The noble Messenger (pbuh) was born in the month of Rabi al-Awwal, that we are currently in and will end in about a week’s time. His early life was marked by successive tragedies. He came into this world an orphan. His father, Abdullah ibn Abd al-Muttalib, had gone with a trade caravan out of Makkah but he died while away. His young mother, Amina, looked after the infant but she too left this earthly abode when the young Muhammad (pbuh) was barely six years old. Taken into the loving care of his elderly grandfather, Abd al Muttalib also left this dunya within two years. These successive tragedies at young age had a deep impact on the young boy whom Allah (swt) was preparing for weighty speech to be placed upon his frail human shoulders.
Muhammad (pbuh) grew up in a society steeped in Jahiliyyah (primitive savagery in the words of the noble Qur’an [48:26]). Much like today, the Makkan society was hierarchical; the rich and powerful exploited the poor and weak. Slavery was rampant and female infanticide was common. It was in this environment that Allah chose His final messenger for humanity: Muhammad (pbuh). Islam’s message was and remains universal even if initially it was communicated only to the people of Makkah. The noble Qur’an says:
“[He has sent] an apostle who conveys unto you Allah’s clear messages so that He might lead those who have made a firm commitment [to Allah] and do righteous deeds, out of the depths of darkness into the light.” (65:11)
Thus, Islam’s primary purpose is to take people out of darkness and into light, i.e., bring them into conformity with the Laws of Allah.
We must also develop a clearer understanding of the role of Prophets and Messengers. They were sent not merely to communicate the message but also strive to implement it in society so that people would have the wherewithal to deal with each other on the basis of equity, fairness and justice. All the Prophets of Allah struggled to do so but unfortunately, the vast majority were unsuccessful not because there was anything wrong with their message but because the people they were sent to refused to accept it. Some Prophets were killed while many others were exiled.
The fact that most of the Prophets were rejected did not negate the validity of their message. Legitimacy is conferred by Allah; it cannot be taken away even if it is rejected. Truth’s validity is not contingent upon the majority. True, its implementation requires the support of the majority because only then can power and authority be acquired by just leadership.
The struggle between Haqq (truth) and baatil (falsehood), and between justice and injustice, continued until the advent of the last and final Messenger, Muhammad (pbuh). It will continue until the end of time. As a Messenger sent to all humanity (7:158), his message was and is universal. And Muhammad (pbuh) was also the most successful in implementing the message, transforming the jahili society of Arabia into the most upright human beings during his own lifetime. His prophetic mission spanned a period of 23 years. By then, an Islamic State had emerged not only in Madinah where it originated but had taken the entire Arabian Peninsula into its fold.
After the Prophet (pbuh) left this earthly abode, his followers (the committed Muslims), now equipped with divine guidance and inspired by his exemplary character, spread the message of Islam to virtually the entire world in a very short period of time. Islam gave the world a civilization that lasted nearly 1,000 years.
What led to this phenomenal success both at the ideological and worldly levels? It certainly cannot be attributed to preponderance of manpower, weapons or material. For much of early Islamic history and even later, relatively small numbers of Muslims overwhelmed much larger forces in almost every encounter. The struggle, however, was not only on the battlefield; it was the quality of message with its emphasis on fairness and justice as well as the upright character of Muslims that inspired others to enter the fold of Islam. This character was forged in the anvil of the Prophetic Sunnah (life-example) and Seerah (life-history) offering guidance in every field of human endeavor.
The exercise of authority and power in what is commonly referred to as politics also needs clarification. With taghut in control of the world including much of the Muslim world, many people have come to assume that power and authority are undesirable goals and honest people should stay away from politics. Islam is not against power and authority per se. It has provided clear guidelines for their exercise to ensure justice and equity in society. The rich are not free to exploit the poor, nor are the powerful permitted to oppress the weak. Those in positions of power and authority must operate within the framework of Allah’s power and authority.
This is what the noble messenger (pbuh) demonstrated through practical example when he achieved absolute power in the Arabian Peninsula. In a striking example of his rahmah (mercy), he forgave his vanquished Makkan foes upon the liberation of Makkah in the 8th year of the Hijrah. When we consider that the Makkan chiefs had plotted to kill him necessitating escape from the city of his birth and then waged multiple wars against him, he chose not to seek revenge. Instead, he forgave them all demonstrating his supreme quality of mercy. Allah (swt) Himself has described him as “a mercy to all the worlds” (92:102?).
Human beings are Allah’s representatives on earth who must live and govern according to the Laws of Allah, that are based on justice and fairness. He knows what is best for us. That is why the Qur’an reminds us:
“Indeed, [even aforetime] did We send Our apostles with all evidence of [this] truth; and through them We bestowed revelation from on high, and [thus gave you] a balance [wherewith to weigh right and wrong], so that men might behave with equity…” (57:25).
It is to achieve this balance in society that Allah sent a large number of apostles culminating with the last and final messenger, Muhammad (pbuh). Islam’s social and political order forbids the kind of exploitation and injustices that ravage the world today. This is what the final messenger of Allah achieved during his lifetime. It did not come easy; he faced many challenges but he persisted and persevered until Allah crowned his efforts with success.
As Muslims celebrate the Mawlid (birthday of the noble Messenger (pbuh)) during this month, they should keep in mind his upright character, the many challenges he faced and surmounted, to ultimately established the Islamic State in Madinah. The State’s power and authority are essential for establishing a just social order in society. It is to this aspect that sincere Muslims must devote their attention. Reciting na‘ats and nasheeds and distributing or eating halwa may sooth our conscience but will not bring about the desired change in the world which is the primary function of a committed Muslims.