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Muhammad’s Personality And Character And Sidelights On Some Reforms

MUHAMMAD FAZL-UR-RAHMAN ANSARI
3/24/2013
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PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER:

Mohammad was of middle height, rather thin but broad of shoulder, wide of chest, strong of bone and muscle. His head was massive, strongly developed. Dark hair, slightly curled, flowed in a dense mass almost to his shoulders; even in advanced age it was sprinkled with only about twenty grey hairs, produced by the agonies of his ‘Revelations’. His face was oval-shaped, slightly tawny of colour. Fine long arched eye-brows were divided by a vein, which throbbed visibly in moments of passion. Great black restless eyes shone out from under long heavy eyelashes. His nose was large, slightly aquiline. His teeth, upon which he bestowed great care, were well set, dazzling white. A full beard framed his manly face. His skin was clear and soft, his complexion ‘red and white’. His hands were as ‘silk and satin’, even as those of a woman. His step was quick and elastic, yet firm as that of one who steps ‘from a high to a low place’.

 

 

In turning his face, he would also turn his whole body. His whole gait and presence was dignified and imposing. His countenance was mild and pensive. His laugh was rarely more than a smile. “In his habits he was extremely simple, although he bestowed great care on his person. His eating and drinking, his dress and his furniture retained, even when he had reached the fullness of power, their almost primitive nature. The only luxuries he indulged in were arms, which he highly prized, and a pair of yellow boots, a present from the Negus of Abyssinia. Perfumes, however, he loved passionately, being most sensitive to smells. Strong drink he abhorred. “… He was gifted with mighty powers of imagination, elevation of mind, delicacy and refinement of feeling.” ‘He is more modest than a virgin behind her curtain’, it was said of him. He was most indulgent to his inferiors, and would never allow his little page to be scolded whatever he did. ‘Ten years’, said Anas, his servant, ‘I was about the Prophet, and he never said as much as ‘uff’ to me’. He was very affectionate towards his family. One of his boys died on his breast in the smoky house of the nurse, a blacksmith’s wife. He was very fond of children; he would stop them in the streets and pat little heads. He never struck anyone in his life. The worst expression he ever made use of in conversation was, ‘What has come to him? May his forehead become darkened with mud!’ When asked to curse someone he replied, ‘I have not been sent to curse, but to be a mercy to mankind’. ‘He visited the sick, followed any bier he met, accepted the invitation of a slave to dinner, mended his own clothes, milked the goats, and waited upon himself,’ relates summarily another tradition. He never first withdrew his hand thus, out of another man’s palm, and turned not before the other had turned.

 

 

“He was the most faithful protector of those he protected, the sweetest and most agreeable in conversation. Those who saw him were suddenly filled with reverence; those who came near him loved him; they who described him would say, ‘I have never seen his like either before or after’. He was of great taciturnity, but when he spoke it was with emphasis and deliberation and no one could forget what he said. “He lived with his wives in a row of humble cottages separated from one another by palm-branches, cemented together with mud. He would kindle the fire, sweep the floor, and milk the goats himself. The little food he had was always shared with those who dropped in to partake of it. Indeed outside the Prophet’s house was a bench or a gallery, on which were always found a number of poor who lived entirely upon his generosity, and were hence called ‘the people of the bench’. His ordinary food was dates and water, or barley bread; milk and honey were luxuries of which he was fond, but which he rarely allowed himself. The fare of the desert seemed most congenial to him even when he was sovereign of Arabia.

 

 

“There is something so tender and womanly, and withal so heroic, about the man, that one is in peril of finding the judgment unconsciously blinded by the feeling of reverence, and well-nigh love, that such a nature inspires. He who, standing alone, braved for years the hatred of his people, is the same who was never the first to withdraw his hand from another’s clasp; the beloved of children, who never passed a group of little ones without a smile from his wonderful eyes and kind word for them, sounding all the kinder in that sweetened voice. The frank friendship, the noble generosity, the dauntless courage and hope of the man, all tend to melt criticism into admiration.  “He was an enthusiast in that noblest sense when enthusiasm becomes the salt of the earth, the one thing that keep men from rotting whilst they live. Enthusiasm is often used despitefully, because it is joined to an unworthy cause, or falls upon barren ground and bears no fruit. So was it not with Mohammad. He was an enthusiast when enthusiasm was the one thing needed to set the world aflame, and his enthusiasm was noble for a noble cause. He was one of those happy few who have attained the supreme joy of making one great truth their very life-spring. He was the messenger of the one God, and never to his life’s end did he forget who he was or the message which was the marrow of his being. He brought his tidings to his people with a grand dignity sprung from the consciousness of his high office together with a most sweet humility …” “His (i.e., Muhammad’s) politeness to the great, his affability to the humble, and his dignified bearing to the presumptuous, procured him respect, admiration and applause. His talents were equally fitted for persuasion or command. Deeply read in the volume of nature, though entirely ignorant of letters, his mind could expand into controversy with the acutest of his enemies, or contract itself to the apprehension of the meanest of his disciples. His simple eloquence, rendered impressive by the expression of a countenance wherein awfulness of majesty was tempered by an amiable sweetness, excited emotion of veneration and love; and he was gifted with the authoritative air of genius which alike influences the learned and commands the illiterate. As a friend and a parent, he exhibited the softest feelings of nature; but, while in possession of the kind and generous emotions of the heart, and engaged in the discharge of most of the social and domestic duties, he disgraced not his assumed title of an apostle of God. With all that simplicity which is so natural to a great mind, he performed the humblest offices whose homeliness it would be idle to conceal with pompuous diction, even while Lord of Arabia, he mended his own shoes and coarse woollen garments, milked the ewes, swept the hearth, and kindled the fire. Dates and water were his usual fare and milk and honey his luxuries. When he travelled he divided his morsel with his servant. The sincerity of his exhortations to benevolence was justified at his death by the exhausted state of his coffers.”30

 

 

“Mohammed … despised grandeur, and lived on principle an extremely frugal life, though he was no ascetic… He is reputed to have behaved very simply, and there is no reason for not supposing that he did. He performed the most menial tasks with his own hands, and was essentially puritan, saying the Divine revelation forbade him to wear either gold or silk .” “His deportment, in general, was calm and equable; he … was grave and dignified, though he is said to have possessed a smile of captivating sweetness. His complexion was more ruddy than is usual with Arabs, and in his excited and enthusiastic moments there was a glow and radiance in his countenance, which his disciples magnified into the supernatural light of prophecy. “His intellectual qualities were undoubtedly of an extraordinary kind. He had a quick apprehension, a retentive memory, a vivid imagination and an inventive genius.

 

 

“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 a result of real disregard for distinction from so trivial a source. “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 loved by the common people for the affability with which he received them, and listened to their complaints.

 

 

“His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vain glory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So far from affecting a regal state, he was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonials of respect were shown to him. If he aimed at universal dominion, it was the dominion of the faith, as to the temporal rule which grew up in his hands, as he used it without ostentation, so he took no step to perpetuate it in his family.” “Mahomet himself, after all that can be said about him, was not a sensual man … His household was of the frugalest; his common diet barley-bread and water; sometimes for months there was not a fire once lighted on his hearth. They record with just pride that he would mend his own shoes, patch his own cloak … careless of what vulgar men toil for … something better in him than hunger of any sort, or these wild Arab men, fighting and jostling three and twenty years at his hand, in close contact with him always, would not have reverenced him so! They were wild men, bursting ever and anon with quarrel, with all kinds of fierce sincerity; without right worth and manhood, no man could have commanded them … No emperor with his tiaras was obeyed as this man in a cloak of his own clouting. During three-and twenty years of rough actual trial, I find something of a veritable hero necessary for that myself.” “His (i.e., Muhammad’s) memory was capacious and retentive, his wit easy and social, his imagination sublime, his judgment clear, rapid and decisive. He possessed the courage of both thought and action; and … the first idea which he entertained of his divine mission bears the stamp of an original and superior genius.” “Head of the State as well as of the Church”, remarks Bosworth Smith, “he was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar. Without a standing army, without a body-guard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue, if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammad, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports. He rose superior to the title and ceremonies, the solemn trifling, and the proud humility of court etiquette. To hereditary kings, to princes born in the purple, these things are naturally enough as the breath of life; but those who ought to have known better, even self-made rulers, and those the foremost in the files of time—a Caesar, a Cromwell, a Napolean, have been unable to resist their tinsel attractions. Mohammad was content with the reality; he cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life. ‘God’, says Al- Bokhari, ‘offered him the keys of the treasures of the earth, but he would not accept them’.” “Never has a man set for himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a more sublime aim, since this aim was superhuman: to subvert superstitions which had been interposed between man and his Creator; to render God unto man he and man unto God; to restore the rational and sacred idea of divinity amidst the chaos of the material and disfigured gods of idolatry, then existing. Never has a man undertaken a work so far beyond human power with so feeble means, for he (Muhammad) had in the conception as well as in the execution of such a great design no other instrument than himself, and no other aid, except a handful of men living in a corner of the desert. Finally, never has a man accomplished such a huge and lasting revolution in the world, because in less than two centuries after its appearance, Islam in faith and in arms, reigned over the whole of Arabia, conquered, in God’s name, Persia, Khorasan, Transoxania, Western India, Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia, all the known continent of Northern Africa, numerous islands of the Mediterranean, Spain, and a part of Gaul. “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world, and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and the souls. On the basis of a Book, every letter of which has become law, he created a spiritual nationality which blended together peoples of every tongue and of every race. He has left for us as the indelible characteristic of this Muslim nationality the hatred of false gods and the passion for the One and Immaterial God. This avenging patriotism against the profanation of Heaven formed the virtue of the followers of Muhammad; the conquest of one-third of the earth to his dogma was his miracle, or rather it was not the miracle of a man but that of reason. The idea of the Unity of God, proclaimed amidst the exhaustion of fabulous theologies, was in itself such a miracle that upon its utterance from his lips it destroyed all the ancient temples of idols and set on fire one-third of the world. His life, his meditations, his heroic revilings against the superstitions of his country, and his boldness in defying the furies of idolatry, his firmness in enduring them for fifteen years at Makka, his acceptance of the role of public scorn and almost of being a victim of his fellow countrymen; all these and, finally, his flight, his incessant preaching, his wars against odds, his faith in his success and his superhuman security in fortune, his forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; his endless prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death: all these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction which gave him the power to restore a dogma. This dogma was twofold, the unity of God and the immateriality of God; the former telling what God is, the latter telling what God is not; the one overthrowing false gods with the sword, the other starting an idea with the words. “Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?” “… These Arabs, the man Mahomet and that one century,—is it not as if a spark had fallen, one spark, on a world of what seemed black unnoticeable sand; but lo! the sand proves explosive powder, blazes heaven-high from Delhi to Grenada; I said the Great Man was always as lightning out of heaven, the rest of the men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would aflame.”

 

 

“It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia, who knows how he taught and how he lived, to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of Supreme.”

 

 

GENUINENESS OF FAITH IN HIS DIVINE MISSION:

“The essential sincerity of Muhammad’s nature cannot be questioned: and an historical criticism that blinks no fact, yields nothing to credulity, weighs every testimony, has no partisan interest, and seeks only the truth, must acknowledge his claim to belong to that order of prophets who, whatever the nature of their physical experience may have been, in diverse times, in diverse manners, have admonished, taught and uttered austere and sublime thoughts, laid down principles of conduct nobler than those they found, and devoted themselves fearlessly to their high calling, being irresistibly impelled to their ministry by a power within.”39 “His readiness to undergo persecutions for his beliefs, the high moral character of the men who believed in him and looked up to him as leader, and the greatness of his ultimate achievement—all argue his fundamental integrity. To suppose Muhammad as impostor raises more problems than it solves. Moreover, none of the great figures of history is so poorly appreciated in the West as Muhammad … Thus, not merely must we credit Muhammad with essential honesty and integrity of purpose, if we are to understand him at all; if we are to correct the errors we have inherited from the past, we must in every particular case hold firmly to the belief in his sincerity until the opposite is conclusively proved; and we must not forget that conclusive proof is a much stricter requirement than a show of plausibility, and in a matter such as this only to be attained with difficulty.”

 

 

A GREAT EXEMPLAR:

“Serious or trivial, his daily behaviour has instituted a canon which millions observe at this day with conscious memory. No one regarded by any section of the human race as Perfect Man has been imitated so minutely. The conduct of the Founder of Christianity has not so governed the ordinary life of his followers. Moreover, nom founder of a religion has been left on so solitary an eminence as the Muslim Apostle.”

 

 

PERMANENT IMPACT OF REVOLUTION:

“It is not the propagation but the permanency of his religion that deserves our wonder; the same pure and perfect impression which he engraved at Makka and Madina is preserved, after the revolutions of twelve centuries … The intellectual image of the Deity has never been degraded by any visible idol; the honours of the prophet have never transgressed the measure of human virtue; and his living precepts have restrained the gratitude of his disciples within the bounds of reason and religion.”

 

 

 

DEVOTION TO GOD AND TO RIGHTEOUSNESS IN CONDUCT:

“The ignorance displayed by most Christians regarding the Muslim religion is appalling … Mohammad alone, among the nations at that time, believed in one God to the exclusion of all others. He insisted on righteousness as the source of conduct, of filial duty, and on frequent prayers to the Everliving God, and of respect to all other peoples, and of justice and mercy to and moderation in all things, and to hold in great respect learning of every kind … Most of the absurdities which Christians would have us believe to exist in the Qur’an were never uttered by Mohammad himself, nor are they to be found in a correct translation of the work.”

 

 

CHARGE OF VOLUPTUOUSNESS REFUTED:

“By the force of his extraordinary personality, Muhammad revolutionized life in Arabia and throughout the East. With his own hands he smashed ancient idols and established a religion dedicated to one God. He lifted women from the bondage in which desert custom held them and preached general social justice.

 

 

“Muslims think it particularly ironic when Muhammad is charged by Western writers with having established a voluptuous religion. Among drunkards he abolished alcohol, so that even today all good

 

 

Muslims are prohibitionists. Among the lazy he ordained individual ritual prayers five times each day. In a nation that revelled in feasting he instituted a most rigorous day-time fast lasting as full month each year.

“Western writers have based their charges of voluptuousness mainly on the question of women. Before Muhammad, however, men were encouraged to take innumerable wives; he limited them to four only, and the Koran is explicit that husbands who are unable to maintain strict equality between two or more wives must confine themselves to one …”

 

 

PROFOUNDLY PRACTICAL AND RATIONAL:

“In all things Muhammad was profoundly practical, When his beloved son Ibrahim died, an eclipse occurred, and rumours of God’s personal condolence quickly arose. Whereupon Muhammad is said to have announced, ‘An eclipse is a phenomenon of nature. It is foolish to attribute such things to the death or birth of a human being’.”__

 

 

BROAD, LIBERAL AND UNIVERSALISTIC CREED FOR THE WHOLE WORLD:

“His creed … necessarily connotes the existence of a universal empire.” “The nobility and broad tolerance of this creed, which accepts as God-inspired all the real religions of the world, will always be a glorious heritage for mankind. On it could indeed be built a perfect world religion.”

 

 

“More pure than the system of Zoroaster, more liberal than the law of Moses, the religion of Mahomet: might seem less inconsistent with reason than the creed of mystery and superstition which, in the seventh century, disgraced the simplicity of the gospels.”  “Islam had the power of peacefully conquering souls by the simplicity of its theology, the clearness of its dogma and principles, and the definite number of the practices which it demands. In contrast to Christianity which has been undergoing continual transformation since its origin, Islam has remained identical with itself.” “As a religion the Mahomedan religion, it must be confessed, is more suited to Africa than is the Christian religion: indeed, I would even say that it is more suited to the world as a whole 50 … the achievement of the Moslem faith enjoys, I maintain, a definite superiority, in proof of which may be cited Moslem abstinence, sense of fraternity, take condemnation of usury, and recognition of prophets other than its own. Its quality may be summed up by saying that it takes a man as he is, and while it does not pretend to make a god out of him, seeks to regulate his conduct so that at least he shall become a good neighbour.”

 

 

WISEST, MOST LEARNED AND MOST ENLIGHTENED JURISPRUDENCE:

“The Muhammadan law which is binding on all from the crowned head to the meanest subject is a law interwoven, with a system of the wisest, the most learned and the most enlightened jurisprudence that ever existed in the world.”

 

 

NO COLOUR BAR:

“Take away that black man! I can have no discussion with him’, exclaimed the Christian Archbishop Cyrus when the Arab conquerors had sent a deputation of their ablest men to discuss terms of surrender of the capital of Egypt, headed by Negro Ubadah as the ablest of them all.

 

 

“To the sacred archbishop’s astonishment, he was told that this man was commissioned by General Amr; that the Moslems held Negroes and white men in equal respect—judging a man by his character and not by his colour. “ ‘Well, if the Negro must lead, he must speak gently’, ordered the prelate, so as not to frighten his white auditors. “(Replied Ubadah:) ‘There are a thousand blacks, as black as myself, amongst our companions. I and they would be ready to meet and fight a hundred enemies together. We live only to fight for God, and to follow His will. We care naught for wealth, so long as we have Edmund Burke: in his “Impeachment of Warren Hastings”. the wherewithal to stay our hunger and to clothe our bodies. This world is naught for us, the next world is all’. “Such a spirit … can any other appeal stand against that of the Moslem who, in approaching the pagan, says to him, however obscure or degraded he may be, ‘Embrace the faith, and you are at once an equal and a brother’. Islam knows no ‘colour line’.”

 

 

RESTORATION OF DIGNITY OF WOMANHOOD:

“That his (Muhammad’s) reforms enhanced the status of women in general is universally admitted.”

 

 

“You can find others stating that the religion (Islam) is evil, because it sanctions a limited polygamy. But you do not hear as a rule the criticism which I spoke out one day in a London hall where I knew that the audience was entirely uninstructed. I pointed out to them that monogamy with blended mass of prostitution was a hypocrisy and more degrading than a limited polygamy. Naturally a statement like that gives offence, but it has to be made, because it must be remembered that the law of Islam in relation to women was until lately, when parts of it have been imitated in England, the most just law, as far as women are concerned to be found in the world. Dealing with property, dealing with rights of succession and so on, dealing with cases of divorce, it was far beyond the law of the West, in the respect that was paid to the rights of women. Those things are forgotten while people are hypnotised by the words monogamy and polygamy and do not look at what lies behind it in the West—the frightful degradation of women who are thrown into the streets when their first protectors, weary of them, no longer give them any assistance … “I often think that woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. Woman is more protected by Islam than by the faith which preaches Monogamy. In Al-Quran the law about woman is more just and liberal. It is only in the last twenty years that Christian England has recognized the right of woman to property, while Islam has, allowed this right from all times … It is a slander to say that Islam preaches that women have no souls.”

 

 

WAR AGAINST THE INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY:

“According to the Koran, no person can be made a slave except after the conclusion of a sanguinary battle fought in the conduct of a religious war (Jihad) in the country of infidels who try to suppress the true religion. Indeed, wherever the word slave occurs in Koran it is ‘he whom your right hand possesses’, or a special equivalent for neck— ‘he whose neck has been spared’, thus clearly indicating ‘a prisoner of war’ made by the action of not one man only, but of many … the Arabian prophet recommended: ‘When the war has ended, restore them (the slaves or prisoners) to liberty or give them up for ransom’(Sura 47:57) … “And elsewhere: ‘Alms (which procure righteousness) are distined … to the redemption of slaves’ (Sura 9:60). Further (Sura 24:33): ‘If any of your slaves asks for his manumission in writing give it to him, if you think him worthy of it, and give him also some of the wealth which God has given you’ … The reconciliation of a separated married couple should be preceded by the ransom of a slave, and, if none can be found, the husband should feed sixty poor, or else fast for two months (Sura 58:4-5). Whenever the sense of happiness, including that of conjugal felicity, predisposes the heart to gratitude towards the Creator, or whenever fear of God or a punishment, or the desire of a blessing, affect, as such motives can and do affect the daily life of a Mohammadan, the emancipation of a slave, as a most proper act of charity is recommended. In short, the ‘Cliff’, or narrow path to salvation, is charity: ‘What is the cliff ? It is to free the captive (or slave)’ Sura 90:12-13). “Descending to the second source of the Mohammadan Law, the authenticated traditions of Hadis, we find Mohammad stating that ‘the worst of men is he who sells men’: slaves who displeased their masters were to be forgiven ‘seventy times a day’: no believer can be made a slave; and ‘in proportion to the number of redeemed slaves will members of the body of the releasing person be rescued from the (eternal) fire’.”

 

 

CONTRIBUTION TO SCIENCE AND CIVILISATION:

“It is to Mussulman science, to Mussulman art, and to Mussulman literature that Europe has been in a great measure indebted for its extrication from the darkness of the Middle Ages.” “Europe was darkened at sunset, Cordova shone with public lamps: Europe was dirty, Cordova built a thousand baths: Europe was covered with vermin, Cordova changed its undergarments daily: Europe lay in mud, Cordova’s streets were paved; Europe’s palaces had smoke-holes in the ceiling, Cordova’s arabesques were exquisite; Europe’s nobility could not sign its name, Cordova’s children went to school; Europe’s monks could not read the baptismal service, Cordova’s teachers created a library of Alexandrian dimensions.” “Our use of the phrase ‘the Dark Ages’ to cover the period from 699 to 1,000 marks our undue concentration on Western Europe … From India to Spain, the brilliant civilization of Islam flourised. What was lost to Christendom at this time was not lost to civilization, but quite the contrary … To us it seems that West-European civilization is civilization; but this is a narrow view.” “… From a new angle and with a fresh vigour it (the Arab mind) took up that systematic development of positive knowledge which the Greeks had begun and relinquished … Through the Arabs it was and not by the Latin route that the modern world received that gift of light and power.”

 






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