Long ago, in a barren desert where ruthless tribes scavenged for survival and accepted no one ruler to unite them, a Prophet emerged.
Known for his honesty, intelligence and kindness, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was chosen by God for the mighty task of leading the harshest, and most disunited, of men, and transforming them – through divine guidance and wise leadership – into the best of humankind ever created.
It took about forty years to redefine a people; make it into a nation and set it on another course.
The pre-Islamic era was an environment of distrust, savagery and fight for survival. Mindless tribalism prevailed, but amidst this hostility and blind obedience to tradition and culture, Prophet Muhammad formed a unified community founded on piety.
Under his sensible tutelage he raised men and women with a solid sense of morality and an amazing ability to give most generously. The Prophet told them (and us):
“I have only been sent to teach good moral character.” (Al-Bukhari)
The companions of the Prophet were people who thought ‘out of the box’ at their time; who dared to be different in a violent environment that enforced conformity and submission to a hierarchal leadership and superiority based on wealth and prestige.
Inspired by the Prophet’s pious example – Aisha described him as “The walking Quran” meaning he put the teachings of Islam into action – this early community acted as one hand in struggling against evil and spreading all that was, and is, good. They helped and supported each other as one body; looking far beyond the usual barriers of race and social status. Their unity and support of one another was simply based on their mutual faith and commitment to Islam.
The Prophet made them understand that humility was the mark of greatness and that sincerity loosened the tongue and opened the heart. This early generation did not fear the Prophet for he was neither ruthless nor harsh. But they loved him and only feared losing his respect and esteem.
The companions would fear for their souls if the Prophet turned away from them because they knew he would only be displeased with downright evil and that meant they would have also earned the displeasure of the Creator.
Example of the Battle of Tabuk
We remember the incident during the Battle of Tabuk when the Muslims were ordered to go to battle at the hottest time of year when the harvests were ready. It was also expected to be an arduous journey and the Muslims were greatly outnumbered. Despite the odds, the Muslims made a united effort to diligently prepare for the difficult journey except three men.
One in particular had been a faithful companion but at this time he fell short; he did not attend the battle. When the Prophet and the other companions returned, he confessed his weakness to the Prophet and did not try to make up empty excuses.
The Prophet ordered the companions to ostracize him along with the other two. It pained the companions to shun their fellows but they had strong faith and complied. Long days passed during which he was not sure if he had spoiled his hope in this life and the next.
Finally, God inspired the Prophet that he was forgiven. On hearing the great news, the companions immediately turned to him with love and joy and the Prophet himself, his face beaming with light and mercy, told him this was the best day for him since he was born. The companions became united again after learning a valuable lesson.
The Prophet taught his blessed companions to have good expectations of God the Almighty and a positive attitude toward each other; always trying to put the best interpretation on what each other did. The warmth the companions shared along with their kindness and generosity to each other, their readiness to forgive and embrace each other and their unity of purpose gave them great strength to face the challenges of their time.
Disunity and Muslim Minorities
Today there are Muslims living all over the world and every day they face a myriad of challenges. There are many Muslims living as minorities in their countries and undoubtedly will be swept along with the current problems and struggles.
Muslims of many countries face economic hardship, unemployment, and racism. Others live in places where mindless violence is an everyday occurrence and where young Muslims are easily lost amidst the temptations society continually offers them.
Perhaps one of the lessons we can derive from the story of the Battle of Tabuk is the importance of engaging in struggle in a positive way; trusting in God, following the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and maintaining the order and unity of the community as well as shaking off apathy and the desire to just take care of one’s own.
The Prophet taught his blessed companions to love one another and to be vigilant in caring for each other and the entire community.
The companions used to compete in doing good works but this was a spirit of competition that differed greatly from what we know today; it was marked with the spirit of altruism, readiness to sacrifice and humility.
If we follow their example we will step out and engage with the Muslim community positively and be known as courageous, kind and generous people who are always ready to help out, mend ties and give good advice.
Muslims living as minorities in developed countries have unique challenges among which is the risk they face of becoming isolated; not only from the mainstream society but also from each other in the Islamic community. In many mosques in such places Muslims may fail to greet each other warmly and show the brotherly care that is expected of the followers of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Especially in Muslim minority situations, the mosque is often thought of as a place of rest and refuge; a place to contemplate one’s faith and restore spirituality and closeness to God.
However, unfortunately, many times the mosques are lacking in acceptance and friendliness, leaving Muslims – particularly young Muslims – without a place to go where they can find tranquility with others who share their faith.
The consequences of isolation are dire and the Prophet warned us not to stray far from the flock saying that the wolf takes the sheep that does so. (Abu Dawud)
This means we should not become so self-interested and self-focused that we lose sight of the Prophet’s example and teachings of interacting and giving generously. Indeed, the Prophet gave glad tidings to the one who bears the harm of the community. (As-Suyuti)
The Brotherhood of the Ansar and the Muhajirin
The great wisdom of the Prophet meant that he not only taught the truth to the people; but he showed them practically – by example – how to implement the teachings of Islam into everyday life.
As a leader, Prophet Muhammad nourished the people with knowledge, spirituality, the value of hard work, respect for all and dignified and noble manners with each other. These are all things that facilitate feelings of brotherhood and unity.
When the time and situation was right, Prophet Muhammad guided his people to implement what they had learned. A wonderful example of how Prophet Muhammad taught the people, not only to reach out of their own isolation and help others, but to also establish a healthy community, was when the Muslims migrated from Makkah and moved to live in Madinah.
The Ansar (the Helpers; the people of Madinah) were instructed by the Prophet to share their homes and resources with one of the Muhajirin (immigrants; the people escaping persecution in Makkah), so one Helper and one Immigrant would be paired off, with the Helpers assisting the Immigrants to make the transition into the new place. The love, companionship, cooperation and brotherhood that ensued have gone down in history.
The Prophet was able to achieve such greatness in leadership and influence on people because of God’s divine Help and Guidance and the great status that He gave the Prophet, which continues until today; he is the final Prophet and is to be followed until the end of time. So the Prophet of the people of Makkah and Madinah is also the Prophet of Muslims in Asia, America, Australia, Europe and every other place on earth.
Despite our differences in culture and language, Muslims all over the world share the greatest bond; that of faith. If we can achieve the warmth, brotherhood, mutual kindness and unity with each other in today’s context, we will, God Willing, be a powerful influence to spread truth and goodness.
Our success or failure depends on how much we love Prophet Muhammad, the greatest of leaders (peace be upon him) and how closely we follow his divinely inspired example.