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Mercy to the worlds

December 01, 2017

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THE Holy Quran has used a number of sublime terms to describe the Blessed Prophet (PBUH). On this day associated with his birth, it would be useful to ponder over some of these metaphysical terms used by the Almighty in His Book about His Prophet to gain a better understanding of the Messenger’s personality, and what lessons these titles hold for mankind.

In verse 46 of Surah Ahzab, the Almighty describes the Prophet as “an illuminating lamp (Sirajam muneera)”. Just as a lamp dispels darkness, through His Prophet, Allah seeks to illuminate the souls of mankind.

At another place in the Holy Book, the Creator has termed the Prophet “a mercy to the worlds” (21:107). It is worth noting that here the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful is describing the Prophet as a manifestation of His mercy.

Harsh actions are antithetical to what the Prophet (PBUH) taught.

At yet another point in the Quran Allah proclaims about His Prophet: “And indeed, you are of a great moral character (khulqin azeem)” (68:4).

While nearly all Muslims with a basic knowledge of the Quran are aware of these mystical terms used for the Holy Prophet, how many pause to actually think about what these terms imply when we consider the fact that the Quran also terms the Messenger “uswatul hasana (an excellent example)” for humanity?

This “excellent example” has variously been described as a source of light, compassion and moral distinction. Yet is it not unfortunate that many who claim to love and follow the Prophet are actually doing exactly the opposite of what emulating this example demands, with most Muslim societies lacking the light of knowledge, benevolence and compassion, as well as superior ethics?

Perhaps the reason for this discrepancy is that despite claiming to love and follow the Holy Prophet, Muslims today have forgotten what the Messenger himself said about his primary task in this world: as quoted in a hadith, the Prophet said that he has been sent “to perfect the morals”. Put plainly, without controlling the self and constantly battling our inner demons that drive us towards negative behaviour, we will not be able to grasp the spiritual light of the Prophet that illuminates hearts — the lamp mentioned in the Quran. Praising him is an act of devotion; acting upon his guidelines is even more important.

But in this day and age of great trials and tribulations, where so many claim to be representing ‘true faith’, where is this guidance and light that the Holy Book talks about to be found? Indeed, for the seeker of truth, the pitfalls are many. For example, there are numerous self-appointed ‘defenders of faith’ whose harsh actions, forked tongues and rabble-rousing antics are completely antithetical to what the Prophet has taught.

In the words of Hazrat Ali, “Through him [the Prophet] the signs of guidance have been lighted and the gloom of blindness (misguidance) has been dispelled”. Perhaps to seek this ‘light’, rather than trying to fix the world, one must engage in what has been described in ahadith as jihad al-akbar, or combat with the self. Without such self-examination and criticism, whether one is dressed in the flowing robes of a cleric, or in any other get-up, spiritual enlightenment and moral excellence will be difficult to achieve.

It is the pettiness and meanness within — greed, malice, envy, love of material pleasures — that must be conquered. This is the essence of what the Prophet has taught us. To treat the weak and downtrodden with kindness, to stand up to the oppressor, to work for a more just and egalitarian society — these noble goals, arguably, lie at the heart of the Sunnah.

But are these ideals — both at the societal and individual levels — even a priority for us? For centuries, saints, seekers and sages have used the Prophet’s example for khudsaazi, or to ‘build the self’; these formulae are not just for intellectual consumption, but for emulation. There is a giant moral vacuum in our world, particularly in Muslim societies, where there is an overdose of religiosity, but very little spirituality.

Emulation doesn’t mean literally and ritualistically adopting the ways of the seventh century; rather it means living as per the requirements of the age, but with a firm moral anchor that can help one differentiate between right and wrong.

Beyond words, beyond loud protestations of faith and beyond rhetoric, it is strength of character that is needed to build society and the self. And as the verses from the Quran have illustrated here, the guiding light of the spirit is the sacred personality of the Holy Prophet. The Holy Book sums it up best in this beautiful verse: “Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation (33:56).”

The writer is a member of staff.
qasim.moini@dawn.com

Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2017