By Joanne McEwan
As Gentle as Jesus
In the early years of Muhammad’s prophethood there was fierce persecution at the hands of the polytheists of Makkah. Muhammad and the new Muslims suffered terribly from chastisement, ridicule, slander, an unjust boycott and physical torture. In spite of this, Muhammad remained steadfast, patient and took a non-reproachful attitude throughout those 14 years. Even some of his relatives took part in the vanguard of assailants. His uncle, known in the Qur’an as Abu Lahab, threw stones at him and forced his sons to divorce their wives who were two of Muhammad’s daughters. Abu Lahab’s wife, apart from shouting profanities at him, used to tie bundles of firewood and thorns and throw it in Muhammad’s path. Neighbors threw goat dung on his back while he prayed.
In all cases Muhammad would never return abusive language, slander or ridicule any of them. He would invoke God for help and justice, and in many cases ask God to guide them to Islam. While the Makkan polytheists were torturing the family of Yasser, Muhammad comforted them. He raised his hand in prayer and said, “Be patient, you will verily find your abode in Paradise.”
Although the voice of Islam was public, Muhammad advised some of his followers, particularly those who didn’t have a tribe or influential family to protect them, to conceal their faith. The Muslims were in a very weak position and it was in their best interests to show restraint from their enemies at all times.
Muhammad taught love, restraint, patience and foreboding to all his Companions. These exemplary qualities formed the foundations of a good character for fellow Muslims.
The Strategic Planner
For the ultimate and long-term success of any mission it is vital to devise and implement a strategy. Despite Muhammad being illiterate and new to leadership, at the onset of his prophethood he got ahead with planning. Just one important example of this is how him and the early Muslims of Makkah made two secret pledges with the people of Madinah to instill peace and understanding between the Muslims of both cities. It was only after the second pledge - namely, the Greater Pledge of Aqabah - that Muhammad assigned 12 people to quietly dispel the message of Islam. This was 13 years after receiving his first revelation. It was through this gradual elucidation of Islam to the people of Madinah that mutual support, trust and sacrifice were fostered between them, preparing them for the eventful immigration of the Makkan Muslims to Madinah.
Even the actual immigration of Muhammad was cleverly planned to escape the pagan Arabs’ assassination attempts. It started during the night leaving his cousin, Ali, in his bed as a decoy. Muhammad and his closest friend and supporter, Abu Bakr, at first proceeded south, instead of north, to further dupe their assailants. Trusted persons delivered provisions throughout their route. They where greeted by the people of Madinah more than two weeks later.
Pre-Islamic Arab culture was fraught with racism. Arabic poetry, the pride of the Arabs, boasted of their perceived superiority as a race. When Muhammad began to preach Islam to his fellow Arabs there was fierce opposition to most of his teachings including Islam’s egalitarianism between races, tribes and nations. The essence of this concept was embedded in the Qur’anic verse: “We have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”
Muhammad, however, did more than talk about equality between races. He never showed favoritism towards any tribe, and he befriended many of those who did not belong to a high-ranking tribe.
Two of his closest friends were both former slaves. Bilal was from Abyssinia and Salman was from Persia. It is important to take the historic details into context. South Saharan Africans were commonly used as slaves and Persians at that time were a declining superpower vehemently hated by the Arabs. Muhammad cherished the companionship of both men. Bilal, who was one of the first Muslims, was given the honor of chanting the call to prayer, or Adhan: the same chant that we hear from mosques all around the world today. Salman was known as a member of the Prophet’s household, although this was a title only given to the Prophet’s kin. Salman was an exception due to his close friendship with him.
Braving the Storm
Although prophets throughout time held extraordinary characteristics, it must not be forgotten that they were prone to all forms of human suffering.
The first revelation of the Qur’an descended upon Muhammad when he was privately meditating in a cave in the desert. He had no previous warning that he was to be a prophet. When the Angel Gabriel appeared squeezing his chest telling him to read, he was exhausted and terrified. Muhammad replied that he could not read and yet still Gabriel told him to read. After a third time he recited the words: “Read, in the name of your Lord Who created…” Muhammad ran shaking to his wife for comfort and some sense of the matter. He asked her to cover him with his mantel as he shivered from fear. It was after speaking to a Christian monk, familiar with the scriptures, that he learned he was to be a prophet. It took several months before he received the subsequent revelations and then became informed of his duty as God’s last messenger on earth.
For Muhammad, delivering the message of the Qur’an was a daunting task, as he knew too well how his fellow people would react. He knew about their greed, violence, idol worshipping and pagan tendencies. He expected that they would chastise him and consider him an enemy. He needed exemplary courage and guts to stand before his tribesmen and women and tell them that their concept of God and that of the forefathers will only destroy them.
Unquestionable allegiance to one’s tribe and family was sacrosanct. Never, in the history of pre-Islamic Arab tradition, written or unwritten, in conversation or poetry, did one publicly voice anger at a member of his tribe. Yet, in the Qur’an, there is the mention of the prophet’s uncle and his wife who will be thrown into hell for their denial of God’s Oneness and their aggressive ploys to stop Muhammad from delivering his message.
Muhammad was not the type to voluntarily cross red tape, nor break the sacred taboos of his tribesmen. He actually respected the many of the traditions of his people and held to them as long as they did not go against Islam. His character was considered flawless even among the most uncouth of them. Considering this public rejection of his family and people was so unprecedented and yet out of Muhammad’s character, the Prophet’s people should have seen that these were not the words of their humble tribesman, but only of God.
This well-respected man, nicknamed ‘The Trustworthy’, suddenly had to challenge all the laws and customs of his people that went against the Oneness of God. This required tremendous courage even if it meant cutting ties with his kinsmen.
Model Father Figure
Despite Muhammad’s duties as a Prophet and later as a statesman, his responsibilities at home remained within his priorities. Of his seven children only his four daughters survived, as his sons died in infancy. Although his daughters lived long enough to marry and have children of their own, only Fatima, his youngest, outlived him.
Muhammad’s paternal emotions stretched beyond his own children and grandchildren. He fostered an orphan boy named Zaid and treated him as if he was his own son to the extent that he was called Zaid Ibn Muhammad. It was some time later after a revelation from God that he was told that only one’s natural child had the right to take the father’s name. Henceforth, Zaid was known as Zaid Ibn Harith. But that didn’t diminish Muhammad’s love for him.
Anas Ibn Malik, the famous narrator of hadith, used to do errands for the Prophet when he was a young boy. When asked about his work with the Prophet, Anas said that the Prophet never asked him: why did he do this and why did he not do that. He never scolded or shouted at Anas.
When Muhammad used to pass by young children, they would gather round to greet him. The Prophet would pass his hand over the cheek of every child making sure not to exclude any of them.
According to all the Hadith, the Prophet was known never to have chastised, beat or ridiculed any child - nor any adult for that matter. So many of the aspects of nurturing children found in good parenting books today are embedded in the skills of Muhammad himself.