The foundations of Greatness

Last section of the book Muhammad (PBUH) at Medina by W. Montgomery Watt (ISBN: 019 577307 1)

Circumstances of place and time favored Muhammad (PBUH). Various forces combined to set the stage for his life-work and for the subsequent expansion of Islam. There was the social unrest in Mecca and Medina, the movement towards monotheism, the reaction against Hellenism in Syria and Egypt, the decline of the Persian and Byzantine empires, and a growing realization by the nomadic Arabs of the opportunities for plunder in the settled lands round them. Yet these forces, and others like them which might be added, would not in themselves account for the rise of the empire known as the Umayyad caliphate nor for the development of Islam into a world religion. There was nothing inevitable or automatic about the spread of the Arabs and the growth of the Islamic community. But for the remarkable combination of qualities in Muhammad (PBUH) it is improbable that the expansion would have taken place, and these vast forces might easily have spent themselves in raids on Syria and Iraq without any lasting consequences. In particular we may distinguish three great gifts Muhammad (PBUH) had, each of which was indispensable to the total achievement.

FIRST there is what may be called his gift as a seer. Through him – or, on the orthodox Muslim view, through the revelations made to him – the Arab world was given an ideological framework within which the resolution of its social tensions became possible. The provision of such a framework involved both insight into the fundamental causes of the social malaise of the time, and the genius to express this insight in a form which would stir the hearer to the depths of his being. The European reader may be ‘put off’ by the Quran, but it was admirably suited to the needs and conditions of the day.

SECONDLY, there is Muhammad (PBUH)’s wisdom as a statesman. The conceptual structure found in the Quran was merely a framework. The framework had to support a building of concrete policies and concrete institutions. In the course of this book much has been said about Muhammad (PBUH) far-sighted political strategy and his social reforms. His wisdom in these matters is shown by the rapid expansion of his small state to a world- empire and by the adaptations of his social institutions to many different environments and their continuance for thirteen centuries.

THIRDLY, there is his skill and tact as an administrator and his wisdom in the choice of men to whom to delegate administrative details, Sound instantiations and a sound policy will not go far if the execution of affairs in faulty and fumbling. When Muhammad (PBUH) died, the state he had founded was a ‘going concern’, able to withstand the shock of his removal and, once it had recovered from this shock, to expand at prodigious speed.

The more one reflects on the history of Muhammad (PBUH) and the early Islam, the more one is amazed at the vastness of his achievement. Circumstances presented him with an opportunity such as few men have had, but the man was fully matched with the hour. Had it not been for his gifts as seer, statesman, and administrator and, behind these, his trust in God and firm belief that God had sent him, a notable chapter in the history of mankind would have remained unwritten. It is my hope that this study of his life may contribute to a fresh appraisal and appreciation of one of the greatest of the ‘sons of Adam’.



W. Montgomery Watt
Oxford University
Press, Karachi, 2000
ISBN 019 577307 1

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