THE MEANING OF THE PROPHET'S SUFFERINGLike all aspects of the Prophet's life, his suffering has profound lessons for us. It teaches us that this world is a battlefield between good and evil, truth and falsehood, justice and oppression and that although God has willed that in the long run goodness, truth and justice will always be victorious. He has also willed that this victory will not be made too easy.The suffering of the Prophet is also a vivid reminder for us that whereas man has tremendous potential for goodness he also has an enormous potential for evil. The Prophet represents the ultimate in human potential for goodness while the opposition that his work inspired in his countrymen and which he gradually conquered by his love and wisdom represents the ultimate in human potential for evil. But we must not condemn those who persecuted the Prophet. For the Prophet's suffering was caused by that potential for ignorance and obstinacy that is found in all of us. Who knows that some of us would not have thrown garbage on the Prophet or persecuted him in some other way if we had been living in Makkah of his time? After all, men far greater than us, e.g. Hadhrat 'Umar and Hadhrat Khalid bin Walid at one time persecuted the Prophet. No, the Prophet did not suffer in order that we may condemn anyone. He suffered so that we may have hope and humility. He suffered so that we may find out how much potential there is within us for goodness and how much potential there is within us for ignorance and obstinacy - the root causes of all evil. We need to see both potentials within us. The first one gives us hope in our destiny and in the destiny of man generally and the second one gives us humility. And humility and hope is what we need in order to prosper.Thus the Prophet's suffering should make us think of the potential of evil that we all have within us and make us determined to overcome that evil. The best way to overcome evil is to love the Prophet, for the more we love the Prophet the more we will strengthen the element of goodness in us and the more capable we will become to overcome evil.
GLORIFYING AND BLESSING THE PROPHETOur love for the Prophet can be expressed by glorifying and blessing him. A verse in the Holy Qur'an mentions the three aspects under the single term salat `ala an-nabi.The Arabic phrase salat `ala has three meanings:1) Turning to someone with love and affection.2) Glorifying or praising someone.3) Blessing or favoring someone.In the above verse all three meanings can be applied so that the verse can be translated as follows:"Undoubtedly, God and His angels love, glorify and bless the Prophet. O believers! You (too) love, glorify and bless the Prophet and salute him with all due respect." (33:56)How do God and His angels love, glorify and bless the Prophet and how can we do the same?The least way in which God loves the Prophet is that He makes His beloved anyone who follows him, as it is said in the Qur'an:"Say (to mankind O Muhammad), If you love God, follow me (and) God will love you..." (3:31)God alone knows how else he loves the Prophet.The way God glorifies the Prophet is that He has given him the name Ahmad or Muhammad, which means the Glorious, the Admirable, that He has been giving it to mankind the good news of his coming through earlier prophets (3:81, 7:157, 61:6) and that He raises his mention among those on earth and those in heaven, as He says: "We have raised your mention" (94:4)God blesses the Prophet by continually raising his station. The least of God's blessing on the Prophet is that He has made him the leader and representative of all mankind.Angels love the Prophet as the completely faithful servants of a king would love those whom the king loves. They glorify the Prophet by singing his praises in heaven and they bless him by asking God to bless him more and more.The least of the ways the believers can love the Prophet is to love him the way all people love their leaders. The best way they can love him is by being willing to sacrifice all that they have for his name's sake.The way the believers can glorify the Prophet is to praise him through poetic and prose expressions, in writings and in speeches, on radio and on television [and now on the Internet], in the gatherings of Muslims and in the gatherings of non-Muslims.The way the believers can bless the Prophet is by reciting one of the several forms of durud that are traditional and that pray to God to keep blessing the Prophet more and more.(Some fuqaha (Muslim jurists) say that the verse under consideration puts an obligation on the Muslims which is dispensed with if one recites a durud at least once in his lifetime. Others say that it obliges Muslims to recitedurudeach time the name of the Prophet is mentioned. But such dry legalistic interpretations do not do justice to the spirit of the verse. If faith requires preferring the Prophet over our own lives and loving him more than our children, parents and all mankind, then what is the value of uttering now and then a ritual formula as an obligation?)Salutations. The verse also tells the believer to salute the Prophet with all due respect. We can salute the Prophet by reciting durud, since all forms of durud contain salutations. This, however, is the least of the ways of saluting the Prophet. The best of the ways is to wholeheartedly accept him as our leader, teacher and guide and to obey him in the spirit.
HOW FAR CAN WE GO IN GLORIFYING THE PROPHETAll praises are fit for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) if they do not raise him beyond the level of a man and a creature of God. We can, for example, declare him to be the greatest of all the prophets and messengers of God and the crown of all creation. That this praise is applicable to the Prophet is shown by the way the Holy Qur'an presents him as a messenger and mercy of God to all mankind and for all times to come, in contrast to other prophets and messengers whose missions were limited to particular periods and regions. It is also clear from the Islamic belief that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) completed and perfected the work of earlier prophets who brought partial revelations. Hadith also supports the position that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the greatest of all Prophets (and therefore the crown of all creation, since man is God's best creation and the prophets are the best of men, so that the best of the prophets is the best of God's creation). Thus in almost all books of hadith we find the tradition that when during mi'raj the Prophet was taken from the mosque in Makkah to the mosque in Jerusalem he met all the earlier prophets and led them in prayer as their imam. Also, in Sahih Muslim, one chapter in entitled: "The Superiority of the Prophet over all creation" and contains the following hadith:Abu Hurayra reported the Prophet as saying: "I will be the leader of all the children of Adam on the day of judgment. My grave will be the first to open. I will be the first to intercede and my intercession will be accepted first."Some Muslims hesitate to declare the Prophet as the greatest of all the Prophets because the Qur'an says:"(The believers) make no distinction between any of His messengers." (2:285)But the Holy Qur'an also says:"Some of these messengers have We favoured more than others..." (2:253)If we do not concentrate on the first verse in disregard of the other, then it becomes clear that the Holy Qur'an is making a distinction between the nature of the prophets and their stature. The first verse is telling us that in nature there is no distinction between the various prophets: they were all sent by the same true God, they were all serving one and the same plan of God and they were all human beings and part of a single brotherhood of righteous servants of God. The second verse is telling us that in stature or rank some prophets were superior to others.Let the Muslims therefore have not the slightest hesitation in declaring the Prophet Muhammad to be the greatest of all prophets and thus the noblest of men and the crown and pride of the whole of God's creation.Some Muslims try to dampen love and admiration for the Prophet in other Muslims and in themselves on two other grounds. First, they fear that "too much" expression of love and admiration for the Prophet can lead to his deification and therefore to shirk. Second, they fear that expressing love and admiration for the Prophet somehow means ignoring his message and commandments of God.The second fear is without any basis. For one thing expressing love and admiration for the Prophet is itself a commandment of God, as God says:"Love, glorify and bless him and salute him with all due respect."For another, love and admiration for the Prophet and their expression cannot by themselves lead to disobedience. Indeed, as we have seen earlier, they are necessary for iman, which in turn is necessary for true obedience.The first fear does have some basis. In fact, the Prophet himself cautioned us against following the footsteps of the adherents of other religions who exaggerated in praise of their prophets, raising them to the level of God and thus falling into shirk, the most deadly sin of all. But it would be a mistake to fight shirk by putting cold water on the fire of our love and admiration for the Prophet. For that would be like destroying shirk by destroyingiman, which is clearly a very unwise strategy.On 'id milad an-nabi (birthdate of the Prophet) and other occasions let us therefore wholeheartedly and generously and without any bukhl (misery, what miser people do) express all the love and admiration for the Prophet that can be expressed for someone other than God.
First published in Al-Ummah, Montreal, Canada in 1986. CopyrightãDr. Ahmad Shafaat. The article may be reproduced for Da'wah purpose with proper references.