This affirmation is the gateway to Islam and the foundation of all that makes up the way of life of a Muslim. It tells first of Allah, the One, alone, without partner. All is dependent on Him. He is independent of everything. He is everywhere manifest and yet invisible. He is before past time. He is beyond endless time. And nothing bears any resemblance to Him. We have no access to the awesome Presence of the Divine Reality except through Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah.
This description of Muhammad is divided into three parts. One is historical, one is concerned with his character, and the other is about his essential nature.
Muhammad – may Allah bless him and grant him peace by the number of beautiful things and by the number of good qualities manifested by men from the beginning of time until the end of time – appeared, when alone, to be a man of medium height. But when he was with other people, he neither dwarfed those smaller than he, nor seemed shorter than those taller. He was well built with a broad chest and wide shoulders and his limbs were strong and well-proportioned. On his back, between his shoulder-blades, nearer the right than the left, was the seal of prophecy, a black mole surrounded by tiny hairs.
His face was oval-shaped and he had a white complexion with a hint of brown in it. His forehead was broad and he had very long arched eyebrows with a gap between them where there was a vein which pulsated in moments of strong feeling. His eyes were black and wide set. He had long heavy eyelashes. His nose was aquiline and his mouth and lips were beautifully formed. His teeth, of which to took great care, were well set and would flash brilliant white when he smiled or laughed. He had broad even cheeks and a full thick black beard which had in it, at the time of his death, seventeen white hairs. His face was framed by luxuriant black hair which fell in waves to between his ears and shoulders, and which he would sometimes plait and sometimes let hang free. The translucence of his face was such that his anger or pleasure shone directly through it. His neck was neither short nor long and was the colour of silver mixed with gold. His hands had the texture of satin with broad palms and long fingers and they exuded a sweet scent which lingered on the things that he touched. His feet were high arched and his gait was like a man who walks down a slope with speed and modesty.
He was mild-tempered and beautifully mannered in an environment accustomed to arrogant violence. He was never insulting and never looked down on illness or poverty.
He was mild-tempered and beautifully mannered in an environment accustomed to arrogant violence. He was never insulting and never looked down on illness or poverty. He honoured nobility and rewarded according to worth, giving each what was most fitting to his needs. He never paid homage to wealth and power, but called all those who came to him to the worship of Allah.
He would always be the first to greet whoever he met and would never be the first to withdraw his hand. He was endlessly patient with all who came to him for advice or help, not minding the ignorance of the uneducated nor the coarseness of the ill-bred. On one occasion, a Bedouin came to him asking for something and tugged so violently at his clothes that he ripped a piece right off. Muhammad laughed and gave the man what he wanted.
It was one of his qualities that he had time for all who needed him. He showed regard for his visitors to the point of giving up his own place or spreading his cloak for them to sit on; and if they refused, he would urge them until they accepted. He gave all his guests his complete attention so that all without exception felt that they were the most honoured.
Of all men, he was the least prone to anger and the most ready to be pleased. The mistakes of his companions were not mentioned and he never blamed or reviled anyone. His servant Anas was with him for ten years and not once in all that time did Muhammad take him to task even by so much as asking why he had not done something. He loved to hear good things about his companions and regretted their absence. He visited the sick even in the parts of Madina that were furthest from his house and the most difficult to get to. He attended feasts and accepted the invitations of slaves and free men alike. He accompanied funeral processions and prayed over the graves of his companions. Wherever he went he walked unguarded, even among people who were known to be unfriendly to him.
He had a powerful melodious voice and, although he was silent for long periods at a time, he would always speak when the occasion demanded. When he spoke, he was extraordinarily eloquent and precise, and his sentences were beautifully constructed and so cohesive that those who heard them – whoever they were – could easily understand and remember his words. He would speak sweetly and playfully when he was with his wives; and with his companions he was the most smiling and laughing of men, admiring what they said and joining in with them. He was never angry for himself or for any matter connected with this world, but when he became angry for the sake of Allah, nothing whatever could stand in his way. When he directed someone to a place, he would point with his whole hand. When he was pleased with something, he turned his palms up. When he was speaking, he placed his palms together, When he talked to someone, he would turn with his whole body towards them. Whatever he did, he would do it to the full.
He once went on giving sheep to a Bedouin who kept asking for more until they filled a valley between two mountains and the man was overwhelmed.
His generosity was such that whenever he was asked for anything he was never known to say no. He once went on giving sheep to a Bedouin who kept asking for more until they filled a valley between two mountains and the man was overwhelmed. He would never go to bed until all the money in his house had been distributed to the poor and he would frequently give away from his year’s store of grain, so that he and his family would be without before the year was up. He used to ask people about their needs without them coming to him and would give them what they wanted. As he was generous with his few possessions, so he was generous with himself, giving unceasingly, advice, help, kindness, and forgiveness, and overflowing love.
He loved poverty and was continually to be found with the poor. His life was as simple as possible. He always sat on the ground, and often when he was with his companions he would sit in the last row so that visitors could not distinguish him among them. He ate from a dish on a cloth on the ground and never used a table. He slept on the ground on a mat of palm fibre, the marks of which showed on his skin, though he did not refuse more comfort if it was offered to him.
He and his family would frequently go hungry and there were months at a stretch when no smoke would rise from his or his wives’ houses because they had only dates and water and no food to cook or oil for the lamps. But on other occasions, when food was available, he ate well. He said that the best meal was the one with the most hands eating it. He never criticised food. If he liked it, he ate it, and if he didn’t, he left it.
He used to tie up the male camel and feed the animals used for carrying water. He swept his room, soled his shoes, patched his clothes, milked the ewe, ate with his slaves, and dressed them as he dressed himself, and carried what he bought from the market place to his house. He said, “O Allah, make me live and die and be raised up with poor,” and at his death, he left not a dinar nor dirham.
He would wear whatever was at hand, provided it was lawful, though he particularly liked green and white garments. When he wore a new garment, he would give an old one away. Sometimes he would wear coarse wool. He had a striped cloak from the Yemen of which he was particularly fond. He loved perfumes and would buy the best that were available. The only possessions of which he was particularly fond and of which he took great care were his words, his bow and his armour, which he used fearlessly and frequently in the expeditions which he led.
He was the perfect example to his community, both of how they should be in regard to each other and the world, and also of how they should be with their Lord, the Creator of the Universe.
Above all, it was through him that the Qur’an was revealed and his whole life was a continual manifestation of his teachings. He was the perfect example to his community, both of how they should be in regard to each other and the world, and also of how they should be with their Lord, the Creator of the Universe. He showed them how to purify themselves and how and when to prostrate before Allah. He showed them how and when to fast. He showed them how and when to give. He showed them how to fight in the Way of Allah. He led them in prayer and prostrated alone during the night until his feet became swollen. When he was asked why, he said, “Should I not be a thankful slave?” He had a prayer for every action and he would never rise nor sit without mentioning Allah. All his actions were performed with the intention of pleasing his Lord. He taught his community everything that would bring them closer to Allah and warned them against everything that would distance them from Allah.
He inspired love and awe in all who met him and his companions loved and revered him more than their families, their possessions, and more even than themselves. His close companion and friend Abu Bakr as-Siddiq once put his foot in a hole where there was a snake which bit him, rather than disturb his beloved Prophet who was asleep at the time. His son-in-law and nephew ‘Ali risked being murdered in his place, and there are many more accounts of the devotion he inspired among those who followed him. The unanimity of reaction of those closest to him and the description of him which has come down to us from them show a man of such perfection of character that there can remain no doubt about the truth of the message and guidance which he brought – the Way of Islam. His Lord said of him in the Qur’an: “We have created you on a vast self-form,” and he said, “I have come to perfect good character.” It is this that is the goal and result of following the Way of the Seal of the Prophets, the final Messenger, the Slave of his Lord, Muhammad.
by Abdalhaqq Bewley
This article first appeared on Aisha Bewley’s website