PROPHET MUHAMMAD S.A.W.-- THE MEANING
AND SIGNIFICANCE OF HIS LIFE*
By: Kassim Ahmad
1 June, 2002
As we go through this extremely dangerous period in mankind's history, and as Muslims in Malaysia just celebrated the Prophet's birthday, let us not forget an important fact. Muhammad was a human being like any other, the difference being that he was the last of a long series of God's prophets to mankind and a messenger who delivered God's last message to the world. I especially want to draw attention to this fact, because it is a human tendency to idolize such a personality. No less than the Quran states the following: "The majority of those who believe in God do not do so without committing idol-worship." (12:106)
When Muhammad was lying dead in his wife Aisyah's home, Umar Ibn Khattab, a Companian, one of his father's-in-law and a future (second) Caliph of the early Muslim community, was so agitated that he stood up before the assembled people to deny that Muhammad was dead and to threatened anyone who said so with death! It was the more calm and rational Abu Bakr, also a father-in-law of Muhammad and the first Caliph, who cautioned Umar and said: "O men, if anyone worships Muhammad, Muhammad is dead; if anyone worships God, God is alive, immortal." Then he recited the simple, innocent but stunning verse: "Muhammad is nothing but an apostle. Apostles have passed away before him. Can it be that if he were to die or be killed, you would turn back on your heals? He who turns back does no harm to God in the least. God will reward the grateful." (3: 114)
So, while there is no harm for the Muslim community to celebrate his birthday, in the light of what Umar Ibn Khattab did and in the light of what other religious communities did to their spiritual leaders, they must be extra careful in the matter of idolizing Muhammad. In some meetings, including with religious scholars, I have been criticized for not calling upon the blessing of God to the Prophet whenever I mention his name. They claim that this is commanded by God in verse 56 of Surah 33.
This seems to be a very sensitive matter with Muslims nowadays. I answered them that I have a dilemma between according to the Prophet due respect and honour and idolizing him by the ritual of calling upon the blessings of God on him every time his name is mentioned. I respect and honour Prophet Muhammad by firmly upholding his teachings, which is essentially the Quran, and following his example, which is to be steadfast is upholding the Quran. Moreover, those who propagate that one should call those blessings on the Prophet only knows the Quran partially. They forget or are ignorant of the fact that in the same Surah in verse 43, God tells us that He and His angels also bless the believers in order to lead them out of darkness into light. This puts the matter in a more logical light: both the believers and their leader are equally blessed by God and His angels. It is also understandable that his followers should call upon God's blessing on him while he was leading them, as he himself was commanded by God to also bless his followers. (See Quran, 9:103). Such a mistake cannot occur if Muslims have a proper understanding of monotheism.
A few months before Muhammad died, he received the famous verse that proclaimed the completion of his message. This verse is from Surah Al-Ma`idah ("The Feast"), verse 3, which states: "Today I have completed your religion for you, perfected My blessings upon you and decreed Islam as religion for you." This verse taken together with those questioning Muslims using another book for guidance (65: 35-38) and the earth-shaking verses 30-31 of Surah Al-Furqan containing Muhammad's complaint to God that his people had abandoned the Quran are enough to settle for ever the question of the status of the Hadith.
Let us write down these verses. The verses referring to another book of guidance, other than the Quran, go as follows: " Shall We treat Muslims like criminals? What is wrong with your logic? Do you have another book that you uphold and that gives you what you want?" The two verses, containing Muhammad's famous complaint, are shattering in their implications. They go: "The messenger said, 'My Lord, my people have deserted this Quran.' Thus We have set up against every prophet enemies from among the guilty. Your Lord suffices as guide and helper."
At some times, I have been criticized as anti-Hadith. This is not right, as my book ("Hadis -- Satu Penilaian Semula") only calls for a re-evaluation of the Hadith. My studies have shown that many traditions in the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, two revered Hadith collections among the Sunnis, are in clear contradictions with the teachings of the Quran.
The true purpose of celebrating Prophet Muhammad's birthday must be to remember, study and uphold the teachings that he brought to us from God Almighty. The strict monotheism of Islam and the clear, wise and enlightened teachings contained in Islam's scripture, the Quran, are the very things that our benighted world stand is sore need of. All believers in God, Muslims and non-Muslims, should rush to it to seek answers for our problems.
The United States, so-called only superpower, have unleashed an international war on terror that knows no bounds. But what the world needs is peace, not more wars. Already we have still several unconcluded wars -- the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli War, and the Anglo-American Gulf War against Iraq. Why has peace eluded us for more than a century?
Islam means peace. It is a way of life that is peaceful internally and externally. Muhammad was a man of peace, although he fought several wars in self-defence. Now, of course, Muslims even fight among themsleves. The Iran-Iraq War is a clear example. Algeria has been in a state of civil war for several years. In many Muslim countries today, there exists two warring factions -- the so-called religious and the so-called secular factions.
What is wrong with the Muslims?
A good question. As we have pointed out, it has been answered in the Quran. But many Muslims would rather ignore or side-step it. They are embarrassed to admit that they have abandoned the Quran for other teachings, as Muhammad has complained in that earth-shaking verse that we have quoted. The other teachings that they have opted for, in order of occurrence, are the religious teachings of their theologians and the secular teachings of Western materialism, both of which are foreign importations into Islam.
Unless I am very much mistaken, we are at the end of that period when we are finding that these other teachings have failed us. Both the liberal and communist materialisms of the West have collapsed. So have the earlier European and later Eastern theocracies. So what are we left with?
We are left with the teachings of the Golden Mean. Islam, as propounded in the Quran, and as implemented by Muhammad in his historically-bound city-state of Medina and nation-state of the Peninsular Arabia in the first half of 7th century, is the new philosophico-political paradigm that we must adopt to resolve the world's problems . This teaching preaches the unity of mankind, absolute freedom of religion, peaceful co-existence of various religions and cultures, a firm struggle to promote good and forbid evil, friendly relations with all peoples, and cooperation among all peoples to build a just world.
It advocates the setting up of nation-states based on just law and administration, government and policy to be based on the principle of consultation, a fair and just economic system, leadership of society to be given to those who are competent and morally upright, religious worship to be administered autonomously by the each religious community and cooperation among citizens to build the good society. Its foreign policy is to secure world peace, security and justice against colonialism, imperialism and any other form of oppression and exploitation.
These principles are to be found in the Quran as well as in the Medina Charter that Muhammad promulgated for the city-state of Medina when he and his followers migrated there twelve years into his Call.
The post-Cold War period, instead of removing the fear of Big-Power nuclear confrontations between the Eastern Russian bloc and the Western Anglo-American bloc, has brought us to a worse state -- a state of perpetual war! This is because the Anglo-American oligarchy now controlling the world is, in its essence, imperialistic. It is embarking on wars to re-draw the map of the world. This will only lead to a new Dark Age.
The hope for the world now is for the truly Islamic philosophy of life, as taught in the Quran, to take over. This can only come about if enough courageous and enlightened Muslim leaders step forward to lead the Muslim masses out of their night and unite with humanist leaders of other nations, especially European, Russian, Chinese and Indian, to prevent the slide to Anglo-American-Zionist push for wars, reform the world financial and monetary system and revive the world economy. The American people themselves, and nearly every other people, will respond to this initiative with wild joy.
Such is the philosophical requirements of our times. Such is the meaning and significance of Muhammad, God's messenger to the world, and a mercy to mankind. (Quran, 21:107)
* Not published.