by Mas'ud Ahmed Khan
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Allah (ta'ala) says in the Glorious Qur'an (Surah 33:56):
"Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe call for (Divine) blessings on him and salute him with a (becoming) salutation."
The very name "Muhammad" means "the one who is praised, often praised" and the name of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is also known as "Ahmad" meaning "the one deserving of praise".
Imam Jalaludin as-Suyuti mentions:
His name is Muhammad and Ahmad; his people are the people of praise (hamd)- and his prayer rite and the prayer rite of his people is opened with praise (hamd). In the Preserved Tablet in God's abode it was written that his Caliphs and his Companions in writing the Sacred Volume, should open it with praise (Quran, al-Fatiha). And in his hand on the Resurrection Day will be the banner of praise. And when he then prostrates himself before God in intercession in our behalf and it is accepted he will praise the Lord with a new song that shall then be revealed to him, for his is the Heavenly Station of Praise (al-maqam al-mahmud, Quran 17:79)-and when he rises up in that Station all the assembly shall praise him, Muslims and misbelievers alike, the first and the last, and all meanings and modes of thankful praise shall be gathered up and offered to him. [quoted from And Muhammad is His Messenger by Annemarie Schimmel p. 107]
There are those naysayers that may object on the grounds that too much praising will lapse Muslims into the major sin of shirk, to this Imam al-Busiri in his amazing Qasidah al-Burdah says:
Leave what the Christians have said about their Prophet!
And then affirm what you will in praise, and do so with excellence.
It is clear that sending praise, blessings and salutations on the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is a general obligation on each and every Muslim as mentioned by Qadi Iyad in the Shifa, and if we keep Imam al-Busiri's principle in mind then there is no danger of falling into the trap that the Christians have fallen into with Sayyidina Isa (AS).
Unfortunately, we live in an age where very few Muslims actually know their Prophet. He is the fountainhead of our guidance and the light by which we tread the straight path, and yet Muslims in general and Muslim children in particular, know more about their favourite pop star, footballer or film actor and our Prophet is as a stranger to them. How can this be? Why have we forgotten the one whom Allah has commanded us to send salutations and blessings upon? Again it comes down to the age in which we live; no more are there special chairs in our masajid where the Sirah or the Shifa' of Qadi Iyad or the Shama'il of Tirmidhi are read in perpetuity to the faithful as was once the practice throughout the Muslim world. The Mawlid-celebrations of the birth and life of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)-are frowned upon by certain sections of the community. Our mosques are ill equipped to teach our children anything besides the reading of the Holy Qur'an and the very basics of the faith, which, while important, are insufficient to the long term spiritual and religious development of our community and especially our children who are our future. We have to look at ways in which we can help to nurture the love and familiarity that are missing. From hadith literature we know how important it is to love the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace): Bukhari and Muslim report- "None of you believes until he loves me more than he loves his children, his parents, and all people." In another hadith in Bukhari the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: "None of you believes until he loves me more than he loves himself."
The Names of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)
The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) has many names and titles. Although it is common to list 99 of the most well known names and titles that people should be familiar with, the Holy Qur'an actually lists 77 explicitly and 121 in total if you include verbs. Hadith and other ancient literature take the count of names to 333. But the count doesn't stop here since names and titles that are appropriate and do not go against the blessed and sacred person of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) can also apply. Imam al-Jazuli's Da'ail al-Khayrat, for example, contains another 84 and Shaykh Barkat Ali Ludhianvi (RA) in his 5 volume masterpiece Asma al-Nabi al-Karim lists over 1400.
Names, titles and descriptions serve the outward purpose of familiarising and knowing the thing named and since Islam has never been a religion of iconic images, Muslims have by and large preserved the physical description and characteristics of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in written form and in such detail that an artist could probably come up with a close approximation of him (Allah bless him and grant him peace) if it wasn't forbidden (in Shariah) to do so. Inwardly, however, the names and titles serve a different purpose. Countless powers of healing (shifa), benefit (faiz) and blessings (barakah) are associated with some of the names when contained in salawat or salutations. It is well know that if one forgets or looses something then reciting a specific salawat aids the memory, enabling the reciter to recall the thing forgotten or misplaced. Other salutations can bring about peace and tranquillity to a troubled heart and have curative properties as well. Therefore, we should try and acquaint ourselves with the names and titles of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the various salawat in the hope that maybe a small portion of the love and familiarity can settle in our hearts too.
Hassan ibn Thabit, the Poet of the Prophet in one of his poems - as quoted by Qadi Iyad in his seminal al-Shifa - shows the direct relationship that exists between the Divine Names and the Names of the Prophet. For example, he shows the relationship between the Divine attribute mahmud and the name Muhammad:
[God] derived for him, in order to honour him, part of His name - Thus the Lord of the Throne is called [al-]Mahmud, and this one Muhammad. [quoted in And Muhammad is His Messenger by Annmarie Schimmel p. 106]
Further evidence to suggest the relationship between The Divine Names and the Prophetic Names is the fact that the Shahada is incomplete without the testification "Muhammadan Rasul Allah" and that Allah has followed His Name with that of His beloved so that faith is incomplete without either component and it is worthy to note that wherever the Divine name is mentioned so to is the name of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), since it is the Prophet that is our link to the Divine.
So what can we do to bring the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) back in to our lives and into our hearts and minds? How can we get to the stage of the Sahabah who said "we hear and obey" and for whom the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was dearer to them than the world and all that it contained included their own selves?
In recent years there has been a trend to use songs and melody to educate and inform Muslims about their Prophet and these have been quite successful, alhamdulillah. Modern times are replete with music and singing. We are bombarded by it everywhere we go and 90% of the music that we are exposed to is highly questionable in form and content - often abhorrent to any decent mind let alone the Muslim one. An alternative is thus needed for a Muslim audience, particularly those in the west.
Mas'ud Ahmed Khan is a scholar and student of scholars living in the UK. His independently-hosted masud.co.uk website has been a resource for thousands of students of knowledge to learn about Traditional Islam for more than a decade. His website is currently appealing for assistance - www.masud.co.uk/appeal