The life of a great man can be perfect example only if it is fully and perfectly known. The only person among the leaders of the great religions of the world whose life is completely and thoroughly known is Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The lives and history of the founders of Hinduism are shrouded in such a mystery that we cannot put a date on the birth of any of them nor specify their place of birth with any certainty.
We know no details of the life of Gotama Buddha other than a bare outline. Leaving his home and family, his wife and child, the state and the Crown, Buddha became an ascetic and discovered that Nirvana was the summurn bonum of life. Could Buddhism guide both the busy merchant and the lonely ascetic who has weaned himself away from the world?
Among the ancient prophets, Moses (peace be upon him) fills a famous period of life. Moses (p.b.o.h.) lived, according to the Bible, to the age of 121 years, but we know very little of the events that fill this period. The Bible has but scanty records of his birth, meagre details of his exodus, marriage and Prophethood. Moral habits and mode of living are important things for a biography and they are curiously absent from the biography of Moses. One aspect of Moses’ life is very conspicuous; that he is of heroic temperament. Except this, we know nothing of his life which will serve as a model for his followers. What ideals did he lay down with regard to the respective duties of husband and wife, father and son, brother and brother, friend and friend? How did he bear himself in settling quarrels? How best should we utilise our wealth? What were his dealings with the sick, the orphan and the wayfarers? What was his treatment towards his wife, children and relatives? We undoubtedly believe that as a Prophet his deeds were just and perfect, but history is silent on these points.
The Prophet who comes nearest to Islam is Christ (p.b.o.h.) but the details of his life are more shadowy than that of any other Prophet. Love of history has impelled the European to explore distant regions like Babel, Assyria and Syria, Egypt and Africa, India and Turkey, and force the Earth to give up her secrets to the spade, but no attempt has unearthed the buried secrets of his biography. According to the Bible, Christ lived for thirty-three years. The modern Bible, however, recorded the events of only the last three years of his life.
The Bible lays down that God was the Father of Christ but it has nothing to say of the relation between the son and the Father. The son confesses to his Father’s love but we do not know much about the. Son’s love for the Father. How far did he obey his Father’s commands? Did he ever bend down in prayer in his Father’s presence before the night of the arrest? Did he crave for anything more than the daily bread? These questions yield no answer. No wonder the first Christian King had to converge a conference of 300 Abbots at Nice to define fundamental relations between God and Man. Christ had his mother and, according to he Bible, also a brother in the conventional sense. The records of his life do not in the least betray any account of his dealings with these relatives.
The lives of great men are perfect examples not because of’ the sweet things they say but because of leading a life based on the practice of his teachings.
Goodness may be classified into two kinds — positive and negative. If one leads an anchorite’s life in a cave he achieves the negative aspect of goodness. But the positive goodness is the real goodness. Did one hold the forlorn, feed the hungry, raise the fallen and guide the erring? A biography cannot be called ideal unless it has the positive aspect in it. We require every aspect of peace and war, poverty and wealth, marriage and celibacy, duties to God and to Man, victory and defeat, equanimity and anger to mould our daily action.
Four conditions govern a perfect, and ideal biography: Historicity, Perfection, Comprehensiveness and Practicality. I do not mean to say that the lives of other Prophets were devoid of these traits in their particular ages. But I mean that the lives transmitted through ages to posterity are lacking in them. It is the distinguishing feature of Prophet Muhammad’s life that it fulfils all these requirements. (We do not have space here to discuss these four conditions, one by one, and to show in detail that Prophet Muhammad’s life fulfils these conditions. (I would Inshaa Allaah discuss some other time). John Devonport in his “Apology for Muhammad and the Qur-aan,” says that of all lawmakers and conquerors there is not one, the events of whose life are most true or more detailed than those of Prophet Muhammad.
Reverend Bosworth Smith, a Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, delivered a series of lectures in the Royal Institute. After talking of Zoraster, Confucius, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, he had this to say of Muhammad’s life:
“We know as much of Muhammad as we do even of Luther and Milton. The mythical, the legendary, the supernatural is almost wanting in the original Arab authorities or at all events can easily be distinguished.”
A well-known dictum of Voltaire says that no man is a hero to his valet. But this dictum fails in its application to Muhammad. He preached his divine mission and declared himself a Prophet to those who knew him very well as a man: his wife, his servant, his cousin and intimate friends, and they all believed him. Who is so bold as to allow his wife to reveal his private life to the public gaze and yet the Prophet told all his wives to hide nothing of his private life. Can this example be equalled?
One thing is common to the other Prophets: they were welcomed first by those who did not know them, last by those who knew them. Not so with the last Prophet. The more one knew the Prophet, the more one admired him.
The Holy Qur’aan declared through the Prophet:
“If you claim love for God, follow me. Then only will God love you.”
It was thus that the Sahabis (the Companions) measured one’s love of God in terms of one’s obedience to Muhammad’s example. The same sentiment governed the lives of others: the Tabeyenes (those who followed and obeyed the companions), the traditionists, the biographers, they recorded every moment of the Prophet’s life and left a model for posterity. His life was a model of action and no link in the chain of his biography is missing.
Humanity is the sum total of men of every kind; the rich and the poor, the aristocrat and the proletariat, the ruler and the ruled, the general and the judge, saint and the soldier, merchants and traders, the grownups and the children, and the young and the old. All these people require a pattern for action. Islam ministers to the needs of all. A ruler’s life cannot be a model for the ruled, or the poor man’s for the rich. It was therefore necessary that the life of the Universal and the Eternal Prophet should be a collection of activities of all kind.
If you are rich, follow the merchant of Makkah; if you are poor, look at the prisoner of Sha’b Ali Talib; if you are a king, study the life of the ruler of Arabia; if you are a conqueror, glance at the conqueror of Badr, Hunain and Makkah; if you are defeated, take lessons from the Battle of Uhud; if you are a teacher, look at the Holy Teacher in the school of Suffah; if you are a pupil, look at him who sat before Gabriel; if you are a preacher in the gospel of truth, look at the Prophet of Makkah when successful, watch him preach in the pulpit of Madinah; if you are a husband, don’t forget the husband of Khadiijah and Ayesha; if you are a father, watch the father of Faatimah and the grandfather of Hassan and Hussain; if you are a young man, read about the shepherd of Makkah; if you are a child, look at the nursling of Halima Sa’dia; if you are an orphan, you can see the child of Abdullah and Aamina.