The Quran advises: “‘Let them rejoice at God’s bounty and mercy; it is better than all they accumulate.’” It also mentions in regards to the Prophet Muhammad: “It was only as a mercy that We sent you [Prophet] to all people”.
As Muslims around the world celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, I find myself asking: how can people whose hearts are filled with deep sadness truly rejoice? From Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Burma, Afghanistan, Sudan—the list goes on—people are suffering; many mothers are weeping bitterly over children they have lost.
Is there any room left in people’s hearts for joy after all this tragedy?
I’ve found that there is some light in the darkness that engulfs us. The Prophet was born into a world that was witness to great persecution and maltreatment. His birth signalled an end to that era with a message relevant for all human beings. In this there is hope for us today.
The internal change he brought about in the human soul is what strikes me most about the Prophet. He altered the perception that people had about fellow human beings. In a society like pre-Islamic Arabia this was a phenomenal undertaking. One event in his life sticks out in particular as a demonstration of this mission.
The Prophet was once walking along the road with a group of his companions when a woman with a mental condition stopped him and asked to speak to him alone. He responded by saying: “I am at your service, O mother of so and so” which was an affectionate way to address someone in that culture. He then requested that she choose a street in which they could converse. She was overjoyed and rushed to a nearby street. The Prophet followed her while the Companions stood watching this whole episode. He sat on the ground in front of the woman while she explained her problems, making hand gestures to clarify her point. He spoke to her with gentleness and compassion, answered her questions and then returned to his Companions and they continued on their way.
The Prophet looked at this world through the eye of mercy. His mercy was harmonious with the correct etiquette in mixing and living among people and interacting with them. These are universal human qualities that we, and others, should strive to attain.
One of the Prophet’s customs was to stand outside the mosque after the dawn prayer and meet the poor and destitute. They would bring water containers with them to the mosque in the hope of having the Prophet bless their water. To please them, he would still bless the water by placing his fingers in it, despite the severe winter cold of Madina.
If a slave-girl of Madina came to him and took him by the hand to accompany her while she ran her errands he would go along with her without taking his hand away. If he met a man and spoke to him, he would not be the first to turn his face away. If they shook hands he would not be the first to take his hand away. If he was sitting with a group of people he was never once seen putting his knees in front of the person he was sitting with.”
We know this about the Prophet because his actions were witnessed by his companion and assistant, Anas. In the ten years that Anas served the Prophet, he described his experience with these words: “I was in the service of the Prophet for ten years and he never once insulted me, struck me, scolded me or frowned at me. He never once commanded me to do something and then rebuked me if I was slow to do it. If one of the members of his household rebuked me, he would say: “Leave him, for had something been destined to happen, it would have happened.” He added: “He never once rebuked me for doing something wrong.”
The Prophet’s wife Aisha said of him: “There was no one better in character than the Prophet; whenever one of his Companions or one of the members of his household called him, he would answer by saying: ‘At your service.’”
The Quran described him as having “a tremendous character”.
The absolute failure of our communicating, mixing and interacting with each other is a common factor in the upheavals sweeping societies in the east and west. Perfecting our dealings with each other is a remedy for the tumultuous circumstances, turmoil and calamity that we see present around us. This is the universal lesson that the Prophet taught.