[shortlink: bit.do/azmmm] This article has been published in the Intellect Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 4, June-July-August 2012. It is republished here, in honor of the first Friday of this Ramazan.
Prophets a.s. were given miracles appropriate for their times, according to the sensibilities of their people. Since our prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was sent for all times, he was given miracles for all times. This article collects some of the miracles of our prophet which are striking to the modern mind, which is not much taken by the standard miracles involving violations of natural laws.
Ideas are born in the context of history, and respond to needs of the situations. However, our Prophet brought to the world, and demonstrated with his life, ideas completely outside the range of existing thought. These ideas changed the course of history for all time to come. Unfortunately, as prophesied by our Prophet, Islam came as a stranger and will become a stranger. Today, these ideas have the same power as they did fourteen centuries ago, and they can bring about the same miracle that they did when they were first introduced to mankind.
The collection of ideas to be discussed are miracles of Muhammad s.a.w. in several senses.
- Several civilizations had existed, each with its philosophers and thinkers, but none had presented such ideas to the world. In particular, no such idea was present in the Arab culture of the Jahilliyya. So where did Muhammad s.a.w. get these ideas?
- Implementation of these ideas changed the course of history. As we shall see, these ideas continue to have the same power. If the Muslims implement them in their lives and communities, they can again change the course of history.
- These ideas are far reaching and prescient – they apply with the same force today as they did under the radically different conditions of fourteen centuries ago.
We will now go just three of the several major changes in thinking and acting brought about by the work of our prophet Muhammad s.a.w. The depth and reach of the revolutionary teachings of Islam makes it impossible to encompass all of the changes. Even the three we have chosen can only be inadequately sketched within a short article.
2. Equality of Men
In the last Sermon, the Prophet s.a.w. declared that:
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
Where did this radical idea originate? None of the extant books of Chinese, Greeks, Romans, and Indian philosophers state anything like this. In fact, leading wise men state the opposite, with each nation claiming superiority for itself. The word for foreigner in most of the languages is derogatory, meaning barbarian or some equivalent. The same is true of the Arabs, who prided themselves on their linguistic abilities, and used the word “Ajam” meaning one who is unable to speak, for non-Arabs. Even the revealed religions had been corrupted, and had lost this message. For example, Matthew (15:26) “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” compares a non-Jewish believing woman to a dog. The effect of this Islamic teaching was to create a racial harmony not seen anywhere else, in any other civilization. Famous historian Toynbee testified to the uniqueness of this aspect of Islam in the following words:
The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam. In the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue
In The Enlightenment Quran, Ziad Elmarsafy has documented how adoption of Quranic ideas by leading intellectuals like Voltaire and Rousseau led to the Enlightenment, an end of the Dark Ages of Europe . Even though the idea of racial equality eventually became widely accepted among the European nations, the practice continues to elude them. In his autobiography, Malcolm X writes that in his travels among Muslims, he experienced “a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white…”
This brotherhood experienced by Malcolm X is only a weak reflection of the much stronger feeling of community – the Ummah – that existed among the Muslims earlier. There is a strong need to forget national, linguistic, regional and cultural differences and forge the bonds of community which were an essential ingredient of the message of our prophet Mohammad s.a.w.
3. The Brotherhood of Men
In addition to equality, our common descent from Adam a.s. also makes all human beings brothers. The idea of unity, and love for all human beings, is central to Islamic teachings. The Quran documents the love of the prophet for all the Ummah:
Q9:128 INDEED, there has come unto you [O mankind] an Apostle from among yourselves: heavily weighs -upon him [the thought] that you might suffer [in the hereafter]; full of concern for you [is he, and] full of compassion and mercy towards the believers.
The concern of the Prophet for the potential fate of the non-Muslims was so great that the Quran (Q18:6) asks him not to “kill himself with sorrow” on their behalf. In other verses, the Quran expresses disapproval of the exaggerations of poets, so we may consider this an accurate description of the love of the Prophet s.a.w. for all mankind.
This vision of uniting all human beings under a common goal is so large that no one has had the courage to even conceive of it before our Prophet s.a.w. Again, this is miracle of our prophet – how could a mortal man conceive of such an enormously grand vision. An even greater miracle is that he succeeded in transmitting this vision, and the means to carry it out, to his followers. Historian Charles Hodgson writes in The Venture of Islam that the Islamic Civilization “came closer than any had ever come to uniting all mankind under its ideals.”
Because of this unique feature of Islamic teachings, the conquests of Islam were motivated by the desire to bring the benefits of Islam to all, rather than the desire for power, glory and wealth. The politics of Machiavelli has become so dominant that these ideals appear naïve – modern minds are unwilling to believe in the possibility that human beings can act according to higher spiritual motives rather than the baser ones. However, this is a (sad) reflection on the nature of modernity, rather than on Islam. There is plenty of evidence to justify the verse of Iqbal:
We did not wield our swords for power and territory
Nor did we roam the Earth in search of riches.
When the Persians asked the Muslims why they had come, the Muslim envoy (Rab’i bin Aamir) responded by saying that it was to free them from the slavery of humans, to bring them to the slavery of God. The underlying theme of Hodgson’s book on The Venture of Islam is the Muslim vision to be the best of communities, to invite the entire mankind towards the good and to prevent the evil. This vision, and the hopes and efforts to live the godly life as a community is crucial to the revival of Islam in the modern world.
Because of this motivation for the welfare of all, Muslim conquering armies behaved distinctly differently from all others. Of course the pattern was set by our Prophet s.a.w. on his conquest of Mecca. A sworn enemy of the Muslims, who had cut out and chewed the liver of Hamza, r.a., Hind testified that she had never seen a conquering army like the one led by the Prophet s.a.w. into Mecca. Instead of enjoying the glory of conquest, exacting revenge for the countless wrongs done to them, pillaging, looting or humiliating the losers, the winning army bowed their heads in humility, attributed success to Allah alone, and spent the night in worship at the Kaabah.
Because of the global vision of Islam, the Muslim world was uniquely cosmopolitan. Scholars, pilgrims, and seekers of spiritual knowledge traveled throughout the Islamic world in comfort and safety, as taking care of travelers was one of the Islamic duties. Everyone who accepted Islam was welcomed into the community without regards to his origins or race. Rosa Menocal in The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain has documented how Islamic mandates of tolerance and good behavior towards minorities created a golden age of peaceful coexistence. The modern world, with racist wars destroying millions of lives, and increasing hate crimes towards minorities, cannot show any parallels to these past achievements of the Islamic civilization. The challenge for us Muslims is to recreate these achievements as a living reality.
4. The Value of Human Lives
One of the most important lessons taught by our Prophet s.a.w. was that every human being is infinitely precious. To kill one person is like killing all of mankind, while to save one is like saving all of mankind:
Q5:32 … if anyone slays a human being-unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth-it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.
This was news to the Arabs, who killed each other for trivialities, and buried daughters alive. The implementation of this respect for human lives led to several Muslim innovations, including orphanages, hospitals, and security arrangements for travelers. Another vivid example was furnished by the crusades, where the stark contrast between Muslim conquerors humane treatment of civilians and the Christian conquerors wholesale slaughters was remarked by observers on both sides.
Amazingly, this lesson regarding the value of human lives is just as fresh today as it was fourteen centuries ago. The burning in gas chambers of millions of innocent civilians by Hitler is well known. It is not well known that about a million German civilians starved to death due to continuation of a British embargo for seven months after the surrender of Germany. Lives and livelihoods of millions of civilian non-combatants in Vietnam were destroyed as “collateral damage” without concern by US. The pattern was repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan. US Ambassador Madeleine Albright declared in a public interview on Nightline that price of the lives of a half a million Iraqi children was a worth it, for the attainment of US political goals in the Middle East.
Today, the Muslims who gave the light of civilization to the world have forgotten their own traditions. The need of the hour is to revive these traditions to serve as a model for guiding the world out of the current darkness. As Iqbal has said:
I lament the loss of the treasures of the travelers
I lament the loss of the sense of the loss.
5. What is to be done?
The Hadeeth contains the prophecy that:
“There will remain nothing of Islam but the name and nothing of the Quran but its writing.”
Throughout the Islamic world, there is little that conforms to Islamic models. Our governments and political institutions are typically based on western models designed for secular societies. Conflicting interests and views are resolved via political power; whoever succeeds imposes their will on others without reference to common interests. Islam teaches consultation (Q42:38 – shoora) for decision making, which is designed to produce participation and cooperation on common goals provided by our religion. In the educational, health, and market institutions, the motive of naked pursuit of profits has gradually come to the fore in the west. Imitative institutions in the Islamic world are replicating these values. The spirit that motivated Islamic institutions has been lost from view. Nowadays the idea that doctors save lives to serve humanity and God, that education is a sacred trust and should be freely available to all, seem hopelessly idealistic even to Muslims. The idea that traders follow a code of ethics which turns trading activity into worship is very remote from current practice in Muslim societies.
Most Muslims do not even know what the Islamic ideals are in these areas, and have forgotten their own history, which shows how the Muslims implemented these ideals in practice. Educations was freely available to all who desired it, and institutions for health and social welfare funded by private citizens eager to earn the profits of the hereafter dotted the landscape. Today, the message of Islam brought and demonstrated by our prophet Mohammad s.a.w. is as fresh and relevant, and has the same potential to revolutionize the world, as it did when it first came. God’s greatest gift to man is complete and perfect today, as it was when it was first given to us:
(Q5:3) This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.
The greatest miracle of our Prophet s.a.w. was to translate the message of the Quran into a living reality. The greatest challenge facing the Muslims today is to recreate this reality in our lives and societies.
See also: The Modern Mu’tazila, which explains how Muslims have become so impressed by Western knowledge, that they have ignored and disregarded the far more valuable treasures given to us in the Quran. An urdu lecture on The Need for a New Ilmul Kalam to counter Atheism discusses how claims of superiority of Western knowledge need to be countered, in order to protect Muslims, especially our youth, from the rising tide of atheism.