The Relevance of the Seera of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)


We as Muslims are fortunate and blessed to have both the Qur'an and the Seerah available to guide us. This is clearly different from other religions. In the Buddhist tradition there is partial documentation of the example of the founder but no revealed scripture. In Christianity parts of the Gospels that are the revealed Injil and an incomplete record of Isaa's (PBUH) life is all that is available In Islam, on the other hand, the revealed message the Qur'an is unalterably and eternally preserved. There is in addition careful documentation in the Seerah literature of how the Prophet ? understood and implemented its edicts. In effect there is both the theory and the practice of the faith, the hypothesis and if you will its proof, the idea and its implementation, the prescription and the directions to use it, indeed both the guidance of Allah in the Qur'an and the wisdom of the Prophet in the Seerah.

The complementary nature of the Qur'an and Sunnah are best exemplified by the verse "Indeed there is for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern.' (Qur'an 33:21) and the saying of Aisha? when she said, "the Prophet is the living embodiment of the Qur'an." Mufassirs have pointed out that the Qur'an may not be fully understood without knowledge of the Sunnah. The important 20th century scholar Fazlur Rahman remarks that parts of the Qur'an may be looked upon as a running commentary on the Prophet's struggle.

It is therefore essential, in my opinion, that we have as good an understanding of the various facets of the Prophet's struggle as we have of the five pillars of Islam.

After all as Hodgson points out in "The Venture of Islam" "Muhammad's? achievement was" that by following the Qur'an he was able " to rise to a level of personal moral piety such as had occurred to few to dream of." More importantly "he presented this as a real possibility for all human beings, ----." That is "he presented it in a concrete, tangible form in which, by an act of will, any ordinary human being could adopt this ideal practically."

The first objective of my book "The Seven Phases Of Prophet Muhammad's Life" is to highlight the major themes of the Seerah, using a holistic rather than an atomistic approach to studying his life and mission. The tired but useful adage of trees and the forest applies. It is only through a holistic understanding of Seerah that scholars and ordinary Muslims alike may obtain lessons that may change in a concrete, practical and realistic manner the current situation they find themselves in. Highlighting these major themes and breaking down his struggle into several phases is my original contribution to the Seerah literature. As I analyzed the Seerah the seven phases that I allude to in the book seemed to unfold naturally. Each phase was quite distinct from the other and appeared to bring a different facet of his personality to the fore.

To extract lessons from the various phases of his struggle that are relevant to us today is the second objective of my book. To use an example, the Prophet's actions upon arrival at Madinah have a great deal of relevance to Muslims living in multi-religious societies. Upon arrival at Madinah the Prophet put into effect the pluralism and religious tolerance the Qur'an preaches. Unlike all other previous scriptures the Qur'an recognizes the legitimacy of other faiths. Jews, Christians and Sabians are mentioned specifically as those who may receive just rewards for their deeds. Later in Prophet's life the Zoroastrians were included in this preferred religion status. The Prophet's document on living in a multi-religious pluralistic society is preserved as the "Covenant or Constitution of Madinah" (Dastur-ul-Madinah.)

Some of the questions we all struggle with these days may be answered by a study of this document. A question we constantly debate is our attitude toward people of other faiths? How should we interact with non-Muslims?

The answer from studying the Seerah is quite clear. `Mut'im bin 'Adi, Muhammad's? "protector" on his return from Ta'if to Makkah, Abdullah bin Arqat, a polytheist, who he hired as a guide to Madinah during Hijrat, Mukhayriq the Jewish Rabbi who fought along with the Muslims and died in the battle of Uhud, Safwan bin Umayya who loaned his weapons to the Muslims, were all non-Muslims the Prophet interacted with and relied upon.

How we define the term "Ummah" may also be answered by a study of this document. "The Jews of Banu 'Awf are one community with the believers" (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs) says clause 26 of the dastur. The Muslims were to be an Ummah unto themselves but they were also to be an Ummah with those who were allies with them! In fact isn't the Ummah the Qur'an addresses and the Prophet is a guide for the broader family of mankind?

My third objective in writing this book was to use the Qur'an as the primary source for the Seerah. This goes back to my earlier point about the complementary nature of the Qur'an and Seerah. A careful reading of the Qur'an reveals that all of the major events in his life, all of the important question of theology, and Fiqh,that were asked of him are mentioned in the Qur'an.

Many of us, especially new Muslims, have difficulty coming to grips with the persona of the Prophet. One reason is that it is clearly different from the largely mythological depictions of Isaa and Musa in movies, stage and books. The difficulty many Muslims and non-Muslims have in getting comfortable with Prophet's persona is similar to what people of Makkah appeared to have had. The Qur'an refers to this in the verses where it talks about the skepticism of the ordinary Makkan who would say (25:7) "What sort of an apostle is this, who eats food, and walks through the streets? Why has not an angel been sent down to him to give admonition with him?" This essential humanity where we see him go through the trials and triumphs of an ordinary mortal is what makes his personality so unique and credible and practical to follow. Hopefully I have been able to write a book that will make it easier to understand and appreciate the Prophet's persona as a human being. I have attempted to make the book succinct and at the same time give a holistic picture of the Prophet's life that is well supported by the Qur'an. Insha-Allah this reading of the Seerah will help us all deal with our own struggle as Muslims living as dependant minorities in the 21st century West.

The hostility faced by Muslims today is not dissimilar to that experienced by the Prophet and his early followers. The Prophet was stereotyped as a poet and a man possessed. He was verbally and physically abused, socially ostracized and economically boycotted. His response was to be stoic in the face of hostility, to remain patient in adversity and explain his message tirelessly in the best possible manner. In this surely there are lessons for us.

O Allah! Improve my spiritual life, for that is to be my refuge,
And purify my material life, for I have to live it,
And prepare me for the life, to which I shall have to return,
And keep me alive till it is good for me to be alive,
And call me back when it is good for me to die.
And lengthen my life in a goodly state,
And turn death into bliss before an evil state supervenes. (Hisn-al-Hisn)



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