The Prophet Muhammad (saw)
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Imitation or Role Model?

 

The Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) lifestyle and level of virtue are important in the acceptance and spread of the religion he conveyed. No contradiction can be seen between the beautiful traits he had before he became a prophet and those he displayed as a model of behavior during his apostleship. This indicates that his virtue conformed to the morality pointed out in the Quran. For example, because he was well-known for his honesty, truthfulness and reliability even before he became a prophet, he was called "Muhammad al-Amin."

At a time when we understand more with each passing day the importance of being a "human being" first, the fact that Muhammad was first a human being and then a prophet needs to be considered once again. If we do not want to limit Islam and Islam's prophet to a particular time and culture, then we have to understand the universal subtleties of his teaching that goes beyond time. In order to be a good Muslim, undoubtedly it is necessary to first be a good human being. In order to be a good human being, a role model is needed.

Showing Muhammad as a role model in the development of an ideal personality requires that his personal qualities have universal dimensions. For the individual principles of a model person should be able to be evaluated from a broader and more general perspective than just traditional cultures. In other words, such a person must have a personality suitable to principles that are accepted as indispensable by different perceptions and understandings and that do not change according to time and place. This puts forth the necessity of first being a "human being" for all mankind who are equal as servants to God, regardless of which religion or belief they adhere to.

When looked at from the perspective of personality development and training, it can be seen that the noble characters of prophets always possess the ability of exalting the personalities of people around them who are at different levels of development. It should be recalled that before Muhammad received revelation, he spent a long time among his tribe equipped with his special traits. Personality consists of "making natural qualities habitual by training and shaping them;" behavior consists of a person reflecting these habits in a way suitable to his role in society. Muhammad had a noble character before he became a prophet. Historical documents are full of examples proving this. Even if he had not been commanded by revelation, he was still honest, chaste, merciful, charitable, truthful and trustworthy. He was polite and empathetic towards women and compassionate towards children before Allah commanded him to be. These universal values he exhibited in his personality were the reason the Quran showed him as an example to mankind.

It can not be denied that his being the recipient of divine revelation exalted his personality to its zenith, as much as it led him to convey and explain the revelation. However, if we accept that someone without any admirable personal traits can gain them with revelation, then we are all sentenced to wait for revelation in order to attain a noble personality. In reality, however, due to the fact that there is no comparison between common individual traits like the potential strength of the ego, the capacity to make willful choices, and the capability for comparison and judgment between the exemplary person and the person taking the model, no one can have an excuse for behaving lazily in efforts to transform his character make-up.

We see that for centuries some Muslims have not been able to differentiate between taking someone as a role model and imitation. The reason for this is their lack of knowledge and their choosing the easy way out. However, in love felt for the Prophet it is necessary to know and understand his life, personality, and basic principles with their real essence and not by stories adorned with a number of superstitions and sophistry. For true love demands responsibility. The real road that should be taken as an example passes through love with understanding, not crying.

I would like to give several examples of the natural qualities of being a human being that he left us; these correspond with historical truths and, approved by the Quran, they have become symbolized in the personality of the Prophet Muhammad:

The most obvious and basic indication of his superior personality is the Prophet's truthfulness. Since the truthful one can be chaste, the chaste can be pious, and the pious can be a believer, as "A believer doesn't lie," it was inevitable that he be truthful. Even the Quraish pagans who resisted accepting his apostleship and message never doubted Muhammad in regard to his truthfulness. One day on the road to Badr, Ahnes b. Sherik said to Abu Jahil, "Hey Abul-Hakem, no one can hear us here. Tell me your opinion of Muhammad. Is he truthful or is he a liar?"

Abul Jahil replied, "I swear that Muhammad is definitely truthful; he has never told a lie!"

Khadija had rejected the marriage offers even of prominent tribal chiefs, but proposing to Muhammad herself, she married him because she greatly admired his virtues and character.  Her words to Muhammad when the first revelation came are clear evidence that he was equipped with both truthfulness and the traits expected to be found in a perfect personality:

 "O Muhammad! You don't need to feel any fear or anxiety; don't worry! Allah will not embarrass a servant like you. I know that you tell the truth, fulfill trusts, show interest in your relatives, help the poor, open your door to the destitute and aid people who have undergone calamity. Remain constant! I swear to God that I am hopeful that you will be the prophet of this community."

Muhammad is a more humble human being than we think! Although he is a "mercy to the worlds," he never saw himself superior to anyone else. Even before those who loved him with enough self-abnegation to say, "May my mother and father be sacrificed for you, O Messenger," he never lost his humility:

He reproached those who praised him excessively by saying, "Don't go to extremes in praising me like when the Christians say that Jesus is ‘the son of God.' I am only God's servant. Regarding me say, ‘Allah's servant and Messenger.'"

Even though he was the "Prophet of Both Worlds," he did not have others do his personal tasks. As related by Aisha: when she was asked, "What would he do at home?" she responded, "He did what everyone else does. He would mend his clothing, repair his shoes, milk his goats; he took care of his own work."

He did not make distinctions among people, and he taught those who did that it was wrong.  He said:

 "Know that no Arab is superior to a non-Arab; no non-Arab to an Arab; no white to a black; and no black to a white. There is only superiority only in piety."

Pointing out that together with making things easy, it was necessary to be forgiving, the Prophet demonstrated this with his way of living, his words, and verses from the Holy Quran. He aimed to beautify and give order to his own life and the lives of others in the light of All-Mighty God's commands and recommendations.

Muhammad always treated women, slaves, war captives, children and animals with mercy in every stage of his life.

And patience! It is certain that patience is mandatory for every beautiful and good work. That beautiful person was extremely patient - to what came from Allah and what materialized from His servants. However, when his eyes became tearful from the grief of losing his son Ibrahim, he acted naturally like any father would. This not only taught that the pain of losing a child is an unbearable feeling that affects the human spirit and that at such a moment

men can cry, too, but at the same time he demonstrated with body language the necessity of bowing to fate and avoiding excessive behavior that does not become a person of faith. He expressed the mistakenness of becoming overly attached to the passing next to the permanent, and the error of rebelling against God's will with long periods of mourning and wailing. Famous Orientalist M. Watt says, "Contemporaries of Muhammad were unable to see any moral flaws in him." Flaws were not seen after his time either, and they will not be seen! For his virtue was the Quran and was praised in the Quran.

As a result, the Prophet being one of us as a person makes it easier for us to understand him, and his being morally superior makes it easier for us to love him. In addition to loving Muhammad and taking him as a model, it is necessary to sincerely consider under what conditions he would love us and, turning the mirror towards ourselves, to look bravely into it and see how much we have been able to resemble that perfected personality. Plus we need to think, he was with us, but how much are we with him? At times we saw him as a compassionate father, at times as a guide, at times as an authoritative leader, and at times as a just and fair husband. How about us? In this age when we are this far removed in time and place, are we able when necessary to be to him like his daughter Fatima, like his son Zaid, like his friend Abu Bakr, and like his life companion Khadija? Or, if he were in our place in today's conditions, how would he have lived in accordance with the teaching of the Quran? If we had taken our place by his side, which one of the people around him would we resemble? By means of this auto-critique, which should reappear in the minds of believers, we will have taken an important step on the subject of updating our understanding of him and our conforming to his Sunnah.

For the entire text please see A. Hümeyra Aslantürk, PhD “Hz. Peygamberin Şahsiyetinin Ve Davranşlarının Kur´an´a Uygunlugu Açısından Değerlendirilmesi”, Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi
 

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