Human condition is characterized by change and volatility. The passage of time and change of generations causes us to forget lessons, dilute principals and sometimes abandon the very sources of our civilizational advances. To restore to mankind this lost heritage, God instructs us through authorized messengers and teachers whose character, courage and determination are unparalleled. These messengers, known in the Islamic terminology as rasool and nabi, have appeared in every age and nation.
The last one among them, Muhammad, may peace be upon him, was born in the late sixth century Arabia, according to popular tradition on the 12th day of third month of the Islamic calendar, Rabi’ul Awwal. For many Muslims, this is a day of joy and remembrance, popularly observed as Eid Miladun Nabi, the festival of the Prophet’s birth, when he is remembered and his life, teachings and his deep concern for human welfare is recounted.
Born in a noble family of Makkah, the Prophet’s father passed away before his birth and mother in his infancy. The orphaned child was brought up by his uncle. In young age he took to herding sheep and later learnt principles of trade. His honesty and integrity brought him at the age of 25, a marriage proposal from a widow 15 years his senior whose business he was in charge of. This he accepted.
Deeply pained by the ignorance, superstition and idolatry of the then Arabian society, he would retreat to a cave for meditation and reflection. It was here at the age of forty that he received the first in a series of divine messages which changed his life and revolutionized the world in 23 years thence. These messages are available to us in the authenticated book called the Qur’an.
Renewing the message of his predecessors, he counselled people to abandon superstition and idolatry and gave them a conception of God that was simple, imageless and without mediators. He informed people of the futility of materialistic pursuits while admonishing them to keep away from asceticism. He told them about the transient and illusory nature of this world and an eternal life after death. Their condition in that life would be determined by their beliefs and actions in this life.
His message brought back a ray of hope to the slaves, the women and other weak sections; hope that they had long abandoned. Social methods of atonement of sins were advised – miss a fast feed the hungry, commit a sin free a slave. Women were given inheritance rights and remarriage after being divorced or widowed was encouraged.
Slowly but surely people around Muhammad began to notice the beauty and pragmatism of the divine principles and his teachings, and began to accept him as the messenger of God that he was. However, his foes, whose power and status were at stake due to the principles of equality that he was teaching, began to trouble him.
When the persecution became unbearable, he and his followers, called Muslims, literally, those that submit themselves to the will of God, chose to migrate from his native town of Makkah to Madinah. The people of Madinah accepted him more readily both as their spiritual as well as temporal head. He signed treaties with the tribes in and around Madinah and created a constitution of the new city state that fostered a plural society. Such was his sense of justice that even those who did not believe in him chose him as their judge.
But the Makkan adversaries were not done with him and they launched wars against Madinah. The Prophet and his companions defended themselves. The rules of war were reformed and his followers were taught to show restraint on the battlefield, to not cut trees, destroy livestock or attack the old and the women. Eventually, through the brilliance of his leadership and the force of his principles, he triumphed over his enemies. Now when those that had persecuted him and his followers lay at his mercy and he could by all just laws avenge himself, he declared general amnesty and forgave his adversaries.
The light of his teachings and strength of his character showed many a nation, a way out of the darkness that they had imposed upon themselves. From Spain to Philippines, from the old world to the new, his message continues to resonate in the hearts of billions fifteen centuries after him.