The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “prophetology”

The Prophet ﷺ & Salafi Love

Burdah1No doubt, there can be a fine line between veneration and idolisation; reverence and idolatry. The Qur’an is at pains to stress the mortalness of the Prophet ﷺ and that he possesses no aspect of divinity: Say: ‘I say not to you I possess the treasures of Allah, nor that I know the Unseen; and I say not to you: ‘I am an angel.’ I follow only that which is revealed to me.’ [6:50] Another verse explains: Say: ‘I am but a man like yourselves, but to whom it has been revealed that your Lord is only One God.’ [18:110] In fact, in the greatest defining moments of the prophetic career, the Qur’an addresses him simply with the honourable term, abd – “slave”.

So, referring to his Night Journey and Heavenly Ascension (isra wa’l-mi‘raj), Allah said: Glory be to Him Who carried His slave from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque the environs of which We have blessed. [17:1] While receiving revelation, Allah says: And He revealed to his slave that which He revealed. [53:10] Speaking of the Qur’an’s timeless challenge (tahaddi), there is this verse: And if you are in doubt concerning that which We sent down to Our slave, then produce a chapter the like thereof, and call your witnesses other than Allah, if you are truthful. [2:23]

The Qur’an depicts the Prophet ﷺ as Allah’s perfect “slave” and Muslim conciousness pays this title the highest respect. Yet this can in no way justify decrying veneration (ta‘dhim, tawqir) of the Prophet in the name of a narrow reading of tawhid. This would be to turn our backs on the immense distinctions Revelation has showered him with, as well as belittle the esteem the salaf accorded him – glimpses of which are offered by Qadi ‘Iyad. So in the section: ‘The Companions’ Reverence, Esteem and Veneration of the Prophet ﷺ’, in his hugely celebrated work, al-Shifa’, he relates the following:1

‘Said ‘Amr b. al-‘As: “There was none more beloved to me than Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, nor anyone more honourable in my sight than him. I could never get my fill of gazing at him due to my reverent awe of him. If I was asked to describe him I could never do so, for I was unable to gaze upon him enough.”2

‘Al-Tirmidhi records that Anas said: ‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ would go out to his Companions from among the Emigrants and Helpers (muhajirun wa’l-ansar) and they would be sitting; in their midst would be Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. None would raise their gaze towards him save Abu Bakr and ‘Umar; they would look at him and him at them, they would smile at him and him at them.’3

‘It is reported that Usamah b. Sharik said: ‘I once came to the Prophet ﷺ and found his Companions sitting around him [absolutely still] as if birds were perched on top of their heads.’4 In another hadith describing him [it says]: ‘Whenever he spoke, those around him lowered their heads as if birds were perched on them.’

‘When the Quraysh sent ‘Urwah b. Mas‘ud to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ in the year of Hudaybiyah, he saw what he saw of the unparalleled reverence that the Companions accorded him: of how whenever he performed ablution (wudu) they would race to get the leftover water of his ablution,5 almost fighting for it; if he spat, they took it in their hands and wiped it over their faces and bodies; if a hair of his fell, they ran to get it; if he ordered them with something, they hastened to carry it out; and when he spoke, they would lower their voices in his presence, and none of them could look at him out of awe of him. When he returned to the Quraysh, he told them: “O assembly of Quraysh, I’ve been to Chosroes in his kingdom; Ceaser in his kingdom; and Negus in his kingdom. But, by Allah, I have never seen a king among his people treated like how Muhammad is treated by his Companions.”6

‘In another version, it says: “I have never seen a king whose companions revere him as Muhammad is revered by his Companions. I saw a people who could never be disloyal to him.”

‘Anas narrates: “I saw the Prophet ﷺ as his head was being shaved. His Companions would gather around him and no lock of [his] hair would fall, save that it fell into the hand of one of them.”7

‘Another example is when the Quraysh permitted ‘Uthman to perform tawaf of the Ka‘bah when the Prophet ﷺ sent him as an envoy during the Treaty [of Hudaybiyah]. But he refused to do so, saying: “I shall not do so until Allah’s Messenger does so.”8

‘In the hadith of Talhah: The Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ requested an ignorant bedouin to ask the Prophet about those that fulfill their vow – for they were too in awe of him and revered him too much [to do so themselves] – but the Prophet turned away from him. When Talhah came, the Prophet ﷺ said: “He is among those who fulfill their vows.”9

‘It states in the hadith of Qaylah: “When I saw the Messenger of Allah ﷺ seated in a squatting position, I would shudder in fear.”10 This was out of her awe (haybah) and reverence (ta‘zim) of him.

‘In the hadith of al-Mughirah: “The Prophet’s Companions would knock on his door with their fingernails.”11

‘And al-Bara’ b. ‘Azib said: “I wanted to ask the Messenger of Allah ﷺ about a matter, but delayed doing so for years from being in awe of him.”12

Having related such wondrous glimpses into how the Companions manifested ta‘zim al-nabi – prophetic veneration and reverence, Qadi ‘Iyad then offers us a section on: ‘Venerating the Prophet ﷺ after his death.’ He writes:

‘Know that it is just as necessary to honour and revere the Prophet ﷺ after his death as it was during his lifetime. This, whenever he is mentioned ﷺ; when mentioning his hadith and Sunnah; on hearing his name and sirah; when dealing with his family and relatives. [It further includes] honouring his Family (ahl al-bayt) and Companions. Abu Ibrahim Ishaq al-Tujibi said: “It is obligatory upon every believer that whenever they mention the Prophet, or whenever he is mentioned in their presence, they must exhibit reverence and humility, being composed and not fidgeting. They must display the utmost reverence – as they would have done had they been standing before him, manifesting the courtesy (adab) toward him that Allah has taught us.” Qadi Abu’l-Fadl states: “Such was the way of our Pious Predecessors (salaf) and past Imams, may Allah be pleased with them all.”’13

Having set the parameters, as it were, Qadi Iyad then records this about Imam Malik and about some of his venerable teachers:

‘Malik said: “I was once asked about what I said of Ayyub al-Sakhtiyani that, “I haven’t narrated from anyone better than him.” I went on Pilgrimage twice and I never heard the Prophet ﷺ being mentioned without him weeping, until we took pitty on him. When I saw from him what I saw of his reverence for the Prophet ﷺ, I then began to write [hadiths] from him.”

‘Mus‘ab b. ‘Abd Allah relates: “Whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned, Malik would grow pale, so much so that it disturbed those sitting around him. He was once asked about it, to which he replied: “Had you seen what I have seen, you would not object to what you see happen to me.”

“I used to see Muhammad b. al-Munkadir, who was the master of the Qur’an reciters. Never was he asked about a hadith, except that he wept to such an extent that we felt pity for him.”

“I used to see Ja‘far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq. He was jovial and would smile a lot. But whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned in his presence, he would start to turn pale. I never observed him narrating a hadith of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, except in a state of ritual purity (taharah). I visited him for a time and never observed him save in one of three states: he was either praying, observing silence, or else reciting the Qur’an. He never spoke of affairs which did not concern him. He was one of the deeply devout scholar who had true reverent awe of Allah.”

“Whenever ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Qasim mention the Prophet ﷺ, his face seemed as if the blood had drained from it. His tongue would become dumb-struck, out of awe of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ.”

“I visited ‘Amir b. ‘Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr. Whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned to him, he would weep so incessantly, till he had no more tears to weep.”

“I would see al-Zuhri: he was one of the friendliest and most approachable of people. Yet whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned in his presence, it was as if he did not recognise you, nor you him.”

“And I would frequent Safwan b. Sulaym. He was an exceptionally devout and diligent worshipper. Whenever the Prophet ﷺ was mentioned to him, he wept so profusely that he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. At this point, people would have to get up and let him be.”’14

Subhana’Llah!

Given all the above, it should be crystal-clear that the path of our salaf – the true salafi path – not only demands that we love the Prophet ﷺ, but that we honour and revere him too. Anything short of that just isn’t salafi love or reverence. Allah insists: Those who believe in him, revere him, support him, and follow the light that was sent down with him: those are the successful. [7:157] Imam al-Qazwini contrasts honour, reverence and veneration (described by terms such as tabjil, tawqir and ta‘zim) with that of love, and cites al-Bayhaqi saying: ‘This is a higher degree than that of love; for not all who love revere. A father loves his child, or a master his slave, but doesn’t revere him. Whereas all who revere also love.’15

Indeed, what else other than ta‘zim al-nabi animated our salaf to such deeds of loving awe and veneration? What other than ta‘zim drove Imam Malik to relate hadiths only after taking a full bath or performing ablution, wearing his best clothes and turban, applying kohl and perfuming himself?16 And what else other than ta‘zim spurred Abu Ayyub al-Ansari to refrain from walking across a room simply because the Prophet ﷺ was in the room below?17

1. Al-Shifa’ (Damascus: Maktabah al-Ghazali, 2000), 516-19. The chapter title in Arabic being: fi ‘adati al-sahabah fi ta‘zimihi ‘alayhi’l-salam wa ijlalihi wa tawqirihi.

2. Muslim, no.121

3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3668; al-Tayalisi, no.2518.

4. Abu Dawud, no.3855.

5. i.e. they would race to collect the water that dripped from him during his ablution because of the blessings, or barakah, it contained. Such is also the case with respect to his hair, nails, sweat and saliva. In fact, his entire body is barakah. The act of seeking barakah from his blessed body, and whatever it came into direct physical contact with, is called tabarruk. Seeking tabarruk from him ﷺ is an agreed upon matter according to Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘ah. Consult: al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 14:38.

6. Al-Bukhari, no.2731.

7. Muslim, no.2325.

8. Ahmad, Musnad, no.18910.

9. Al-Tirmidhi, no.3742, saying: ‘The hadith is hasan gharib.’

10. Abu Dawud, no.4847.

11. Al-Hakim, Ma‘rifat ‘Ulum al-Hadith, 19.

12. Cited in al-Suyuti, al-Manahil, no.999.

13. Al-Shifa’, 519-20.

14. ibid., 520-22.

15. Al-Qazwini, Mukhtasar Shu‘ab al-Iman (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2003.), 20.

16. Cited in Qadi ‘Iyad, Tartib al-Mudarik (Saudi Arabia: Wizarat al-Awqaf wa’l-Shu’un  al–Islamiyyah, 1983), 2:14-16.

17. Muslim, no.2053.

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The Sunnah’s Inner Beauty

zillij7The Qur’an says: To Allah belong the most beautiful names. [7:180] In a sahih hadith we read: ‘Allah is beautiful and loves beauty.’1 Now these aren’t statements about feelings, impressions or sentimentality, they’re statements about the very nature of the Divine Reality! Imam al-Munawi comments upon Allah’s beauty (jamal): ‘He is the possessor of absolute and perfect Beauty. From this Beauty, every manifestation of beauty that exists in creation emanates. His Essence (dhat) is beautiful; His Attributes (sifat) are beautiful; and His Acts (af‘al) are beautiful. If His Face were not veiled by light (nur), the majestic splendour of His Face would annihilate creation as far as it extends.’2

A more recent commentator had this to say about the above hadith: ‘Allah, exalted is He, is beautiful in regards His Essence, Names, Attributes and Acts; and He loves both outer and inner beauty. [He loves] outer beauty, like cleanliness of one’s body, clothes and home; and their like. As for inward beauty, it is beautification of character with excellence. This is why one of the prayers of the Prophet ﷺ would be: “O Allah, guide me to having beautiful conduct and character; for none can guide me to beautifying them except You. And avert from me bad conduct and character; none can avert them from me save You.”3 And Allah knows best.’4

Religion, then, is the recognition of such beauty, as well as the quest to actualise it in our lives and society at large.

For believers, to imitate the Prophet ﷺ is to imitate beauty. Emulating the example of the Prophet ﷺ – known in religious parlance as his Sunnah (lit. “way”) – must be at the core of every believer’s life. The Qur’an states: You have in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful example. [33:21]

The love, respect, attachment and admiration Muslims have for the Prophet ﷺ (from which imitation of him is arises) is not just an impressive fact of history, it is a central part of faith itself. He was a man who experienced life in an exceptional range. Not only was he a shepherd, merchant, orphan and exile, he was also a leader, law-giver, statesman and soldier. He was also a husband, a father who was bereaved many times over, a friend, a companion, and a widower. And in all these roles he was an exemplar. His wife, the lady Aishah, was once asked as to what he was like. She responded with these words: kana khuluquhu’l-qur’an – ‘His character was that of the Qur’an.’5 So her intimate knowledge of the Prophet’s life and character ﷺ led her to conclude he was the living embodiment of the Revelation – he was, figuratively speaking, the ‘walking’ Qur’an.

For Muslims, therefore, the Prophet’s Sunnah represents the very perfection of human conduct and being. It is to such beauty – and not to the mediocrity or ugliness offered by the norms of today’s dominant culture – that believers must fix their gaze.

In the botanical world there are certain plants which need to be grown on a trellis or a support of some kind, if they are to grow to their full potential. Otherwise they tend to sprawl across the ground, without direction, their leaves devoured by snails and slugs, their purpose unfulfilled.

In a similar way, man is a ‘climber’ too, and we need not look very far for examples of the human inability to grow or to flower without a firm support or framework. In this sense the Prophet’s Sunnah, Gai Eaton wrote, ‘provides not only a framework but also, as it were, a network of channels into which a believer’s will enters and through which it flows smoothly, both guided and guarded. It is not his way, the Muslim’s way, to cut new channels for his volatile life through the recalcitrant materials of the world against the grain of things. At first sight one might expect this to produce a tedious uniformity. All the evidence suggests that it does nothing of the kind; anyone who has had contact with good and pious Muslims will know that though they live within a shared pattern of belief and behaviour, they are often more sharply differentiated one from another than are profane people, their characters stronger, their individu-alities more clearly delineated. They have modeled themselves upon a transcendent norm of inexhaustible richness, whereas profane people take as their model the fashions of the time. To put it another way: the great virtues – and it is the Prophet’s virtues that the believer strives to imitate – can it seems be expressed through human nature in countless different ways, whereas worldly fashion induces uniformity.’6

The Sunnah, however, insists that a certain sense of haybah, or “dignity” of character, is essential to make even the most valuable manners respected and respectable. The belief that the Sunnah can be practiced without the least change in how we do things “on the streets” or “in de hood” is more ego than Islam. The Sunnah comes to elevate and dignify. Indeed, the greatest achievement of the ego is to make the practice of the Sunnah look ugly or undignified. For nothing is more troublesome than when the ego seeks to wear the robe of the Sunnah.

At the end of the day, those who drag the Sunnah down to their own crass, unrefined levels need ask only this: How long will I delay embracing the Sunnah’s inner beauty?

By the same token, to follow the Sunnah out of anger, protest, resentment or identity politics, darkens and deforms it and causes people to flee from Islam. Following it out of love for Allah’s Beloved ﷺ, intuiting its beauty and wisdom, is a radiant light and conclusive proof.

At the end of the day, those for whom the Sunnah is little more than a tool with which to vent their political angst and frustrations need ask only this: How long will I delay embracing the Sunnah’s inner beauty?

Likewise, to limit the Sunnah to no more than a few outward expressions of piety and external modes of behaviour makes it look superficial, unworthy and uninviting. The consequence of such shallow piety and religious reductionism: the Prophet’s beauty is veiled behind his Sunnah. Just to be clear. Emulating and imitating the Prophet ﷺ in his comings and goings, and in his manners and modes of behaving, is the hallmark of a true believer; of a lover, even. But outward emulation is of little worth unless it both reflects and engenders a profound inward conformity.

At day’s end, those fixated upon just the external aspects of the Sunnah need ask only this: How long will I delay embracing the Sunnah’s inner wisdoms and beauty?

The Sunnah, let’s not forget, is the middle way; and strict compliance with the Sunnah is what faith enjoins so as to avoid the fringes of deviancy. But strictness driven by the ego’s diktats is extremism; strictness that is born of the Spirit is pure submission. In fact, one of the great virtues of the Prophet ﷺ was his perfect sense of balance and proportion; of being able to put things in their right priority, correct order and proper perspective. The closer we contour the Sunnah, the closer we are to such balance.

At the end of the day, those who obscure the lines between the Spirit’s rigour and the ego’s; making them cold, harsh and hostile, need only ask this: How long will I ignore the Sunnah’s inner beauty.

As for those who consider the details of the Sunnah to be trivial and insignificant, for which we need to apologise or to exorcise from Islam; and if not, then from the public sphere, they either have a poor grasp of the realities of faith, or else are uninterested in the prophetic light. For his beauty ﷺ is in the detail, not just the broad strokes. We seek refuge in Allah from ugliness; and ask that He make us people of beauty.

1. Muslim, no.147.

2. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 2:224.

3. Muslim, no.771.

4. Al-Sa‘di, Bahjat al-Qulub al-Abrar (Cairo: Dar al-Furqan, 2004), 203

5. Muslim, no.746.

6. Islam and the Destiny of Man (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1997), 201.

Celebrating the Prophet ﷺ

Prophet Muhammad PBUHThere have been times throughout history whereby the heavens have opened and the celestial light cleansed certain human souls who, as a result, were divinely invested with prophethood (nubuwwah) – the highest condition possible for any human being. For a prophet is a bridge, as it were, between heaven and earth; Creator and creation, helping us to recall our purpose of being and our ultimate return.

One hadith has it that Allah sent a hundred and twenty-four thousand such prophets to the peoples of the earth:1 And every people had a guide. [13:7] When the revelatory wisdoms of one prophet faded or were forgotten, the link was reforged by the sending of another prophet. The last person to be invested with prophethood was the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, after whom the prophetic age came to a completion and close. The Qur’an says:  Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets. [33:40] As to the remaining ages of this world, the heavenly link would be reforged and renewed by scholars and saints; but never again by prophets.

Rejoicing in the sending of the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Qur’an says: Allah has surely shown favour to the believers by sending them a Messenger from their midst to recite to them His signs, and to purify them, and to instruct them in the Book and in wisdom; whereas before this they were in clear error. [3:164] Not only did the Prophet bequeath to mankind knowledge that could quench their inborn thirst for matters spiritual and sacred, he came with perfect guidance for their temporal affairs too. So for Muslims, the Prophet is by far the greatest of the heavenly gifts to have ever descended upon the human realm; so much so that the shari’ah has actually marked the day on which he was born and when he first received revelation as a commendable day to fast. This, as a heart-felt thanks to our Creator for this precious of gifts and most wondrous of blessings.

The Prophet, upon whom be peace, was once asked about the significance of fasting on Mondays; so he replied: ‘This is the day on which I was born and which revelation first came to me.’2 Elaborating upon this hadith, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali says:

‘[In it] there is an indication that it is desirable to fast on those days where the favours of Allah upon His servants renew themselves. The greatest of the divine gifts to this nation is the manifestation of Muhammad, peace be upon him, to them and of him being sent to them as a Messenger. Allah, exalted is He, reveals: Allah has surely shown favour to the believers by sending them a Messenger from their midst. For the blessing of him being sent to this nation is far greater than of causing the heavens, the earth, or the sun, moon, winds, night, day, rainfall, food, vegetation or other things to actually exist. For these gifts are for the creation in general – even those of humanity who are disbelievers in Allah and His Messenger and the final meeting with Him; those whose response to the favours and graces of Allah is sheer ingratitude. As for the favour of sending Muhammad, peace be upon him, then by it the blessings of this world and the Afterlife were completed, and the religion Allah chose for His servants perfected. So his acceptance is the actual cause for their felicity in this world and the Afterlife. Thus, fasting on the day that Allah’s favour to His servants is renewed is not only good and excellent, but it is also a way to reciprocate Allah’s favours that are renewed at such times, with an abiding sense of gratitude.

‘Similar to this is fasting the day of ‘Ashura wherein Allah saved Noah from the Flood, and Moses and his people from Pharaoh and his army; drowning the latter in the sea. Both Noah and Moses, peace be upon them both, showed their gratitude to Allah by fasting [that day]. Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, [also] fasted this day out of emulating those Prophets of Allah. He said to the Jews: “We have more right to Moses than you.”3 He thus fasted that day and instructed others to do so too.’4

Rejoicing in the sending of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is undoubtedly a central aspect of every believer’s faith – for it is his light and life that warms and illuminates believing hearts: O Prophet! We have sent you as a witness, and as a bringer of good news and a warner, and a caller to Allah by His permission, and as a lamp giving light. [33:45-6] As for celebrating the Prophet’s mawlid or birthday, annually, peace be upon him, this is an area of legitimate differing among the scholars and should not be made into a source of division or discord. Those who hold there is a shari‘ah basis to do so, will do so; those who don’t won’t. But none would disagree that celebrating the Prophet’s life on a daily basis – by adhering to his teachings, emulating his character, deepening our love and veneration of him, and habituating ourselves to abundantly invoke salawat or blessing of peace upon him – is where we all need to be heading. And unto that the believer holds!

1. As per Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 5:265. The hadith with its collective chains yields a final grading of hasan; as demonstrated in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadiih al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2005), no.2668.

2. Muslim, no.1162.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.2004; Muslim, no.1132.

4. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 236-7.

Were it Not for You, I Would Not Have Created Creation

Medina-HDIn his catalogue of hadith forgeries, Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari cites a spurious report alleging that Allah informed His beloved Prophet, peace be upon him: ‘Were it not for you, I would not have created the universe (law laka lama khalaqtu’l-aflaka).’1

But having cited the hadith, al-Qari says that although the hadith is forged (mawdu‘), ‘its meaning is sound.’2 This end assertion, that the hadith has a sound meaning, has raised considerable objection from some people; anger, even! For they feel this claim amounts to exaggeration – ghuluw, to use the Quranic language – about the Prophet, peace be upon him. And surely, as some have been quick to point out, it contradicts the Quranic verse which proclaims in no uncertain terms: ‘I created jinn and men only that they may worship Me.’ [51:56] The reason behind creating creation, they highlight, is worship; not the Prophet!

Yet a browse through traditional scholarly attitudes reveals al-Qari’s claim to be fairly normative. That is, classical Islamic scholarship seems to have been comfortable with this assertion. For instance, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali reverently said about the Prophet: ‘he is the ultimate purpose behind creating the human race: its essence (‘aynuhu), its quintessence (khulasatuhu) and its very epitome (wasita ‘aqdihi).’3 Another even earlier Hanbali jurist, the highly critical Ibn al-Jawzi, stated: ‘The saints and the righteous are the very purpose of creation (al-awliya wa’l-salihun hum al-maqsud min al-kawn).’4 Of course, it hardly needs stating that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, is at the very head of such a purpose.

Yet for those who are resistant to the law laka – “were it not for you” – notion, or are over sensitive to what counts for exaggeration about the Prophet, peace be upon him, such quotations will have done little to abate their incredulity. The Arabs say: idha ‘arafa sabab, batala ‘ajab – “If the reason is appreciated, the astonishment departs.” Let me close this blog, therefore, with Ibn Taymiyyah’s analysis of the hadith, in the hope of lifting from such hearts their “disbelief”:

‘The excellence of our Prophet over the Angels was demonstrated on the Night of the Ascension (laylat al-mi‘raj) when he reached a station where he heard the “scratching of the pens.” He was now at a station higher than even that of the Angels. Now Allah manifests some of His tremendous power and astounding wisdom through righteous humans – via prophets and saints – in ways He does not do even via Angels. For He combined in the former, qualities that are dispersed throughout the other types of creation. So Allah created man’s physical body from the earth, whereas his spirit (ruh) was created from the Highest Assembly of Angels. This is why it has been said: “Man is a microcosm, but contains the macrocosm.”

‘Now Muhammad, peace be upon him, is the master of humanity, the best of creation and the noblest of them in Allah’s sight. Which is why it is said: “Allah created the universe because of him.” Or “But for him, He would not have created the Throne, Footstool, the heavens, the earth, sun or moon.” But this isn’t a hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him; whether authentic or weak. It has not been reported by any of those versed in the Hadith science on the authority of the Prophet; nor is it known to have come from any Companion. In fact, it is not known who uttered it.

‘Nonetheless, it is possible to explain it from a sound perspective, such as with Allah’s statement: He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and the earth. [45:13] Or by His words: He subjected the ships to you that they may run upon the sea at His command, and subjected the rivers to you. He subjected to you the sun and moon, constant in their courses, and subjected to you the night and the day. And gave you of all you ask Him; and if you count the favours of Allah, you will never number them. [14:32-4]

‘There are other verses similar to these, all of which clarify that Allah created creation for the sake of mankind: even though it is known that in doing so Allah had another wisdom alongside this and greater than this.

‘Here, though, Allah explains to mankind the benefits the creation contains for them, and how they are immersed in His favours. So when it is said, “He did such and such [for this or that reason]”, it does not exclude the possibility that there could be other wisdoms behind the act. Likewise, the statement: “Were it not for so and so, such and such would not have been created”, does not negate the possibility of there being a higher wisdom behind the act. Instead, what it implies is that since the most pious of people is Muhammad, peace be upon him, creating him was a desirable end of deep-seated wisdom, more than in creating anyone else; and that the perfection of creation and the crown of its completion only occurred with [the Prophet] Muhammad …

‘Now since man is the the seal of creation; the last of creation; and its microcosm, their best will also be the best of all creation in absolute terms. Since Muhammad is the essence of humanity, the axis of creation, and the distributor of the collective, he is, so to say, the ultimate purpose behind creating creation. So an objection cannot be raised against the saying, “For him all was created” or “Were it not for him, creation would not have been created.” So if these, and similar words, are explained according to what the Book and the Sunnah indicate, they should be accepted.’5

To sum-up: since creation was created for mankind’s benefit; and since mankind was created to worship Allah; and since the perfection of such worship was manifested in, and by, the Prophet, peace be upon him, it may hence be said that he is the purpose behind creation being brought into existence. This, I hope, should help soothe those hearts that may have harboured undue opposition to the law laka reality, and deepen our connection to the Master of all Messengers.

O Allah, shower abundant blessings and peace upon our master,
Muhammad; the paragon of human perfection,
best of all creation.
Amin!

1. Those who cite the hadith in their catalogues of weak and forged hadiths include: Ibn al-Jawzi, Kitab al-Mawdu‘at (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 1:214; ‘Ali al-Qari, al-Asrar al-Marfu‘ah fi’l-Akhbar al-Mawdu‘ah, no.385; Suyuti al-La’ali al-Masnu‘ah (Cairo: al-Maktabah al-Tijariyyah, 1964), 1:272; al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1992), no.282.

2. Al-Asrar al-Marfu‘ah, 288.

3. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm & Mu’assasah al-Rayyan, 1996), 21.

4. Sifat al-Safwa (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Arabi, 2008), 31.

5. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 11:96-98.

The Prophet’s Character ﷺ

Madina (1)This is a short piece translated from Ibn Qudamah’s Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin. It distills a picture the Quran and hadiths build up of the Prophet’s virtues and character, peace be upon him: integrity, honesty, steadfastness, courage, kindness, compassion, courtesy, and other qualities too numerous to list. To say the Prophet’s is a life well documented is an understatement. There is hardly an aspect of his life which did not come under the scrutiny of his close companions, who left for posterity all that they saw him do or hear him say. The reason: to know what the Prophet, peace be upon him, did is to know what we all should do. The Qur’an describes him as a beautiful example [33:21], and so the Prophet’s sunnah, Qur’an aside, is the very notion of Islam itself – emulation of which becomes the life work of a believer in his or her journey to God and the Afterlife.

‘God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, was the mildest of people and also the warmest and most generous of them. He would mend his own sandals, patch his own clothes and help his family with the daily errands. He was very shy; shyer than a virgin in her chamber.

He would respond to the invitation of slaves, visit the sick, walk alone [without guards or fanfair], allow others to saddle-up with him on his mount, accept gifts, eat food that was sent as a gift; though he never consumed anything that had been given as charity. He did not have enough dates with which to be sated, nor was he sated with barley-bread for more than three consecutive days. He would eat whatever food was readily available and he never criticised food. He never ate reclining, and ate from what was nearest to him.

He loved perfumes and disliked foul odours. He honoured people of virtue, and kept affectionate ties with nobles and dignitaries. He never snubbed anyone and would accept the excuse of those who presented excuses.

He would joke, but never would he utter anything untrue. He laughed, but not loudly. He would not let any time pass without being in the service of God, exalted is He, or being engaged in whatever was essential for his own self-development.

He never cursed women, nor abused servants. Nor did he strike anyone, except for in jihad in God’s cause. He did not exact revenge for his own sake, but did so when God’s limits had been transgressed. If he was presented with two options he took the easier of the two, unless it entailed disobedience or the severing of ties – in which case he would be the furthest away from it.

Anas remarked: “I served him for ten years and he never once rebuked me in the least; nor did he say about anything I had done, ‘Why did you do it?’ or anything I had not done, ‘Why did you not do it?’”

His description in the Torah is: “Muhammad, the Messenger of God and My Chosen Servant. He is neither harsh nor severe. He does not shout in the market places, nor repay evil with evil, but instead he pardons and forgives” …

He would sit in an assembly wherever it was convenient and would mingle among his Companions as one of them, such that when strangers came they couldn’t distinguish him from others, save after inquiring as to who he was. He would take to long periods of silence, but when he did speak he did so measuredly and clearly, repeating himself so that he would be understood. He used to pardon, even when he was in a position to punish, and he would not confront anyone with what they did not like.

He was the most truthful of men; one who most fulfilled his trusts, pledges and commitments; the easiest going of people; the most affable; and the most generous in friendship. Whoever gazed on him unexpectedly, was awe-stricken by him; whoever knew him, loved him. His Companions, whenever they spoke about worldly affairs, he would join in with them; and when, in recollecting their pre-Islamic days, they would laughed, he would simply smile. He was also the bravest of men. One of his Companions recounts: When the fighting grew intense, we would seek shelter behind God’s Messenger, peace be upon him.’1

1. Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 1999), 157-8.

Seven Rights of the Prophet ﷺ

imageTo travel through any Muslim land is to see tall, graceful towers – minarets – studded across the landscape from which, five times a day, the muezzin punctuates communal life by calling believers to prayer (salat). This stark, yet simple call serves to remind the community that in their day to day life – with its joys and its pains, its hopes and its disappointments – there runs a thread leading them to their ultimate purpose and end goal: Allah, and that it is time now – for a short while, at least – to put aside the world and restore to the soul a fuller and more natural awareness of Him. It is a call which helps put life into perspective.

The muezzin starts his call by first extolling Allah’s greatness (takbir, allahu akbar) and then follows it by proclaiming the Declaration of Faith, or shahadah. The first half of this Declaration is to testify to: la ilaha illa’Llah – ‘There is no god worthy of worship but Allah’. The second half bears witness to: muhammadun rasulu’Llah – ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ The first half affirms the doctrine of tawhid; the second, the method by which to live out and implement this doctrine.

Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah obliges on each believer certain rights or huquq, all of which have been mentioned in the Qur’an. Scholars explain that these rights are seven in number:

1. To Believe in Him: This does not mean to merely believe he was a true, historical figure of seventh century Arabia, but to believe in his prophethood (nubuwwah) and in Allah’s message (risalah) to him too. The Qur’an says: Believe, therefore, in Allah and His Messenger, and the light which We have sent down. [64:8] One hadith says: ‘I have been ordered to fight mankind till they testify that there is no god but Allah and until they believe in me and what I was sent with.’ [Muslim, no.34]

2. To Obey Him: It is not enough to believe in him, peace be upon him. Instead, true faith necessitates that we be guided by his message and obey its demands: O you who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not turn away from him when you hear him speak. [8:20] He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah. [4:80] One hadith declares: ‘All my nation will enter Paradise save those who refuse.’ They asked: O Messenger of Allah, who would refuse? He replied: ‘Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, whoever disobeys me has in fact refused.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.7280]

3. To Emulate His Example: Given that Allah says about His beloved Prophet, peace be upon him: Yours is indeed a tremendous character, [68:4] it should come as no surprise to enlightened minds that imitation of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is also a right we owe him. The Qur’an states: Say: “If you love Allah, then follow me.” [3:31] Elsewhere it tells us: You have in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful example. [33:21] One celebrated hadith says: ‘Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not of me.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5063; Muslim, no.1401]

No doubt, within the overall obligation of ittiba‘ – to “follow” or “emulate” him – there are certain matters where emulation is mandatory, and other places where it is highly encouraged and urged, but not obligated (there are even some matters recorded about his life that are just descriptive, not prescriptive). A sound knowledge of fiqh should help distinguish between these levels of imitation and emulation. With that being so, believers try their best to conform to the prophetic example, and mould their lives in the light of his Sunnah, as far as possible. For it is in him that the Adamic perfection is found and the beauty of behaviour made manifest.

4. To Love Him: We find in the Qur’an: Say: “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribe, the wealth you have gained, the trade you fear my slacken, and the home you delight in are more loved by you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His cause, then wait till Allah brings about His command. Allah guides not the corrupt. [9:24] Indeed, love of the Prophet is what distinguishes believers in their perfection of faith, as one hadith says: ‘None of you believes until he loves me more than his father, his children and the whole of mankind.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.15; Muslim, no.44]

An essential part of loving the Prophet, peace be upon him, is to love his Family. The Prophet, peace be upon him, once urged: udhakkirukumu’Llaha fi ahli bayti – ‘I advise you concerning my family.’ [Muslim, no.2408] Once, Zayd b. Thabit was once praying the funeral prayer for his mother, after which he brought his mule near in order to mount it, upon which Ibn ‘Abbas came and took hold of the stirrup. Zayd said: ‘Let it be, O nephew of Allah’s Messenger.’ Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the scholars.’ So Zayd took hold of Ibn ‘Abbas’ hand and, upon kissing it, said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the family of our Prophet.’ [Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.4746]

5. To Honour and Revere Him: True faith (iman) not only demands that he be loved, but that he be honoured and revered too. The Qur’an insists: Those who believe in him, honour him, support him, and follow the light that was sent down with him: those are the successful. [7:157] That you may honour him and revere him. [48:9] Al-Qazwini contrasts honour, reverence and veneration (described by terms such as tabjil, tawqir and ta‘zim) with that of love and cites Imam al-Bayhaqi saying: ‘This is a higher degree than that of love; for not all who love revere. A father loves his child, or a master his slave, but does not revere him. Whereas all who revere also love.’1

6. To Believe that Prophethood Ended With Him: The Qur’an declares: Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah has knowledge of all things. [33:40] Needless to say, when a thing is “sealed”, it is complete and so there can be no further addition to it. In a like manner, the Prophet Muhammad sealed the cycle of prophethood and brought it to a close: he is the last Prophet, after whom there will be no prophet. Henceforth, revealed truths shall be revived and reanimated by scholars, saints and renewers; but never again by prophets. That our Prophet, upon whom be peace, is khatim al-nabiyyin – “the Seal of the Prophets” – is also confirmed in many hadiths; one of which says: ‘There will arise among my nation thirty liars, all of them claiming to be a prophet. But I am the final Prophet; there will be no prophet after me.’ [Muslim, no.2889; Abu Dawud, no.4252]

7. To Send Blessings (Salat) and Salutations of Peace (Salam) Upon Him: When telling us that Allah and His angels are constantly raising the rank, status and honour of the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Qur’an states the following: Allah and His angels send blessings upon the Prophet. O you who believe! Send blessings upon him and salute him with a worthy salutation. [33:56] The hadith literature records: ‘Whosoever invokes one blessing upon me, Allah will send ten blessings on him.’ [Muslim, no.384] And: ‘Those closest to me on the Day of Resurrection are those who invoke most blessings upon me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.484] And: ‘The miser is he who, whenever I am mentioned in his presence, does not invoke blessings upon me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3546]

As for what it means for Allah to “bless” or “send salat” on the Prophet, Abu’l-‘Aliyah, a famous tabi‘i, explained: ‘Allah’s salat is His extolling him to the angels; the angels’ salat is their supplication [for him].’2 The majoritarian view seems to be the one al-Tirmidhi records: ‘It is related from Sufyan al-Thawri and others from the people of knowledge that salåt of the Lord is His mercy, and salat of the angels is their seeking forgiveness for him.’3

Hence Allah blesses the Prophet by the constant effusion of mercy descending upon him; such divine mercy referring to: light, knowledge, revelation, support, protection, swift response to prayers, exalting in rank and nearness to Him, honourable mention of him, as well as other things that only Allah and His Beloved know. The angels bless the Prophet by praying for him and supporting him. The believers, by invoking Allah’s blessings upon him. As for salutations (salam), it is praying for protection, safety and peace upon him.

In conclusion: May Allah send blessings and peace upon our Prophet whenever his name is mentioned by those who may remember him, or neglected by those who are heedless of him. May Allah bless him among the first and the last of generations with the most favourable, most abundant and purest blessings that He has bestowed upon any of His creation. For, as the venerable Imam al-Shafi‘i has written, ‘no blessing, be it seen or unseen, has ever descended on us by which we gained spiritual or temporal gain, or by which spiritual or temporal harm was repelled, except that Muhammad, upon whom be peace, was the reason for it; the leader to its goodness; director to its guidance; protector from its destruction and evil that oppose righteousness; warner against what brings ruin; ever ready with sincere advice for guidance and warning. So may Allah’s blessings be upon him and his family, as His blessings are upon Abraham and his family. Indeed You [Allah] are Praiseworthy, Majestic.’4

1. Mukhtasar Shu‘ab al-Iman (Cairo: Maktabah al-Turath al-Islami, n.d.), 29.

2. Related by al-Bukhari as a Chapter Heading (bab) to hadith no.4797.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, as a gloss to hadith no.485.

4. Al-Risalah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, n.d.), 16-17.

The Prophet ﷺ and His Lovers

DoorBelieving men and women down the centuries have not just affirmed the Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood and teachings, they experienced him as an intimate and intensely beloved presence in their lives too. ‘None of you truly has faith,’ said the Prophet, peace be upon him, ‘until I become more beloved to him than his father, son and all of mankind.’1

The above hadith echoes the Qur’an in its following demand: Say: ‘If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribes, the wealth you have acquired, the trade you fear may slacken, and the homes you love are dearer to you than God and His Messenger and the struggle in His cause, then wait until God brings about His decision. God does not guide the corrupt.’ [9:24]

This deep sense of love and personal connection to the Prophet, peace be upon him, is generated and nurtured in many ways – the most obvious of these ways being through faithful and devoted emulation of him. The respected historian, acclaimed traditionist and authoritative Shafi‘i jurist, Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi (d.748H/1348CE) wrote about another of those ritual activities that nurtures a deep and abiding love for the Prophet. He wrote:

‘Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-Mun‘im related to us … that Ibn ‘Umar disliked touching the grave of the Prophet, peace be upon  him.

I [al-Dhahabi] say: he disliked it, for he thought it disrespectful. Ahmad b. Hanbal was once asked about touching the Prophet’s grave, peace be upon him, and about kissing it, and he saw nothing wrong in them: his son, ‘Abd Allah, related this from him.2

If it is said, ‘Why did the Companions not do this?’ We reply: Because they beheld him with their very eyes when he was alive; they delighted in his actual presence; they kissed his very hand; they almost fought each other over the remnants of his ablution water; they shared his blessed hair on the day of the Greater Pilgrimage; and even if he spat, it would virtually not fall except in somebody’s hand so that he could wipe it over his face.

Since we haven’t had the immense fortune of partaking in this, we throw ourselves on his grave as a mark of commitment, reverence and acceptance – even to kiss it. Don’t you see what Thabit al-Bunani did as he kissed the hand of Anas b. Malik and placed it on his face, saying: “This is the hand that touched the hand of God’s Messenger; peace be upon him”? Muslims are not moved to such acts except by an overwhelming love for the Prophet, peace be upon him. For they are called upon to love God and His Prophet, upon whom be peace, more than their ownselves, their children, humanity, their wealth, and even Paradise and its maidens. There are certain believers who even love Abu Bakr and ‘Umar more than their ownselves …

Don’t you see that the Companions, in their irrepressible love for the Prophet, peace be upon him, asked him: ‘Should we not prostrate to you?’ He replied: “No!” Yet if he had allowed them, they would have done so as a mark of reverence and respect, not as an act of worship – like how the brothers of Joseph prostrated to him. Likewise, some Muslims prostrating to the grave of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is with the intention of honour and reverence. One is not to be accused of disbelief at all because of it; although he is being disobedient. So let him be told that doing so is forbidden; as is the case of praying towards the actual grave.’3

So a true believer’s love for the Prophet, peace be upon him, as deep and profound as it is, should never manifest itself in a way contrary to the rulings of the shari‘ah, or to its adab; its etiquettes and courtesies. Object we may to quantifying love as excessive, for how can one ever love God’s Beloved enough or too much? But object we must if such love is expressed incorrectly or inappropriately. Imam al-Dhahabi takes up the matter elsewhere:

‘One who visits the Prophet’s grave, may God shower him with peace, and oversteps the adab in his visitation, or prostrates to the grave, or does something else that is not prescribed by the shari‘ah, then such a person has done good and bad. He must thus be gently taught; and God is indeed Forgiving, Merciful. By God! A Muslim is not brought to this state of sorrow and lamentation, to kissing the walls [of the chamber], or to weeping profusely, except that he loves God and His Messenger – love of him being a distinctive hallmark between the dwellers of Paradise and those of Hell.’4

1. Al-Bukhari, no.15; Muslim, no.70.

2. For a fuller account of Imam Ahmad’s position on the issue, see my previous posting on this blog: Yearning for the Prophet, footnote no.5.

3. Mu‘jam al-Shuyukh (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1990), no.58.

4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 18:105.

Yearning for the Prophet ﷺ

Madina596x1024The Prophet said, peace be upon him: ‘Among those of my nation (ummah) that most fervently love me will be a people who shall come after me, and who would give up their family and property in exchange for being able to see me.’1

The lady ‘A’ishah related: A man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, saying: “O God’s Messenger, I love you more than myself, my wife and children. When I am at home and remember you, I cannot wait to come and gaze at you. Though when I remember my death and your death, I know that when you enter Paradise, you will be raised-up with the Prophets. But even if I enter Paradise, I am afraid I will never see you.’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not answer him until the following was sent down to him: Whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, they are with those whom Allah has favoured, of the Prophets, the highest saints, the martyrs and the righteous. They are the best of company. [4:69]’2

Less than half a century later, the successor (tabi‘i), ‘Abidah al-Salmani, was once told that: We have in our possession a strand of hair of the Prophet, peace be upon him, by way of Anas b. Malik. To this he said: ‘That I possess a lock of his hair is more beloved to me than all the gold and silver on the face of the earth.’3

To this lover’s sigh, Imam al-Dhahabi went on to passionately say: ‘This utterance of ‘Abidah is a benchmark for perfect love, which is his preferring a strand of prophetic hair to all the gold and silver that people may possess. This statement from this Imam was said fifty years after the Prophet, upon whom be peace. So what should we say in our time if we were to ever find a lock of his hair reliably confirmed, or a thong from his sandal, or some of his nail clippings, or shards of a cup from whence he drank? If a wealthy person were to spend the greater part of his wealth in acquiring any of these things, would you think him a spendthrift or foolish? Never! So spend what you have in visiting his Mosque which he built with his own hands; and send salutations on him at his Chamber in his City; and cherish the sight of Uhud, and love it as your Prophet, peace be upon him, loved it; and revive yourself by spending time in his Garden where he sat. For you shall not be a true believer until this master becomes more beloved to you than even yourself, your children, your wealth, and the whole of humanity.’4

In his extensive biographical notice on Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Dhahabi feels the need to take-up the subject matter again; but this time with a degree of what may be described as “a lover’s ire”. He writes:

‘‘Abd Allah b. Ahmad said: “I saw my father take a strand of hair of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and put it to his lips and kiss it. I believe I saw him place it over his eyes too. He also dipped it into some water and drank the water, seeking a cure thereby. I saw him take the Prophet’s bowl, peace be upon him, rinse it in water and then drink from it. I saw him drinking Zamzam water seeking a cure thereby, wiping his hands and his face with it.” I say: Where is the extremist critic of Imam Ahmad now? For it is authentically confirmed from ‘Abd Allah that he once asked his father about those that touch the pommel of the Prophet’s pulpit, peace be upon him, and touch the Prophet’s chamber. He said: “I see no problem in it.” So may God protect us and you from the views of the Khawarij and from innovations.’5

Nor is it just human souls that yearn for the Prophet, upon whom be peace. In a well-known and mass-transmitted (mutawatir) hadith, we are told that the Prophet, peace be upon him, initially delivered his Friday sermons while leaning against the stump of a date-palm tree. When a pulpit was made for him, however, he addressed the people from that. It was during the first sermon from the pulpit that the tree stump wept at being seperated from the Prophet, peace be upon. ‘So the Prophet, peace be upon him, came to it and put his hand on it, whereupon it calmed down.’6 In other version, the Prophet, peace be upon him, remarked: ‘It weeps at the rememberance of what it has lost.’7 Another wording states: ‘Had he not put his arms around it and embraced it, it would have continued to grieve until the Day of Resurrection.’8

Let us end with a remark made by a peerless scholar and leading pietist of early Islam: al-Hasan al-Basri. Whenever he related the hadith about the tree stump, he too would weep and would say: ‘O servants of God! The stump of the date-palm tree wept for the Messenger of God, out of a longing to be with him. You should have a greater yearning to meet him.’9

So for this, let lovers pine and yearners weep!

1. Muslim, no.2832.

2. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya’, 8:125;. Shaykh Ahmad Shakir declared it to be sahih in ‘Umdat al-Tafsir ‘ani’l-Hafiz Ibn Kathir (Mansurah: Dar al-Wafa, 2005), 1:537.

3. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 4:42.

4. ibid., 4:42.

5. ibid., 11:212. Touching or kissing the Prophet’s blessed grave is not the authoritative (mu‘tamad) view in the Hanbali madhhab. The relied upon view is that it is preferred not to do so. Al-Mardawi, whose significance will not be lost on those familiar with the Hanbali school and its authoritative references, quotes Imam Ahmad as saying: ‘The people of knowledge never used to touch it.’ He then states: ‘It is preferred not to touch the grave according to the soundest view of the school.’ Al-Insaf fi Ma‘rifat al-Rajihi min al-Khilaf (Beirut: Dar al-Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1957), 4:53. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1998), 5:468, stipulated: ‘It is preferred not to touch the walls of the Prophet’s grave, peace be upon him, nor to kiss it. Ahmad said: I do not know this.’ As for the view that permits touching the grave, it is recorded in Ibn Muflih, al-Mubdi‘ (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1980), 2:281; and Mar‘i b. Yusuf, Ghayat al-Muntaha (Riyadh: al-Mu’assasah al-Sa‘idiyyah, n.d.), 1:259.

6. Ibn Majah, no.1414; al-Tirmidhi, no.3627, who said it is hasan sahih.

7. Al-Bukhari, no.917.

8. Ibn Majah, no.1415, and it is sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2174.

9. Cited in Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’ (Damascus: Maktabah al-Ghazali, 2000), 371; Dhahabi, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, 4:570.

Beholding the Prophet’s Status ﷺ

Masjid al-NabiMainstream, orthodox Islam (Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘ah) has long prided itself on preserving and transmitting the descriptions and distinctions of the blessed Prophet, peace be upon him. Tirmidhi’s much celebrated Shama’il, that depicts the beautiful attributes – physical and moral – of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is one such work in this heritage. Imam al-Bayhaqi’s Dala’il al-Nubuwwah, a seven volume anthology detailing the remarkable and extraordinary prophetic distinctions, is another gem. Also among the notable works in the genre is Qadi ‘Iyad’s unparalleded al-Shifa’, and also al-Suyuti’s al-Khasa’is. And the short, but sweet monograph of al-‘Izz b. ‘Abd al-Salam, Bidayat al-Sul counts as a veritable treasure-trove in this respect.

These anthologies and compendiums are filled with verses of the Qur’an and hadiths extoling and praising the Prophet, and proclaiming to the world his lofty status, rank and merit. The following paragraphs attempt to distill something of these virtues and distinctions, so that souls can know him and that hearts can be filled with love of him. Summarising such distinctions, however, is far from easy.

For what can be adequately said about the rank and station of someone by whom God Himself swears an oath: By your life, they wandered blindly in their drunkenness. [15:72]

Or what can be said of the one about whom God says: The Prophet has a greater claim over the believers than their ownselves. [33:6]

What can be said about one whose name, Muhammad actually means: “oft-praised” and whose name Ahmad means “most deserving of praise”1 and who, on the Day of Judgement, will possess the “Banner of Praise” around which all the other prophets shall rally. [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3615]

What can be said about the one whom the Qur’an announces is an excellent example [33:21] or whose is indeed a tremendous character [68:4], or who was depicted in these terms: man rahu badihatan habahu wa man khalatahu ma‘rifatan ahabbahu – ‘Whoever saw him unexpectedly was awestricken by him, but whoever came to know him, loved him.’2

What can be said about one who informed us: ‘My eyes sleep but my heart does not,’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3569] or who said: ‘Truly I am not like you, for my Lord sustains me with food and drink.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.1965; Muslim, no.1103]

What can be said of one who, on the Night of the Ascension (laylat al-isra’), the night of his crowning glory, actually passed the Lote Tree of the Furthest Boundary, [53:14] and then approached and came closer, till he was at two bows’ length or even nearer. [53:8-9]3

What can be said about the one to whom God said: ‘O Muhammad! Over what did the Highest Assembly of Angels dispute? I said: I do not know, O Lord. Then He put His hand between my shoulders and I felt its coolness in my chest, and knowledge of all things came to me and I then knew it.” [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3235] In another report, it says: ‘… and knowledge of whatever is between the heavens and earth came to me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3233] In another: ‘ … knowledge of all things between East and West came to me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3234]

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali states as part of his commentary to the first hadith: ‘It shows the Prophet’s rank and preeminence, peace be upon him, by him being given knowledge of what is in the heavens and on earth, and manifesting to him what the Angels in the heavens were vieing over – along with other things – just as Abraham was shown the kingdom (malakut) of the heavens and the earth.4 There occurs in a reports traceable to the Prophet, and another to a Companion, that he, peace be upon him, was given knowledge of all things, save the Key to the Five Unseen Matters – knowledge which God has kept to Himself – as in His words [31:34]: With God is knowledge of the Hour. He sends down rain and knows what is in the wombs. No soul knows what it will earn tomorrow and no soul knows in what land it will die. God is All-Knowing, Aware.’5

It goes without saying that these hadiths are taken to mean that God alone possesses knowledge of the unseen in the absolute sense (al-ghayb al-mutlaq). Yet He disclosed to our Prophet an unfathomable share of unseen knowledge in the relative sense (al-ghayb al-nisbi), as per the Quranic words: He [God] knows the unseen and does not reveal it to anyone, save to every messenger whom He has chosen. [72:26-7]

Again, what can be said about the one who shall be our saviour on Judgement Day. For on that day of great panic and fear, when mankind rushes to the prophets for them to intercede for judgement to commence, they will all be unsettled by their own ‘slips’ and shall say: nafsi, nafsi, nafsi – ‘Myself, myself, myself!’ Then they will come to the Prophet Jesus who shall say: ‘Go to Muhammad, whose past and future sins have been forgiven.’ Thus, when humanity presents itself to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, so as to intercede with God, he will say: ana laha, ana laha – ‘It is for me [to do], it is for me.’ [Al-Bukhari, no,.7510; Muslim, no.326]  Such is his station; his maqam!

What can be said about the one whose care and concern for his ummah’s well-being continues, even after his death. One hadith states: ‘My life is a great good for you, you will relate about me and it will be related to you. My death is a great good for you. For your actions shall be presented to me; if I see good, I shall praise God and if I see bad, I will seek forgiveness of Him for you.’6 Ibn Rajab said: ‘The actions of the ummah are presented to the Prophet in the Intermediate Realm (barzakh). So one should feel shy of presenting to His Prophet those deeds he has actually forbidden.’7

What can be said about one who is habibu’Llah – ‘God’s [most] beloved’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3620] and khalilu’Llah – ‘God’s intimate friend’. [Muslim, no.532]

What can be said of he who was commanded by His Lord to tell us: ana sayyidu waladi adam wa la fakhr – ‘I am the master of humanity, and that is no boast.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3148]

In fact, what can be said about the one who is not just humanity’s master, or the best of creation, but, as Ibn Rajab so eloquently put it: ‘he is the ultimate purpose behind the creation of the human race: its essence (‘aynuhu), its quintessence (khulasatuhu) and its very core (wasita ‘aqdihi).’8

1. Cf. Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma‘ad (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:87, 90.

2. These are the words of ‘Ali – as per al-Tirmidhi, no.3638, where he said: ‘The hadith is hasan gharib.

3. According to the Quranic commentators, this refers to the Prophet seeing (i) God, or (ii) the Angel Gabriel in his true form. See: Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 2002), 1361-62.

4. Cf. Qur’an 6:75.

5. ‘Ikhtiyarat al-Ula fi Sharh Hadith Ikhtsam al-Mala’ al-A‘la’, in al-Jami‘ al-Muntakhab min Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab (Riyadh: Dar al-Maw‘id, 1998), 26-7.

6. Al-Bazzar, Musnad, no.845. Its chain was graded sahih by al-‘Iraqi, Tarh al-Tathreeb (Beirut: Dar al-Ihya’ al-‘Arabi, n.d.), 3:97.

7. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 99.

8. Ibid., 89.

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