The lasting miracle of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him): His character
Muhammad (peace be on him)
We do not only celebrate the birthday of the Prophet (peace be on him) in Rabbi al Awwal, although according to the most authentic narrations he was born on 12th Rabbi al Awwal, but we celebrate it by following his example throughout the year in our actions, in the way we communicate, and by acquiring knowledge – this is real ittiba’ (following). It is not a one-off occasion, in which we re-tell part of the seerah and sing nasheeds, which is beneficial, but true love is more than this. It has to be combined with action, as the Quran repeatedly commands believers to:
‘Believe and do good deeds.’ (5:9)
The narration of Umm Ma’bad
During the migration of the Prophet (peace be on him) from Makkah to Madina, he passed by the tent of Umm Ma’bad, an old lady well known for her services to the community in Qudaid.
He asked to buy some meat and milk, but unfortunately, she had nothing to offer due to the drought. She and her husband had barely enough to eat or drink themselves. They only had one sheep at the back of the tent, which had no milk as she was not pregnant and was too weary to follow the rest of the herd. The Prophet (peace be on him) asked Umm Ma‘bad if he could milk it. She agreed though she reiterated that the sheep had no milk and was very weak.
When the Prophet (peace be on him) said Allah’s name and rubbed its udders, the milk miraculously started gushing and he asked Umm Ma’bad for a large container, which he immediately filled. Umm Ma’bad was astonished. The Propeht (peace be on him) offered it to her to drink. She refused saying that her guest should drink first, but out of his kindness and respect he insisted she drink it first.
Then he offered milk to Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), till he was satisfied, then his servant. He did not fill up himself and then share it, but ensured everyone had taken enough to be satisfied first, then he filled the container and then they departed.
When her husband, Aktham ibn Abu al-Jawn al-Khuza‘i returned from herding his sheep he was amazed to see the milk. He asked his wife where it had come from, as the sheep was single, so she explained that a ‘blessed man’ had stopped by (she did not know his name) and described what had happened. In her description, Umm Ma’bad painted one of the most incredible, thorough and poetic picture of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) we have. It has been mentioned widely in the seerah of the Prophet (peace be on him).
The description of the Prophet (peace be on him)
On the authority of Umm Ma’bad ‘Atikah bint Khalid al-Khuza‘iyyah (may Allah be pleased with her) who said:
’I saw a man of visible radiance and purity, beautiful appearance, bright faced, with neither protruding ribs nor a small head, handsome and fair. His eyes were deep black and large, and his eyelashes were long. His voice was mellow and soft. The whiteness of his eyes was bright and his pupils were very black. His eyebrows were beautifully arched and connected. His neck was long, his beard densely full. When he was silent, he appeared dignified. When he spoke, he was eminent and crowned with magnificence. His speech was sweet, his words precise, neither too little nor too much. Like a string of pearls flowing down gradually.
He was the most striking and beautiful of people when seen from afar and the fairest of them when seen up close. He was medium height, neither unagreeably tall nor scornfully short; a branch between two branches. Among the three he was the most radiant in appearance, the finest of them in stature. He was surrounded by companions. When he spoke, they listened attentively. When he gave orders, they hastened to fulfil them. Honoured, served and surrounded by followers. He neither frowned, nor criticised’. [Al-Baihaqi and al-Hakim]
In this paragraph, Umm Ma’bad captured his appearance in 30 features.
1. A man with obvious beauty and cleanliness,
2. a glowing countenance,
3. and a good appearance/disposition;
4. with no bulging stomach disgracing him,
5. or a small head disparaging him;
6. is overtly handsome
7. and wholly beautiful;
8. his eyes are wide and very white and black
9. and eyelashes are long;
10. whose voice is devoid of hoarseness,
11. neck is long,
12. and beard is full;
13. the white part of whose eyes is extremely white, and the black part of whose eyes is extremely black,
14. as if his eyelids have kohl naturally;
15. whose eyebrows arch longitudinally and thinly
16. (as if they) meet;
17. who has an extremely black hair;
18. who is stately when silent
19. and is gorgeous when speaking;
20. who is the most beautiful and striking man from far and the best and most beautiful from close;
21. whose speech is sweet, clear, and decisive,
22. neither vaguely short, nor boringly and pointlessly long;
23. whose words flow forth like a perfect string of pearls;
24. of medium height
25. that neither elicits contempt to avert him for
shortness, nor aversion to him for excessive tallness;
26. who is a branch between two branches ; he is the most radiant of the three and the most
27. whose companions surround him; when he speaks they listen attentively to his speech,
and when he commands they vie with each other to fulfill his commands.
28. who is well served and attended,
29. who is neither a scowler
30. nor a prattler
The perceptiveness of Umm Ma’bad
Having reached her old age running this resting spot for travellers, Umm Ma’bad had years of experience, and had seen a multitude of travellers come and go and she had the knack of being able to recognise people for who they were.
Umm Ma’bad within a few hours, had noticed that the Prophet (peace be on him) was a man of striking beauty and cleanliness, with a glowing face. Even though she was not Muslim, she could recognise the light that radiated from his face.
She mentioned his good character, kindness and his beauty. The softness of his speech, and how his words were like a string of pearls, the dignity of his presence and his perfection.
Her husband realised that ‘This was the man I was told about and if I had the power to follow him, I would follow him.’ Later he and his wife accepted Islam and become companions of the Prophet (peace be on him), who was generous towards them.
Even on that occasion, hungry and thirsty from his journey, the Prophet (peace be on him) could have taken the first sip of the milk from the sheep, but instead he offered it to Umm Ma’bad. He could have drunk the milk after her, but instead he offered it to Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and drank it last. This shows the virtue of altruism (eethar) in action, to give preference to others over yourself. He set the example for the Ummah to follow. He did not just talk the talk, but he walked the walked. He embraced and demonstrated what he taught.
We can see from this that simple yet revealing interaction, that his example was of sweetness and mercy. Mercy is the word which best reflects the attribute which Allah chose to describe Himself, and which is at the core of His message and by extension, His Messenger (peace be on him) and the key feature which believers must develop in themselves.
Of Himself, Allah Almighty, the Rahman and Raheem, said in the Hadith Qudsi:
“My mercy prevails over my anger”. [Bukhari]
Allah’s Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“I am a gifted mercy. ” [Musnad Ahmad]
Allah’s Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Verily Allah is merciful only to those of His slaves who are merciful (to others)”. [Bukhari]
As Allah Almighty stated:
We have sent you (O Muhammad) not but as a mercy for all the worlds. [Al-Anbiya’:21:107]
The ‘worlds’ (al’almeen) includes mankind and Jinn, animals and the environment.
Mankind – particularly the downtrodden and oppressed
Throughout the seerah we see the Prophet (peace be on him) showing respect to those who were not valued by society. He was kind to the elderly, women, children, servants, slaves, as well to animals and the environment.
Children – We see plenty of examples of his mercy towards children. He used to play with them and make himself a camel and put them on his back. When they interrupted his Friday khutbah and clambered onto his mimbar, he would stop to embrace them, or put them on his lap.
On other occasions, he would prolong his Sujud while he was leading the congregation, until some Companions wondered if he had passed away. They asked him afterwards why he had done that and he explained that his grandson had climbed onto his back during Sujud.
Women and wives- His mercy to his wives was beyond description. He would offer them his knee as a step to mount their camel. He emphasised the importance of treating wives kindly, and reiterated it again in his Farewell Sermon.
Slaves – At the time when slavery was the norm, he taught people to respect slaves, to feed them from the same food that they ate themselves, not scraps, and to give them clothes that they would wear themselves, not rags. He gave them back their dignity and promoted justice for all.
Animals and the environment
The Prophet (peace be on him) also asked his Companions to look after their animals well, to feed them properly, not overburden them or be cruel to them. He was not just concerned about the welfare of humans but all creatures and all of creation. He taught us to preserve water, even when we are near an abundant water source, like a river, and encouraged us to plant trees as they bring benefit not just to us but to birds and other creatures.
The character of the Prophet (peace be on him)
Gentle and easy going
The Prophet (peace be on him) had a soft nature and easy going, when people asked for his approval he would generally give it, unless there was something impermissible in their request.
He did not speak in a harsh tone and nor was he stone hearted. Allah the Almighty said:
It is part of the Mercy of Allah that you dealt with them gently. [Al-Imran 3:159]
He avoided arguments, arrogance and pointless expressions. He did not waste time on things which had no value and he did not argue and told people not to argue.
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be on him) always had a smile on his face, kana daimal bishr, and Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) observed that his smile was a reflection of his internal happiness. He said:
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was always happy and easy mannered.
There was always a smile and a sign of happiness on his blessed face. [Shamail Al-Tirmidhi]
Humility and compassion
The companion Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reports:
“The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) visited the sick, attended funerals, rode on donkeys, accepted the invitations of slaves”. [Tirmidhi]
We see his unassuming nature, as much at ease riding on donkeys and mules, which were the least impressive forms of transport, as camels. He did not say, I am the Messenger I will only sit on a camel or accept the best invitations.
Patient and supportive
He exercised patience when he was questioned by the Bedouins, no matter how rude, harsh or indecent their questions were. He understood they lived in a harsh environment and so he accommodated and answered their questions. He encouraged his Companions to be the same and to be ready to help.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)’ would say:
‘When you see a person in need, (Arfidooh) then help that person, (or give him, be generous with him)’. [Tirmidhi]
Having good character earns the intercession of the Prophet (peace be on him)
Abdullah ibn Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“Shall I tell you about the most beloved to me and the closest to my assembly on the Day of Resurrection?” They were silent, so the Prophet repeated himself two or three times. They said, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said, “Those with the best character.” [Musnad Aḥmad]
Sending salawat on the Prophet (peace be on him) brings closeness to Him on the Day of Judgement
Ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“The closest of people to me on the Day of Resurrection are those who sent the most blessings upon me.” [Tirmidhi]
Dua for good character
The Prophet (peace be on him) would make dua for good character:
اللَّهُمَّ اهْدِنِي لِأَحْسَنِ الْأَعْمَالِ وَأَحْسَنِ الْأَخْلَاقِ لَا يَهْدِي لِأَحْسَنِهَا إِلَّا أَنْتَ
O Allah, guide me to the best deeds and the best character, for no one guides to the best of them but you. Protect me from evil deeds and evil character, for no one protects from the evil of them but you.” [Sunan al-Nasa’i]
The miracle of the lasting character of the Prophet (peace be on him)
The Prophet (peace be upon him), has been asked, “Which Muslim has the perfect faith”?
He answered, (peace be upon him): “He who has the best character”. [Tirmidhi]
It is as if the message he brought is summed up in the perfection of good character. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
“I have been sent to complete the good character”. [Musnad Ahmad]
Allah Almighty talks about the character of the Prophet (peace be on him) because that is the miracle. While Musa (peace be on him) for instance was given the parting of the Red Sea, the shining hand and the staff which turned into a snake, and Eesa (peace be on him) was given the power to cure the sick, when Allah Almighty talks about Muhammad (peace be on him) He does not refer to miracles, but instead chooses to focus on his character.
In the second revelation (the first was ‘iqra’) was Surat Al-Qalam, Allah Almighty said:
Truly you have a noble character. [68:4]
All the miracles of the other prophets disappeared after their death, but the character of the Prophet (peace be on him) is an ever- lasting miracle, whoever emulates his character is part of this living miracle.
When the mother of the believers `Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) was asked about His character (peace be upon him). She said:
“His character was the Quran”. [Bukhari]
Sometimes you read this hadith translated as ‘He was a walking Quran’ but this is not an accurate translation, it means he mirrored the Quran in his actions.
The Quran is like a magnet which magnetises those who read it. As the Prophet (peace be on him) was the closest companion of the Quran, he mirrored it the most – he recited it and demonstrated it.
We too should be like a pin which becomes magnetised by being in contact with a magnet over time. This is why when we read the Quran, we should reflect it and implement it in our lives. When the Quran talks about mercy, we should show mercy, and when the Quran talks about generosity, we should be generous, and when the Quran talks about giving forgiveness, we should forgive others’ shortcomings and so on.
Read the biography of the Prophet (peace be on him)
We should read the seerah of the Prophet (peace be on him) – there are short booklets and longer ones, depending on how much time you have. One of the best books is Our Master Muhammad by shaykh Abdullah Siraj. The Shamail al Tirmidhi is also useful but not as easy to read. When you read it, note the traits of the Prophet (peace be on him). During workshops I have run, people usually identify about 40 characteristics. Then tick the boxes and assess yourself. What qualities do you need to work on? It might be patience or generosity or being less temperamental or angry.
Be the living example
Work through these systematically, one or two traits at a time. Some traits will take more time than others. Over the course of a year, you will be able to improve your character practically and will see the benefits in your life.
There are many countries which the Muslims did not conquer through battles, but by the character of their merchants and tradesmen. Some of them moved there and began trading and through their example they spread Islam.
People judge Islam by your character. If you behave badly, this is how you portray Islam. If you are good, you will be a good ambassador of Islam.
When we make the intention to improve, Allah Almighty will enable us to be the best Ummah. Allah The Almighty said:
The best among you in Allah’s eyes, is the one who is best in conduct. (49:13)
The best in conduct means doing what is encouraged in Islam and refraining from what has been prohibited. If we do not do this, we will lag behind.
The Prophet (peace be on him) came to show us how to keep improving ourselves and how to perfect ourselves. He is our inspiration. Allah the Almighty said:
Verily in the Messenger of Allah you have (Uswatun hasana) a good example to follow. [Al-Ahzaab:33:21]
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