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 Prophet.

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 depth.

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 worlds.

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.

The Muslim
January-February 1973