To better understand the Prophet’s role as educator, let us first study the following verse:
It is He who has raised up from amongst the unlettered a Messenger of their own, to recite His signs to them and to purify them, and to teach them the Book and the Wisdom, though before that they were in manifest error. (al-Jumu‘a, 62.2)
The verse begins with ‘He’. This manner of indirect address is appropriate because the people did not know God. They were ignorant and savage. There was no ‘He’ in their mental world referred to God. So, God first emphasizes the darkness of their character and how far removed they were from being able to receive a direct address from Him.
Then, God calls them unlettered. They were not literate, had no knowledge about God and the Messenger. God, by His infinite Power, sent this petty community the one with greatest will-power, with loftiest spirit and deepest heart and, through him, instructed them as geniuses who would go on to govern much of humanity. Moreover, although God attaches great importance to writing and reading, they were unaware of it.
The word amongst shows that the Messenger was one of them in the sense of being unlettered. Yet, the Messenger was not a man of the Age of Ignorance. It was necessary for him to be unletttered, because God would teach him what he needed to know. He would set him apart from them, educate him and make him a teacher for the unlettered peoples.
... to recite to them His signs, to purify them, points out that he instructs them in the meanings of the Book and the creation gradually, explains to them, and wants to make them complete human beings by educating and guiding them to intellectual and spiritual perfection. He guides them to higher ranks by instructing them through the Book and educating their souls.
... though before that they were in manifest error reveals that God would purify and educate them even though they were astray. He did all of this through an unlettered Messenger.
God teaches the Book, that is, the Glorious Qur’an. This Book will reach the brilliant generations of the future, as it did in the past. All of the so-called original ideas will disappear one by one, like candles blown out, and there will be only one ‘sun’ left. It will never set. Its flag will be the only one waving on the horizon, and every generation to come one after the other will rush to it, breaking the chains around their necks. The signs have already appeared. Consider Russia and China. If you had heard the news about them ten years ago, you would have supposed that it was a dream. Look, how terrifying despotic states are collapsing one by one! And the Qur’an appears like an ember among their ashes. A great world expressing Oneness of God coming to life again. Despite the despotism, tyranny, cruelty and aggression against it, the Islamic spirit, with its freshness allures hearts from all over the world.
Another meaning of the verse is that God taught the Book to His noble Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, so that he could guide his people to higher spiritual ranks, in the brilliant climate of this Book. He would show them how to become perfect, and he would make them rise spiritually so that their souls and hearts could follow his body and soul in his ascension. Yet his nation had been in deep corruption before. If God wills, He may turn coal into diamond, and turn the earth golden, and he did. The Golden Generation of the White Age is still shining. This is by God’s Will. He did it through His Messenger, Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. The one who led humanity to spiritual and intellectual perfection is the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, who is himself at the summit of perfection.
After him, humanity saw his standard carried everywhere by men who had been raised on the wings of sainthood, purification, fear of God and the desire to be close to Him. Wherever they went, they walked in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad. Others will do so in the future.
The education of the Messenger was not just the purification of the evil-commanding self, not just an inward discipline. He came with a universal education system, presented a Message that would raise all hearts, spirits, minds and souls to realize their ideal forms. This is affirmed by the Qur’an. He respected reason, inspired it and led it to the highest under the intellect of Revelation. He did not neglect the human spirit but encouraged it to the highest attainment, higher by far than those of so-called spiritual masters. He led the spirit to the realms it yearned for, the ‘green slopes’ of heaven-like realms. His teaching touched the human faculties and senses with an inspiration that raised them to the heights where even imagination follows limping, which opened the way to progress in every field, economic, social, administrative, military, political and scientific, for his followers and made of them world-renowned administrators, economists, statesmen, military commanders, scholars and scientists. The Messenger came with a universal call which embraced economics, finance, public administration, health and education, justice, the law of states and nations, and knowledge. If there had been any lack in his teaching of mankind, the aim of his Prophethood would not have been realized so fully. He said: Each of the Prophets before me built some part of this marvelous building, but there was a gap which needed to be closed. Every person passing by would say: ‘I wonder when this building will be completed.’ The one who completes it is me. After me, there is no longer any defect in the structure.1
The Qur’an, by affirming him, says:
This day I have completed your religion for you. (al-Ma’ida, 5.3)
In short, the Prophet was one who reformed, completed and perfected the ways of life that had been lacking or deficient or deviated from the Will of God.
The virtues of an educator consist in the following:
· To give due importance to all aspects of a human being, mind, spirit and self, and to raise each to its proper perfection.
The Qur’an mentions the evil-commanding self which drags a man, like a beast with a rope around its neck, everywhere it wants, and goads him continually to obey the desires of his body whereas, by the disposition God gave him, he could be elevated in feeling, thought and spirit.
The Qur’an quotes the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, as saying:
Surely the self commands evil, unless my Lord has mercy. (Yusuf, 12.53)
Commanding evil is inherent in the self’s nature. However, through worship and discipline, the self can be raised to higher ranks. It rises to a position where it accuses itself for its evils and shortcomings (al-Qiyama, 75.2), and then still higher, where God addresses it, O self at peace! Return unto your Lord, well-pleased, well-pleasing (al-Fajr, 89.27-8).
Higher than the self at peace (at rest and contented) is the self perfectly purified. Those who have been able to rise to this degree of attainment are the nearest to God. When you look at them, you remember God; they are like polished mirrors in which all the attributes of God are reflected. It is through the training by the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, that almost all of his Companions reached this degree of moral and spiritual perfection and they have been followed by hundreds of thousands of others to this day.
An education system is judged by its universality, its comprehensiveness, and the quality of its students. The students of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, were ready to convey his Message throughout the world. Since this Message is universal, including all times and peoples, regardless of color, temperament, age and differences of intellectual level, it received a warm welcome in a very short period in a vast area stretching from Morocco and Spain to the Philippines, from the Russian steppes to the heart of Africa, and has remained welcome there. The principles of the education system taught by the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, still preserve their validity. After so many upheavals, changes, and social, economic, intellectual and scientific and technological revolutions, his system is the most unique and original, so much so that it is the hope of the future of mankind.
· An education system is judged by the capacity it has to change its students. You know that even a little bad habit like cigarette smoking among a small community can be permanently removed only with great effort. To those who refuse to accept the Prophethood of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, we present as a challenge, not the Arabian peninsula of fourteen centuries ago, but any part of the ‘civilized’ world. Let them go there with hundreds of philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and pedagogues, and strive for a hundred years. I wonder whether they would be able to achieve in that period a hundredth part of what the Prophet achieved in twenty-three years.