MIAN AFRASIAB MEHDI HASHMI QURESHI: More than 1400 years ago, a child was born in the desert of Arabia. He was named ‘Muhammad.’
Muhammad means ‘The Most Praised One.’ Before Muhammad, there was “no person on earth” who had “this name as his name.”1 Today, more than 400 million people in the world have his name as their name.2
No name has been given to men in such large numbers other than the name, Muhammad.
Almost all Muslims who do not carry the name Muhammad, have been named after the titles or epithets of Muhammad, names that are associated with the message of Muhammad, names of the family members of Muhammad, or the names of friends and close associates of Muhammad. Similarly, almost all Muslim women today and in the last more than 1400 years, have been named after the family members of Muhammad, women mentioned in his message, or female friends and associates of the family members of Muhammad.
Muhammad has been the most common name in the history of the world. Indeed, Muhammad is the most popular name in the world today.3
Muhammad has also been the most recited name in the world. The name is eulogized billions of times every day by devout Muslims in the four corners of the world. The name, Muhammad is glorified aloud, with respect and reverence, each time the call for prayer is given at each and every mosque in the world five times a day. Be it Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe or the continent of Asia, Muhammad’s name is loudly proclaimed as the Prophet of God.
All this is not just the case in the 21st century; this has been the practice of his followers over the last more than fourteen hundred years.
No man or woman, living in any part of the world today, can say that he or she has never heard the name ‘Muhammad’. Type the word ‘Prophet’; automatically, the computer will come up with information on ‘Prophet Muhammad.’
The name Muhammad has the widest ever pronunciation and spelling variants.
Depending on the geographical region, Muhammad has been pronounced and written among others, as: Muhammed, Mohammed, Mohamad, Mohammad, Mohamed, Mahmet, Mahmett, Mahmmet, Mahmat, Mehmed, Mehmad, Muhammet, Muhamed, Muhamad, Mukhammed, Mokhammed, Mukhammad, Mukhamed, Mokhamed, Mokhamad, Mokhamat, Mokhammet, Mokhammat, Muhanmode, Muhanmod, Muhanmad, Muhanmed, Mukhammyed, Mokhammyed, Mukhammyad and Mohamyed.
There are other variants also, which go unnoticed.
Importantly, the epithets with spelling variants that trace their origin to the Prophet of Islam, also include: Mahmud, Mahmood, Mahamood, Mehmud, Mehmood, Ahmed, Ahmad, Ahmet, Ahmat, Ehmed, Ehmad, Ehmmad, Ahamed, Ahamad, Ahammed, Ahammad, Achmed, Achmad, Haamid, Hamed, Hamid, Hammad, Hammaad, and Hemmaad. This is a highly incomplete list.
Muhammad is also the only name in the world and world history, which has been written in so many ‘styles, fonts, lines, hues and colors’ by artistes, painters and calligraphers. On their part, architects have engraved the name Muhammad on the walls and ceilings of grand mosques, impregnable forts and magnificent palaces, be it Istanbul, Lahore or Granada.
Many are surprised to see Muslims cry when they hear the name of their Prophet. Tears roll down their eyes. A number of Muslims would never take his name unless they are physically clean. Muslims even kiss his name with fingers touching their eyes, to show their love for Muhammad.
Muhammad is the only man in history whose personality transcends the general norms of societal interaction. His daughter Fatima loved Muhammad. She loved him the way every daughter would love her father. Whenever Fatima spoke of Muhammad, she never said, “My father said this” or “My father did this.” Fatima used to say, “The ‘Prophet of Allah’ said this;” or “The ‘Prophet of Allah’ did this.” His wife Aisha did not say, “My husband said this;” or “My husband did this.” She said, “ ‘The Prophet of Allah’ said this,” or “ ‘The Prophet of Allah’ did this.” Even his close associates and friends referred to Muhammad as “The Prophet of Allah” and not as “My friend, or our friend.”
All this is unusual. All this is very unusual.
All this is unprecedented in history.
Prophet Muhammad has attracted the attention of the world. In history, Muhammad has always attracted attention.
Muhammad occupies pivotal place in the heart, mind and soul of a Muslim.
Muhammad also occupies central place in the heart, mind and soul of those who hate him.
Whether it was the Crusades or the Fall of Constantinople; whether it was the time when Muslims were being massacred by Hulagu in Baghdad, or it was the time when Islam was being expunged from Spain; Muhammad was relevant.
Muhammad is relevant today. Muhammad has become more relevant in the wake of 9/11.
Some, who do not believe in his message, have heaped allegations on Muhammad. Some, who believe in his message, have distorted the teachings of Muhammad. What an irony; what a paradox! Or, perhaps, this is part of the larger scheme of the Creator.
Muslims believe in one God, because Muhammad had said that this was true. Muslims believe in life after death, because Muhammad had asked them to so believe. They believe in angels, heaven and hell, because Muhammad had said that this was true. To a Muslim, the message of Muhammad is the way of life. Muhammad is the very fountainhead of the Muslim thought process.
Muhammad was not an ‘antidisestablishmentarian.’ During his time, virtues had fallen prey to what can be called the ‘floccinaucinihilipilification syndrome.’
Muhammad never went to school or a university. He was unlettered. Yet the Quran he left behind is a unique masterpiece of literature.
The Quran, opines the Jewish Virtual Library, “is certainly the greatest literary work in classical Arabic.” Given the richness of the Arabic language, Quran is untranslatable. Dr. Craig Considine quotes Leo Tolstoy as stating that Quran agrees with the “mind, logic and wisdom.”5
For a Muslim, Quran is “the very word of God, revealed through archangel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad.”6
The Quran is the most recited book in the world.
The Quran is voluminous.7 The entire Quran has been memorized ‘word to word’ by millions of Muslims the world over. Interestingly, the majority of those who commit the Quran to memory, are the ones who do not know Arabic.
Each and every word of the Quran has been preserved word for word, without any change or alteration, since it was revealed to Muhammad. If there is any doubt, compare the Quran in a shop in New York, Islamabad or London, today, with the earliest manuscripts of the Quran preserved in Turkey, Morocco and Egypt.
The message of the unlettered Muhammad changed the mind and mindset of humanity. It transformed mankind.
Importantly, Muhammad never claimed to be a sage or a seer. He said, he was the Prophet of Allah, Who had ordained him to convey His message to His people.
A Muslim is a Muslim; whether he is black, white, brown or yellow. No matter what language he speaks; whether he has studied in Oxford or Stanford, his love for this man Muhammad, would not diminish.
You cannot change the mind of a Muslim. His mindset has already been changed by the message of Muhammad.
Powerful emperors have admired Muhammad; presidents and prime ministers adore him; field marshals and generals have saluted him; and Scholars and ideologues have written intellectual masterpieces on this man, Muhammad. On their part, the Sufis have preached the message of Muhammad. Importantly, mighty Empires in history who were the superpowers of their time, owed their allegiance to Muhammad. Similarly, nation-states have been created in the name of the message of Muhammad. Millions have sacrificed their lives to protect the ideology of Muhammad; and millions are ready to die to protect the honour of Muhammad.
How lucky is Amina to have given birth to Muhammad! How fortunate is Abdullah to have been the father of Muhammad!
Muhammad was persecuted during the early days of his prophethood. So were his followers. Persecution then became unbearable. Muhammad directed a few Muslims to seek refuge in the Kingdom of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), ruled by a kind-hearted Christian, Negus.
King Negus asked the Muslims, why had they left Arabia to come to him? Their leader, Jaffer Tayyar, underlined the reasons in a speech, which has left a grand impact on world history. Unfearingly, he underlined:
As he listened, the Christian king wept.
History notes that “Negus wept, until his beard was wet;” and the bishops with him, “wept until their scrolls were wet.”9 Negus exclaimed, “Muhammad is the Prophet about whom we read in our books!”10 He gave refuge to the Muslims.
Much earlier, as a boy of less than five, Muhammad had a brief interaction with the people of the Christian faith. According to Ibne Ishaq, a group of twenty Christians on a visit to Mecca, took note of Muhammad. They looked at him and said to the boy’s foster-mother, “Let us take this boy” to “our king and our country, for he will have a great future. We know all about him.”11
Muhammad strongly advocated the rights of women.
The first person to accept the message of Muhammad was not a man, but a woman, Khadija.
The first person to sacrifice her life for the message of Muhammad was not a man, but a woman, Sumayyah bint Khabbaṭ.
Muhammad gave women the right to question. Muhammad gave women the right to defend their honour. Muhammad gave women the right to choose life partner in marriage. Muhammad granted women the right to inherit property. Muhammad granted women the right to earn a respectable living. Muhammad granted women the right to participate in public life and vote her views and opinion.12 A Muslim woman can even retain her own family name upon marriage, rather than taking up the name of her husband. This way, she remains her own very person, with her own identity.
Muhammad urged his followers to take care of widows and the orphan. Muhammad directed the rich to distribute their wealth among the poor.
Muhammad hated dictatorship. Muhammad stood for egalitarianism.
In Islam, Allah is the Supreme Sovereign, Who is not at all pleased with those on earth who arrogate to themselves arrogance and power.
Muhammad launched a movement against slavery. The black Muslim slave Bilal, enjoys a great respect in Islam. Why not! he was the first person to be granted the honour by Muhammad to give the first call (azaan) for salat (prayer).
What to talk of human rights, Muhammad stood for animal rights. Muhammad had a pet cat he named ‘Muezza.’ Sometimes, Muezza sat on his lap when he gave sermons in the (Prophet’s) Mosque in Medina.
Muhammad was an environmentalist. He promoted green environment. His specific instructions to plant trees and never cut “a green tree”, reverberate in the Islamic world even in the 21st century.
Muhammad urged his followers to conserve water; not waste water.
Above all, Muhammad advised the grim faced bedouin to smile.
Alphonse de Lamartine, commenting on Muhammad, thus writes, “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astonishing results are the three criteria of a human genius, who could dare compare any great man in history with Muhammad?”13
Muhammad stood against injustice. He emphasised that the earlier nations on earth were destroyed, because “when a poor man among them committed a crime he was punished, but when a rich man committed a crime he was not punished.” Muhammad emphasised the importance of the following passage from the God’s Quran:
“Believers, be the supporters of justice and testify to what you may have witnessed, for the sake of God, even against yourselves, parents, and relatives; whether it be against the rich or the poor. God must be given preference over them. Let not your desires cause you to commit injustice. If you deviate from the truth in your testimony, or decline to give your testimony at all, know that God is well aware of what you do.”14
The Harvard Law School opines that these Quranic verses are “the greatest expression of justice in (world) history.” To honour Prophet Muhammad, the Law School decided to post these verses at the entrance of its Faculty Library. Muhammad has also been honoured by others, in their own way, including Lincoln`s Inn in the UK, and the Supreme Court of the United States.15
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Muhammad as “the most successful of all religious personalities.”16 George Bernard Shaw opines: "I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality… I have studied him – the wonderful man; in my opinion, far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Saviour of Humanity.”17 In the view of Edward Gibbon, “The greatest crimes, the greatest sin of Mohammed in the eyes of Christian West is that he did not allow himself to be slaughtered, to be crucified by his enemies… He did not believe in any vicarious sacrifices for the sins of others.”18 In the same vein, Carlyle commented, “The lies which we (Christians) have heaped around this man (Muhammad), are disgraceful to ourselves only.”19
Islam is accused of terrorism, while ignoring the reality that it was Muhammad, who used to underscore that the killing of one human being without justification, is just like killing “the entire humanity.”20 His message repeatedly emphasizes that there is no compulsion in religion.21 Muhammad emphatically advised his followers not to desecrate the places of worship of other religions; and never even touch those in worship, in those places of religion.
Long before there was any prospect of success, Muhammad received an offer from his enemies. An envoy of the pagan leaders from Mecca, Otba, came to him saying, “If you want money, we will collect enough for you so that you will be the richest one of us. If you want leadership, we will make you our leader and never decide on any matter without your approval. If you want a kingdom, we will crown you as king over us...” Only one concession was required. Muhammad must give up Islam. Muhammad said, No, to the offer. Muhammad “turned down the offer.”22
More than 600 years ago, Chinese Emperor Hongwu wrote a poem in honour of Prophet Muhammad and his message. Following is the text of the poem:23
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, knowledge of Muhammad`s life in the Christian world “was nearly always used abusively.”24 One of the leading figures who initiated the denigration campaign against Muhammad way back in the 8th century, was John of Damascus. Later, extremely offensive accounts of Muhammad were written in Latin. One that comes to mind is by ‘Alvarus of Cordoba.’25
Annemarie Schimmel opines, “After the siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1529, bloody dramas about the Turks were part and parcel of a widespread anti-Turkish campaign, and that meant anti-Islamic literature.” But, at the same time, Europe came to know of another aspect of the East, “thanks to (the) objective reports by travelers and the merchants.”26
Few have, even in the Muslim world, really focused on the personal sorrows faced by the Prophet. On his part, Muhammad avoided discussion on the tragedies in his life. He never played up his sorrows to gain sympathy or support, even for his message.
Muhammad was born an orphan.
His father died six months before his birth.
His mother died when Muhammad was about six. She passed away just after a visit to the grave of her husband. Muhammad was with her, as she wanted him to see the final resting place of his father. Imagine the grief of Muhammad; mother passes away soon after he visits his father’s grave.
At the time when tribals in Arabia had several children to boast off their family and lineage, Muhammad did not have a brother. He did not have a sister. He had nobody to share his grief with.
Later in life, Muhammad’s son Qasim died, when he was less than two years old. Muhammad’s son, Abdullah also passed away at a young age. Same is the case with his third son, Ibrahim who died before his third birthday. Ibrahim’s death coincided with a solar eclipse. Rumour spread that “The sun has gone into eclipse to express sadness at the death of Ibrahim.” Muhammad clarified, “The sun and the moon are the signs of God. They are eclipsed neither by the death nor the birth of any man.”27
Two daughters of Prophet Muhammad were married to the sons of Abu Lahab, his uncle but Muhammad’s worst enemy. When Muhammad proclaimed oneness of God, Abu Lahab ordered his sons to divorce them. Both, Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthum, must have been shattered by the tragedy. So must have been their father, Muhammad.
Earlier, when Muhammad started to deliver his message of peace, Meccans subjected him to jeers and insults. They would lay thorns on his way and throw garbage at his face. Muhammad returned home with dust on his head. His daughters, especially Fatima, used to wipe it off with tears in their eyes.
After the passing away of Muhammad, his son-in-law Ali was assassinated. Later, Muhammad’s grandson Hasan was poisoned to death. His other grandson, Hussain was martyred with almost his entire family by the Umayyad ruler Yezid.
Muhammad’s opponents tried to kill him; and killed his followers. Today, some have started to discuss “a Muslim holocaust.”28 Others have been talking of the need to “drop nuclear bombs” on Muhammad’s tomb in Medina and the House of the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad in Mecca.29 Muhammad’s Quran was shouted down during his time. Quran has been desecrated today with its holy pages burned to ashes by holy pastors.
On their part, Muslims never make fun of Jesus or Moses. Muslims never disparage Ram, Buddha, and Mahavir. A Muslim would never desecrate the Torah, Bible, Tripitaka or the Vedas. This is not because Muslims are intrinsically and extrinsically ‘too noble’ to commit such profanities. This is only and only because Muhammad had instructed Muslims, “Never insult other religions.”30
In fact, Muhammad had great respect for Jesus. Muhammad used to say, “Among men, I am the closest to Jesus, Son of Mary, in this world and the next.”31 Jesus is common between Islam and Christianity. Every other Muslim woman has been named Maryam, after Holy Mary.
Muhammad had great respect for Moses.32 Aasiya is considered by Muslims as “one of the greatest women of all times.”33 After all, as wife of the Pharaoh, she brought up Moses when he was just a baby. Moses has received an honourable mention in the Quran. Moses is common between Islam and Judaism.
Like Muhammad, Muhammad’s Allah is effusive in praise of Abraham. The Quran underlines: “Who could have a better religion than someone who submits himself completely to Allah and is a good-doer, and follows the religion of Abraham, a man of pure natural belief? Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend.”34
It is because of Abraham that, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are called Abrahamic religions.
Muhammad was a Preacher.
Muhammad was an Educationist.
Muhammad was an Administrator.
Muhammad was a Constitutionalist.
Muhammad was a General.
Muhammad was a Diplomat.
He was a good human being.
Muhammad promoted interfaith dialogue. Perhaps, the first prominent person in history to have done so.
The non-Muslim world is too ignorant about Muhammad.
On its part, the Muslim world has been too imperfect to truly represent the message of Muhammad.
Muhammad should never be looked at from the point of view of the Islamists, Christianists, Hindutvanists, Jewanists and Buddhanists.
One needs to look at Muhammad, without the prejudice of the past.
Muhammad is too noble to be looked at with any apprehensions about the future.
Islam is not just faith and rituals. Islam is also character, hallmarks of which are: humanity and tolerance. There is a need to change the mindsets. Muhammad was a forward looking, modern man in history. So has been the case with his teachings. In the view of Annemarie Schimmel, Allama Muhammad Iqbal “is perhaps the best example of a modern interpretation of Islam.”35
Both Muslim and non-Muslim worlds need to understand Muhammad and his message, in its correct perspective. Both must understand Muhammad better.
Muhammad is too important to ignore. Muhammad is too important for the world to ignore.
Muhammad has been the most influential man in human history, indeed. No doubt, Muhammad is the greatest man in history.
And, says God in the Quran:
“Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet. O you who believe, send your blessings on him and salute him with all respect.”36
The writer during his 34 year career in the Foreign Service of Pakistan has mostly been dealing with matters relating to the United States, China and South Asia. He has authored a number of books on subjects relevant to Pakistan’s foreign policy.
1. Ibn Kathir in his ‘The Life of Prophet Muhammad’ (page 68), states: “Qadi Iyad has mentioned in Shifa” that “the name ‘Muhammad’ was not used by anyone among the Arabs and non-Arabs.” However, “a little before the Prophet’s birth,” it had “become known that a Prophet by this name was about to come.” So, “some Arabs” started to give “this name to their sons.” (Ibn Kathir ‘The Life of Prophet Muhammad,’ translated by Rafiq Abdur Rehman, Darul Ishaat, Karachi-2010). Even if this is true, those who were given this name, was just because of, and in connection with Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.
2. These are the general estimates.
3. Morocco World News, 16 August 2012. Among others, may also consult The Telegraph, 13 August 2009; Al Jazeera, 2 December 2014; BBC, 29 August 2014; The Times of India, 13 August 2013; and ‘Islam in Europe,’ 24 November 2009.
4. Jewish Virtual Library (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Bible).
5. Great Non-Muslim Quotes on Islam by Dr. Craig Considine dated 8 May 2017. (https://www.themuslimpost.com/10).
6. Encyclopedia Britannica write-up by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. (http://www.britannica.com/topic/Quran).
7. Depending on the font and page size, a copy of the Quran in Arabic, may have more than 400 pages. (By some accounts, Quran comprises more than 15,7,930 words and over 66,8,680 letters.)
8. May also see, ‘Najashi: The King who supported Muslim emigrants’ by Abu Tariq Hijazi in The Arab News dated 28 March 2014; and the works of Ibn Ishaq/Guillaume (pages 151-152).
9. The Life of Muhammad (A Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah); A. Guillaume; page 152, Oxford University Press, Karachi. ISBN-978-0-19-636033-1 (2014). May also see ‘A Reader on Classical Islam’ by F.E. Peters, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey (1994).
10. Tafheem-ul-Quran (6 Vols) – English; Syed Abul A`la Maududi; ISBN-10: 6792583898 (2009).
11. May visit: https://archive.org/stream/IbnIshaqMuhammad/Ibn%20Ishaq%20-%20.
12. Aisha was highly regarded for her views on statecraft. Muhammad’s companion, Abdurrahman Ibn Awf, consulted many illustrious women before he recommended Uthman Ibn Affan to be the Caliph of Islam.
13. History of Turkey, Alphonse de Lamartine. Visit https://archive.org › details › historyturkey00lamagoog.
14. Quran: Verse (4:135).
15. May also visit Harvard Law Library site. (http://library.law.harvard.edu/justicequotes/explore-the-room/west/).
16. Encyclopedia Britannica 4th Edition.
17. The Genuine Islam, George Bernard Shaw, Volume 1, London (1936).
18. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, London (1823).
19. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, Thomas Carlyle, London (1841).
20. May also see Quran (5;32).
21. Also see Quran (2; 256).
22. May also consult the book titled, Islam a Profound Insight, by Ahmad M. Hemaya. (https://books.google.com.pk/).
23. The Sangha Commune (The Hong Wu Emperor Praises Islam). https://thesanghakommune.org/2013/02/17/the-hong-wu-emperor-praises. Hongwu (1328 AD–1398 AD) was the first emperor of the Ming dynasty. Also, known as Zhu Yuanzhang, historians consider him as one of the “most significant imperial personalities” of China. Historian Ebrey opines, "Seldom has the course of Chinese history been influenced by a single personality as much as” by Zhu Yuanzhang. May also see Lancaster University writeup, ‘Chinese emperor’s poem about Muhammad’ by accessing http://isoc.lusu.co.uk/archives/483.
24. Encyclopedia Britannica; ‘Muhammad-Prophet of Islam’. (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Muhammad/The-image-of Muhammad-in-the-West).
25. Paulus Alvarus, also known as Paul Alvarus and Álvaro de Córdoba, was born in southern Spain around 800 AD.
26. Speech by Annemarie Schimmel ‘A Good Word is Like a Good Tree,’ delivered to writers, publishers and public officials, including the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Roman Herzog -March 1996.
27. Book titled, ‘The Life of Muhammad’ by Muḥammad Ḥusayn Haykal. P 489. (https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=).
28. May also visit Gates of Vienna (http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/09/gates-of-vienna-incites-for-muslim-holocaust/).
29. ‘Congressman suggests nuking Mecca, Medina if Jihadists attack US with nukes.’ (https://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic).
30. Also see Quran (Chapter 6; Verse 108).
31. Abu Huraira, Sahih Bokhari, 4.203. (http://www.muslimsforjesus.org/Jes).
32. May also see, Sahi al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), translation by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, (The book of the stories of the Prophets), Muktaba Dar-us-Salam, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (1994).
33. Reported in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad 2663.
34. Quran (Surat Nisa).
35. Annemarie Schimmel; Speech titled, ‘A Good Word is Like a Good Tree’, delivered by her to an assembly of intellectuals in March 1996.
36. Quran (33:56).