Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be with him) liberated humankind from utter distress and disgrace, oppression and torture, agony and suffering and acquainted the people with virtue, purity, justice and peace so that they might realise their true position and lead a dignified life on earth. He was “the bearer of glad tidings” as he removed ignorance and brought humanity out of the depths of darkness to the light.
Humans from time immemorial to the present day have been subjected to exploitation and suppression by their own brethren and fellow beings. The wise take advantage of the fool, usurp their rights and use their privileges for their own benefit. The powerful force the weak to work for them, serve their purposes and bring booty for them. Humans also face anguish by their own acts when they fail to identify and adopt the right path which ultimately leads to destruction and disruption.
The reason is that humans shut their eyes to the basic truth, ignore the absolute reality and only act upon their wishes and will be dominated by their egos, urges and drives. They think that the purpose of life is only to seek physical pleasure and obtain material gain. It is immaterial which means they use to obtain what they want. Hence, they try their best and leave no stone unturned to obtain this goal even at the cost of the lives of their own brethren, kith and kin. They do not hesitate, in this course, to suppress others, subjugate others and even to shed the blood of innocent persons. History has witnessed this animal tendency of humans in its different forms of expression throughout the ages. It has witnessed conflict, war, human massacre, torture and hostilities in their most severe forms. Men of knowledge realised this human weakness that created havoc in the annals of history and developed different doctrines, isms and theories to counteract and curb this tendency but all failed to deliver the goods.
Prophet Muhammad’s contribution to humanity is to enable it to restrain itself and keep a rein on its wild desires and ambitions, operate in a dignified way, adopt a middle path and make this world worth living in. This can only be possible when humans comprehend the Highest Truth, the Ultimate Reality, the Lord, the Creator, the Master and the Sustainer of the universe, His inevitable laws which operate in the universe and govern the things that lie in between the heavens and earth, the right path which He commanded, the purpose of human life and the way that leads to peace, tranquillity, prosperity, contentment and perfection. The Prophet taught humans to activate their faculty of understanding, apply it to understand the Creator, His omnipresence and omnipotence, follow His commandments that lead to peace and prosperity, discharge the duties assigned to them by the Lord and develop humane qualities that are expected from them.
The socio-political conditions of the Arabian Peninsula before the advent of Islam were truly pathetic. There was no respect for the human being and there was no moral and ethical standard to guide human relations. Those who were affluent used to dominate others and the whole society, lead a luxurious life, use others for their service and do whatever they liked to maintain their own false prestige, that of their families as well as their tribes.
Consuming liquor and gambling were common and considered prestigious. They went to such an extent in these aspects that they often lost their senses and would stake all their belongings on a single bet. Tribal feuds dominated the whole life of the people and they used to fight against each other on petty issues. Tribal enmity continued generation after generation and it was prestigious and a criterion of bravery to take revenge for the previous humiliation of the tribe. Women were considered commodities. They had no social prestige. They were denied their natural and human rights. A man could marry any number of women and could divorce whenever he liked. Widowed and divorced women could not re-marry. They were discriminated against in social discourse and considered a stigma. The birth of female children was an embarrassment for the people and, as such, they often buried them alive. The heinous crime of female infanticide could not move their hearts to abolish it. The Arabian society was an idolatrous one. There were numerous idols which people adored and considered divinities. There were separate gods and goddesses for every group, tribe and locality. According to a historical source, every family had a deity and members took its blessing whenever they started new work. They also gave the status of deities to natural objects. The socio-cultural life of Arabia was based on the acts by which people tried to appease the deities and avoid their displeasure. It was characterised by vice, barbarism and superstition. Mischief and corruption had spread in every nook and corner by the evil, selfish and undesirable acts of individuals and the humankind was groaning in anguish, agony and torment. In such a miserable condition Allah’s mercy stepped in and He raised Prophet Muhammad (peace to him) to rid humanity of the evil, direct it to the right path and lead it “out of the depth of darkness into light”. The Prophet by his thoughts and actions, dedication and commitment succeeded in his mission and established a virtuous and altruistic society.
Prophet Muhammad was sent “as a mercy to all mankind” (Qur’an 21:107), as “a witness” to truth, as “a bearer of glad tidings”, as “one who invites to Allah’s (grace) by His permission and as a lamp that spreads light” (Qur’an 33: 45-46). He, in fact, delivered humankind from the clutches of evil, iniquity, perversity and ignorance. He relieved humanity of suffering, agony, anguish and exploitation. He dispelled the darkness of ignorance, incomprehension, denseness and stupidity. He enlightened the human soul so that it may grow and absorb virtue, right and good, proceed on the path of righteousness and avoid, wrong and undesirable acts.
The Prophet’s greatest blessing to humanity is that he activated human consciousness and gave humans to understand the Ultimate Truth, the Oneness of God and transformed this understanding into faith. He impressed upon the people that God is one, Who is Most Exalted, Most Commendable, Most Benevolent and Most Powerful. He is the Creator, the Cherisher, the Sustainer, the Guardian and the Lord of the universe. He commands everything, sets forth a path on which everything moves, establishes a system and makes laws according to which everything works, and, thus, follows His commands and submits to His will. Humans are not an exception. They have to follow the same path to earn His mercy, benevolence and kindness. Allah proclaims:
“Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then He established Himself on the throne. He draweth the night as over the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession. He created the sun, the moon, and the stars (All) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds” (7:54).
This truth revolutionised the life of the people. They realised that they were groaning in the darkness of falsehood by invoking other than Allah and acting only for their own selfish needs. They paid heed to the message, completely submitted to the Divine will and began to seek the pleasure and mercy of the Lord. Thus, they embraced goodness, virtue and truthfulness. They turned their backs on vice and evil, expressed sympathy and love to other fellow beings and established peace and harmony in society.
The other significant contribution of the Prophet was to instil the sense of brotherhood in the minds and hearts of the people. Society before him was divided into groups and subgroups, cliques and factions, columns and rows. Each of them considered itself superior, more noble and prestigious and others inferior, insignificant and of lower grade. The basis of the division was wealth, power descent and nobility. They were inimical to each other and always tried to humiliate others whenever they got the chance. They fought each other for their false and superfluous prestige and position. They subjugated others to show their superiority and valour, and to maintain the position of their group.
The Prophet demolished the frivolous wall of hierarchy and united the people under one faith. He convinced the populace that all human beings are equal as they are the progeny of one father. Any distinction on the basis of colour, caste, race, wealth, nationality, nobility and birth in a particular family or group is superficial and unreasonable. All humankind is the creation of God, and as such, they enjoy the same position, prestige and privilege, and must be respected. He conveyed the Qur’anic injunction that “verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is he who is most righteous of you” (49:13).
He invited all and sundry to the Divine message which was the right path for the whole of humankind. His message was universal and not limited to any group or section. It was his blessing to humankind that he blended black and white, rich and poor, high and low into one fraternity. All of them enjoyed the same status, privilege and position. All of them were treated as brethren who shared the grief and joy of each other and were more concerned with the problems of others than their own problems.
History witnessed that when Muslims migrated from Makkah to Madinah, the Ansars (natives) welcomed their immigrant (Mahajir) brothers with all honour and dignity, offered their lands, houses and food without any hesitation. The Prophet exhibited this virtuous trait of equality and fraternity in the true sense in his actions and thought. Its illustration we find in his relations with honourable Belal Ibn Rebah whom he held in high esteem. He admired him most and considered him the favourite and most honoured companion in spite of the fact that he was a slave and black. His admiration of honourable Belal was not due to the fact that he was very close to the Prophet but due to his dedication, commitment and sincerity to the faith and his sacrifices for it. Similarly, the Prophet in his address on the last pilgrimage vehemently declared:
“O people, your God is one and you are all descended from one father, you are the progeny of Adam who was made of clay. In the sight of God the most exalted is the one who is the most righteous. No Arab has any superiority over non-Arab except on the basis of righteousness.”
The sense of fraternity and brotherhood is not only a concept and piece of thought that sounds well and soothes one when written but it is a virtuous fact that must be manifested in our actions. Brotherhood in Islam is based not on ethnicity, culture, descent and nobility but on faith and ideology. All those who profess the faith share an intimate common bond that integrates them into a composite whole where the pain in one part affects the whole. It is manifested in the pilgrimage when people of different cultural, regional and linguistic backgrounds wearing the same dress chanting the same verse perform the religious duty. Similarly, during the five daily prayers, high and low, rich and poor stand shoulder to shoulder to get the grace of the Lord. Iqbal describes the situation as such:
In one row Mahmud and Ayaz stood up / Neither was there any slave nor master; Slave, Master, rich and poor became one / When they reached the domain of the Lord.
This was the exemplary form of fraternity and brotherhood which constitutes the core of the Divine message and which the Prophet preached and inculcated among the people. He, thus, successfully established an egalitarian society which we do not find in any epoch of history. It certainly enhanced the position of human beings on earth and enabled them to lead a respectable life.
His other bestowal to humanity was that he introduced the Islamic concept of ‘human dignity’, established and maintained it in every walk of life. He made people realise that humans are the most perfect and honourable creatures of Allah who created them in the best form, bestowed superior qualities on them and equipped them with higher capabilities. He honoured human beings by providing them with innumerable bounties and by making all the earthly resources subservient to them so that they may get comfort and solace. Allah proclaims:
We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; conferred on them special favours, above a great part of Our Creation (17: 70).
This distinction is conferred to humans so that they may fulfil the covenant which they owe to the Lord, perform their duties and discharge their responsibilities efficiently and adequately. They should carry the message of Allah to every nook and corner, manifest and establish His sovereignty and suzerainty in every act and aspect of society. Moreover, He exalted the position of humans by appointing them His vicegerent and, as such, entrusting them with a responsibility to establish His order and see that it should prevail over the Earth. Thus, human life is very precious; it can neither be destroyed nor ruined nor can it be spent on superfluous and undesirable activities. This is the reason that Islam prohibits homicide and denial of one’s right of existence and considers them crimes.
Before the advent of Islam, human’s position was very low. They were considered commodities and liable to be used and thrown away. Human life was less valuable in comparison with that of animals and plants. It was the general practice to sacrifice humans at the altar of deities. The Prophet banned such practices, raised the status of humans and exhorted the people to protect and maintain their dignity.
The other significant part of the Prophetic message was related to the purpose of human existence. He made people conscious of the purpose of their lives. He engrained in the minds of people that the whole universe was created for a distinct purpose and that sublime purpose is to surrender to the Will of God. The human is not an exception. He delivered the crystal clear Divine message: “I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me” (51:56). It impresses upon humankind that He is the only Sovereign Who is able to be worshipped. All beings and objects other than Him are nothing but falsehood. The Qur’an declares, “It is He Who is God in heaven and God on earth; and He is full of wisdom and knowledge” (43:84). All things in the world follow the path and pattern determined for them by God, obey the law made by Him, serve Him and submit to His command. The right path for humankind is to obey the Lord. It leads to well-being in this world and well-being in the Hereafter. If one follows this path, one gets success and purifies one’s life. Otherwise, one groans in the darkness of falsehood.
The Prophet delivered this truth and inspired the people to act upon it. This gave a meaning to the lives of the people who diverted all their actions to follow the Divine system and earn the grace of the Lord. It brought about a radical change in social life because those who were struggling tooth and nail to obtain wealth, power and prestige began to struggle to seek the pleasure of Allah and stopped exploiting their fellow human beings for physical pleasure and material gain.
These were the ideas that changed the course of human life, gave the human the taste of permanent comfort, purified his soul and provided an enduring solace, laid the foundations of righteousness, enabled him to activate his true nature (fitrah) and act upon it, perform his role as vicegerent of Allah on earth, develop humane qualities and live in peace and tranquillity with his brethren instead of shedding their blood. These were, of course, the blessings and benevolences of the Prophet who manifested these truths in his thought and actions, inculcated them in the minds and hearts of the people, struggled hard to ordain them in society and established a God-fearing altruistic society where humans could and still can lead a dignified life.