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Aspects of Mercy

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The Sealed Nectar

 The Sealed Nectar by Shaykh Safi ur-Rahman

Aspects of Mercy

date and topic of the new lecture was announced. Dr. Adam will lecture on Prophet Muhammad, pbuh,  in the University Cultural Season.After welcoming and thanking the audience, she said that she had chosen for her topic Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, . She went on to say, “You might ask why I have chosen Prophet Muhammad, pbuh? What are the justifications for distinguishing him from those we have mentioned in the previous lecture?”She heard whispers and saw looks on the faces of the audience, which indicated, as a whole her true intuition, proper expression and correctapt assumption.She began saying, in complete confidence, “As a result of my research, I have discovered four facts, which, I believe, provide, as a whole, satisfactory answers to the questions raised in the previous lecture. I leave it to you to judge, after hearing them.”“The first is the abundance of detailed and factual information on the life of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, in all phases of his life.. There is no missing link in his life, which lasted sixty three years. Neither are there any of the questions that were raised in the previous lecture when talking about his predecessors among the great figures.All those who read his life story, and I am one of them, are agreed that it is an open book, before both his followers and his enemies.

The most conspicuous of this description is that a researcher hardly encounters a question mark throughout his life story as a whole, in its most delicate and private aspects. In this respect, I find that I must open the index of the smallest book my hands could lay on, concerning an aspect of the character and manners of the Prophet, pbuh, in order to acquaint ourselves with the details it contains. I must confess that I was almost bored with these details, although you accuse me of being keen on them and seek them. This book is “The Character and Ethics of the Prophet, pbuh,”, which was written by Jaafar bin Hayyan Al-Asfahani, who died in the year 369 H. corresponding to 952 G.This book contained an accurate description of all the clothes of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, a description of all the tools he used, a minute description of his table manners, his drinks, sleep, entering, leaving, sitting, speech, laughter, tears, dialogue and the way he treated people.There was also an accurate description of all the members of his body that were visible to his companions, and included an account of the mounts he used to ride and their names and other things, which we need not mention in this context.Such information was not confined to one or two books. It occurs in hundreds of reliable books, whose authors are well known for their scientific rigor, truthfulness and honesty. I invite any one who wishes to consult these books. This justly confirms that we are here concerned with  a personality that is considered an open book in all its pages.”

She went on to say, “It is quite in order, in this context, that I quote some testimonies of my predecessors, who wrote on Prophet Muhammad, pbuh. Thus R. F. Bodley, the contemporary English author said, ‘We find that the story of Muhammad is abundantly clear.’[1] History has pronounced its verdict on the life story of the Prophet, pbuh,  which story is far beyond legends and forgery. Claude Cahen, Professor of Islamic History at the University of Paris, said, ‘the personality of Muhammad has a historical character that is not found in the case of any other founder of other religions.’[2] Prophet Muhammad lived in Mecca for more than fifty years, the major part of his life, and his enemies there were by far more numerous than his followers, and none of his enemies denied anything in his eventful life, or claimed that there were obscure pages therein.History has recorded a dialogue between Abu Sufyan, Mecca’s leader and the notorious enemy of Muhammad, pbuh, before the former had embraced Islam, and the Roman Emperor, in which dialogue Abu Sufyan could not change any facts or change any data, for fear that history would record that he told lies before the Roman Emperor[3], because Muhammad’s life was too well known to be distorted or concealed.” “ The Second: The great many books that were written on his life story throughout 1400 years. There are hundreds of them; anyone can make use of the data-base at the University and benefit from the links connecting the University with other universities to ascertain the truthfulness of this fact. The number he finds may reach four digits, provided one is patient and willing to search. Moreover, if I did not dare to give a firm figure because I have no documented data, let me quote from the great historian, Durant, who said in his book on the Story of Civilization that ‘the stories reported of Muhammad may fill ten thousand volumes’[4].

An examination of these works will reveal that they have written at different times, places, and by various authors, with different approaches, but all of them contain almost the same facts.Any difference between them is a matter of drafting, focus, expansion and analysis, as well as the attitude of each author towards these facts, all  of which relate to differences in opinion, and are not problematic in the majority of cases.”“The third: The great number of followers round him. Reliable books which deal with the classification of men in terms of their character and reliability, and have had wide circulation, have mentioned that about ten thousand men have kept the company of Muhammad, pbuh, though this companionship varied in terms of duration and nature.It is fortunate that Anas bin Malek, who kept the company of the Prophet, pbuh, for ten consecutive years, was the last companion to die. It is established that he died in 93 H., which means he lived almost 80 years after the death of the Prophet, pbuh. Moreover, his wife Aisha, his closest spouse, lived after him for almost 45 year, having died in 58 H. There is also his cousin Abdullah bin Abbas, who was close to him, lived 55 years after his death and died in 68 H. There are many others who had ample opportunity to report on the life of the Prophet, pbuh - all that they remembered of him and saw of him, in addition to others whose number was in the thousands.

There is  no doubt that there was a great number of people round him, watching every minor or major thing in his life, even the most intimate aspects of a man’s life with his wife.These details were reported in authentic traditions through uninterrupted,  reliable and trustworthy sources. Thanks to such reports all question marks regarding his life were removed.This fact did not escape the professor of Islamic civilization, Professor Hamilton Jep, who said, ‘If it had not been for the traditions, Muhammad’s picture would have been , at least general if not remote , at least, in its historical and religious origins. These traditions have portrayed his human aspect, in an abundant collection of living and tangible details.’[5]This has also prompted the scholar Lora Vencia Vaglery to say, in his reference to the social and economic condition of prophets, ‘It would seem that we have no details of the daily life of Moses and Jesus, while we know everything on Muhammad’s family life.’[6]A similar testimony is given by Monte, Professor of Oriental languages at the University of Geneva: ‘Rare are the reformers, the details of whose lives are known as those pertaining to Muhammad.’[7]Such information is corroborated by the fact that they are reported by more than one source, and under various circumstances.

In light of the science of Isnad (attribution) and the science which scrutinizes men (ílm naqd al-rijaal), the like of which humanity has not known, nor do I pretend to have a wide knowledge of, those acquainted with the principles of these two sciences will be amazed to witness such scrupulous accuracy and impartiality that characterize them.It is worth pointing out that the Arabs, the nation to whom Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, belongs, are well known for their strong memory among nations. Thus, the great historian George Zaidan, testifies to the strong memory of the Arabs and says that they have conserved, in addition to their annals, those of previous nations, such as those of the people of Áad and Thamud;[8] no wonder they have preserved the details of the life of their Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, who loved them and whom they loved, a love that has no parallel throughout history.”“The Fourth: is that Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, has laid down for his followers a meticulous scientific methodology in the reporting of information. Thus he warned against lying, particularly in reporting facts concerning him, telling them: ‘He who reports lies about me shall occupy a place in hell.’[9] This is a severe warning by the Prophet, pbuh, to his followers, urging them to stick to accuracy and to admit only such information as is firmly established as being correct and true, and to shun conjectures, against which he also warns, saying, ‘Conjecture is the phoniest type of lying.’ [10]

There remains, dear audience, a fifth fact to complete the series of justifications. This relates to the nature of the life story of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh. A consideration of this life story will amply reveal its realism; it is easy for anyone to understand, accept and emulate, if they so desire, without feeling embarrassed or going against instinctive disposition, as is happening and witnessed in the hundreds of millions of Muslims, who follow on the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh.While this, for example, is not possible for the followers of Buddha, of whom there are hundreds of millions, the scanty information that has reached us on Buddha is confined to the facts that he was a prince living in a palace, that he had a wife and a son, that he abandoned his palace, leaving his wife and son alone, and wandered in the deserts and forests, until he died, a lonely ascetic.[11] One may ask whether this culture of asceticism still prevails among the nations that believe in him among the Chinese, the Japanese and the Koreans. These nations have set up gigantic industrial states, which means that almost  none of them thinks of reviving this culture of asceticism, because following it would paralyze life  and take humanity back to centuries of primitive life.I have come across a statement reported of Buddha, which I do not like his followers to hear from me in these major industrial states: ‘My Code is a universal blessing. It is like the sky; there is room in it for all people. However, it is difficult for the rich to follow its path.’[12]

Christ, pbuh, is well known for inviting people to practice tolerance, forgiveness and forbearance. He is reported to have said, while preaching to his followers: “You have heard the statement: ‘Any eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you not to resist evil, but rather, he who slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek, as well; he who wishes to take your garment, let him have it as well; he who exploited you one mile, go with him two miles; he who asks you, give him; and he who wants to borrow from you, do not turn him down.”“You have heard others say, ‘Love thy relative and hate thy enemy’, but I tell you: love thy enemy, bless those who curse you; be charitable towards those who hate you, and pray to those who wrong you and expel you.”Dr. Adam gave a significant smile and asked the audience, “Which of the Western or Eastern states, have invariably adopted these teachings, or thought one day to partially apply them, even once in their long history, particularly towards their adversaries? We leave it to ancient and modern history to answer this question. But as far as we are concerned, we proceed with our lecture.Let me point out, in this context, that these teachings of Christ, pbuh,   are not detrimental to his reputation and no one must criticize him on their account. No, and a thousand times no. This is because they emanated from Christ under special circumstances in order to deal with special circumstances. They are teachings springing from their environment, and were successful, at that time, in curbing injustice and revenge, and in restricting the evil among the Israelis in the midst of whom Christ was preaching. 

Christ has also attempted to establish a balance in Roman society, in which he lived, for the culture of that society was confined to nurturing the body only at the expense of the spirit. It was a warlike and bloody culture, and it was this that prompted Christ to adopt such principles, which circumstances strongly called for. Hence, the followers of Christ did not assimilate these teachings and were unable to put them into practice.I have read something interesting in this respect, which I propose to report to you. It was written by the great scholar Jameel Baiham, who wrote, “When, before the advent of Christ, moral chaos was exacerbated,  and reached alarming proportions as a result of the corruption that prevailed among both the Jews and the Romans, Christ came as a social reformer and not as a legislator, because neither the Jews nor the Romans lacked legislation. Hence, his message was a call for virtues and a warning against vices, and a promotion of love and peace.[13]I am also impressed by statements that are appropriate in this context, which were made by the great scholar Sulaiman Al-Nadawi, who divided virtues into two categories: a negative category and a positive one.[14]

He said that secluding oneself from people is a negative virtue, because the person concerned does not harm any of them, but, at the same time, he does not offer any positive good. Moreover, forgiving the mistakes of people is also a negative virtue, but does not offer any positive good, such as giving advice and coming to the rescue of the wronged people. It must be pointed out that such virtues were propagated by reformers who antedated Prophet Muhammad pbuh.In fact they lack universality and balance, which are clearly manifested in the character of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh,  as I shall soon demonstrate after a short break.Dr. Adam was more than terrific. She delivered her lecture in full confidence, steadfastness and optimism. She looked happy in her exposition.What contributed more to her happiness, is her feeling that the audience shared her feelings, and what made her even more pleased and amused was the statement by one who never missed any of her lectures, who said, “One of the five justifications you have touched on would have been enough to show the importance of the study of the life story of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, but it seems you are keen on making us tired in listening, and yet, we greatly appreciate what you say. In any case, I hope you will stick to this method, which is both tiring and enjoyable.”

After the break, Dr. Adam began by saying:

“I have noticed a phenomenon, an aspect of which I have touched on a short while ago, namely, that the great figures we have considered had one distinctive quality that was associated with them and on account of which they won the respect of people and became famous. Thus Christ was tolerant, Buddha was ascetic, Alexander the Macedonian was strong, Aristotle was a philosopher, and none of them is known to have another distinctive attribute.But what is really striking is the fact all these virtues, and others, converged in the person of Prophet Muhammad pbuh.A consideration of the life story of this Prophet, and going through the pages of his life will certainly discover conclusive evidence that corroborate this fact. This fact I have reached after reading many and variegated books, which I approached, as much as possible without prejudices, though biased towards the true facts.Prophet Muhammad, pbuh,   was the most courageous of men, the most forbearing, the most generous, the most ascetic. He was merciful, just, forgiving, sincere, continent, trustworthy, dignified, smiling, modest, unyielding in matters of principle, and at the same he was even more shy than an innocent young girl.

A reflective, analytic consideration of all these combined virtues that characterize the Prophet, pbuh, clearly indicates that the attribute of greatness is justified only when all of them are combined in a person, because fractional values cannot make greatness, nor can they contribute to the happiness of humanity.This view has been reinforced when I recollected the views of certain specialists in ethics, to the effect that “Each virtue is reinforced by other virtues.”[15] When a person combines all these virtues – which is the case in Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, one of these virtues stands out and comes to be associated with a person more than others. This fact is also established by the discipline of ethics. In this respect, the great scholar Draz says, “The human soul must practice all these virtues, before specializing in one of them[16] ,without such attribute predominating on other ones that weaken its effect and reduce its standing, so that all of them remain at their highest degrees, and the most perfect of their qualities.

Dr. Adam paused for a while and went on to say, “I have always been keen on making my lectures smoothly going and easily understood, unlike the academic lectures in the classes. However, it seems that, at times, we have no choice, in view of the nature of the subject. But I promise you to make abundant use of realistic stories and interesting and well established facts.This being so, and it seems that it is so, at least on certain occasions, I shall do my best to make this lecture as brief as possible, lest the lectures should contribute to mutual oblivion. I shall end my lecture by dealing with an important matter that is closely linked to our subject, though I shall not elaborate too much in respect thereto. I refer to the motives underlying the cultivation of virtuous attributes.Ethics scholars have considered this matter; and their overwhelming view was that these motives are material benefit, personal happiness, the environment, conscience or power.[17]