Essay No. 6 in a series of essays on Community For more info contact: [email protected]
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): our Prophet and Messenger Jan 2006
By: Saif Manzoor
Historians from every generation have written extensively on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). These biographies, written with different perspectives in different times, places and languages, cover every aspect of Prophet’s life including his personal life as a husband or a father, his strategies as a leader, his battles as a military commander, his achievements as a reformer and most important his legacy as a Prophet.
Therefore, we find it challenging to write anything new, which adds to our knowledge, on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). We fully understand that it requires more than a three page essay[i].
However, in this essay, to express our deepest respect and affection to our Prophet (PBUH), we have selected three significant achievements, out of many, relating to three different aspects of his life: as a reformer he abolished female infanticide in Arabia; as a strategist he planned and achieved a peaceful surrender of Mecca; and as a leader he laid the foundation of a community which grew and prospered long after him.
Female infanticide[ii] is a horrible practice, which was very common at the turn of 7th century in the misogynistic[iii] culture of pre-Islamic Arabia. It was an old custom among Arabs to kill a certain number of female children. As a reformer Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) eradicated female infanticide in Arabia of his times.
Historians and Anthropologists have given many underlying reasons for this gruesome practice. The primary reason for infanticide is thought to be economic, as a family was not prepared to support girls who were an economic liability in their culture. But there is evidence of such practices equally among rich and poor families; therefore, there may be other reasons for this practice.
Another reason which is put forward was to balance the ratio of women and men. Men in Arabia faced more dangers than women did. The traditional male role took its toll in lives, in wars and revenge killings. As a result, adult women would have outnumbered men substantially, without killing the female baby. Historians also put forward a third reason that, in a patri-lineal[iv] system, it was both a matter of pride and economic success to have more sons and therefore, the baby girls were killed.
Because of these reasons, the female child was often buried alive. Quran mentions about this practice in chapter 81[v] and denounces the practice as a great sin, and exhorts men to trust in God to provide the need of their children[vi].
Prophet (PBUH) himself had four daughters and could very well understand the horror and ugliness of this practice. Even before God commanded him to be a Prophet he never believed or practiced such acts. From the beginning of his vocation as a Prophet he denounced this practice. Female infanticide was eradicated when the Islamic community was established in Medina and as more tribes and people joined them, this practice vanished in the optimistic political and economic situation of Al-Islam[vii].
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers were forced to migrate from Mecca in 622 A.D after their life became impossible, due to the genocidal hatred of Quraish towards them. They immigrated to Medina, a small town, and founded a Muslim community. At that time who could speculate that within eight years the same immigrants will enter the city as victors?
Mecca was very important to Muslim community both as a strategic city and also because it housed Kabba, the spiritual and geographical center of Islam. Therefore, from the day one, reconciling with Mecca and bringing them within the folds of Muslim community was the long-term strategy of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Thus began a eighth years long war of attrition, which saw changing fortunes, battles, treasons and treaties all ending with the, almost, peaceful surrender of the establishment of Mecca to the Muslim Community.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) knew as a strategist that the strength of Mecca lay in their caravan trade via the Syrian route and their ability in making alliances or confederacy with Arab tribes by using their statesmanship and money. On the other hand, their weakness lay in the malaise of their times i.e. their vices and too much reliance on money.
At the beginning the Muslim community was severely deficient in resources and no match to the prosperity of Mecca, but their strength lay in their solidarity and the message which was offering a new social and political deal to the whole Arabia by giving them an opportunity to unify above the tribal and clan identities.
After Prophet was given the permission in Quran to retaliate, to those who expelled them from their homes, he embarked on a strategy of diminishing the strengths of Mecca by blocking their caravans, propagating the message of Muslim community by inviting Arab tribes near Medina to join the community and bolstering the image of Muslim community by showing that they can challenge Mecca. This strategy not only weakened Mecca economically as their Syrian trade came to a halt but it also frustrated establishment of Mecca so much that eventually they capitulated and surrendered to Muslim community of Medina.
The Community Leader
At the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the political system revolved around the tribe, which was essentially based on blood-kinship, or confederation of tribes against common enemies. Membership of a tribe was necessary for security of life and property, since unprotected groups of individuals were completely at the mercy of enemies. In return for such security the tribe demanded supreme loyalty.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) founded a community, which was beyond the boundaries of tribal kinship. It was based on an ideology and for this community God said that we have perfected the God’s chosen system for you. As the leader of this community he set the example for all the aspects of life within the community. This aspect of his life is one of the greatest legacies he has left behind.
Few people in human history are successful as Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in both secular and religious terms. As the head of a state or the Muslim community he left behind a system, which not only prospered after him but expanded at a rapid pace. And as a Prophet he left behind a book which still kindles the light of God in the heart of the believers.
[i] Therefore, to cover this subject in more detail, we will shortly begin a series of essays.
[ii] It is the practice of intentionally causing the death of a female infant. This practice is still performed in ignorant societies in different parts of the world.
[iii] Misogyny is an exaggerated aversion towards women. Compared with anti-woman sexism, misogyny is usually regarded as directed against women by some men, though women can also harbor misogynistic views. In feminist theory, misogyny is recognized as a political ideology similar to racism or anti- Semitism, existing to justify and reproduce the subordination of women by men. The etymology of misogyny comes from the Greek and means to hate (misein) woman (gyne).
[iv] Based on or tracing descent through the male line.
[v] And when the female (infant) buried alive shall be questioned. For what sin she was killed? [81:8-9]
[vi] [7:31] And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin. [6:137-140] Indeed lost are they who killed their children, from folly, without knowledge.
[vii] Muhammad (PBUH) at Medina, by W. Montgomery Watt, page 270-271.