Understanding the Muslims’ Attachment towards Prophet Muhammad
On the 9th of November 2019 (12th Rabi’ al-awwal), Muslims worldwide will continue the commemoration of the birth of the last Prophet and Messenger of God, Muhammad (May God bless and give him peace), the Seal of the Prophets who lived more than 1,400 years ago.
It is alarming however; that from our limited observation, we find educated Muslims from the younger generation either facing difficulty to relate to the Prophet Muhammad, or experience ambiguity in their understanding on the place of the Prophet in their lives.
In other words, many Muslims today struggle with seeing, with their minds and hearts, the Prophet Muhammad in the proper perspective, and thus naturally suffer from a lack of conviction or doubts on the belief they have inherited from their family.
This is a crucial matter because for centuries, the love and esteem for Prophet Muhammad was understood by the Muslims at large to be an obligation, and was integral in the psychological and societal order in the civilisation of Islam as eruditely articulated by Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud in his published article in IKIM’s TAFHIM Journal titled, “The Timelessness of Prophet Muhammad” (Vol. 11, 2018).
The increasing detachment of present-day Muslims from the prophetic biography itself has led to the following remark by the late Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki (d. 2004), one of the most eminent Makkah-based scholar of Islam in the 20th century: “This distance and detachment from the prophetic biography is a matter of manifest peril, with grave consequences and evil ends in store for the Muslim community…”
For centuries, the Muslims at large were able to relate to the Prophet Muhammad through the prophetic embodiments in scholars, teachers, and leaders, supplemented with the rich literatures of the sirah (prophetic biography), shama’il (descriptive potrait of the Prophet) and its commentaries,and qasidah (poem in praise of the Prophet) – many of which have been transmitted orally throughout the ages.
The earliest accounts of the Prophetic biography has indeed survived to this date thanks to the efforts of Ibn Ishaq (d. 776) and Ibn Hisham (d. 833) whose sources were based on earlier oral traditions. This work has been translated into English by Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din (d. 2005) under the title Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources – widely recognized as the best English translation of the sirah.
A monumental book which is necessary for contemporary Muslim to be re-acquainted with the true stature of the Prophet, with the esteem and respect which is due to him is the As-Shifa’ bi-ta’rif huquq Mustafa (The Cure by the Recognition of the Rights of the Chosen One) by Qadi Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsub (d. 1149) – this too has been translated into English by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley (Madinah Press, 1992).
Among the most celebrated text poems in praise of the Prophet was composed by Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli (d. 870/1465) known as the Dala’il al-Khayrat (Waymark of Benefits), and al-Busiri’s (d. 1294) Qasida al-Burda (Poem of the Mantle). Both poems have spread from Morocco and stretching all the way to the Malay Archipelago, and even becoming fashionable in Ottoman high society – princes exchanged magnificently embellished copies of it; the Qasida al-Burda were written on the tiles of Topkapi Palace, while commoners treasured them.
It is worth highlighting some examples of how the Ottomans expressed their love and esteem for the Prophet in the past. According to a senior Ottoman historian, Mehmet İpşirli, “The love of Islam and Prophet Muhammad was placed at the centre of the Ottoman existence as a comprehensive system and not as a sentiment that changed from one sultan to the next in a sporadic fashion.”
Some of the Ottoman Sultans used to regard themselves as a khadim (servant) for the Prophet and would practice utmost adab even towards his descendants: for at least five centuries the most learned among them (the sharifs) were entrusted as the Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Medina, and Governor of the Hijaz with autonomy, while the welfare of their families were taken care by the state.
It is also known that the Ottoman Sultans took the responsibility to preserve the sacred belongings of the Prophet, which is still kept in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul today. Among the prized belonging of the Prophet includes: his mantle, standard, sandal, cup, footprint on a stone, swords, bow, his tooth that broke at the Battle of Uhud, soil he used for ritual ablution, and his seal.
Such is the esteem and love towards the Prophet by Muslims in the past that it is said the 15th century Portuguese military commander Alfonso de Albuquerque plotted to steal the Prophet’s body in Medina as part of his larger plans to destabilize the Muslim world – knowing well that it would profoundly impact the morale of the generality of Muslims.
This is because in the consciousness of generations of Muslims, he is not simply a historical figure but a continuous source of inspiration and the role model par excellence – the Almighty described him as uswatan hasana (the “best example”).
The resulting attitude of the Muslims throughout the ages is succinctly explained by Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas in his Islam and Secularism: “We praise him out of sincere love and respect and gratitude for having led us out of darkness into light, and he is loved above all other human beings including ourselves.”
However, when the Muslim is secularized in their reasoning, the Prophet Muhammad is no longer regarded as the central personality in their consciousness. When this is accumulated to the larger population of the community, it creates a psychological and societal rupture within the community. This rupture manifests itself in the crisis of identity between the sexes, between generations, and the vicious circle of unattainable in life.
It is for this reason too that it is said the late Said Ramadan al-Bouti (d. 2013) composed the Fiqh al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyyah (Understanding the Prophetic Biography), which was written at a time when there were works that rationalize all episodes in the life of the Prophet, and present them in a ‘de spiritualized’ version which can naturally lead to a secularized conception of Islam itself.
And God knows best.