THIS Saturday, Muslims worldwide will commemorate the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last prophet and messenger of God, who lived more than 1,400 years ago.
It is alarming, however, that today’s young Muslims have difficulty in relating to Prophet Muhammad and what he represents in the consciousness of Muslims.
Some young Muslims today struggle to understand Prophet Muhammad’s perspective — they suffer from a lack of conviction and have doubts about their belief in the Prophet.
For centuries, love and respect for Prophet Muhammad was an obligation and 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”.
The increasing detachment of present-day Muslims has led to the following remark by the late Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki, one of the most eminent Makkah-based Islamic scholars of the 20th century: “This distance and detachment... is a matter of manifest peril, with grave consequences... for the Muslim community.”
Muslims largely have been able to relate to Prophet Muhammad through the prophetic embodiments in scholars, teachers and leaders, supplemented by the rich literature of the sirah (prophetic biography), shama’il (descriptive portrait of the Prophet) and its commentaries, and qasidah (poems praising the Prophet) — many of which have been transmitted orally throughout the ages.
The earliest accounts of prophetic biography have survived to this day, thanks to the efforts of Ibn Ishaq (dated 776) and Ibn Hisham (dated 833), whose sources were based on earlier oral traditions.
Their work has been translated into English by Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din — Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources — widely recognised as the best English translation of the sirah.
A monumental book for contemporary Muslims to be reacquainted with the true stature of the Prophet 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. This, too, had been translated into English by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley (Madinah Press, 1992).
Among the most celebrated poems praising the Prophet was composed by Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Jazuli, known as the Dala’il al-Khayrat (Waymark of Benefits), and al-Busiri’s Qasida al-Burda (Poem of the Mantle).
Both poems have spread from Morocco to the Malay Archipelago.
They were fashionable among Ottoman’s high society — princes had exchanged embellished copies and the Qasida al-Burda was written on the tiles of the Topkapi Palace, and commoners treasured them.
It is worth highlighting some examples of how the Ottomans expressed their love for Prophet Muhammad.
Senior Ottoman historian Mehmet İpşirli said: “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 regarded themselves as a khadim (servant) of the Prophet and would practice utmost adab (decorum) 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 Madinah, and governor of the Hijaz with autonomy, while the welfare of their families was taken care of by the state.
The Ottoman sultans took the responsibility of preserving the sacred belongings of the Prophet, which are still kept at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul today.
Among them are the Prophet’s mantle (cloak/shawl), a sandal, cup, footprint on a stone, swords, bow, his tooth that broke during the Battle of Uhud, the soil he used for ritual ablution, and his seal.
In the consciousness of generations of Muslims, Prophet Muhammad is not simply a historical figure but a continuous source of inspiration and a role model par excellence — the Almighty described him as uswatan hasana (the best example).
The resulting attitude of Muslims throughout the ages is succinctly explained by Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas in his book, 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 a Muslim is secularised in his reasoning, Prophet Muhammad is no longer regarded as the central personality in his consciousness.
When this is extended to the larger population, 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 the unattainable in life.
We should strive to revive that feeling of revered love and respect for Prophet Muhammad so that Muslims will be guided by his profound wisdom and spiritual vision.
As Muslims, we should be inspired by his exemplary leadership, memorable humanitarian values and keen understanding of societal reality.
We should also remember how he had successfully transformed his people from a state of ignorance (jahiliyyah) and idol-worshipping, to worshipping Allah, the one and only Creator.
Additionally, the Prophet’s practice of tolerance and understanding is essential in today’s world to preserve peace and harmony in a multicultural and multireligious world.
We should also bear in mind the Prophet’s four most noble characteristics — trustworthiness (siddiq); integrity (amanah); communicative (tabligh), and intelligence (fathonah). Integrity, honesty, and trust are key Islamic values and they reinforce the belief that the greatest reward lies not in this world, but in the hereafter and admission to paradise.
The writer is senior research officer, Centre for Economics and Social Studies, IKIM
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times