Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Deena Zaki: Character of the Prophet

 

Muhammad (PBUH) and his character, continues to resonate in the modern Muslim world. Many try to live by his example and the sunna (path, example), are a tradition of Muhammad’s words and deeds. It’s a way of asking, what would the prophet do?
Muhammad (PBUH) was no stranger to hardships. He was orphaned at an early age. His father died on a journey to Syria before he was born and his mother died shortly after, on a returned journey while visiting his father’s grave. His grandfather, Abd Al-Muttalib, a large figure in the Banu Hashim, a tribe of the Quraysh, and a kind and affectionate man, took in Muhammad, and cared for him for six years. He was later taken in by a Bedouin foster mother after the death of his grandfather. Even early on in Muhammad’s life, there were signs that he was special and protected from harm. God protected him from Jahiliyyah, or pre-Islamic ignorance. One instance of this purification process is when angels came as visitors and washed a dark spot in Muhammad’s heart with snow. This was meant to be a purification, and this is explained in the ninety-fourth surah, The Laying Open (Surah 94:1-3), “Did we not lay open your heart and relieve you of the burden that was breaking your back?”(1)
The angel Gabriel took out Muhammad’s heart, purified it, and replaced it. This refers to the Prophet’s preparation in receiving revelation. After this purification, he is then taken on the heavenly descent, or mi’raj. Another surah that reflects Muhammad’s hardships, when he was unsatisfied with the situation of his city, is in Surah ninety-three, The Morning Hours (Surah 93:3, 10-12).(2) This surah says a lot not only because it mentions the Prophet’s vulnerabilities to his enemies
“Your lord has not abandoned you
And does not hate you”
but it also speaks to Muhammad, to not oppress the orphan, somebody that you once were.(God speaking to him)
“As for the orphan-
Do not oppress him
And one who asks-
Do not turn him away
And the grace of your lord-
Proclaim.”
Arabia before Islam was desolate, not only in terms of the vastness of the desert and its unprofitably economically, but in regards to the values of Arabians and their paganism. Islam came at a much-needed time in history and in order to convey this message of the Qur’an, a prophet was sent down. Many question why Muhammad? He could not read or write himself, but he had good character. The first commandment by God was “Iqra”, or “Read.”(3) Muhammad (PBUH) comes from a tribal history that revered social ethics. “Loyalty was a keystone of morality and betrayal was met with ostracism.”(4) This ‘betrayal’ is something that Muhammad(PBUH)will meet time and time again, especially on his move to Medina. The ‘munafiqun’, or ‘hypocrites’ were followers that were secretly unsympathetic to the spreading of Islam, and thus, betrayers of the prophet. In many ways, Bedouin values such as generosity, valor, hospitality, and courage were transferred onto Muhammad.
Islam is not a religion that promotes fear, nor is it “the religion of the sword,”(5) a term coined during the Crusades. Therefore, Muhammad did not present this message with a fear tactic but rather, he showed the skeptics proof and the consequences of not believing in one God. Part of why his message, I think is conveyed well, is through his kindness and patience in the process. God reassures the prophet, in (Surah 94: 5-8) “with hardship comes ease” “with hardship comes ease”. Or “after the hardship there is easing”.(6)

When he is conveying his message to the Arabs, I can only imagine the Prophet’s strength and courage. The Qur’an is very direct with its message: one God, a day of judgment, resurrection of the dead. Humans were to humble themselves in front of God, and follow not a tribal code, but one dictated by God.(7) The non-believers constantly ridiculed and went against Muhammad. The prophet of course persevered, but even the Qur’an tells him that if the pagans consistently reject this message, then they can serve as a reminder of what is to come on the day of judgment and how they will be punished. The Qur’an says, “If you do not like the gulf separating you from them, why not fly into the heavens, and a bore a tunnel into the earth” (Surah 6:35)(8)
Two main characteristics that transferred to all parts of the prophets life are his talents of peace making and his honesty. Is this why God chose him as a prophet? His first wife, Khadijah, valued Muhammad(PUBH) for his honesty, and married him for this reason.
The Prophet is not only known as the lover of God, but as the prophet of the Quraysh, prophet of mercy, the Meccan, the Hashemite, the great one, the noble one. He is given a considerable number of names and unique in the sense that he is unlike no other prophet. For example, Mohammad’s life circumstances are very different: his miraculous birth, protected childhood, visions, miraculous deeds, and an affinity with the cosmos were combined to give him a life unlike any other prophet. (9)He is also the last prophet, marking “the seal of prophecy”, (10) representing the finality of a message and end to any continued ‘religions’.

I affirm that I have adhered to the honor code on this assignment.

Endnotes

[1]Sura 94

[2]Sura 93

[3]Sura 96

[4]Brockopp, E. Jonathan. The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad. New York, NY.:Cambridge University Press, 2010,

[5]Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. New York, NY.:HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1991.93

[6]Sura 94

[7]Brockopp, E. Jonathan. The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad. New York, NY.:Cambridge University Press, 2010,

[8]Surah 6

[9]Brockopp, E. Jonathan. The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad. New York, NY.:Cambridge University Press, 2010,

[10]Mahallati, M. Jafar. “Introduction to the Qur’an: Life of Prophet Muhammad.” Lecture, Oberlin College,     February 8, 2018.

Bibliography
Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. New York, NY.:HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1991.93
Brockopp, E. Jonathan. The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad. New York, NY.:Cambridge University Press, 2010
Esack, Farid. The Qur’an: A Short Introduction. Oxford, UK.: One World Publications, 2002.
Mahallati, M. Jafar. “Introduction to the Qur’an: Life of Prophet Muhammad.” Lecture, Oberlin College,     February 8, 2018.
Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qurʼan. Ashland, Or.: White Cloud Press, 1999. 90.

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