Muhammad SA The Prophet of Humility
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
Muhammad SA is always remembered as a Prophet of Mercy, which no doubt he is, but his multifaceted and perfect personality is more than just mercy. Humility is another quality of this noble prophet. While the arrogant and assertive people may be charitable, only a humble person can be an epitome of mercy. There are several verses in the Qur’an and several anecdotes in his (SA) biography that vividly point to his humility. If we Muslims emulate this quality of Nabi SA we will not be viewed negatively as we are being viewed today, and will erase the aggressive image which is being given to Islam and Muslims.
It is important for us to remember that Ismail AS was named as Ghulam E Haleem (A person of Humility) by Allah Swt (Ch 37 V 101). Allah SWT allowed this quality of humility to bloom to its full maturity in 2500 years before rising in the progeny of Ismail AS His final prophet, Muhammad SA.
The best example of this humility is evident in the testimony of faith which every Muslim has to give not just at the time of becoming a Muslim, but several times every day. In this testimony Nabi SA does not ask us to testify that he is someone who is superhuman, supernatural and divine, but that he is a humble servant of God: Ash Hadu Anna Muhammadan Abduhu Wa Rasoolahu. I bear witness that Muhammad (SA) is the servant of Allah and His Messenger. Some of the Muslims in their copious love of Nabi SA have been trying hard to raise his (SA) human status to something divine, but this testimony and several verses of the Qur’an prevent them from succeeding in this bid. Alhamdulillah. Say (O Prophet) that I am a human being like you, but I receive inspirational guidance (Wahi) from Allah (Ch18 V 110). We have not sent any messenger before (who were not human beings and) who did not eat their food, or went to market in pursuit of their business (Ch 25 V 20).
Scholars of exegesis have nicely explained the difference between prophets and other human beings in a very scientific way: Even though prophets are human beings and share all the features of humanity with other human beings, they are not the same; much the same way that coal and diamond are not the same, even though they both share the same common element, Carbon, between them. What differentiates a prophet from other human beings is: the nobility of his character, his closeness with Allah, and his concern for the welfare of mankind in general and his people in particular. As Muslims have been able to save this human nature of their prophet, it is possible for them to love him and emulate him in the minutest detail with reverence, even to this day. This belief of the Muslims, in the human nature of all prophets, has prevented them from making their prophet a divine and mysterious figure worthy of worship and not emulation.
The other thing which the Qur’an points to about prophets is: As the prophets were human beings, they were fallible and vulnerable to mistakes, but what distinguishes them from other human beings is that as soon as their mistake was evident upon them, they return to Allah with repentance and Allah forgives them and brings them closer to Him.
When Adam AS realized his mistake of eating from the forbidden tree, he immediately repented by saying: Our Lord we (Adam and Eve) have wronged our souls, if You do not forgive us and show mercy on us we will be losers (Ch 7 V 23). Musa (Moses) AS who lived as a prince in the palace of pharaoh, killed a person unintentionally. Following words of his repentance are remarkable: My Lord! I have wronged myself, forgive me. When the forgiving Lord forgave him, he said, I will never support a wrong doer (Ch 28 V 15-17). When Yunus AS (Jonah) was swallowed by a whale after he left his people in anger, he realized his mistake and cried out in the belly of the fish: I have no one to approach for my safety except you, glory belongs to you I wronged myself (Ch 21 V 87-88). Similarly the repentance of Dawood (David) AS is recorded in chapter 38 V 20-29 and that of Sulaiman (Solomon) AS is recorded in Ch 38 V 30-34.
One of the hallmarks of the humility of prophet Muhammad SA, is that he SA has left all his mistakes over which he was cautioned by Allah SWT recorded in the Qur’an, so that his people become aware of them and avoid them.
When prophet Muhammad SA imposed the restriction on himself that he would not eat honey anymore, Allah Swt expressed His disapproval of this act. (Ch 66 V 1-2) As the followers of Nabi SA would be bound by his actions, Allah did not like that mankind be deprived of the benefits of honey because of this restraint which Nabi SA had imposed on himself. By recording this into the Qur’an for posterity, it was made clear upon his followers that nobody has the right to forbid what Allah has permitted, or permit what Allah has forbidden. Alas, we Muslims by ignoring this important principle of religion have sacrificed the purity of the religion and are suffering its consequence.
After winning the battle of Badr, Nabi SA permitted to exchange the prisoners for a ransom. Some of these prisoners were prominent leaders of Mecca who were in the forefront of opposition to Islam and Muslims. Apart from the merciful nature of Muhammad SA, one of the other considerations in this swap was that some of these prisoners were close relatives of Muslims, against whom they had come to fight. As the release of prisoner for ransom was indeed decreed by Allah swt but had not yet been revealed to Nabi SA, Allah SWT did not like this. Nabi SA, with utmost humility, left this censor against him recorded in Qur’an for Muslims to read and to learn from it. (Ch 8 V 67-70, Tirmizi 3084-85, Ibn e Katheer). This way Nabi SA wanted to leave an example for our leaders to accept criticism and correct course, but alas the Muslim leaders are most intolerant to criticism and will go any length to stifle it.
Even though Muslims were victorious in the battle of Uhad, they suffered great loss. Seventy of the companions were martyred. Hamza RA, uncle of Nabi SA, was one of them and his body was cut into pieces. Nabi SA lost four teeth and fell unconscious. In the anguish of the situation, Nabi SA said: How can a people that do this to their prophet succeed because he is calling them towards Allah (Tirmizi 3002). Allah swt revealed the following verses to correct him: It is not your prerogative to suggest forgiveness or punishment to these transgressors, for everything in the worlds belongs to Allah and it is His prerogative to forgive whom He pleases and punishes whom He pleases. Indeed Allah is most forgiving and merciful (Ch 3 V 128-129). Nabi SA left these verses in the Qur’an for his followers to read, and to learn that the Real Sovereign is Allah and we are his servants who have to withstand all the hurt while fulfilling this role.
The nobility of Mecca used to ask: How can we sit with the poor and wretched people who surround you all the time? On one occasion, when Nabi SA was sitting with one of these noble men to explain to him his message, a blind companion came to him SA with some question. Nabi SA did not like this intrusion, as it would displease this noble (Tirmizi 3331). Allah swt did not like this reaction of Nabi SA and reproached him for this; and Nabi SA, as the embodiment of humility, recorded this note of censor against him so that his followers keep their priorities right in matters of their relations with brothers of faith (Ch 80 V 1-12).
One of the imperatives of this verse in the Qur’an: In the lives of the prophets there is an example for you (Ch 60 V 6), is that the followers of the prophets should also repentant for their mistakes and amend them, as done by prophets, rather than be nonchalant about them. Scholars of exegesis say that it is with this intention of teaching the followers the noble quality of repentance and atonement, that God involves prophets in these mistakes; otherwise the prophets are pure and innocent in their nature. Other scholars in their zeal to prove the infallibility of prophets, have interpreted some of the verses of Qur’an in a way that puts many doubts into the book about which there should be no doubt (Ch 2 V 2)
As the very thought of displeasing Allah by any of his action would disturb Nabi SA extremely, Allah SWT had to say: Allah has forgiven all your past and future mistakes and completed His favors on you by guiding you to the straight path (Ch 48 V 2). And yet Nabi SA sought forgiveness from Allah SWT more than seventy times a day (Bukhari 6307). This was as a mark of his humility and also an example for his people to emulate.
Even though Nabi SA could foresee many things through the light granted to him by Allah because of his closeness to Him, he (SA) never claimed that he was a futurologist. He (SA) said: Had I known as to what is going to happen in the future, I would have amassed all the goodness and would be safe from all harm, Nay I am only a Nazeer (Warner) and a Basheer (giver of good news) to those who believe (Ch 7 V 188). While some of his followers are sure about their opinions and their future, this prophet of humility had no claim about what is in store for him and for other in the future. He said: And this is recorded in Qur’an: I do not know what is going to befall me or on you (Ch 46 V 9). He (SA) further said: No one including himself will enter the paradise except by the mercy of Allah.
Unlike the other “god men” who are ever ready to predict the doomsday, he (SA) said that only Allah knows when it comes. One thing Allah has made clear about the subject, is that it will be a gruesome time for both the heavens and the earth and comes when we least expect it (Ch 7 V 187). This shows that he SA was not one of those holy men who bragged about their mysterious powers, but a humble servant of Allah who simply conveyed to the people what he received from Allah SWT. This is what was prophesied about him (SA) in The Old and The New Testament: …He shall speak unto them (his people) all that I shall command him (Deutronomy Ch 18 V 18). …….He shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear that he shall speak (John Ch 16 V 13). Allah SWT says the same in Qur’an: He (This messenger) does not speak of his own desire but what is revealed to him (Ch 53 V 3-4).
Nabi SA never claimed a monopoly over Islam. He said he was only one of the many prophets of Islam and the last one (Ch 23 V 40). He said he was only a brick, and the last brick completing the edifice of Islam (Tirmizi 3613). He did not claim any superiority over other prophets. He did not mark any day or month for his followers to remember him. To the contrary, he SA commanded his followers to commemorate the life of Ibrahim (Abraham) AS by performing Hajj. He asked Muslims to fast on the day of Ashura to commemorate the release of the children of Israel from the bondage of the Pharaoh.
Yet another proof of his humility is that Nabi SA assumed a low position for himself when he made a comparison of himself with other prophets: On one occasion, a companion of the prophet had a fight with a Jew over his claim of superiority of Musa (Moses) AS over all humans, and this was brought to the notice of Nabi SA. Nabi SA said that when the trumpet is blown (to resurrect mankind for accountability), I will be the first one to raise my head but I will see that Musa AS is clinging to the throne of Allah. He (SA) further said that if someone says that I am better than Yunus bin mathi (Jonah) AS, he is telling a lie (Tirmizi 3245). Yunus bin Mati AS was the prophet who left his station in anger after warning his people of impending punishment (Ch 21 V 87).
Praising Yusuf (Joseph) AS, Muhammad SA said: Joseph was an honorable person with an honorable lineage. If I were to be in the prison for as long as Yusuf AS was, I would have accepted the offer of the King of Egypt to return to his palace without waiting to gain an acquittal from the charge of seduction leveled against him by the women of the palace of Egypt (Ch 12 V 50 and Timrimizi 3116). These words of appreciation for the suffering of Yusuf AS by Nabi SA, who himself suffered physical torture, verbal abuse and slander at the hands of pagans of Mecca, is another testimony to his humility.
This was the prophet of humility who was praised by the previous prophets and whose coming was foretold by them in the Old Testament in the following verse.
When Ibrahim (Abraham) AS left his wife Hajira (Hagar) AS and son Ismail AS in the wilderness of what was going to be future city of Mecca about four thousand years ago, Hajira AS was worried for herself and her son. Allah SWT sent Jibrael (Gabriel) AS to give her this good news: Hagar fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him in thine hand for I will make him a great nation (Genesis Ch 21 V 17-19). Muhammad SA was the fulfillment of this promise.
Even though he was a revered, respected, and beloved leader of his people, Muhammad SA never claimed any privilege for himself. He had a few ordinary clothes that would not distinguish him as a leader from others in the crowd. Like the other people in his community, he (SA) would have no food to eat for days. When he was with his companions on an expedition, he would partake in ordinary chores like collecting firewood, bringing water from the well, taking care of his camel, etc.
When Muslims yearn for the past, it is not because they want to live a life in tent or ride on camels and horseback; it is for a leader and a teacher like Nabi SA.