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The Importance of the Science of Sirah
Based on The Prophet of Islam by Muhammad Hamidullah
The development of the morals and soul of the human being is the most important endeavor a human being can undertake. Although a number of different methods have been followed to realize this aim in different eras, the most indispensable resource in this effort for all times and places is the human model that can be found in the personalities of leaders.
At the head of these historical personalities that are at the peak of morals and the soul are the prophets. Each prophet has realized this development within their own characters. For example, Jesus, peace and blessings be upon him, taught friendship and forgiveness, patience and endurance, peace and tranquility, contentment and humility. However, Prophet Jesus' teachings do not contain moral rules for governing or administration. Again, to give another example, the laws that Moses and Noah taught people do not instruct in universal mercy or brotherhood.
This means that every age has been dependent on one of these holy personalities. The needs of every age have been satisfied by one of the prophets.
However, humanity was awaiting the insan-i kamil (perfected human). This person would not just be a ruler and a commander, but at the same time would be a person who had taqwa(God consciousness/piety), who was a communal leader, but also a humble person and a faithful follower of Allah; this person would be generous and gracious, but also content with the little he had. This perfect person, this Prophet, was the highest point and the greatest success of mankind.
But, as all mortals, this being was not eternal. For this reason it was necessary that his every word, his every action be recorded, that every trait belonging to him be identified and his every state be described for future generations.
It is interesting that before the advent of Islam the life of no prophet or founder was recorded in a way that was in keeping with historical dimensions. This is true for the leaders of other great religions, in addition to the last two prophets before Prophet Muhammad, Jesus and Moses. It was true to such an extent that even among Christians there are many researchers who are not convinced that such a person as Jesus ever lived. The only individual among all religious leaders whose entire life, with all the events, all his actions, all his campaigns, even the way he dressed, the lines of his face, how he spoke and walked, his nature, his style of etiquette, eating, drinking, sleeping, laughing, working, in all the details, has been recorded is Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
While the biography of anyone can be informative and important from the aspect of teaching about life, the position of the study of Prophet Muhammad's life and personality, known as Sirah, among all the other sciences, cannot be denied. Moreover, if we are to consider that all the religious beliefs and practices are established on the trustworthy nature of the individual, then the importance of Sirah becomes even greater. The Prophet is a person to be followed. He was the first to interpret the Revelation. He was one who had been cleansed of sins by Allah; he was the pure and unadulterated essence of humanity. Sirah is valuable because it presents this eternal example to Muslims. When Muslims read Sirah they perceive the gradual coming to life of Islam.
The science of Sirah has ceased to be something that only gives historical information, particularly after the recent sketches directed against the personality of the Prophet which hurt feelings of respect and commitment to Islam; they have now become an important source on which all our beliefs of our faith rest. In this state the science of Sirah is relevant alongside Kalam (theology), because the one who taught us to believe and what to believe in matters of ghayb (i.e. those that are beyond this world, which are invisible and mysterious) was the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. In particular, this is true for the Quran, the source of our beliefs. The Revelation came to us via Prophet Muhammad and it was brought into our lives with his explanations and his example. We have taken all the actualizations of the religion from him and if we do not have faith in the Prophet then our belief is not accepted by Allah; thus, every detail about the Messenger of Allah and his character has a great importance for affirming our faith and our commitment to Islam. We cannot even be Muslims if we do not follow the road that Prophet Muhammad guided us on. To know and understand the Prophet incorrectly can open the way to damaging practices that can alter the religion and give rise to incorrect trends.
The life of Prophet Muhammad is not to be learned only as his example as an individual. His life is of importance to us also for the examples it presents in institutional development and in the progress of Muslim societies in aspects of law, the economy, social and political arenas, international relations, and in times of war and peace.
Understanding Prophet Muhammad will help us to understand the Quran, as he always acted in a way that was in keeping with the spirit of the Holy Quran on all matters. In fact, without knowing the details of the important events in Prophet Muhammad's life it is not possible to correctly understand the parts of the Quran that were revealed during these events. In short, in the same way that it always has been, the moral character of Prophet Muhammad is the sole means to perfectly understand the religion of Islam. Without knowing the life of Prophet Muhammad one cannot correctly understand any of the sciences of Islam. Almost all of these sciences derive separate religious rulings from the Prophet's life, and from this aspect "The Life of the Prophet" forms the source of all our religious information.
Those who want to study the moral character of Prophet Muhammad, which is the essence of the message he brought and the most perfect reflection of human life, need to take the following points into consideration:
1.The things he taught were recorded under his personal supervision and were protected with great care for following generations.
2.Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, at no time claimed that the honor of being Allah's Messenger was his alone; quite the contrary, he stated that Allah had sent messengers to all nations before his birth. But the messages that these prophets brought were not protected due to the wars and revolutions that have occurred throughout the sad history of mankind, and therefore Prophet Muhammad had been sent to revivify these messages. He promised that the message he brought would be protected in such a way that it would not change, and therefore there would be no need for another prophet to be sent; this promise has been realized.
3.From the first day of the divine revelation Prophet Muhammad addressed the message to the entire world; he did not limit himself to one nation or certain centuries; he recognized no differences of race or class.
4.Absolutely evil people", like "absolutely good people" are a rare exception in human society and most people fall into the category of "average people". Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, did not limit himself to only those with angelic natures. He addressed his message to the greater majority of people, that is, the average man.
5.There is no lack of great leaders, great conquerors, great reformers, great saints, etc in the history of mankind; however, most of these have only had value in their own particular arena. The phenomenon of all these qualities being gathered in one place, in just one person, has only ever occurred with Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. This situation forms a perfect example that indicates the "balance" which a believer must achieve in their own lives.
6.From the aspect of the quality of reformer, it is enough to state that Prophet Muhammad was a teacher and instructor in Islam. From the aspect of a beloved servant of Allah and one who lived the doctrine he brought himself, when we examine the life of Prophet Muhammad we can see total perfection and innocence. As a social reformer, in a country in which there was total chaos and fighting, he started from nothing and within ten years managed to establish a state that measured more than 3 million square kilometers, covering the entire Arabian Peninsula, including Iraq and Palestine's southern regions. In a short space of time, he left behind an establishment to his caliphs that would extend towards Europe, Asia and Africa in as short a time as fifteen years. As a conqueror, in all the battles he fought the total number of lives lost on both sides was not more than a few hundred. In addition, the people who lived in these lands pledged their allegiance to the Prophet. In fact, Prophet Muhammad was the ruler not of bodies, but of the heart. While still alive his achievements in teaching the religion were so great that 150,000 believers gathered at Arafat during the Farewell Pilgrimage, and we can estimate that many more Muslims were unable to participate in the pilgrimage that year due to the events of the time.
7.Prophet Muhammad never perceived himself as being above practicing the rules and laws that he ordered for the believers. Quite the opposite, he prayed, he fasted and he gave zakat that was well over the amounts that he had ordered.
8.Prophet Muhammad was interested in all the manifestations of human life; he introduced guidelines or rulings in every area, be it beliefs, the spiritual world, morals, economics, politics, in individual and social arenas, in spiritual and material matters. He left us the best example of what was to be done in all these areas with his own actions.
There are one or two other matters that a Muslim who understands the importance of knowing the life and personality of Prophet Muhammad should take into account in connection with this process:
If we are to remember that historical information that is not based on a certain geography is more like fiction, then when studying the Prophet's life the importance of knowing the area in which is life and activities took place becomes apparent. For example, the verse that states that when someone wanted something from the wives of the Prophet they were to request it from behind a curtain; we know, from referring to the conditions of the day, that there were no doors, but a rug or cloth curtain was hung there, or some of the Prophet's wives lived in houses consisting of one room. The verse was revealed so that the curtains would not be opened to disturb the privacy of the Prophet's wives. If we are ignorant of these conditions we could be misled into thinking that the Prophet's wives were not able to converse with anyone without there being a curtain between them. It is not possible to understand the history of any nation if we do not now the natural circumstances of the people or the time.
The Quran is addressed to mankind. In this situation an important foundation for correctly perceiving the events that occurred is formed if we are aware of the psychology of the people in the Time of Ignorance.
The Sirah covers the period during which the revelation continued. The events that occurred at this time carry a divine character and it is for this reason that anyone who is trying to understand the events of this period would be misled if they were only to examine them on the human dimension. It is striking that both the lives of the Prophet and the Companions took place in a religious struggle; it is necessary to evaluate the events in the light of a Divine plan.
A Muslim who examines the moral character of Prophet Muhammad not only needs to take into account all these matters, they also have to have good and correct intentions; otherwise it is possible to find whatever one seeks in any text. The Quran is a guide for those who have taqwa; however, the same verses can merely increase the disbelief of those without faith. Ulterior motives, feelings of prejudice, jealousy and enmity, pursuit of pleasure and self-justification allow us to twist the texts we are reading to what suits us.