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 give him peace by the number of created things from the beginning of the creation until the day that all things are effaced in the overpowering splendour of the Divine Majesty – said that his Lord said: “I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known and I created the universe so that I would be known.” It was the desire for self-knowledge expressed in the depths of the Essence of the Divine Unity that caused the beginning of the process of creation and led to the unfolding of the many layers of existence and all the forms contained in them including the earth with all its mineral, plant, and animal life. At a certain point, when the environment was completely prepared for it, a new creature was brought into existence – man. Until this event, all the different forms of existence had varying degrees of awareness, but man was given, by his Creator and Lord, the ability to recognise, not only his physical environment, but also that he was an inseparable part of One Reality which he perceived in himself and in everything around him. He was the summit and perfection of the whole creation and the means by which the “hidden treasure” could achieve His desire of complete self-knowledge.
Deep in the being of man is a secret breathed into him by his Lord which opens out onto the Majesty and Beauty of the Divine Unity. Muhammad said that his Lord said: “The whole universe cannot contain Me, but the heart of My trusting slave contains Me.” The Qur’an says: “We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it and man carried it. Surely he is wrong-acting, very foolish.” This wrong action and foolishness on the part of man led him to forget his true nature and to lose his awareness of the Divine Unity. He became more and more involved with the perception of his senses; and gradually, gave intrinsic reality to created forms. However, because of the Mercy inherent in the Divine Reality, men appeared among the different human communities to show them what had been lost and restore man to his true nature. These men, known as Prophets and Messengers, were created for this purpose alone; and although they were only men among men, they were from their birth blessed with unobscured perception of the Divine Reality and knowledge of how to live in harmony with the Lord of the Universe; while those around them floundered in the darkness of forgetfulness and increasing ignorance. These Prophets and Messengers brought for their communities the knowledge and direction they needed and served as examples for them, bringing them back to the worship and recognition of their Lord, the One Reality. They are the perfection of the human creature, unspoiled by their contact with this existence, constantly aware of the Presence of their Lord.
The Qur’an says: “Muhammad is not the father of anyone of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets.”
The first of them was the first man, Adam, and they continued to appear throughout the history of man of earth until the chain was completed with the coming of the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad. The Qur’an says: “Muhammad is not the father of anyone of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets.”
We have seen that the summit and fulfilment of the process of creation is in man. Although he was the last to appear, everything that preceded him was in preparation for him – the means by which the Lord of the Universe would come to know Himself. The desire for this self-knowledge was what brought about the whole unfolding of creation, and so the first idea became a reality in the final form. In man firstness and lastness are joined together. If you desire a fruit, you must first plant a tree and then wait for it to grow, blossom, and finally, to bear fruit. However, the idea of the fruit preceded the planting of the tree.
As we have said, the perfection of man was in the Prophets and Messengers who were the models and examples for the rest of mankind, and in whom the Divine Unity was most perfectly reflected. They correspond most closely to the original desire in the Divine Essence for self-revelation and are, therefore, the first beings in the unfolding of the creation. As lastness and firstness are combined in man, the last of creatures, so they are combined in Muhammad, the last of the Messengers. He said, illustrating this, “I was the first of the Prophets to be created and the last to deliver His message.” And he said: “I was a Prophet when my brother Adam was between water and clay.” And he said again: “When Allah desired to create the universe, He grasped a portion of His Light and said to it: ‘Be Muhammad!'”
Muhammad is the first point at which light emerges from the impenetrable, absolutely unknowable vastness of the Divine Essence. He is the first being in the unfolding of the creation of the universe. He is the screen through which the Divine Attributes flow into the rest of existence and great veil by which creation is protected from the overwhelming power of the Divine Majesty. He is the moon reflecting the undifferentiated light of the divine sun. He is the highest manifestation of the Names and the Attributes of Allah and the means by which they flow into the rest of the creation.
He is Muhammad, the son of ‘Abdullah, son of ‘Abdul-Muttalib, born in Makkah fifty-three years before the Hijra.
He is Muhammad, the son of ‘Abdullah, son of ‘Abdul-Muttalib, born in Makkah fifty-three years before the Hijra. He was given complete realisation of his incomparable station with the Lord of the Universe during the Mi’raj, the Night Journey, when he was taken up through the seven heavens to a point beyond the Lote Tree which marks the furthest limit at which even Jibril, the greatest of the angels, was forced to halt. From there he drew to within two bows’ lengths of his Lord and realised complete fulfilment and the stilling of every desire. This journey was his returning to the point from which he had come when he came into this existence, and was his discovering fully the depth and perfection of his own being – the pinnacle and pivot of creation and the purest manifestation of the Divine Beauty, Mercy, Generosity, and Balance. Because of his closeness to the Divine Essence, there being none closer than him, he has been given the name al-Habib, the Beloved.
But it must be remembered that, in spite of his incomparable station with the Creator of the universe, Muhammad is no more than a creature and is absolutely powerless in the face of his Lord, the One Who has no partner. He is the Messenger bringing to mankind the final and perfect Way which envelops and supersedes the teaching of all who came before him; he is, at the same time, absolutely a slave to his Creator, aware that all power and strength are from Him. For the Muslim, there can be no possibility of worshipping Muhammad, because the Lord is always the Lord and the slave can never be more than a slave, completely dependent upon his Creator, In fact, because of his nearness to the Divine Essence, Muhammad, more than any other creature, is aware of the absolute Power of his Lord and of his own total incapacity.
However, Muhammad – and his name means “worthy of praise” – has been given, by the Lord of the Universe, a place more exalted than that of any other creature, and all the Muslims are commanded to give him the honour due to his rank and to pray for blessings on him. The Qur’an says: “Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet. O who you believe, pray for peace and blessings on him.” Because of his position with Allah, by which all things are clothed in their existence, to bless him is to bless the whole of creation, and, because of the generous nature of the Divine Reality, the blessings are magnified back on to the one who utters them. Muhammad said: “He who blesses me once, Allah blesses him a hundred times. He who blesses me a hundred times, Allah blesses him a thousand times. And he who blesses me a thousand times, Allah forbids the Fire to touch his body.”
Muhammad is the nearest to Allah, the Beloved of Allah, the first overflowing of light from the Essence of Allah and therefore, the Way to Allah inevitably passes through him.
The nearness of Muhammad to his Lord and his understanding of his own ignorance before the Knower-of-all-things makes him the perfect vehicle for the revelation of the Divine Word in the Qur’an. This is why he is the Messenger, the Slave, and also the Unlettered Prophet. No knowledge can be attributed to him. All his knowledge is from Allah who alone knows the Unseen and the Visible. His position of perfect receptivity and total subservience to his Lord means that all his words and actions were in absolute harmony with the Divine Unity, and his message to mankind was therefore not only contained in the Qur’an, but was equally shown in the way that he lived and the things that he said during his life. The Muslim is instructed in the Qur’an: “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger.” Obedience to Muhammad is obedience to Allah. Love for Muhammad is love for Allah. And enmity to Muhammad is enmity to Allah. “He that hates you, he is the one cut off.” Muhammad is the one who is completely given up to his Lord. By listening to and acting upon his words, by emulating his behaviour and by increasing in love for him, the Muslim hopes for closeness to him, for closeness to him is closeness to his Lord. By drawing nearer to Muhammad, a man draws nearer to Allah.
It is Muhammad, the greatest of the creation in the eyes of the Lord of the Universe, who will intercede for all his fellow creatures on the Day of Reckoning when all are called to account for their actions in this existence. On that day when “he who has done an atom’s weight of good will see it, and he who has done an atom’s weight of wrong will see it.” He, of all beings, has been given the most generosity and compassion and, because he is the Beloved of his Lord, all who have even the tiniest grain of true belief in their hearts will be removed from torment and given bliss.
Muhammad is the nearest to Allah, the Beloved of Allah, the first overflowing of light from the Essence of Allah and therefore, the Way to Allah inevitably passes through him. On his Night Journey, he travelled through the seven heavens to the depths of his being and the Presence of his Lord, and returned to tell all men of the Way that leads to the Lord of the Universe. That Way is available to all who wish to follow it. All who make this journey to discover their true nature will find that the Way to the Divine Reality in the depths of their hearts is the Way of the Seal of the Prophets, the final Messenger, the Slave of his Lord, Muhammad.
No description of Muhammad, however detailed or well-researched, can convey who he really is. His perfections are beyond numbering and even the greatest poets among those who love him end by admitting the impossibility of praising him enough. If you want real knowledge of Muhammad, you must look to the people who have given themselves up to following his example in every aspect of their life. In them you will see something of the inner quality and luminosity of Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. From them you can learn the way of Islam, the path of submission that leads to peace.
by Abdalhaqq Bewley
This article first appeared on Aisha Bewley’s website