by Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi
There are a few preliminary facts about the subject of the Study
of the Seerah which I would like to submit for your consideration.
The first of these is that the life of the Prophet, peace be upon
him, was not lived, as it were, in isolation from the truth that
was revealed to him and which he was asked to preach. The Seerah
is the interpretation of the Qur'an. It is not possible to understand
the Qur'an without necessary references to what the Prophet did
and how he understood the Message that was given to him. Similarly,
when we are talking of the Seerah and what the Prophet did, how
he succeeded, what was his mission, we have, all the time, to keep
in mind the context of the Qur'an, because the Prophet's life was
that of the Uswatul Hasanah, the grand Exemplar. He exemplified
what he taught and he taught what he was asked to teach. It was
not a question of his making up an ideology. It was an ideology
that was inspired, based upon the word of God. That word of God
was not embodied, as the Christians believe about Jesus, in his
person, but it did express itself in his sayings and in his speech.
The other consideration which I like to put before you is even more
important in the context of modern problems. Doubt touches not the
personality of Muhammad; Muhammad is not a myth; Muhammad is not a
legend; Muhammad is history. He existed, he lived, we know he lived.
We know what he did, we know what he said. This is one of the greatest
miracles of Islam. The Message that came through him remained unforgotten,
unaltered, unadulterated all these centuries. Not a dot has changed,
and, what is more, the Message he brought was lived by him in the
full limelight of history. The personality of the Prophet of Islam
has not been shrouded in the cobwebs of pious fiction. There can be
no controversy (as indeed there has been in the case of the founders
of other religions) whether he ever existed or whether he has been
invented and, if he existed whether he did say what he is supposed
to have said, or whether he did do what he is supposed to have done,
There is no doubt existing in the minds of the Muslims regarding their
The Muslims are not alone in this, because it is recognised generally
that Islam is based in history. It is true that Islam came at a time
when History as such did not exist, but the Muslims started systematically
recording their history. They were inspired to do this because it
was a part of the unalterable, the eternal, the ever- existing Message
of Islam that everything pertaining to that Message should be recorded
and should be an open book for the believer and the unbeliever alike
for all time to come.
It is not, therefore, a mere coincidence that the Prophet lived in
history; it is not a mere coincidence that the facts of his life are
known. It is part of the Divine plan regarding Islam. Just as the
Qur'an has remained uncorrupted to this day, similarly it was ordained
that the life of the Prophet should be known to the people.
The third point that I would like to stress in this connection is
that if the Prophet had been a myth, we would have invented all kinds
of stories about him to bring his life into accord with whatever views
there might be in fashion at a particular time regarding what great
men should be like. We have not done that, because again and again,
the Qur'an, whenever the non-Muslims put their prejudices forward,
said that these were mere words from their mouths having no substance
in truth. And it is important to remember that the Prophet's life
is not our invention.
Resulting from the Prophet's teachings, another miracle came into
existence, which also is a part of his glory. This was the rapid expansion
of Islam. Many explanations have been sought for that great phenomenon
and yet no satisfactory answer has been found, excepting that it seems
to have been the will of God. And if it was the will of God, God always
acts through certain instruments, and through certain methods. Here
the instruments and the methods are those which can be studied in
We quite often feel depressed. A good deal has happened during the
last few years that has been heart-rending. As a matter of fact the
last several centuries of our history have been depressing. We feel
things have not gone the way we had wanted them to go. We have felt
that we have been left behind in the race of life.
At one time we felt that we were politically deprived. Today we have
grown more divided and are like toys in the hands of our enemies.
We feel we are still backward and all this has happened. And yet there
is no reason to lose heart. Let us remember the conditions in which
the Prophet began his mission. What were the materials out of which
was fashioned the Millat of Islam which brought an unparalleled revolution
in the world. A small number of nomads, illiterate, uncouth, uncivilised,
morally depressed, in short a small backward desert community, left
out in a God-forsaken land which had no resources to nurture civilised
human beings. It was an area of the world that seemed to have remained
in darkness for ages acid ages together.
Since time immemorial people had led camel caravans from one place
to another, occasionally there had been outbursts of energy sometimes
short-lived, and not so short-lived at other times, the remains
of which could be seen in the shape of monuments and graves to which
reference has been made in the Qur'an on several occasions. This
reference is for the purpose of warning people that unless they
follow the way of God, the ultimate fate of all civilisations and
all human endeavour, whatever be their duration, will be disaster
and ruin. This desert community, as one of the Urdu poets has put
it, was the most useless material for the building of a great nation.
And yet it was out of this material that a great people was created
who carried the torch not only of spiritual truth, not only of moral
greatness, not only of political strength but also of science, learning
and philosophy. Therefore those of us who want to rebuild, repair
and perhaps to expand, not only physically but spiritually, morally
and intellectually should see what the Prophet did, should see what
were the ingredients of the miracle that he wrought.
To start with, if you read the Seerah along with the Qur'an, you will
note that the basis of a society to be created in accordance with
the ideals and teachings of Islam is moral and spiritual. If you think
a little, you would find that morality is the very cement that binds
the society together. Take out the moral bonds and you find the beginnings
of disintegration. The building of a Muslim society or a Muslim people
could not be thought of without a basic ideology without a basic creed
and a philosophy, and a moral and spiritual structure based upon it.
This was fundamental. Then if a society was to be built which was
to prosper, it was necessary to take the totality of life into consideration,
and not only some single aspect of it. It was not to be built upon
a spiritual feeling alone. It was not to be built only upon what is
normally called personal and private morality. It was to be built
upon a comprehensive system including both private and public morals.
Such a comprehensive system of morals could be sustained only through
a spiritual awakening and, therefore, the first thing the Prophet
did, was to awaken a feeling of God-consciousness among the people.
If you study his life during the time when he had yet not migrated
to Medina, when the Muslims were still small in number, when they
were persecuted, you will notice that the Prophet was engaged in inculcating
a living faith in God.
If we look at the Qur'an in the earlier stages, all the emphasis is
upon the existence of God, monotheism, His attributes and the responsibility
of man. It first created a spiritual strength based upon God-consciousness.
Upon this spiritual strength was raised a superstructure of moral
life. It was a Code that did not take into consideration the individual
alone but embraced the entire society, because it was recognised that
it is impossible (as we find every day in our so called Muslim societies)
to be moral unless we create a moral society. It becomes extremely
difficult to adhere to the moral code in an immoral society. You can
create a martyr of yourself, and many people do make martyrs of themselves,
but for a man of average human strength it becomes very difficult
to live up to the moral code if he is surrounded by aggressive immorality.
And all immorality has a tendency to become aggressive.
Therefore a moral society had to be built up for the moral well-being
of individual. The individual and the society were interdependent
and had to prosper together. But this could be possible only if a
number of dedicated persons could be inspired to hold together and
withstand persecution and every kind of hardship. They would get integrated
into a society which worked in accord with the moral code. This is
what happened. After the Hijra to Medina, when I slam began to spread
and more and more people came and joined the brotherhood, it became
possible to stabilise the society and to give it laws of social significance
for the purpose of integrating it into a brotherhood, because without
proper integration there can be no society. If we want to study the
process in detail we should go to the Seerah.
Whatever be the social conditions in which we live, no individual
can escape responsibility. No individual can say that he cannot be
moral because he is not living in a moral society. The individual
has first to reform himself and then he has to work for a reformed
society. Now let us see what was done by the Prophet at the Individual
level. He created a close association of brethren consisting of people
who were attached to him, of people who believed in him, of people
who acted upon what ha taught. These were the people who were his
Sahabah. These were the people who were close to the Prophet. These
were the people who were directly inspired by him.
It is our belief that a Prophet will not come any more. What is the
significance of this belief for us? The significance is that just
as through his purity of life, his example and high standards of behaviour,
the Prophet was able to collect around him a band of devoted persons
who carried on his message and reformed society, similarly everyone
has to play that role if you really want to do something to spread
Islam. if you do not practise what you preach, you will be branded
as a hypocrite. Look at what has happened to the Muslim society, the
society amidst which we live. Why has discipline broken down? Why
has the sense of morality been disrupted Simply because men understand
a Philosophy much later, they ace its preachers much earlier. When
youth begins to see that those who teach them morals are hypocrites,
it revolts. And that is the reason why the Prophet said that every
one of you is responsible for the improvement of those upon whom you
hold authority and the first among them in this regard is your family.
Your authority in your home is not for the purpose of giving orders,
but it is to set an example to the family, particularly to the children.
Little children are more intelligent than you think. They are judging
you all the time. Every time you say something to them that you do
not practise, you are doing a grave injury to their young minds.
If you want the generation following you to act upon your advice,
remember it will not act on the advice but will imitate your actions.
And therefore every one has to reform himself, and to reform oneself
is not all that difficult. We are not angels, we cannot say that temptation
does not cross our way.
The difference between a virtuous man and a person not virtuous is
simply this: that one knows how to fight temptation, the other does
not. One fights temptation and conquers it and the other succumbs
to it. If you learn how to fight temptation and if you learn not to
succumb to it, you will notice a difference in your own life which
will create a feeling of self-respect in you and others will respect
you. And the others will admire not your words and what you preach,
but what you practise. And so far as you become a better man and are
able to demonstrate what it is to be a better man, you will be laying
the foundation of a better and moral society.
What is a moral society? A moral society is not a society of self-negation,
of self-denial, of asceticism. Because Islam does not believe in asceticism.
Islam believes in the fulfilment of life. Man has been given this
life to be lived. It is a gift of God. It is not a curse. Man was
not created in sin. Man was created to live this life in a normal
healthy manner. But just as in the instance of any freedom, your freedom
can be exercised only in a manner that you do not injure others. It
is true about your urges as well.
You can exercise instinctive urges only in a manner that you do not
injure others either morally or physically or otherwise. There are
many instances in the Qur'an where you are asked to go forth and seek
the blessings of Allah. And in many contexts, "the blessings of Allah"
means the good things of this life. For instance, in the surah regarding
the Friday prayers you are told that when you have said your prayers,
you disperse and seek the blessings of God, the good things He has
created for you. This world has been created for you. it is there
for the taking, but take it in the right way.
Therefore if the Prophet had tried to build a society either of ascetics
or of exploiters of people who did not know how to exercise their
rights in this life, then the Prophet would have tried for an impossibility.
There have been many brotherhoods in history, which sought to forsake
the world, as they say, but they have all gone into oblivion. The
day the Muslims began to reconcile themselves with their political
subjugation, with their economic distress, with their poverty, and
distorted Islam to suit their situation, they lost the battle. They
lost the battle because it could be fought only on two bases. It could
be fought either on the basis on which the West struggled for power
and prosperity, treating religion as a private matter and considering
public affairs as lying outside spiritual and moral spheres (this
was not the way of the Prophet), or the other way, his way (which
was more fulfilling and richer and better, which could not carry the
seeds of decay in it), in which the spiritual, moral and worldly lives
were welded into one.
As I have said earlier, first of all he created a band of men who
believed in the spiritual and moral norms prescribed by Islam, And
their example permeated the society. More and more people were drawn
into it. If you want to recapture the lost glory, you will have to
use the same technique. There are no other techniques available to
us. Muslim countries have governments today which are not interested
in matters in which we are interested. If there is a government which
is interested in matters of the spirit and the faith let us advise
it to put to use all communications media they possess. But even if
you go on using all the communications media all the time, unless
you have men who practise what they say, it will make no difference.
After having trained such a group of people and then organised the
community, the Prophet told them that it was not enough to be simply
a virtuous society, it was also essential to be a powerful society.
Please do not misunderstand the word powerful. We have to be powerful
not for the sake of exploiting the others or for the purpose of depriving
others of what they possess but in the sense that we should have the
means to perform our function of sustaining the Islamic values in
the world. We want to be heard and through our success in the world,
to inspire others. If we are not successful, we cannot convince others.
Because otherwise, we meet the retort, 'Oh yes, these things are very
good for people who are interested only in the other world and not
in this world'. But as true Muslims, we are interested in both the
Belief in the other world gives us the strength to face this world
with confidence in a moral and spiritual manner. And if we have the
means to sustain our ideology in this world, our example alone will
work wonders in the creation of a spiritual and moral society, a society
based upon the teachings of Islam. We believe that Islam alone can
save humanity from failing into the abyss of destruction, on the verge
of which it seems to be standing today.