Muhammad on Muhammad¶
The twenty-eighth book pertains to the ‘Excellent Qualities of the Prophet’ (KitAb al-FazA’il).
The book opens with the Prophet’s own self-estimation. ‘Verily Allah granted eminence to KinAn from amongst the descendants of IsmA’il and He granted eminence to the Quraish amongst KinAns and He granted eminence to BanU HAshim amongst the Quraish and He granted me eminence from the tribe of BanU HAshim’ (5653).
‘I recognize the stone in Mecca which used to pay me salutations before my advent as a Prophet and I recognize that even now’ (5654). So it seems that a stone can pay but not receive salutations. Idolatry in reverse.
‘I shall be preeminent among the descendants of Adam on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first intercessor and the first whose intercession will be accepted’ (5655).
Muhammad uses an effective simile to show the difference between himself and the five or six Apostles that he recognized as having preceded him. The religion of the other apostles is like a building ‘imposing and beautiful’ but for one brick. ‘I am that final brick,’ he says (5673-5676). With his coming, the edifice of religion becomes perfect, and there is no room or use left for any future prophet. ‘I have come to finalize the chain of Apostles,’ he says (5677). With him the old religions are abrogated and the possibility of any new one is exhausted. So any new religion or revelation must be a mischievous innovation.
Muhammad uses another simile to characterize three types of people who receive his message, which itself is like ‘rain falling upon the earth.’ The first are like ‘a good piece of land which receives the rainfall eagerly’ and produces ‘herbage and grass abundantly.’ These people absorb the message of the Prophet and develop understanding about it and become a source of benefit to others. The second ones are like a ‘land hard and barren,’ which itself grows nothing but retains water for the benefit of others. These people have no deep understanding of the message but ‘acquire knowledge of religion and impart it to others.’ The third type is like a barren land which neither absorbs nor retains the rainwater. These people do not ‘accept the guidance of Allah with which I [Muhammad] have been sent’ (5668).
In yet another simile, Muhammad tells the believers that while he is trying to save them from the hellfire, they are rushing headlong into it. ‘My example and your example is that of a person who lit the fire and insects and moths begin to fall in it and he would be making efforts to take them out, and I am going to hold you back from fire, but you are slipping from my hand’ (5672).
The Names of Muhammad¶
A little further in the book, Muhammad says: ‘I am Muhammad and I am Ahmad, and I am al-MAhI [the obliterator] by whom unbelief would be obliterated and I am HAshir [the gatherer] at whose feet mankind will be gathered, and I am ‘Aqib [the last to come] after whom there will be no prophet.’ He is also MuqaffI (the last in succession), and also the Prophet of Repentance as well as the Prophet of Mercy (5810-5813).
The statement will have Vedantic echoes for some ears; and many Hindus, predisposed to find ‘synthesis’ and not caring whether it is a false one, may seize on this hadIs to ‘prove’ that Vedantism and Prophetism are the same. But in fact the two approaches are widely apart in spirit.
Muhammad at the Heavenly Cistern¶
We learn from thirty-three ahAdIs (5680-5712), on Muhammad’s own assurance, that he will be at the Cistern in heaven waiting to receive his followers. ‘I shall be there ahead of you at the Hauz Kausar,’ he tells them (5712). The Hauz Kausar, or Cistern, is a great water reservoir in Paradise, requiring ‘a month’s journey to go around it’ (5684).
All the followers of Muhammad will be presented to him here except those who disobeyed the Prophet and made ‘innovations’ in his religion. According to some authorities quoted by the translator, these are the people ‘who turned apostates after the death of the Holy Prophet and were killed by the army of Hazrat AbU Bakr’ (note 2630).
A Prophet’s Double Role¶
When an ummah is safe from the wrath of God, He calls back his Messenger as ‘a harbinger and recompense in the world to come.’ But when God intends to cause destruction to an ummah, He punishes it through His living Apostle. Allah ‘destroys it [the Ummah] as the Apostle witnesses it and he cools his eyes by destruction as they had belied him and disobeyed his command’ (5679).
The book also tells us what Muhammad’s followers thought of him. It gives many ahAdIs on this subject, many of them by Anas, who was the Prophet’s servant for nine or ten years. He found Muhammad most valorous, most courageous, ‘sublimest among people and the most generous amongst them and he was the bravest of men’ (5715-5717).
‘Aisha, however, tells us that whenever the Prophet ‘had to choose between two things he adopted the easier one, provided it was no sin’ (5752).
Muhammad gave freely from his war booty not only to his followers but also to other important chiefs to ‘incline’ them to Islam. This was called his charitable disposition. Anas says that the Prophet never failed to give when ‘asked for anything in the name of Islam.’ A person came and Muhammad gave him a large flock of sheep and goats. ‘He went back to his people and said: My people, embrace Islam, for Muhammad gives so much charity as if he has no fear of want’ (5728). Anas adds that this man ‘embraced Islam for the sake of the world but later he became Muslim until Islam became dearer to him than the world’ (5729).
Another hadIs tells us that after he was granted a victory at Hunain by Allah, the Prophet gave one hundred camels to SafwAn b. Ummaya. He then gave him another hundred and yet another hundred. The man was overwhelmed. ‘He [Muhammad] was the most detested person amongst people in my eyes. But he continued giving to me until now he is the dearest of people to me,’ the recipient said (5730).
Muhammad’s promises of booty were fulfilled even posthumously. He promised someone: ‘In case we get wealth from Bahrain, I would give you so much.’ The Prophet died before the wealth arrived from Bahrain, but when it did, AbU Bakr gave the man a handful of coins. ‘He asked me to count them. I counted them as five hundred dinars and he [AbU Bakr] said: Here is double of this for you,’ the beneficiary tells us (5731).
Even prophets are not above using material inducements to win converts. ‘Do not be angry, for I give property to the MUlfat QulUb,’ Muhammad tells his faithful followers, according to a tradition quoted in Mirkhond’s Persian biography of the Prophet. This is done in order ‘to rivet their hearts to faith’ more securely. The mUlfat qulUb are nominal Muslims, or what Mahatma Gandhi calls in another context ‘rice Christians’; they are convinced by more palpable economic and political advantages. In their new mission work in India and other countries of Asia and Africa, the oil-rich sheikhs are following a holy and hoary tradition.
Rob Peter to pay Paul. In the prophetic theology both acts are meritorious. One is called jihAd, the other sadaqa, or charity.
The Prophet’s Bodily Characteristics: Fragrance¶
There are many ahAdIs about the Prophet’s bodily characteristics: his face, appearance, complexion, hair, eyes, and even heels.
The Prophet’s body was soft. Anas ‘never touched brocade or silk and found it as soft as the body of Allah’s Messenger’ (5759). His perspiration ‘shone like pearls.’ His body was also fragrant. Anas ‘never smelt musk or ambergris and found its fragrance as sweet as the fragrance of Allah’s Messenger’ (5760). His mother collected the Prophet’s sweat in a bottle. She told Muhammad: ‘That is your sweat which we mix in our perfume and it becomes the most fragrant perfume’ (5761).
The Prophet’s Appearance¶
Al-BarA says that Muhammad was ‘neither very tall nor shortstatured’ (5771). He also found his face very handsome. ‘He put on a red mantle over him, and never have I seen anyone more handsome than Allah’s Apostle’ (5770).
The Prophet’s Hair¶
There are many ahAdIs on the Prophet’s hair. The hair grew in the lobes of his ears. He used to part his hair. Ibn ‘AbbAs says the following on the subject: ‘The People of the Book [Jews and Christians] used to let their hair fall on their forehead and the polytheists used to part it on their heads, and Allah’s Messenger liked to conform his behaviour to the People of the Book in matters in which he received no command from God; so Allah’s Messenger let fall his hair upon his forehead, and then he began to part it after this’ (5768).
That the Prophet reverted to the ways of the polytheists after following the Jewish practice shows, according to the translator, that a revelation was involved in the matter. Furthermore, to him the hadIs is a ‘clear proof of the fact that Allah’s Messenger received wahy [revelation] from the Lord, in addition to what is contained in the QurAn, and he acted according to it’ (note 2639).
Muhammad had some white hair but he did not dye it; AbU Bakr and ‘Umar, younger than he, dyed their hair ‘with pure henna’ (5779-5789).
His hair was collected. Anas reports that when the Prophet ‘got his hair cut by the barber, his Companions came round him and they eagerly wanted that no hair should fall but in the hand of a person’ (5750).
The Seal of Prophethood¶
His followers believed that Muhammad carried the ‘seal of prophethood’ even physically as a protuberance on his back. ‘Abdullah b. Sarjis says that he ‘saw the seal of Prophethood between his shoulders on the left side of his shoulder having spots on it like moles’ (5793). Another man, JAbir, also saw it ‘on his back as if it were a pigeon’s egg’ (5790).
Physical Changes Under the Influence of Wahy¶
According to ‘Aisha, when a revelation descended upon Muhammad, ‘his forehead perspired’ (5764). According to UbAda, under its influence, the ‘colour of his face underwent a change’ (5766), and his head was lowered (5767). Muhammad himself says that at times wahy ‘comes to me like the ringing of a bell and that is most severe for me. . . . and at times an Angel in the form of a human being comes to me and speaks. . . . ‘ (5765). The reference is to Dihya KalbI, a young follower of his of striking beauty. In fact, Umm Salama, Muhammad’s wife, once saw Gabriel talking to Muhammad and mistook the angel for Dihya KalbI (6006).
Muhammad was commissioned as a prophet by Allah when he was forty years old; and he died at the age of sixty-three (5794-5798). He stayed in Medina for ten years (5799-5809).
The Prophet Had the Best Knowledge¶
The Prophet had the best knowledge, and therefore it was obligatory for the believers to follow him obediently. Sometimes, Muhammad did or said something that some of the Companions did not approve. When this reaction was conveyed to the Prophet, he stood up and delivered an address: ‘What has happened to the people to whom there was conveyed on my behalf a matter for which I granted permission and they disapproved it and avoided it? By Allah, I have the best knowledge amongst them’ (5814).
The test of true faith in Allah is for the believer to submit willingly to every decision made by His Apostle. Once there was a dispute between Zubair and an ansAr. Muhammad gave his decision, but the ansAr openly said that it favored Zubair, who was the Prophet’s cousin-his father’s sister’s son. The Prophet’s color changed and Allah sent him this verse: ‘Nay, by the Lord, they will not really believe until they make thee a judge of what is in dispute among them, and find in this no dislike of what thou decidest and submit with full submission’ (QurAn 4:65; hadIs 5817).
But there is one hadIs, rather unusual, in which the Prophet strikes a more modest note. Muhammad once passed by as some people were grafting date-palm trees, i.e., combining the male with the female tree for a larger yield. Muhammad said: ‘I do not find it of any use.’ As a result, people no longer grafted their trees and the yield declined. When Muhammad, a practical man, learned this, he said: ‘If there is any use of it, then they should do it, for it was just a personal opinion of mine, and do not go after my personal opinion; but when I say to you anything on behalf of Allah, then do accept it, for I do not attribute lie to Allah, the Exalted and Glorious’ (5830).
This is the only instance of its kind but a godsend for Muslim reformers who seek the emancipation of secular thought from the clutches of the ulemas. I do not think this approach can go very far, but Muslim reformers and ‘innovators’ have to make the best of it.
The book also reports many miracles, mostly patterned after those of Jesus. A small quantity of water was brought to Muhammad, but when he placed his hand in the vessel, everyone was enabled to perform ablution. ‘I saw water spouting from his fingers and the people performing ablution until the last amongst them performed it,’ the irrepressible Anas tells us (5657). But he has two options to offer about the number of people seeking ablution. In one place, he tells us that their number was ‘between fifty and eighty’ (5656), in another three hundred (5658).
On another occasion, the Prophet gives someone half a wasq of barley. It sufficed him and his family and his guests till the curious one weighed it. ‘Had you not weighed it, you would be eating out of it and it would have remained intact for you,’ JAbir heard Muhammad telling him (5661).
On the battlefield, on the day of Uhud, Sa’d saw Gabriel and Michael on the right and left sides of the Prophet ‘in white clothes’ (5713-5714).
At the end of the book, there are ahAdIs on the ‘merits’ of other apostles like Jesus, Abraham, and Moses.
Muhammad’s world was not very large. He knew his own people, the tribes allied with them, the Arab Bedouins, the neighboring Jews and Christians. To the Jews and Christians, he offered his leadership, and in making that bid adopted some of their beliefs and practices and also gave recognition to their apostles. But when he failed in his bid, he made another use of these apostles-he used them against their own followers. What he spoke was not merely the voice of Allah but also the voice of all the apostles that had come before him. Therefore, those who did not believe in him did not in fact believe in their own apostles; and therefore they were as good as apostates.
Recognizing the other prophets, though on his own terms, served a still greater purpose. It provided him with an apostolic lineage. Speaking of himself and Jesus, Muhammad says: ‘Prophets are brothers in faith, having different mothers. Their religion is, however, one and there is no apostle between us [between Jesus and himself]’ (5836). Muhammad comes as the last of the apostles and abrogates all previous revelations.
AL-ZIMMA’ (People of the Covenant or Obligation)¶
Some ahAdIs on the ‘merits’ of Moses reveal an interesting fact: the zimmIs did not originate with ‘Umar but were already there in the time of the Prophet. The Jews were already second-class citizens and were treated roughly by the believer-hoodlums in Muhammad’s own day. For example, a Jew was selling goods; when an ansAr offered a price that was not acceptable to him, a dispute rose. During the dispute, the Jew said: ‘By Allah, Who chose Moses amongst mankind.’ The ansAr gave him a blow on the face, chiding him for invoking Moses when ‘Allah’s Messenger is living with us.’ The Jew went to Muhammad, narrated the whole story, and supplicated him, saying: ‘Abu’l-QAsim, I am a Zimmi [thus need your protection] by a covenant.’ Muhammad chided the ansAr and told him: ‘Don’t make distinction amongst the Prophets of Allah’ (5853-5854).
This is the liberalism we have found from Muhammad at his rare best. But he could not arrive at the still larger truth which declares: Don’t make a distinction between different ummahs, for they are all part of one human brotherhood; don’t make a distinction between different gods, for they all express the same Truth; don’t make a distinction between Allah and AllAt, for one is also the other. An exclusive concept of God leads to an exclusive concept of ummah. This is so with other religions of Semitic origin too, an attitude of either/or, seldom both.