The year was 1960. Along with several other enthusiastic young minds, I was accepted into the tutelage of Mawlana Amin Ahsan Islahi under the banner of his institute, Halqa-i-Tadabbur-i-Qur'an. Established for purposes of imparting Islamic knowledge, this institute helped me in learning and adapting well to the Arabic language, as well as gaining immeasurable insight into the Qur'an and H~adithliterature. Although, unfortunately, the institute fell into decadence soon after, my deep liaison with the Mawlana and his thought and understanding saw to it that I never fell astray of the mission at hand; a mission that was highlighted by his astounding and highly regarded exegesis, 'Tadabbur-i-Qur'an'. This assignment would commence in 1970.
A couple of years earlier, however, there were already committed discussions on the authenticity of a book on the life of the Prophet in the light of the Qur'an. The Mawlana commented on how such a work would be of invaluable service to the Ummah. Indeed, a unique effort was required, but time and space, he noticed, did not allow him to trek a road parallel to the one he had already decided to set forth on. His pledge to work on the Qur'an was demanding and deserving all-out efforts. Taking up another project would inevitably result in divided attention – an approach that could keep concealed the jewels contained in the Qur'an. Thus, prompted as a result, to name a student of his - one befitting of taking on such a challenging task - my respected mentor forwarded my name for candidacy. Surely, I thought, this giving man expects of me what is beyond me!
It was eleven years after this incident that the Mawlana's landmark was moulded into final shape. His commitment to this end took him beyond the fragile age of 75. Taking up the task of a Sirah (biography of the Prophet (sws)) would inevitably prove to be a strenuous task, when both age and health coincided to remind him of little energy left. In fact, his involvement thereafter, in weekly or semi-weekly lectures on the Qur'an and H~adithwas a dedicated man's answer to the insistence of close acquaintances; his age had prescribed otherwise.
Another episode that helped pave the way for me to this end, occurred in or around 1986. I, among others, was invited by the country's atomic scientist, Dr Bashiru'l-Din Mahmud, to speak at a conference arranged under the auspices of his 'Holy Qur'an Foundation'. A list of potential topics was provided, whereby I opted for one of the more unconventional and lesser-researched areas. My presentation, titled, 'Qur'an ka Tasawwur i Jang' (The Qur'anic Concept of War) received much acclaim, also having been aired on the radio.
This end product was a result of an eye-opening exploration of traditional Islam. Delving into the books of Sirah, I realized how much ignorance prevailed among the clergy, as well as the masses of Islam. Many A%hadithattributed to the Prophet (sws) in the expansive literature became unacceptable to me – both because of their clear contradiction to the Qur'anic laws and approaches and lack of appeal to the mind and senses. And those that appeared more authentic, I discovered, were the ones most side-lined. My immediate reaction was to deliberate particularly on the realities of the Battle of Badr, the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and the Conquest of Makkah – infused and complemented by the A%hadiththat were truer to the Islam enshrined in the Qur'an and closer to the ideals actually put forth by the Prophet Muhammad (sws). These fresh attempts, thankfully, invited much praise. Soon, all the admiration saw me returning to the task of writing more on the Prophetic mission in arms. The more I delved into sifting the reliable from the unreliable, the deeper I dropped into the well of discovery. I felt as if the right way out would be to draw on every shade, challenge and aspect of the Prophet's life, rather than shedding light solely on battles fought and conquests realized. Only then would the great man and his mission come to be acknowledged in a manner and style, unfamiliar and unique.
Such were the circumstances and events that eventually resulted in the completion of this book. This outcome is, quite clearly, a working of the Almighty and his benevolence on me; for when first prompted, I could never have imagined embracing this book that the readers hold today.
Sections of this book were published during the Mawlana's lifetime. However, these having been brought forth as isolated pieces, I obviously cannot ascertain his opinion of the entire manuscript, which has assumed book form today – years after the demise of the one who was the inspiration behind it.
A%'ishah (rta)has been widely reported to have elucidated that the Prophet's character is an image of the Qur'anic ideal. His religious person exemplifies through actions what the Qur'an commands in words. The Book itself bears witness to his character:
Allah has sent down a reminder, a Messenger who rehearses on you the clear signs of Allah so that He may bring forth those who believe and do righteous deed from darkness to light.(65:10-11)
The men of understanding were, thus, reminded of God's message through the person of Prophet Muhammad (sws). While the message comes in literary form, the Prophet's life executes this Message in its pristine form. From the endowment of prophethood to the realization of Islam's supremacy – invitation to the straight path, migration in the face of opposition, battles fought, admonition towards both the disbelievers and the Jews, and more – all aspects of his mission have been exquisitely mentioned in the Qur'an. No other explanation need be tapped for acknowledging the Divine guidance with which our dear prophet managed affairs of his life. All scholars agree.
Compilations of prophetic A%hadith, as well as earlier books written on his life, together constitute the next source. Again, all scholars agree that these deserve appreciation, but only as secondary to the Qur'an. And yet, such admission is discounted for, in practice. Sadly, all efforts in this regard have relied predominantly on earlier works of Sirah, thus, replicating all errors of earlier transcripts. Those that do quote from the Qur'an, do so randomly and fall short of benefiting from the authentic accounts contained therein.
This erring can partially be explained in terms of the diverse motivations that have driven such works. Scholars and writers have mostly chosen to look at a singular feature of the Prophet's life each. This has meant the side-lining of causal links in the unfolding of various events and has essentially dissipated the wisdom out of all A%hadith. While some books have chosen to exemplify the personal character of the Prophet (sws) as charter for absolute imitation, others have sought to justify confrontation as gallantry vis-à-vis accounts of battles fought. Furthermore, certain versions concentrate solely on the obligation of missionary work, while additional pieces seek to extract teachings of political ascendancy of Islam. Extensive literature to such ends has caused more alienation from Muhammad (sws) than familiarization. These works have all but neglected the dissemination of the Prophet's life in his capacity as a Prophet.
The Required Approach
A complete man is one capable of practicing diligence in all matters requiring attention and one who can observe absolute commitment to the truth. These are the attributes in possession of the best of men – the Messengers of Allah. What makes them distinct, however, is their status as transmitters of the Divine Message to mankind. They communicate the Book of Allah as per His directives. Never do they dare to construct a religion of their own. The Divine decree is allowed to reign supreme, whilst His chosen men act dutifully as mediums of communication between God and mankind. Not only do they transmit the Message in the most apt, suitable manner, they also answer queries and quell confusions of the interested addressees. Such is the patient yet fruitful training that they administer – all the more, in the face of rigged and forced opposition. Their steadfastness knows no bounds. Come what may, they place their lives in the protection of the Almighty. Never is there a moment of mistrust. Never is there a moment of faithlessness. There is, instead, the belief and the conviction that the admonition will divide the believers from the unbelievers. While the former will come to savour the promised supremacy, the latter will face the wrath invited – both in this world and the one to follow.
Thus have I attempted to capture the phenomenon that the Prophet Muhammad (sws) was in his capacity as the Messenger of Allah. Without taking into account the aforementioned reality of his mission, justice cannot be done to this presentation. It is hoped that the readers will be able to discern this account of the life and mission of Allah's last Messenger from the conventional work done in this field. Delving into the wider theme, rather than banking on some specific facet of our prophet's life, I seek to extract my arguments extensively from the Qur'an.
I have sought to accommodate the A%hadithemployed by scholars previously having researched this topic, for their commitment and proficiency was never under any doubt. However, any report flawed in its communion with the Qur'an, has been rejected outright. We must strongly adhere to the belief that the Messengers of Allah could never have said or done anything opposed to either an explicit Qur'anic directive or incident, or to the spirit of the laws of Allah, in general. God willing, all will find arguments provided, henceforth, as perfectly corroborated from the Qur'an.
May the Almighty accept my efforts and may He enable me to succeed in the Hereafter, as a result. May it also enable the readers to appreciate Messengerhood as it needs to be appreciated.
12 Rabi'ul Awwal, 1424 AH
15 May, 2003 AD
(Translated by Saadia Malik)