Yes. Who is, not who was Muhammad? I refuse to refer to him in the past because the Prophet of Islam (may Allah’s peace and benedictions be on his soul in Madinah) lives in the present. I prefer to refer to him in the present because his legacies make all allusions to him in the present a categorical imperative. In other words, though he died a thousand, four hundred and twenty one years ago, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) did not actually die. Rather, he lives on in the hearts of billions of Muslims and on the tongues of countless number of creatures of the Almighty who celebrate his shining patrimony and strive to emulate, based on correct knowledge and understanding, his exemplary legacy.
Thus when I say who is Muhammad? It is with the decided agenda to remind you of the known, the unknown and the unknowable. To those who properly understand his message among Muslims, Muhammad is known. To those who are ignorant of the core messages of his vocation but who are only emotionally attached to him, Muhammad is unknown. To those who use the negative exteriorities and reality in Muslim life all over the world as evidence of his message, Muhammad is unknowable. His full name is Abul Qasim Muhammad b. Abdullah b. Abdul Mutallib b. Hashim b Abdul Manaf b. Adnan. His mother is Aminah, daughter of Wahab. He was born on Monday; he was commissioned into Prophethood on Monday; he left Makkah on migration (hijrah) to Madinah on Monday; he arrived Madinah on Monday; he placed the black stone on its present spot in the Kaaba on Monday; he died on Monday.
Who is Muhammad – upon him be peace and blessings of Allah? He is the man who was born an orphan but rose to become a head of state. Thus it appears Allah wishes to remind Muslim parents of today who usually assume there presence is sine qua non for the success of their children to key-in into the odyssey of the birth of our leader. He had a father, named Abdullah, who lived till such a time he delivered the “seed” in the womb of his wife, Aminah, before he was transmitted to the great beyond. The unspoken moral here should not be lost on us- live every moment of your life as if it the last; know that it is good to be important in life. Be aware that it is more important to be good and be God-conscious.
Yes Aminah, the Prophet’s mother, also received the “seed” as a trust and nurtured it to maturation. She gave birth to and reared the young Muhammad till such a time the infant could be separated from the womb and the bosom that bore him before she departed this world. Again, Amina’s life is signifier to humanity- parents are agents in the hands of the unknowable scheme of the Almighty; we are puns – children and their forebears- in the chessboard of our creator.
In other words, children who see their parents on a daily basis easily forget their creator; they shout and chorus at every moment; my daddy, my mummy! But those who have no parents to call take solace in their recourse to the Almighty on a permanent basis. Thus while the former shouts my daddy! my mummy! the latter shouts Ya Rabb! Ya rabb! (My lord! My lord!)
By coming to the world intestate, the whole life of Muhammad (s.a.w) is designed to teach what none other the Almighty can teach. When Muhammad lost his mother at six after having lost his father while he was in the womb, we are reminded that it is a privilege for us to be there, to be “daddied” and “mummied” by our children: the child would attain to his destiny with or without the intervention of his parents!
Again, Prophet Muhammad was born as an heir to a prophetic tradition, the apogee of which was Prophet Ibrahim (upon him be peace and blessings of Allah). From Prophet Ibrahim down to Prophet Ismail down to Abdullah, father of Prophet Muhammad, certain light of excellence, the gravitas of moral rectitude was inherited from one to the other. In other words, the “seed” from which Muhammad emerged and the womb that bore him were of the purest stock. Put graphically, the womb that bore Muhammad never played host, prior to her marriage to Abdullah, to the chemical-genetic fluid of the fornicator. Humans often desire to reap where they do not sow; some men desire to marry virgins even as they go about the cities defiling women. They often assume, and erroneously too, that they can come to equity with soiled hands!
Before he was commissioned as a prophet, his nudity was never seen, he never drank alcohol, never ate from a feast dedicated to idols and never sworn by other than the Almighty. He was light in complexion, his shoulders were broad, his face usually shined brightly as if on a dark night. He had black hair, tender skin, broad chest, moderate height, high forehead. Though sweet in speech, he kept silent most of the time. He usually walked rapidly and lightly with long strides. His clothing generally consisted of two pieces of cloth. He used to begin and end speeches with ‘bismillah”. He used to look more on to the ground than he did to the heavens out of respect for and awe of the authority in the heavens. He never repelled evil with evil but with good.
Who was that man? He was the unlettered Prophet who was given a book which made knowledge the most worthwhile investment one could bequeath to the world. He never had a chance of learning from a scholar but was blessed with a book which makes scholarship the best profession known to humanity. He was given a book which talks about astronomy and space exploration at a time the NASA and the powers that be in the US had not been born. He was given a book which talks about biology and reproduction at a time the human physiology was still unknown and uncharted. He was given a book which talks about geology and archaeology at a time oceanography and oil exploration had not occurred to humanity; he was given a book which talks about economics and the evil of round-tripping at a time the stock market had not been conceived; he was given a book which talks about numerology at a time algebra and the only formula I remember of the mathematics I was taught in my post-primary school- the almighty formula- had not been discovered!
Prophet Muhammad was taught to read a book which is itself all about reading- a book which contains a hundred and fourteen chapters and over six thousand verses which were revealed both in Makkah and Madinah. Whereas the Qur’an is known and seen today as a book, it is equally a book which is a seal of all revealed books.
Sedew, a French Scholar, says of Prophet Muhammad as follows: “He smiled readily and often, yet he was of a serious disposition. He was the most generous of his people, kind to his neighbour, courteous, faithful and trustworthy. He was the bravest of men and the most sensitive”
Who was that man, Muhammad? He was a man who began his life as an orphan and ended his life as a state man; he was employed by the most wealthy of his era and soon became the consort, the husband of the most-sought after woman of his clime (Khadijah). He was a bachelor who never engaged in “sampling” before he got married and having got married, he remained a faithful and close confidant to his wives. Muhammad was blessed with children, boys and girls; Muhammad was a man who buried almost all his children while he was alive. Muhammad was married to women who were blessed with the fruit of the womb; he was also, and ironically too, a man who was married to a woman who was destined never to taste the joy of motherhood.
Muhammad was a leader of a group who later became the leader of a community who later became the leader of a nation. In his person, we have insights into the elements which make the ideal leader- that leader that the world is in acute need of today. He was just, compassionate, kind, deracinated, detribalised and gender-sensitive. He was contented with the little that today could offer; he never yearned to own billions of dollars and naira – billions that generations yet unborn will never exhaust. He knew the world for what it is – beautiful, alluring and fragile like the balloon.
Anas b. Abi Malik served the Prophet Muhammad for ten years and for a decade was never rebuked for a moment nor did the Prophet ever spoke a harsh word to him. He says further: “I joined the service of the Prophet when I was eight; I served him for ten years. Not even for once did he rebuke me for any fault of mine”
Prophet Muhammad once had a she-camel named Adba which used to run faster than other camels. But one day, a Bedouin entered the city of Madinah and boasted that his camel is capable of beating that of the Prophet in a race. Soon the camels were set up against each other in a race and the Bedouin’s camel eventually overtook that of the Prophet. The companions were sad over the incident. But the Prophet quickly intervened saying: “it is the Almighty who raises in this world and whenever He wants He lowers”
In other words, we have in his persona a Prophet who would never let a moment pass by without deriving meaning from it for humanity. This is because moments of life are meant to be lived, to be encoded with meaning, to be endowed with life; a life that nourishes, that enlivens, that brings humanity back to its origin.
He was once asked: who will be under the shade of the Almighty’s throne on the day of resurrection? He responded saying: the king who is just; the young person who remembers the Almighty often; the one who remembers Almighty in seclusion and tears flows from their eyes; the one who loves to stay in the mosque; two people who love for the sake of the Almighty and parts for His sake; the man who a beautiful and dignified lady tries to seduce in secret and he declines and says “I fear the Almighty”; the one who gives in charity such that nobody knows about it”
Who was Muhammad?: a friend to the Christians; a neighbour to the Jews. He was once asked: who is the most honourable person? He said: the most pious. They said not that we want to know the most honourable person. He said: Yusuf, the prophet of Allah, son of the prophet of Allah, son of a friend of Allah,
Who was Muhammad? He started his life as an employee and displayed much trust and confidence in the discharge of his duties. He taught humanity that in order to be a good leader one must begin by being a good follower. He never embezzled the proceeds of the business which he was mandated by Khadijah to discharge for her.
Who was Muhammad? He was known as a trustworthy person. The young and the old in Makkah used to put their properties and wealth under his watch. He was kind, gentle and compassionate.
In 610 he received the first revelation in the Quran. This occurred in a cave in Makkah where he had repaired to reflect over the circumstance of the people of his time, the circumstance of humanity today: young and old who were steeped in ignorance, men and women who were neck-deep in debauchery, the rich and the poor who were engaged in macabre dance of savagery and self-assured destruction. Makkah, before 610A.D was like the modern cities of today: cities where women’s nudity are paraded as if in shopping malls, where chastity is abhorred the same way the unbeliever detests death, where injustice is the order of the day as is the situation in the contemporary world where justice has been manacled. Prophet Muhammad took refuge in the cave and soon heard a call or command: Recite! (or read!) In the name of your Lord Who created- created man from clots of blood. Recite! Your Lord is the Most Gracious,Who taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not.(96: 1-5)
The above verses speak about knowledge, how to acquire it and to whom knowledge should be dedicated. It establishes the primacy of intellectualism over and above the abyss and the oddities of ignorance. The verses marked the beginning of a journey – ten years of prophethood calling in Makkah during which the Prophet, together with those who heeded his call, were subjected to the most harrowing of all treatments; thirteen years of sojourn in Madinah during which Islam realized its full potentials. Makkah was a place where Islam was oppressed; Madinah was a space where Islam gained its freedom; Makkah was a place the Prophet was born; Madinah was destined to be the place where he would be buried; Makkah was the laboratory in which the concept of martyrdom was experimented with; Madinah was the terrain in which the idea of religious freedom and multiculturalism was operationalized: Makkah was the place Muhammad was treated as a villain, Madinahh was the place he was treated as a hero; Makkah came into history for its initial repudiation of the truth, Madinahh stepped into the centre of history for its momentous acceptance of Islam.
Eventually Makkah and Madinahh became the twin cities of Prophet Muhammad and together with Jerusalem they became the triple cities of Islam. When taken together, Makkah and Madinah became for the Prophet what it has become for Muslims and forever too: cities where humanity is taught how to behave, first outside power and second, inside power; cities where men are made not only by virtue of the action they took but equally by serving as witnesses, and active ones for that matter, to other people’s action and inaction, to other peoples errors of omission and commission.
Muslims celebrate the birth of Muhammad, son of Abdullah and Aminah, for many reasons including the following: he came with a religion and a book both of which mutually reinforce each other. Muhammad came with Islam; our Prophet brought the Quran. Thus, in line with Kenneth Craig, the non-Muslim British Quranologist, there can be no dichotomization between the two: “Islam is the Quranically guided religion; the Quran is the Islamically revealed book”. These two entities are mutually self-identifying and self-assertive. Inside the Quran we read about Islam; in talking about Islam, we talk about the Quran!
Muslims adulate and celebrate Prophet Muhammad because his message found practical exemplification in his persona, in his reality, in his life. He was a theorist and a pragmatist. In his persona, Islam in the text and Islam in socio-political and economic contexts of Arabia were mutually complimentary; a complimentarity which shames the shambolic crises and puts to question the anarchic realities of Muslim societies in the contemporary period.
Muslims celebrate the birthday of Muhammad because of the humanity in his prophetic enterprise. Put differently, we adore and rejoice in his birth because he humanized the prophetic vocation to the extent that his traducers and sworn enemies could not but declaim his prophetic vocation as a result of the nexus which he established between the secular and the divine. He once led the Muslims in prayer in the mosque. During the course of the prayer he heard the cries of an infant. He quickly paused and remonstrated with the woman-worshipper to take care of her child because his cries and tears weighed heavily on his heart?
In other words, Muhammad was a Prophet who could not bear the sight of his enemies in pains. How else might we describe the cartography of the union between the divine and the profane in a prophet who never said “I still dey laugh O!” at a time his political-“enemies” were in positions of loss?
How might the Muslims cease celebrating the birth of a Prophet who was blessed by Allah more than his companions among the Prophets. In a report quoted by Ibn Kathir, he was quoted as having said as follows: “God has favored me more than the other prophets in six ways: I have been endowed with the gift of speech which is brief but full of knowledge; I was granted victory owing to my awe; the spoils of war were made lawful unto me; the whole earth has been made the place of worship for me and it has become the means of purification for me also; I have been sent to the whole world; and the line of prophets has come to its final end in me”. On a trans-Atlantic flight from New York the other day, I realized it was time for early morning prayer and I quickly set out to observe my duty as a Muslim. A co-passenger sitting next to me was surprised. He wondered whether it was valid for me to observe prayers inside the plane. I quickly reminded him that it was a measure of the treasure of Islam!
Celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad once it dawns on you that unlike others, the message he brought for humanity was practical. In other words, Islam is that religion which is suitable and useful in all times and climes. Arguments to the contrary would be a function of either ignorance, prejudice or cowardice. Colleagues in Alaska and in some part of Sweden wondered whether fasting is possible in parts of the world where sunlight occurs for less than five hours a day; others wanted to know whether as a lonely Muslim I could practice my religion with dignity and fidelity in societies where humans are at war with their creator. My response was and still is: if it is possible for the sun to rise and set in any part of the world, then it is possible for Islam to be practiced in full in such regions!
We shall continue to rejoice in the birth of Prophet Muhammad because he brought a message to the world which was universal and comprehensive. His was message of love and gender equity; his was a message of racial equality; his was a message which is applicable in Malaysia as it is suitable in Philadelphia. Muhammad brought a message which attends to the political the same way it does the economical. This explains the finality, in his persona, of the Prophetic enterprise. He says: “I am Muhammad, I am Ahmad, I am al-Mahi (the Effacer) in that through me infidelity shall be erased; I am al-Hashir (Assembler) in that people shall be assembled after me. And I am al-‘Aqib (the Last) – Prophet Muhammad.
He once said: “The mission and guidance I have been vouchsafed to deliver to the world is like this: a man made a bonfire and when it illuminated the surroundings, insects began to jump into it. You also want to take a leap into the fire in a like manner but I am holding you by your waists to save you from falling into the eternal fire”
He was asked: who is the most afflicted of all? He said: “Prophets of Allah, then those who are like them; a man would be tested in accordance with his religious status” in the sight of the Almighty.
(This was originally written for the Guardian)