Friday 15 November 2019 (17th of Rabiul Awwal 1441)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلَىٰ خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ
And most surely you conform (yourself) to sublime morality.
Verse 4 of Surah Qalam (Chapter 68 of the Holy Quran)
Once again, we offer our greetings, congratulations and felicitations on this auspicious day of the Milad and birth of the best of the creation of Allah (SWT), the most beloved servant of Allah (SWT), our Nabi and Rasul, and our ideal leader and excellent example, Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). This day is also the Milad of his grandson, the 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s).
As I mentioned in our first Milad celebration on 12th Rabiul Awwal, and again emphasized in the Jumuah khutbah, the arrival of this Light of Almighty Allah (SWT) in this material world, is an extremely important incident.
It is the turning point, as we discussed. It is one phase of the very sacred existence of our Nabi & Rasul (SAWA) which we celebrate on this day. The wujood and existence of this Nabi and personality is beyond this day of 17th Rabiul Awwal. As we discussed in the previous Milad celebration, he is the first and the last creation of Almighty Allah (SWT). This means that whatever is in this world, is the reflection of this Noor and this truth and reality known as Muhammad (SAWA).
As promised, we will be exploring another aspect of the personality of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). If you recall, in our Milad celebration on 12th Rabiul Awwal last week, we discussed that the central theme in the life of this greatest of creation of Almighty Allah (SWT) is his sublime morality.
EACH DIVINE PROPHET IS REMEMBERED FOR A SPECIAL HALLMARK
Every Prophet (a.s) has some central theme, and if we speak about our Nabi and Rasul (SAWA), the point of reference in this great personality is verse 4 of Surah Qalam (chapter 68 of the Holy Quran) referenced further above. He presented the greatest of akhlaq and ethics, as the perfection of moral character.
We concluded the previous discussion by saying that the secret of success of Islam was the akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). This was the special quality that Rasulullah (SAWA) is known by. Of course, without doubt, all divine Prophets (a.s) have good akhlaq, but the central theme for each of them was something else, relative to their time.
For example, Nabi Moosa (a.s) is remembered for defeating magic and the oppressive system of Pharaoh. So, people started following Nabi Moosa (a.s) because he nullified the magic and nullified the Pharaohs, and people accepted the divine message presented by Nabi Moosa (a.s) after witnessing this.
Another example is Nabi Isa (a.s), and how he cures the sick and is even able to miraculously give life to the dead. People accepted the divine message of Nabi Isa (a.s) based on this special trait.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) also performed similar miracles, no doubt. Examples are the splitting of the moon, the speaking of the pebbles, and a lot more. What I am trying to draw your attention to is that people did not embrace Islam due to his ability to split the moon or because he let pebbles speak. Rather, people accepted Islam through his akhlaq!
When people saw his character being of such a sublime level, it was not possible for them to even imagine. They surrendered and accepted Islam and became Muslim. Hence, the secret to the success and victory of Islam in the shortest of time, in the history of any religion, was nothing but the akhlaq and character of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
This was his mission.
PROPHETIC MISSION WAS TO PERFECT THE STANDARDS OF MORAL CHARACTER
We keep referring to verse 4 of Surah Qalam (chapter 68 of the Holy Quran), which says that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is on the greatest of akhlaq. Rasulullah (SAWA) supplements this with a commonly quoted Hadith, where he says that he has been appointed to complete and perfect the greatest standards of akhlaq. The job of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is to take akhlaq to the highest possible level.
This is our Nabi & Rasul (SAWA). It is summarized in his akhlaq.
It is really difficult to speak about the akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), because it is an expansive ocean to explore, with lots of angles to address on this subject of his akhlaq. At the same time, it is the very sad reality that his Ummah distanced itself from this akhlaq.
In preparation for today’s lecture, I came across a great academic of our time. He is a professor in Islamic history and has completed a great deal of research and has written many books. He says that he has absolutely no doubt that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), in his character and ethics, was exemplary.
He made a very interesting point, that you can only comprehend the akhlaq of Rasulullah (SAWA) when you look at the background of the Arab society at that time. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) was sent by Allah (SWT) to a society with the worst of akhlaq! That Arab society had absolutely nothing by the name of value, humanity, ethics or morality.
WE CAN ALL LEARN FROM THE AKHLAQ OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) TOWARDS CHILDREN
Another aspect of the exemplary akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) was the way he interacted with children. As much as we get upset with their noise, he never did.
In fact, there is a narration which explains this when he was leading Salaah. Obviously, nobody can claim to have greater focus and concentration in Salaah than our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). There is nobody closer to Almighty Allah (SWT) than him. No great mystic can reach even closer to the level of connection with our Lord (SWT) in Salaah than Rasulullah (SAWA). Despite this, Rasulullah (SAWA) did not mind if a child comes and disturbs him. In fact, he entertained it!
Before we can get into examples of the exemplary akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), we need to understand the spirit behind this akhlaq. This is why we are repeatedly emphasizing from verse 4 of Surah Qalam (chapter 68 of the Holy Quran), where Rasulullah (SAWA) is referred to as “khuluqin adheem”.
The core of this magnanimous personality is the greatest of character which is embedded within his pure essence ie.”khuluqin adheem”. This inner core reflects outwardly in the manner which he treats the child, or women, or his interaction with the poor, etc.
The philosophy of akhlaq is a contemporary subject which has garnered great interest in academic and spiritual circles. This subject deals with the following matters:
1. What is akhlaq ie. what is good morals and ethics?
2. What is value and what is anti-value?
WHAT IS AKHLAQ – GOOD MORALS AND ETHICS?
This is a very important question, because different schools of thought have different definitions of good akhlaq. Normally, we think good akhlaq means to smile. Indeed, smiling is good akhlaq, as Imam Ali (a.s) says that he has never seen anybody in this world more smiling and fresher than Rasulullah (SAWA).
However, we need to understand what is the motive behind this fresh, welcoming face? Is it to make people feel nice and I feel happy as a result, because it is good to be nice with each other? Not at all, the philosophy of the Muhammadean akhlaq is different.
In Muhammadean akhlaq, the driving force is Imaan – faith in Almighty Allah (SWT)! This refers to that pure nature which Allah (SWT) created us with, as explained in verse 30 of Surah Room (chapter 30 of the Holy Quran):
فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا
The nature made by Allah in which He has made men.
That pure nature of human beings demands from us to interact with people in a good manner. Rasulullah (SAWA) used to show his utmost respect to everybody and everything, including animals and the environment.
The akhlaq of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is such a vast subject, especially when we try to understand how he interacted with the whole world. However, I am confining my discussion here to the philosophy on why his akhlaq is on this sublime level.
The philosophy of Muhammadean akhlaq is that he sees everything as the creation of Almighty Allah (SWT), and from His favours and blessings. This is the approach of Rasulullah (SAWA), which is to show the utmost respect to all of creation, in order to appreciate these favours and blessings from Almighty Allah (SWT), and to be thankful.
Now, this respect and akhlaq of Rasulullah (SAWA) is appearing not out of hypocrisy or to show off, or to make a good name for himself to attract people. Instead, it is driven by Imaan (faith) and that connection with the pure fitra (essence).
WHAT IS VALUE AND WHAT IS ANTI-VALUE?
This is another very important topic in the discussion on the philosophy of akhlaq. What is positive and what is negative? Naturally, Western psychologists and psychiatrists approach this with materialist lenses and reach the point where they say that honestly talking, there is nothing which is absolutely good or absolutely bad. They refer to it as cultural relativism.
In simplistic terms, this means that something is good today, but won’t be tomorrow. Things fluctuate, so there is nothing really in absolute terms. For them, speaking truth is fine, but sometimes, lying is also OK! They redefine akhlaq based on how times are moving and use very flowery language as the honey concealing the poison!
Let me use this opportunity to express our extreme disgust with this new initiative by our government regarding sex education in our schools, and how they are taking it to the level where they will be destroying this very fibre of akhlaq and morality.
You see, these issues have always been regarded as the challenges presented to akhlaq, morality and ethics. However, what we see today is the complete reverse, where embracing these controversial akhlaq issues is seen as morality, and not speaking about this is seen as immoral!
This is bound to have a damaging effect on the future of this society and country. Akhlaq, morality and ethics is the most serious challenge of our times. Through this approach by our governments to teach children about these things in schools, we will gradually see the normalization of anti-values. This means that something which you always saw as evil will now be neutralized and acceptable. This is the real challenge for our society.
I don’t understand how we can promote such teachings on the one hand and complain about gender-based violence on the other. It is quite the oxymoron if you allow your child to be exposed at that early age to this type of information and then also expect your child to one day not be violent and abusive. They are clearly not reconcilable, but that is the direction our government has chosen to take this society.
However, when we speak in philosophy about the akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), there is no relative value and anti-value. Yes, there is flexibility, but the absolute values remain untampered with, because it is governed by Imaan – faith in Almighty Allah (SWT).
Our base is not what people say. This is different to Western philosophy of akhlaq. In the Western philosophy of akhlaq, having good akhlaq is defined by what society considers to be good. Now, contrast this with the philosophy of Islamic akhlaq, where the criteria is not what people or society say. The criteria are defined by the divine commands of Almighty Allah (SWT).
PHILOSOPHY OF MUHAMMADEAN AKHLAQ IS LOST WITHIN MUSLIMS TOO
We now understand why our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) says that he has been appointed to complete and perfect the greatest standards of moral character.
The issue of morality is the serious challenge as we experience with our sick society. Unfortunately, within Islam, not even those who were close Islam or scholars of Islam have retained those high standards of akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
I was referring earlier to that professor of history, who discusses that Rasulullah (SAWA) was the peak of akhlaq, but what we find today in Islam is very far from that Muhammadean akhlaq. With so much fabricated hadith and fake narrations added to Islamic resources, what we see being promoted about Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is far from who he really was. Along the same trend as we mentioned earlier, unfortunately this became the norm and accepted.
WHERE ARE WE IN RELATION TO THE PROPHETIC MERCY AND COMPASSION?
I would like to draw your attention to a few very striking akhlaqi character traits of the personality of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) which are missing. One of the main points of the akhlaq of Rasulullah (SAWA), which is described in the Holy Quran, is compassion and mercy. Verse 107 of Surah Anbiyaa refers (chapter 21):
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ
“And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.”
This main quality of compassion and being merciful reflected in every action and interaction of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). An example is in his socio-political interaction.
We always speak about 2 points of rahmah. “Rahmati rahmaniyah” is the rahmah which is inclusive, as described in the bismillah. We say “in the name of Allah (SWT), the most beneficent, the most merciful”. What is the difference between these 2, because they both have the same meaning? Rahman means the inclusive mercy ie. it is extended to enemies, friends, anybody and everybody. It means that Allah (SWT) is even merciful to those who fight or deny Him.
On the other hand, Rahim refers to that special mercy which is only for the Mu’mineen (believers). Now, when we speak about Rahmatallil Aalameen, as Almighty Allah (SWT) refers to Rasulullah (SAWA) in the above verse, it is referring to both rahmah. This means that Rasulullah (SAWA) is “Rahmati rahmaniyah” and “Rahmati rahimiyyah”. This is the practical character of our Nabi Muhammad (SAWA).
To understand “Rahmati rahmaniyah”, we should reflect on the conquer of Mecca! Again, what I am trying to repeatedly draw your attention to is that inner core of the personality of Rasulullah (SAWA), namely “khuluqin adheem”.
PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) FORGIVES HIS ENEMIES AFTER THE CONQUEST OF MECCA
After the conquest of Mecca, we note from history that all the worst enemies of Islam surrendered. How does Rasulullah (SAWA) react to their defeat? He says to these worst enemies that they are all free today! Abu Sufyan, as we know, was a terrible character who was involved in each and every conspiracy against Islam. As we very well know, his descendants continued this trend! Whatever mess has tarnished the image of Islam is attributable to Abu Sufyan and his family!
The negative approach of Abu Sufyan towards Rasulullah (SAWA) is a well recorded fact of history. There was no limit for his hate and disrespect towards Rasulullah (SAWA). Despite this, Rasulullah (SAWA) included him amongst those whom he freed, together with all those who took refuge in the house of Abu Sufyan, because of his “Rahmati rahmaniyah”! They were all freed as a result. There was no personal grudge there.
Where are we in comparison to this level of mercy and compassion??? To what limits does this “rahmatallil aalameen” of Rasulullah (SAWA) go? It reaches the point where people would make fun that he is too soft and listens to everybody. People saw this as a defect in his character, despite the Holy Quran saying that he is the best one to hear!
Who is there to listen to the opposition other than Rasulullah (SAWA)? He listens to the worst of his enemies and when he forgives, he does not hold any personal grudges. He has enemies like the one who attacked his uncle Hamza in a very gruesome manner.
When this terrible person was brought before Rasulullah (SAWA), he requested that this person be taken away because he could not tolerate seeing his face, due to what this person did to the uncle of Rasulullah (SAWA). Interestingly, Rasulullah (SAWA) did not order for this terrible person to be punished or be executed. This is the manifestation of that divine mercy, in tolerance and listening and accepting other people.
This mercy manifested in multiple interesting ways in the personality of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). It really is a crucial point of self-reflection in terms of where are we standing today in relation to this sublime morality. And this is a serious question on all levels.
Religious scholars like myself are not absolved from this question either, as we are supposed to be representatives of Rasulullah (SAWA) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Our akhlaq is light years away from this though. One can see when 2 religious scholars differ with each other. They then think that everything is Halaal! Accusations start to fly recklessly, with character assassination in full force. Akhlaq is the biggest challenge, especially when we differ.
RASULULLAH (SAWA) CAUSED A SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION WITHOUT SAYING MUCH
In one of the battles, it is reported that Rasulullah (SAWA) setup the women’s camp far separated from the men’s camp, as per Islamic decorum. There was a young man who went on a walkabout towards the women’s camp. Rasulullah (SAWA) saw this and then approached him, asking him politely why his is trespassing on the women’s side.
A normal person would be heavy-handed in approaching this young man, to make sure that he stays on the men’s side. However, Rasulullah (SAWA) approached him respectfully. This young man came with the excuse that he lost his camel, so he is searching all over for his camel, and that is why he is going to check towards the women’s side.
So, this young man got away with this excuse one time. Obviously, Rasulullah (SAWA) knows very well what the problem of this young man is but leaves him. That same evening, Rasulullah (SAWA) finds this young man once again trespassing around the area of the women’s camp. Rasulullah (SAWA) knows full well what the reason is, but does not insult or expose this young man. Instead, Rasulullah (SAWA) asks this young man whether he found his camel!
The conscience of this young man is now overpowering him, as he knows very well that Rasulullah (SAWA) caught him red-handed, even though Rasulullah (SAWA) did not expose him. This young man then realises that what he is doing is clearly wrong and decides to make a sincere repentance. History has recorded that this person transformed from his sincere repentance into one of the most spiritual companions of Rasulullah (SAWA). This is the miracle of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA)! This is how he melts the hearts!
We already discussed earlier, how Rasulullah (SAWA) treated children. Similarly, history has recorded his exemplary akhlaq towards women, where he is recorded to have said that the best of us are those who are best towards our women.
PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) DID NOT DEFINE A VIP SEAT FOR HIMSELF
The other very important point to conclude on is that Rasulullah (SAWA) never defined himself as special. This is again a very important reminder for people like us who are in leadership positions, as we think we should enjoy special privilege. The etiquette of Rasulullah (SAWA) was not to look for a special VIP seat. Instead, he would simply seat himself wherever he found space.
People would insist that he should please come forward and take his rightful place in the front, but he would always be reluctant. In fact, it was so strange for that society, that it is recorded that people complained that this Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) acts like a normal person. The Holy Quran explains that this is not a defect of Rasulullah (SAWA). Instead, it is his sublime quality, where he regards himself as one of the people amongst the people.
This does not mean that his truth and reality is like everyone else. The point is that he does not treat himself above others.
Another recorded fact in the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) is that he enjoys the company of the poor and downtrodden more than anybody else. He does not carry himself as being on a particular preferential status. It is narrated in a Hadith that he said that even if he were to become emperor, he will never abandon sitting and enjoying the company of the poorest of the poor, and sharing a meal with them.
This is the climax of akhlaq coming from that source of “Khuluqin Adheem”. How sad is it that we are so distant from that akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
May Almighty Allah (SWT) grant us the Taufeeq to follow this great akhlaq and noble, moral character. We can never come close to this sublime level, but we can try a little to get closer to the akhlaq of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). It is this one special quality which we can certainly develop ourselves on.
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