Muslims across time and space have spent their lives trying to learn exactly who the Prophet (peace be upon him) was. We read his biography. And we study his habits and examine his relationships.
This is what our religion is about. We worship God in a way that God wants us to worship Him. And the best example is the Prophet’s life.
For those of us separated from Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) by centuries, by language, by culture, this task of knowing him can prove a bit trying at times.
However, it can be helpful to look at the Prophet through our own lenses, how we categorize people, and how we understand human behavior. In this way, we can understand him better, insha’Allah.
In Hippocrates day, people might have sighted the four temperaments as a way of understanding disposition. By the 18th Century, the “humors” would have been a touch point to interpreting difference in our nature.
Today, we understand people through psychology and one popular school of thought is that people are either introverted or extraverted.
According to Quiet Revolution, “Introverts think before they speak, have a more deliberate approach to risk, and enjoy solitude. They feel energized when focusing deeply on a subject or activity that really interests them. […] They seek out environments of peace, sanctuary, and beauty.”
Conversely, extraverts are described as those who “relish social life and are energized by interacting with friends and strangers alike. […] When they’re in quiet environments, they’re prone to feeling bored and restless.”
Muslims today may wonder into which category the Prophet (peace be upon him) fit. Was he an introvert or an extravert? Looking to the Quran and sunnah, there is strong evidence to suggest that the Messenger of Allah was highly introverted.
Spent Limited Time Socializing
The most striking evidence that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was introverted is the verse in surah Al-Ahzab, in which God basically tells the companions to give the Prophet some space:
O you who believe! Enter not the Prophet’s houses, except when leave is given to you for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation. But when you are invited, enter, and when you have taken your meal, disperse, without sitting for a talk. Verily, such (behavior) annoys the Prophet, and he is shy of (asking) you (to go), but Allah is not shy of (telling you) the truth. (Quran 33:53)
It wasn’t that the Prophet didn’t want to be around people and socialize. He did love the companions and spent a great deal of time with them. It was just that he also needed some down time.
Introverts typically need to recharge after spending a lot of energy in social situations. Whereas extraverts feel energized by social settings.
Sought out Seclusion
Another interesting clue as to who the Prophet (peace be upon him) was, was his inclination to spend a lot of time in a seclusion:
“When Prophet Muhammad was nearly forty he had been known to pass long hours in retirement meditating and speculating over all aspects of creation around him.” (Saifur Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum)
The Prophet felt overwhelmed by the evils he was witnessing from his society. His response was to retreat to the cave of Hira—an inclination of an introvert and the setting in which introverts do their best thinking.
Susan Cain, author and public speaker, said in her Ted Talk, “extraverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched on and their most capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments.”
Crowds Made Him Tired
Another clue into the psychology of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was his reaction to large and loud crowds.
[..] I heard the voice of people having fun screaming. I asked someone what it was about. He answered that some man was getting married to some girl and that was their wedding. I then sat somewhere near the wedding and began to watch it. Then I fell asleep and could wake up only with the first lights of the sun. (Narrated in Tabari)
Biographers have framed this in the light of God protecting the soon-to-be Prophet from being around or involved in the haram.
And this is true, but there may be more to it. Those who know the feeling of being exhausted by a crowd and loud noises will recognize this as the mark of an introvert.
To the extravert, a loud party with a ton of people seems like a lot of excitement and fun because extroverts get a shot of dopamine (a feel good chemical) when socializing.
To the introvert who does not get that dopamine reward, this situation is overwhelming and quite literally exhausting.
Many believe that only extraverts are natural leaders, public speakers, trailblazers, and/or team players.
But we know that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a great leader, a one of a kind orator, a visionary, and a remarkable partner. So, which is it? Did the Prophet possess these qualities or was he an introvert? The answer is probably both.
Many assume introverts are skittish or lack self-confidence, making them less bold or capable than extraverts. But evidence proves otherwise.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., on Psychology Today, writes that introverts can be the best leaders of all. Health expert Dan Fries on Collective-Evolution.com said, “introverts do not concern themselves with what the majority is doing. Instead, they have a high level of creativity and constantly think of new ideas and they work hard to implement them.”
Fries also writes, “In fact, some of the most successful performers are introverts,” and “Introverts can get along well with most people so they usually encounter little difficulty when working in a team.”
Understanding this dimension of the Prophet’s disposition can help us have a better insight into who he was.
In this case, understanding the Prophet (peace be upon him) is not an attempt to be like him, it is simply to know him.
If you are an introvert and this makes you feel more kinship with the Messenger of Allah (SWT), then that is a good thing. But if you are an extravert, this should not make you feel less than or unable to emulate his virtues. We are all capable of kindness, patience, devotion, etc.
Saying that we should all be introverted because the Prophet (peace be upon him) was an introvert would be like saying we should all be male because the Prophet was a man. God made us diverse for a reason.
Sophia Dembling, author of Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After, writes in Psychology Today:
“[…] Neither personality type is “better” or “right.” We are yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, fife and drum, sunset and dawn, thought and action. The world could not function without both types, so we needn’t squabble. There’s enough of everything to go around.”
(From Discovering Islam archive)