mercy to all the worlds

In Praise of Muham­mad, the Mer­cy to All the Worlds

Twen­ty-six years ago I became a Mus­lim large­ly because I fell in love with a beau­ti­ful human being. I was only sent to per­fect noble char­ac­ter,” said the man declared as a mer­cy to all the worlds.”

As time passed, this love grew as my knowl­edge of him increased. I painful­ly watched his reli­gion hijacked by some for their own ends dis­tort­ing his mes­sage and for­get­ting that he was indeed a mer­cy to all the worlds. I am trou­bled by the media’s por­tray­al of him some­times in the worst of lights. How could the man I came to know and love to be so vil­i­fied and maligned by those who claim to rep­re­sent him and also by those who aim to be unbi­ased interpreters ?

Muham­mad, peace be upon him, was a shy, ret­i­cent man who lived among his peo­ple with such high moral char­ac­ter they called him al-Amîn — the Trustworthy.

The Prophet of Islam was born in the city of Mec­ca, Ara­bia, into a poor but noble branch of an aris­to­crat­ic clan known as Quraysh, a peo­ple who despised treach­ery, lies and stu­pid­i­ty, while hon­our­ing brav­ery in bat­tle, gen­eros­i­ty in par­ty­ing, and clev­er­ness in poetry.

Some fam­i­lies, were so ashamed of their baby girls, that they would bury them alive instead of suf­fer­ing the pos­si­ble indig­ni­ty of future dis­hon­our. The reli­gion of the Arabs at the time was a hodge-podge of super­sti­tion, div­ina­tion and idol­a­try. To them, man’s life end­ed with his death and his after­life was based on his mil­i­tary exploits might be immor­tal­ized by a poets tongue.

The Prophet Muham­mad, peace be upon him, was born into this world on April 9th, 570, Chris­t­ian era in the lunar month of Rabi’a al-Aww­al. His father, Abdal­lah died dur­ing his mother’s preg­nan­cy. And for the first four years, he was raised in the rel­a­tive puri­ty of the desert by a Bedouin woman named Hal­imah. After which he returned to his moth­er, Ami­nah. But in his sev­enth year, his moth­er died leav­ing him in the care of his grandfather.

At the age of twen­ty-five, he was employed as a com­mer­cial agent by Lady Khadi­jah, a suc­cess­ful wid­ow from his own clan. She soon rec­og­nized his hon­esty and good nature and pro­posed mar­riage. Although fif­teen years younger than she was, he accept­ed her pro­pos­al and fathered six of his sev­en chil­dren with her.

At the age of forty, it had become his cus­tom to escape the idol­a­try of Mec­can soci­ety by seek­ing soli­tude in a cave on the moun­tain known as the Moun­tain of Light.” In the soli­tary con­fines of his small cave, a voice pierced his con­scious­ness declar­ing : Recite!”

Alarmed and shiv­er­ing he fled to his wife, beg­ging her to wrap him in a cloak. He feared for his san­i­ty, con­cerned that a desert spir­it or poet­ic muse might be pur­su­ing him. More rev­e­la­tions soon fol­lowed and Muham­mad came to the under­stand­ing that he was not only a prophet in a long line of prophets but that he was the last of them who was sent with a uni­ver­sal message.

As the days passed his rev­e­la­tions increased and they were pow­er­ful­ly rhyth­mic punc­tu­at­ed with intox­i­cat­ing mes­sages that chal­lenged lis­ten­ers to reflect on every­day mir­a­cles such as the alter­na­tion of the night and day

These rev­e­la­tions revealed to Muham­mad, peace and bless­ings be upon him, came to be known as the Qur’an, the Mus­lim holy book. For thir­teen years he invit­ed his clan to wor­ship one God, sit with slaves in spir­i­tu­al sol­i­dar­i­ty, respect women as soul-full equals and the source of human mer­cy, care for the wid­ow, the orphan, the weak and the oppressed.

At first, peo­ple ridiculed his mes­sage and accused him of attempt­ing to make the gods one.” His mes­sage threat­ened his people’s finan­cial con­trol of the mar­kets of Mec­ca where pil­grims from all over Ara­bia came to spend their wealth.

When his clan failed to stop his preach­ing they plot­ted to kill him in his sleep. But he was warned by the Angel Gabriel and told to flee in the cov­er of dark­ness to Mad­i­na with his beloved friend and life­long com­pan­ion Abu Bakr.

Set­ting out, the two sought refuge in a cave to escape the skilled track­ers of Mec­ca hot on their trail. The boun­ty hunters quick­ly came upon the cave, but a spider’s web had already cov­ered the entrance and a dove with her young rest­ed in a nest above it.

When the posse left and the two felt safe again, they con­tin­ued their jour­ney to the city of Yathrib. And as they entered it the young girls and chil­dren of Bani Naj­jar came out chant­i­ng lines of poet­ry which are still sung all over the world in remem­brance of this aus­pi­cious occasion.

The name Yathrib was changed to Med­i­na, the city of hope. It became a city found­ed on the broth­er­hood of virtue. The Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, enact­ed a treaty unit­ing the once war­ring groups. He secured the rights of the Jew­ish minor­i­ty by grant­i­ng them full cit­i­zen­ship and free­dom to prac­tice their reli­gion with­out constraint.

Days after his arrival in Med­i­na he began the con­struc­tion of a mosque, a sanc­tu­ary of prayer and med­i­ta­tion, in the cen­tre of the city. And he had his com­pan­ions ; the Mus­lims cre­ate their own mar­ket­place in order to ensure eco­nom­ic strength.

The Mec­ca­ns, sens­ing that a ris­ing pow­er was now emerg­ing in the penin­su­la, plot­ted ways of sub­vert­ing the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, and his grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty of believers.

And the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, who had prac­tised strict paci­fism in Mec­ca for thir­teen years and dis­liked the use of coer­cive force, was now giv­en per­mis­sion by God to defend against any attacks by his ene­mies. The Qur’an declared, Fight­ing has been pre­scribed for you and you detest it, but per­haps you detest some­thing and in it is much good. And per­haps you love some­thing and in it is much harm, and God knows and you do not know.“Qur’an 2:216

The Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, said, Nev­er desire to meet your ene­mies, rather ask God for peace and well-being ; but should you be forced to meet them, then act coura­geous­ly.“Sahih al-Bukhari

Mus­lims are not ashamed of their Prophet’s teach­ing about war. On the con­trary, for us, it is a great source of pride. He was coura­geous as a great lion against the strong and oppres­sive yet gen­tle as a shep­herd with the weak and the oppressed.

The true object of a war fought for God should always be peace. What the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, taught is that Mus­lims fight for a just cause only. In this world, there are only two choic­es : two sides, truth and jus­tice or false­hood and oppres­sion. You don’t have to be a Mus­lim to under­stand that.

After years of con­flict between mem­bers of his clan and his fol­low­ers, the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, had a rev­e­la­tion that he should vis­it the sacred mosque. In the eighth year after his migra­tion to Med­i­na the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, set out for Mec­ca but his adver­saries refused to allow him in. They sent out an arbi­tra­tor to strike an agree­ment that would bring the stand-off to an end. And on every point of this treaty the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, com­pro­mised his own posi­tion in pur­suit of peace.

On the jour­ney back to Med­i­na some of the com­pan­ions were deeply trou­bled by what had just tak­en place and dis­ap­point­ed that they were thwart­ed from vis­it­ing the sanc­tu­ary. When asked to explain, the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, replied, Did I say it was going to be this year?”

And so the fol­low­ing year, in accor­dance with the treaty, the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, and his fol­low­ers per­formed a pil­grim­age com­plete­ly unmo­lest­ed. But soon his clan the Quraysh broke their end of the deal, mas­sacring anoth­er clan with an alliance to the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, attack­ing them even in the sacred precinct. Abu Sufyan, the head of the Prophet’s ene­mies, attempt­ed to restore the truce but it was too late. News of the mas­sacre enraged the believ­ers and the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, sum­moned all of the Mus­lims capa­ble of bear­ing arms to march on Mec­ca. When the near­ly ten thou­sand Mus­lims arrived on the out­skirts of the city, the Quraysh real­ized they did not stand a chance and peo­ple either fled or stayed in their homes.

And so it was, after years of per­se­cu­tion, the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, marched tri­umphant­ly into the city of his birth at the head of the largest army ever assem­bled in Ara­bi­an his­to­ry. With his head bowed in humil­i­ty he declared a gen­er­al amnesty and grant­ed war crim­i­nals refuge.

His over­whelm­ing mag­na­nim­i­ty of char­ac­ter led to a mass con­ver­sion among the cit­i­zens of Mec­ca. Even Abu Sufyan, his arch­en­e­my, embraced the reli­gion of the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him. In the months that fol­lowed, almost all of Ara­bia dis­patched rep­re­sen­ta­tives to swear alle­giance to this Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, and to enter in the faith of Islam. In a peri­od of twen­ty-three years Muham­mad, peace be upon him, had suc­ceed­ed in unit­ing a feud­ing peo­ple trapped in cycles of vio­lence into one peo­ple with a sense of des­tiny and a mis­sion that would trans­form the world.

He ele­vat­ed the low, and he low­ered the ele­vat­ed that they might meet in that mid­dle place known as broth­er­hood. He infused in them a love of learn­ing unleash­ing a cre­ative pow­er that would lead to some of the most extra­or­di­nary sci­en­tif­ic break­throughs in human history.

He died on the same day he was born, in the same house he had lived in for ten years in Med­i­na, on a small bed made of leather stuffed with palm fibres, in the arms of his beloved wife Aishah. His dying words were, Treat your women well, and do not oppress your ser­vants, the prayer, the prayer, don’t be neglect­ful of the prayer. O God, my high­est com­pan­ion, O high­est companion.”

But the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, was more than just a great his­tor­i­cal per­son, he was a father and friend, a hus­band, a com­pan­ion and above all, he was a human being. The Prophet’s unique phys­i­cal appear­ance, his high char­ac­ter and will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice for oth­ers, are often at the essence of any descrip­tion of him. He was once described by a con­tem­po­rary in the fol­low­ing words :

The Mes­sen­ger of God was impos­ing and majes­tic. His face was lumi­nous like a full moon. He was taller than medi­um but not exces­sive in height. He had wavy hair, which he part­ed and it nev­er went beyond his shoul­ders. He was light-skinned with a high brow. He had full eye­brows and a small space between them. He had a fine, aquiline nose. His beard was full, his eyes black. His physique was sup­ple and lithe, with a full chest and broad shoul­ders. When he walked, he was deter­mined and his pace was as if he was walk­ing downhill.

When he spoke he was always brief and reflec­tive. He spoke when he saw ben­e­fit and spent long peri­ods in silent con­tem­pla­tion. His speech was com­pre­hen­sive being nei­ther wordy nor lacon­ic. He had a mild tem­pera­ment and was nev­er harsh nor cru­el, coarse nor rude. He expressed grat­i­tude for every­thing giv­en to him no mat­ter how insignif­i­cant. When he spoke, his com­pan­ions low­ered their heads as if birds were perched upon them. When he was silent, they felt free to speak. He nev­er crit­i­cized food or praised it exces­sive­ly. He nev­er swore, nor did he find fault in peo­ple. He did not flat­ter peo­ple but praised them when appropriate.

Peo­ple entered his gath­er­ings as seek­ers and left enlight­ened. He would ask about his com­pan­ions when they were absent often mak­ing inquiries about people’s needs. He nev­er stood nor sat with­out men­tion­ing the name of God. He nev­er reserved a spe­cial place for him­self in a gath­er­ing and sat where the space pro­vid­ed. He gave each of those who sat with him such full atten­tion that every­one felt that he was the most impor­tant per­son in that gath­er­ing. Voic­es were nev­er raised in his pres­ence. The aged were respect­ed for their age and the young were shown com­pas­sion for their youth.”

The Qur’an reminds Mus­lims that when they are slan­dered by those who reject them they should bear it patient­ly and be for­giv­ing. I yearn for a deep­er under­stand­ing of this man, his gen­tle­ness towards chil­dren, his love of ani­mals, his con­cern for the weak and oppressed, his sense of jus­tice tem­pered always with mercy.

I per­son­al­ly love his humour and his sense of tom­fool­ery. He said once, I joke but always tell the truth.” His wife Aishah said, he was always mak­ing us laugh in the house.” One of his names is ad-dah­hak — the smil­ing one. His humour and cheer­ful­ness even in the face of the most dif­fi­cult of times are so need­ed today in our trou­bled world. I imag­ine him telling those of us who don’t laugh enough to light­en up, to show more grat­i­tude even in what appears to be dif­fi­cul­ties. And as for those who laugh too much and do so inap­pro­pri­ate­ly, I imag­ine that he would ask that they reflect deep­er on the con­di­tion of human­i­ty and nur­ture com­pas­sion in their hearts.

Those who sin while laugh­ing enter hell cry­ing,” he once said.

Once an old woman asked him if she would enter par­adise and he replied, Old peo­ple don’t go to heav­en!” The woman was crest­fall­en with the answer he had pro­vid­ed, to which he added with a smile, You shall enter par­adise in the prime of your youth.”

The Arabs believed dates made eye infec­tions worse. His com­pan­ion Suhayb was eat­ing dates one day while his left eye was infect­ed. The Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, said, Suhayb do you eat dates and your eye is infect­ed?” To which Suhayb said, I am eat­ing with my right eye only O Mes­sen­ger of God.” To which the Prophet, peace be and bless­ings be upon him, laughed heartily.

And once a gruff desert Bedouin came into the mosque and prayed out loud say­ing, O God for­give me and Muham­mad and don’t for­give any­one else.” Hear­ing this the Prophet, peace and bless­ings be upon him, laughed and said to him, You are lim­it­ing the vast mer­cy of God.”

I feel so incred­i­bly grate­ful and blessed to have come to know him and to learn from him. A day of my life has not gone by that I haven’t felt indebt­ed to him for the wis­dom he has giv­en me in mak­ing sense of my life and my world.

Every day my love for Muham­mad, peace and bless­ings be upon him, increas­es. Like the vast major­i­ty of my fel­low believ­ers across the world and through times he is, indeed, the Beloved — the Praised One.

To the solace of his name, sim­ply say­ing Muham­mad, has an incred­i­bly sooth­ing effect on me. In Praise of Muhammad, the Mercy to All the Worlds 1Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Hamza Yusuf, In Praise of Muham­mad, the Mer­cy to All the Worlds,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, April 5, 2007, last accessed April 17, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​m​u​h​a​m​m​a​d​/​m​e​r​c​y​-​t​o​-​a​l​l​-​t​h​e​-​w​o​r​l​ds/

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2 responses to “In Praise of Muham­mad, the Mer­cy to All the Worlds”

  1. Radwan Avatar
    Radwan

    beau­ti­ful. jazak allah.

  2. islamispeace Avatar
    islamispeace

    MashaAl­lah, an excel­lent and mov­ing arti­cle. Very well-writ­ten. What kind of per­son could not love Muham­mad, peace be upon him ? Only a fool, I say.

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