There is diversity among people in the world who have been called to Islam. It is normal that every segment has felt a need for a guide according to the demands of the time. For this reason, in order to meet all the needs, shape their responses and provide an example for different segments of society on the level of the individual, family, nation, ummah (Islamic community), mankind and the universal environment, Allah sent Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The Prophet’s behavior and life is a single, universal life model known as “usve-i hasene (a most beautiful pattern of conduct).” In his life there is a harmonious variety, richness, fluidity and practicality of examples within an Islamic framework for all life conditions and circumstances. His Companions responded to this diversity of the Prophet’s life with the approach, “There definitely is an aspect in all his behavior that addresses us, so we should take him as an example,” rather than the interpretation, “He is a prophet; he is different from us, so let’s take care of ourselves.” Those who evaluate the Prophet’s life according to his nature must be aware of this universal quality and his merit of being an example in every stage of life.
The essence of the Prophet’s life before apostleship was that he remained outside the idolatry and lifestyle of the Meccan society which was contrary to the nature of pure humans. He lived chastely and truthfully, supported the fair and opposed the unfair, and, remaining remote from society for certain periods of time, he passed his days in a cave in contemplation and seeking the truth. In one sentence we can say, he had a clean past.
Anyway, almost every moment of the days of Muhammad’s apostleship was spent in everyone’s view. In particular, during the intense activities of the founding days in Medina, society had the opportunity to follow his every action. It is a fact that a practical example is very important for someone who is going to follow another. This is possible if the individual has personally lived these events before. The fact that Muhammad is a unique example for the ummah should be thought of from this perspective.
Sunnah means the path the Prophet followed and the life he chose for the purpose of acting in accordance with Allah’s commands. In one sense it is the prophetic interpretation of Muhammad, the envoy of Allah, put forth in a universal plan by “the final prophet” (Al-Ahzab 33/40), “the mercy of the worlds” (Al-Anbiya 21/107), the “usve-i hasene” (Al-Ahzab 33/21), “possessor of great virtue” (Al-Qalam 68/3), “It grieves him that ye should perish: ardently anxious is he over you: to the believers he is most kind and merciful,” (Al-Tauba, 9/128) as stated in the last divine book, the Holy Quran. For this reason, in spite of human, geographical, historical, social, professional and economic differences, the Quran invites all of mankind to harmonize with the sirah or life model of Muhammad, to follow in his footsteps and to walk on his path. For his sunnah is rich enough to be an example for all various segments of society. As the application of the Quran, his life is a full example and light for human life, and there are many aspects of it which can be taken as an example. The real reason for the mistakes fallen into and any difficulty of understanding Muhammad is not seeing the sunnah as a whole in its richness and universality and not perceiving the practicality of the Prophet and the Islam he shaped. Correcting all the negative and unfounded ideas and statements on this subject is tied to perceiving the sunnah in its totality and its universal dimension.
The Companions were aware of this truth. For this reason, they immediately applied what they saw from the Prophet to their own circumstances. The following points can be drawn from among information they gave that shows the wholeness and character of the Prophet’s sunnah which can be applied in a universal dimension.
- He only commanded what they could do. Aisha narrates: “When the Messenger commanded something, he always ordered an amount and manner that could easily be handled by the Companions.”
- He would consider the ummah. Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet said, “If I were not concerned about giving hardship to my ummah, I would have ordered them to make the night prayer late at night.”
- He was sensitive to his surroundings and would look out for the community. Anas b. Malik’s statement shows this: “While the Prophet was praying he heard the crying of a child who had come to the masjid with its mother, so he quickly read a short verse.”
The Prophet established and declared the general principle as: “Make it easier, not harder; give good tidings and do not make something detestable.”
People of every profession and disposition can find many aspects and events from the Prophet’s life to take as examples for themselves, because it is not difficult for Allah to gather all of humanity in one personality and make him an example. With the authority Allah gave him, the Prophet makes the same call to kings and heads of state in other countries; to shepherds in pastures and on roads; to teachers in schools; to students in classes; to the poor in tents; to the rich in kiosks; to armies in barracks and in the field; to commanders; to parents and children in their homes; in short, to everyone in the world- the Prophet invites them to follow him.
Although the Prophet’s being busy with serious subjects like peace-war, worship-trade, rights and justice is seen as natural, his involvement in the form and shape of everyday human life puzzles some people. However, as should be accepted, every stage and every task in a person’s life is important. Without doubt, there is a hierarchy for tasks and subjects. But it is just as important for a person to make his life suitable to the requirements of his belief system.
On the other hand, when the Prophet did not want divine qualities to be attributed to him, when he was asked to make decisions regarding worldly matters in relation to some technical subjects, and when he was mistaken about the performance of some forms of worship, he insistently pointed out that he was just human. He drew the line with the words: “On subjects where there has been no revelation, I am like you.”
Thinking of the sunnah within its universal wholeness and accepting it as a point of action for all of our behavior will save us from immediately rejecting elements of the sunnah that we have not been able to interpret. It will also leave these elements to a time and place where they will be effective and acceptable.