There is much talk about leadership nowadays. Every day, new articles and studies are published, which attempt to highlight the traits and qualities of a true leader.
The childhoods, academic achievements, lifestyles, habits, diet, and even the close personal relationships of living and bygone influencers are closely analyzed for clues about how today’s children can be similarly nurtured to grow up to become positive change-makers in the world tomorrow.
A cursory study of the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) makes one thing clear: He was a man of few words, with little global exposure and physical resources at his disposal, but the impact he brought to society in Arabia was mind-boggling and long-term.
How did he do it? One can only wonder. As a social reformer, the Prophet’s achievement remains worthy of exemplification even to this day.
Tarbiyah (Moral Training) & Education of Men
The social ethos rampant among men in pre-Islamic Arabian society could astound even the most ruthless don today. Powerful men did as they pleased, with the poor, orphans, women, and slaves at their mercy.
There was unrestricted polygyny, and women were treated like property.
Wealth was earned and squandered via questionable means.
Racism and tribalism were rampant. Tribal disputes would arise often, and would be settled on the spur of the moment by the sword. Blood flowed like wine.
Within 23 years, by spilling minimal blood as compared to other historic revolutions, Prophet Muhammad had transformed extremely hot-blooded and barbaric men into humble believers who prayed together indiscriminately, shoulder to shoulder, in rows as straight as arrows!
How did the Prophet achieve such a turnaround? The simple answer is, by being sincere in the cause of Allah, and fulfilling his mission as Prophet for the sake of Allah’s pleasure.
Sincerity and integrity, when coupled with true faith and a close connection with Allah, gives rise to long-term results.
Emancipation of Slaves, Foster Care of Orphans
Without making it obligatory, Prophet Muhammad encouraged and facilitated the care and tutelage of orphaned children.
Furthermore, slavery was rampant in Arabia during his life, with slaves bought and sold as personally owned property. Without making any drastic overnight changes, Prophet Muhammad facilitated the kind treatment of slaves, and encouraged their voluntary emancipation.
Over the subsequent centuries, as aimed by the Prophet’s establishment of Islam, slavery was successfully abolished in totality from Arabian society.
Not just that, but racism was also eliminated, with successful inter-marriages happening between the offspring of freed slaves and the descendants of blue-blooded nobility.
Once again, despite not establishing any outright laws to bring about this gigantic social change (Muslim slaves prayed standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their owners), Prophet Muhammad was able to achieve this because of changing the hearts of people, which, in turn, transformed their mindsets.
By connecting them to Allah, and making them sincere to Him alone, regarding their intentions and actions, he was able to motivate men (and women!), especially those in influential positions of authority, to quell their ego and fear only Allah in open and in secret.
Which is why, even behind the closed doors of their private homes, they no longer dared to oppress or mistreat any orphan, slave, or child in their care.
Fear of and a deep sense of accountability to Allah, over and above that of His creation, is what brought about this turnaround in social ethos and ethics.
Empowerment of Women
Entire books can be written (and they have!) about how Prophet Muhammad was almost single-handedly responsible for changing the social status of women in Arabia.
As a consequence of this phenomenal social turnaround, during his 23-year tenure as Prophet, and in the first few centuries following it, women in Arabia went from being owned, inherited, and treated as properties of men, to becoming autonomous, bold, outspoken, intellectual, and productive members of society.
These Muslim women became scholars, business owners, religious teachers, writers, preachers, jurists, and even warriors on the battlefield.
It was no surprise, then, that the progeny that they gave birth to, went on to become massive change-makers who brought about a paradigm shift in the way Muslim society functioned.
The important question that remains, though, is: How was the Prophet able to achieve this in so little time?
Conclusion: Sincerity Fueled by Staunch and Pure Faith
The answer is simple. Muslims in the Prophet’s generation, and the first few that followed it, gave priority to Allah’s commands and those of the Prophet over and above anything else in their lives: be it family, culture, personal ego, tribe, or nation.
Local culture and family ‘obligations’ were only condoned socially if and when they complied with Islamic Shari’ah. All useless burdens and pastimes that stood in their path towards attaining the lofty goal of Allah’s pleasure and Paradise in the Hereafter, were abandoned without regret.
Whether it was their private family life at home, means of earning money, educating their children, conducting social affairs, adhering to and enforcing laws and legal systems, or performing acts of worship, the Prophet trained the first generation of Muslims to stringently adhere to the commands, limits, and rules of Islam, without a second thought or a moment’s hesitation.
These first generations of believers, who embodied and upheld the social reforms brought about by Prophet Muhammad, were not ‘apologetic’ Muslims.
For them, Islam was not an after-thought; it was life itself.
The Quran was their daily spiritual “tonic”. As they memorized, recited, wrote, and conveyed it to others, day and night, they did so in such a way that it ruled, guided, and governed every aspect of their lives.
And that is how one man’s sincere, divinely inspired efforts spanning merely two decades, brought about a social change that others had been unable to achieve in centuries!