There is no one whose memory is better preserved in writing than the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Volumes have been written about his life. Numerous poems have been written in his praise. Countless gatherings throughout the ages have been devoted to the retelling of his life and his deeds.
In his life, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) knew the utmost strength and the most debilitating weakness, he knew the limits of happiness and grief. Yet, under all circumstances, he remained the best role-model. He was always constant in his devotion to his Lord.
For thirteen years, he held out in Mecca with almost no one heeding his call. He never complained. He never became disgruntled. His few followers would come to him complaining, asking him to beseech his Lord to help them. He swore to them that Allah would help His religion and told them that they were wrong for being impatient. And in the end, Allah fulfilled His promise, and it was a sign of Muhammad’s prophethood. It was a victory for Allah’s word, and not a personal triumph for any human being.
We can see this success in how the delegations from all the tribes of Arabia converged on him to give him their pledge of allegiance as Muslims. Even then, at his moment of triumph, his temperament did not change. He showed not an ounce of pride. He never came to his own defense when anyone assailed him or abused him or haughtily scoffed at the faith.
This is how enmity faded away, hatred came to an end, and everyone became reconciled once again. His enemies knew even before his friends that he was truly a prophet, and that he had no ulterior motives or personal ambitions. They were astonished by his easygoing nature, how he avoided making things difficult, and how he kept himself composed and balanced under all circumstances no matter what the difficulties were.
Most people, by nature, show their best at certain times. At other times or in other circumstances, they are unremarkable. They might be very good examples for some people, but not for everyone.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was different. He had time for everyone. He know how to speak to all people on their own level so they could understand him. He would be most kind and considerate to everyone, and was equally compassionate, as long as those people were not armed assailants coming to attack the faith.
He voiced no objection to any lawful food, no matter how plain. He would not disdain the humblest of seats. Everyone could sit in his company. He never turned anyone away nor criticized anything that was served to him. Nor would he pretentiously forbid himself a delicacy. He liked nice things, but did not demand them or seek after them.
His life story is an open book to everyone – to those who love him and those who would disparage him. His every feature is described to us, his manner of speaking, and even the way he gestured with his hands. His eating habits, sleeping habits, traveling habits, likes and dislikes are all duly recorded. His family life is described to us, the kinds of jokes he would tell, and how he behaved when he was serious.
Anyone who studies his biography today – 1400 years after his time – will know more about him than they know about the people they follow today who are living among them.
Anyone who reads his biography today will know more about him than most people know about their spouses or their closest of friends. The prophets of the past were less well known to their people during their lifetimes than Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is known to us today. The reason for this is that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is meant to be an example for all people in all aspects of their lives.
The head of state, the business executive, the scholar, the spouse, the parent, the educator, the rich, the poor… they all find in the Prophet (peace be upon him) a complete example to guide them in all the affairs of their lives. All of us, without exception, can take him as our role model regardless of what challenges we might face.
When we read about the lives of other great people, we can find they made some remarkable achievements and had some admirable traits. We find pious people who were steadfast in their worship, scholars who were devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, ascetics who eschewed the world – people whose lives seem too difficult or remote to be practical examples for us. When we read about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), we feel his life to be close to ours, someone we can easily emulate, someone whose impeccable virtues we can indeed inculcate into our own lives.
He taught his Companions: “This religion is easy. No one becomes harsh and strict in the religion without it overwhelming him. So fulfill your duties as best you can, and rejoice. Rely upon the efforts of the morning and the evening and a little at night and you will reach your goal.” [Sahîh al-Bukharî (6463) and Sahîh Muslim (2816)]
Those who wish to follow the path of guidance are best advised to study the Prophet’s life carefully, learn its lessons and adopt them in full.
Allah has given this unique and honored status to no one else. This is because Allah gathered within the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) the guidance of all the previous prophets whom He commanded humanity to follow. Allah says about the earlier Prophets ” Those were the (prophets) who received Allah’s guidance: so follow the guidance they received.” [Sûrah al-An`âm: 90]
Then Allah says specifically about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern of conduct for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day, and who engages much in the praise of Allah.” [Sûrah al-Ahzâb: 21]
Many Muslims manage to emulate the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the outward aspects of worship and follow him, for instance, in their manner of performing their prayers and in observing their pilgrimage rites. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Pray as you have seen me praying.” He also said: “Take from me your pilgrimage rites.”
They also emulate the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the etiquettes of entering and leaving a building and in the etiquettes of dress, and other similar matters.
This is part of what it means to follow the Prophet’s example, but it is certainly not all that it means, nor is it more important than other aspects of emulating the Prophet’s example. We must emulate our Prophet’s example in how we relate to our Lord – in our sincerity and devotion to Allah. We need to do so in how we judge ourselves and appraise our actions, and in how we love Allah, pin our hopes on Allah, and fear Allah. These matters are more worthy of our concern, though we may be less conscious about them because they are inconspicuous. People are naturally encouraged to vie in things which are visible, things which solicit the praise and esteem of others. This is unfortunately not the case for matters that are seen by Allah alone.
This is why sometimes a person will take so much care in emulating the Prophet’s conduct in an outward aspect of worship or an outward habitual act and exaggerate the matter so much that he actually deviates from what is enjoined upon him by Islam. At the same time, he neglects to contemplate on the wisdom behind that outward action or what effect it is supposed to have upon his character.
All of these matters – even those related to aspects of pure worship – are enjoined upon us for some benefit in this world or in the next. They are not merely an end in themselves, but rather a means to bring about an effect upon the person who puts them into practice – a positive effect that can be seen by that person and by others.
May Allah bless us to love our Prophet and follow his example in both outward and inward matters. May Allah gather us together with him along with the prophets, the righteous, and the foremost in faith. Indeed they are the best of company.