Life:

    “In domestic life, the conduct of Mohammed was exemplary. As husband his fondness and devotion were entire. As a father he was loving and tender. In his youth, he lived a virtuous life; and at the age of twenty-five he married a window, forty years old, during whose lifetime, for five and twenty years, he was a faithful husband to her alone. Yet it is remarkable that during this period were composed most of those passages of the Koran, in which the black eyed “Houries” reserved for Believes in Paradise, are depicted in such glowing colours.


    Sir William Muir, following the example of other Christian writers, has attributed the Prophet’s polygamy to ‘unchecked range of his uxorious inclinations’ and when viewing the social and domestic life of Mohammed, ‘fairly and impartially’, he saw it to be chequered by light and shade; and that, ‘while there is much to form the subject of nearly ‘unqualified’ praise, there is likewise much cannot be spoken of but in terms of reprobation.’ 

    Sir William Muir himself, as quoted above, states that in his youth the Prophet lived a virtuous life; and at the age of twenty five married a window, forty years old, during whose life time, for five and twenty years, he was a faithful husband to her alone. It is obviously absurd, to think that a man whose character was such, could have any ‘range of uxorious inclinations’.

    Sir William Muir asserts, that it was not until the mature age of fifty-four, that the Prophet made the ‘trials of Polygamy’. It is obviously a contradiction, unworthy of a fair and impartial critic, to think for a moment that at such an advanced age, a man who had ‘lived in his youth a virtuous life’, and who, at the age of twenty five, married a window, forty years old, during whose life time, for five and twenty years, he was a faithful husband to her alone,’ should have sexual inclinations. To any really impartial biographer and also to any thoughtful reader, this is quite impossible.


    But the marriages of the Prophet have furnished his critics with their chief weapons of attack, and the interested missionary has gone so far as to call him a voluptuary, although some of his own revered spiritual leaders and Prophets were chronicled to possess even as many as a few hundred wives.[6] For this reason I give here a few particulars regarding the Prophet’s marriages.

    His first marriage was contracted when he was twenty five years of ages, and the window, Khadija whom he married was forty years old, that is fifteen years his senior. It was with her alone, that he passed all the years of his youth and manhood, until she died three years before the Hijra or emigration to Medina, when he was already an old man of fifty. This circumstance alone is sufficient to give the lie to those who would belittle him and call him a voluptuary. After her death, while still at Mecca, he married Sauda and Ayesha, the latter of whom was his only virgin wife, and she was the daughter of his intimate and illustrious friend and helper Abu Bakr. Then followed the emigration to Medina, and subsequent to be emigration, he had to fight many battles with his enemies, the Koreish, or such sided with the Koreish and persecuted the Moslems. The result of these battles, was a great discrepancy between the number of males and females, and his favourite followers fell in the field of battle, fighting his enemies, the care of their families devolved upon the Prophet and his surviving companions. In the battle of Badr fell Khunais, son of Huaifa, and the faithful Omar’s daughter Hafsa was left a window. Omar offered her to Othman and Abu Bakr in turn, and she at last was married to the Prophet in the third year of the Hijra.


    Obaida, son of Harith, fell a martyr at Badr, and his window Zainab, daughter of Khuzaima, was taken in marriage by the Prophet in the same year. In the next year, Abu Salma died, and his window Um-i-Salma was taken to wife by the Prophet. As Christian criticism lays too much stress upon the Prophet’s marriage with Zainab daughter of Jahsh, a full explanation of the events in connection with this marriage is necessary:

    Zainab was the daughter of the Prophet’s own aunt; she was one of the early converts to Islam, and the Prophet proposed to her brother that she should be given in marriage to Zaid, his adopted son and freedman. Both brother and sister were averse to this match, and only yielded under pressure from the Prophet. It is related, that they both desired that the Prophet himself should marry Zainab,[7] but the Prophet insisted that she should accept Zaid.

    The marriage was, however, not a happy one. Zainab was harsh of temper, and she never liked Zaid, on account of the stigma of slavery which attached to his name. Differences arose, and Zaid expressed a desire to the Prophet of divorcing Zainab. The news was grievous to the Prophet, for it was he who had insisted upon the marriage, and he therefore advised Zaid not to divorce her. He feared that people would object that a marriage which had been arranged by the Prophet, was unsuccessful. It is to this circumstance, that the verse in Koran 37: XXII refers; “ And, you feared men, and God had a greater right that you should fear Him.”[8]

    Let us now revert to Sir William Muir’s views of the character of the Prophet.


    Conviction of Special Providence: “Proceeding now to consider the religious and prophetical character of Mohammed, the first point which strikes the biographer is his constant and vivid sense of a special and all pervading Providence. This conviction moulded his thoughts and designs, from the minutest actions in private and social life to the grand conception, that he was destined to be the reformer of his people and of all Arabia. He never entered a company but he sat down and rose up with the mention of the Lord. When the first fruits of the season were brought to him, he would kiss them, place them upon his eyes and say: “Lord as Thou hast shown us the first, show unto us likewise the last.” In trouble and affliction, as well as in prosperity and joy, he ever saw and humbly acknowledged the hand of God. A fixed persuasion that ever incident, small and great, is ordained by the divine will, led to the strong expressions of predestination which abound in the Koran. It is the Lord Who turneth the hearts of mankind; and alike faith in the believer, and unbelief in the infidel, are the result of the divine fait. The hour and place of everyman’s death, as all other events in his life, are established by the same decree; and the timid believer might in vain seek to avert the stroke by shunning the field of battle. But this persuasion was far removed from the belief in a blind and inexorable fate; for Mohammed held the progress of events in the divine hand to be amenable to the influence of prayer. He was not slow to attribute the conversion of a scoffer, like Omar, or the removal of an impending misfortune (as the deliverance of Medina from the Confederate hosts), to the effect f his own earnest petitions to the Lord.”


    Unwavering Steadfastness at Mecca: “The growth in the mind of Mohammed of the conviction, that he was appointed to be the Prophet and Reformer, is intimately connected with his belief in a special Providence embracing the spiritual as well as the material world; and out of that conviction arose the confidence that the Almighty would crown his mission with success. While still at Mecca, there is no reason to doubt that the questionings, and aspirations of his inner soul were regarded by him as proceeding directly from God. The light which gradually illuminated his mind with a knowledge of the divine unity and perfections, and of the duties and destiny of man, -light amidst gross darkness, -must have emanated from the same source; and He Who in His own good pleasure had thus begun the work, would surely carry it through to a successful ending. What was Mohammed himself, but an instrument in the hand of the Great Worker? Such, no doubt, were the thoughts which strengthened him, alone and unsupported, to brave for many weary years the taunts and persecutions of a whole people. In estimating the signal moral courage, thus displayed, it must not be overlooked that for what is ordinarily termed physical courage Mohammed was not remarkable.


    “It may be doubted whether he ever engaged personality in active conflict on the battlefields. Though he often accompanied his forces, he never himself led them into action, or exposed his person to avoidable danger. And there were occasions, on which he showed symptoms of a faint heart. Yet even so, it only brings out in higher relief the singular display of moral daring. Let us for a moment look to the period when a ban was proclaimed at Mecca against all citizens, whether professed converts or not, who espoused his cause or ventured to protect him; and when along with these, he was shut up in the ‘Shi’b’, or quarter of Abu Talib, and these for three years, without prospect or relief endured want and hardship. Strong and steadfast must have been the motives which enabled him, amidst such opposition and apparent hopelessness of success to maintain his principles unshaken. No sooner had he been released from this restraint than, despairing of his native city, he went forth solitary and unaided to At-Taif, and there summoned its rulers and inhabitants to repentance, with the message which he said he had from his Lord; on the third day was driven out of the town with ignominy, while blood flowed from wounds inflicted on him by the populace. Retiring to a little distance, he poured forth his complaint to God, and then returned to Mecca, there to resume the same outwardly hopeless cause, with the same high confidence in its ultimate success. We search in vain through the pages of profane history for a parallel to the struggle, in which for thirteen years the Prophet of Arabia, in the face of discouragement and threats, rejection and persecution, retained thus his faith unwavering, preached repentance, and denounced God’s wrath against his godless fellow-citizens. Surrounded by a little band of faithful men and women, he met insults, menaces, and danger with a lofty and patient trust in the future. And when at last the promise of safety came from a distant quarter, he calmly waited until his followers had all departed, and then disappeared from amongst ungrateful and rebellious people.

    “Not less marked was the firm front and unchanging faith in eventual victory which at Medina bore him through seven years of mortal conflict with his native city; and enabled him, sometimes even under defeat, and while his influence and authority were yet limited and precarious, even in the city of his adoption, to speak and to act in the constant and undoubted expectation of victory.”


    Denunciation of Polytheism and Idolatry: “From the earliest period of his religious convictions, the Unity, or the idea of One Great Being guiding with almighty power and wisdom all creation, and yet infinitely above it, gained a thorough possession of his mind. Polytheism and idolatry, at variance with this grand principle, were indignantly condemned, as leveling the Creator with the creature. On one occasion alone did Mohammed swerve from this position, when he admitted that the goddesses of Mecca might be adored as medium of approach to God.[9] But the inconsistency was soon perceived; and Mohammed at once retraced his steps. Never before, nor afterwards, did the Prophet deviate from the stern denunciation of idolatry.


    Earnestness and Honesty of Mohammed at Mecca: “As he was himself subject to convictions thus deep and powerful, it will readily be conceived that his exhortations were distinguished by a corresponding strength and cogency. Master of eloquence, his language was cast in the purest and most persuasive style of Arabian oratory. His fine poetical genius exhausted the imagery of nature in the illustration of spiritual truths; and a vivid imagination enabled him to bring before his people the Resurrection and the Day of Judgment, the joys of believers, in Paradise, and the agonies of lost spirits in Hell, as close and impending realities. In ordinary address, his speech was slow, distinct, and emphatic; but when he preached, his eyes would redden, his voice rise high and loud, and his whole frame agitate with passion, even as if he were warning the people of an enemy, about to fall on them the next morning or that very night”.


    His disposition: “When Ayesha was questioned about Mohammed, she used to say: “He was a man just such as yourselves; he laughed often and smiled much:. If he had the choice between two matters, he would always choose the easier, so that no sin accrued therefrom. He never took revenge, excepting where the honour of God was concerned. When angry with any person, he would say: “What hath taken such a one that he should soil his forehead in the dust.”


    Humility: “His humility was shown by his riding upon asses, by his accepting the invitation even of slaves, and when mounted, by his taking another behind him. He would say: “I sit at meals as a servant doth, and I eat like a servant, for I really am a servant”, and he would sit as one that was ready to rise. He discouraged supererogatory fasting, and works of mortification. He hated nothing more than lying; and whenever he knew that any of his followers had erred in this respect, he would hold himself aloof from them, until he was assured of their repentance.”


    Attitude at Prayers: “He used to stand for such a length of time at prayer that his legs would swell. When remonstrated with, he said, “What shall I not behave as a thankful servant should? He never yawned at prayer. When he sneezed, he did so with a subdued voice, covering his face. At funerals he never rode; he would remain silent on such occasions, as if conversing with himself so that the people used to think he was holding communication with the dead.”[10]

    The following are abstracts of Washington Irving’s account of the characteristics of the Prophet Mohammed. [11]

    His intellectual qualities were undoubtedly of an extraordinary kind. He had a quick apprehension, a retentive memory, a vivid imagination, and an inventive genius. His ordinary discourse was grave and sententious, abounding with those aphorisms and epilogues, so popular among the Arabs; at times, he was excited and eloquent, and his eloquence was aided by a voice musical sonorous.

    He was sober and abstemious in his diet, and a rigorous observer of fasts. He indulged in no magnificence of apparel, the ostentation of a petty mind, neither was his simplicity in dress affected, but the result of a real disregard to distinction from so trivial a source. His garments were sometimes of wool, sometimes of the striped cotton of Yemen, and were often patched. He forbade the wearing of clothes entirely of silk; but permitted a mixture of thread and silk.

    He was scrupulous as to personal cleanliness, and observed frequent ablutions. In his private dealings he was just. He treated friends and strangers, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, with equity, and was beloved by the common people for the affability, with which he received them, and listened to their complaints. He was naturally irritable, but had brought his temper under great control, so that even in the self-indulgent intercourse of domestic life, he was kind and tolerant. “I served him from the time I was eight years old,” said his servant Anas, ‘and he never scolded me for anything, though things were spoiled by me.”


    ([1]) Vide “The Life of Mohammad” by Sir Wm. Muir.


    ([2]) I.e. the reader of Sir Wm. Muir’s ‘Life of Mohammad’.

    ([3]) Vide Sir William Muir’s “The Life of Mohammad”  

    ([4]) Prideaux, Life of Mah. P. 82.

    ([5]) G. Sale, Trans of Al Koran P. 405, Fred. Warne & Co.

    ([6]) David had six wives and numerous concubines, (2 Sam. v. 13. 1 Chron, iii 1-9; xiv 3)  Solomon  had as many as 700 wives and as many as 300 concubines, (Kings xi : 3) Rehoboams had 18 wives and sixty concubines (2 Chron, xi 21).


    ([7]) Al Razi; Abul Fida; Ibn Athir etc.

    ([8]) On the other hand, an end had to be put to the old custom of the Arabs’ condemning a man’s marriage with a woman was once wedded to his adopted son. Hence, Koran’s verse.

    ([9]) This is a great mistake on the part of the biographer caused by a misconception of the peculiar verse of the Koran which refers exclusively to the heathens’ own conviction  of the successful intercession of their idols. (Author)


    ([10]) Sir William Muir’s ‘The Life of Mohammad’.

    ([11]) ‘Life of Mahomet by Washington Irving (Bell & Daldy, London 1864)

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