Message and Method
Some of the major concerns of the mission and method of the Prophet are
eloquently presented in a speech which one of his companions, Ja’far ibn
abii Taalib, made to the ruler of Abyssinia in Africa. Ja’far was the
spokesman of a group of Muslims who had sailed across the Red Sea and sought
refuge in Abyssinia from the persecution of the pagan Makkans:
“O King,” he said, “We were a people of ignorance, worshipping idols, eating
the flesh of dead animals, committing abominations, neglecting our
relations, doing evil to our neighbours, and the strong among us would
oppress the weak.
“We were in this state when God sent to us a messenger from among us, whose
descent and sincerity, trustworthiness and honesty were known to us.
“He summoned us to worship the One True God and to divest ourselves of the
stones and idols we and our fathers had been worshipping in addition to God.
“He ordered us to be truthful of speech, to fulfil all that is entrusted to
us, to care for our relatives, to be kind to our neighbours, to refrain from
unlawful food and the consumption of blood.
“He forbade us to engage in shameful acts and false speech. He commanded us
to worship God alone and to assign no partners unto Him, to pray, to pa the
purifying tax and to fast.
“We deemed him truthful and we believed him, and we followed the message he
brought to us from God…”
>From Ja’far’s speech on the mission and method of the Prophet, we see that
the first thing he stressed was the worldview of Tawhiid. To be on the
straight and natural way, man’s first duty is to gain or regain a correct
knowledge of and belief in God. From this knowledge he will come to accept
the wisdom and authority of God. From this will spring correct action.
As an indication of this method of the Prophet, peace be on him, his wife
‘Aa’ishah is reported as saying that the Prophet did not start by telling
people not to drink wine and not to commit fornication. He started by
telling them about God and the Hereafter until they had firm belief in them.
It is only then he told them not to drink or commit adultery and they obeyed
him. “Had he started by telling them not to drink wine or not to commit
adultery, they would have said, ‘We will never abandon them’.”
>From Ja’far’s speech, we learn that the Prophet encouraged all the natural
inbuilt moral virtues such as truth, kindness, generosity, and justice. And
he condemned all the naturally repugnant vices such as false speech,
shamelessness, ignorance, and oppression.
There is also the testimony of Ja’far on the truthfulness of the Prophet.
Both before and after he became a prophet, Muhammad had the unchallenged
reputation of a man who was always truthful and trustworthy. For this he was
known as As-Saadiq and Al-Amiin respectively.
In fact, mission and method fused in the Prophet since we are told by
‘Aa’ishah, his wife: “His character was the Qur’an.” To reject the Prophet
is to reject the Qur’an and to reject the Qur’an is to reject man’s only
authentic source of Divine guidance.
We now have some idea of the importance of the Qur’an and the example of the
Prophet Muhammad in forming a valid and satisfying worldview for man in
whatever time or place he may live. Since the Qur’an is the final and
complete message of God to humanity and since there will be no prophet after
Muhammad, it is especially important for people, everywhere to discover or
rediscover the meaning and relevance of the Qur’an to their lives. Whether
you live in the north or the south, the east or the west, whether you live
in the so-called developed and advanced world or the underdeveloped and
impoverished world, whether you are a male or female, young or old, the
Qur’an has a message for you. In fact, it is the message for you.
We have only had a glimpse of the content of the Qur’an and its purpose for
man. We have seen that it stresses the Oneness of God and man’s duty to
acknowledge and worship God alone. We now want to look a little more closely
at what the Qur’an says about the nature of man, the purpose of his life and
the various choices and destinies open to him. In other words: Who are we?
What are we doing here on earth? And where do we go from here?
“Never has a man set for himself, voluntarily or involuntarily, a more
sublime aim, since this aim was superhuman: to subvert superstitions which
had been interposed between man and his Creator, to render God unto man and
man unto God; to restore the rational and sacred idea of divinity amidst the
chaos of the material and disfigured gods of idolatry, then existing.
“Never has a man undertaken a work so far beyond human power with so feeble
means, for he (Muhammad) had in the conception as well as in the execution
of such a great design no other instrument than himself, and no other aid,
except a handful of men living in a corner of the desert. Finally, never has
a man accomplished such a huge and lasting revolution in the world…
“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the
true criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in
modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws, and
empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers
which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies,
legislations, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in
one-third of the inhabited world, and more than that, he moved the altars,
the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs, and the souls. On the basis
of a Book, every letter of which has become law, he created a spiritual
nationality which blended together peoples of every tongue and of every
race. He has left us – as the indelible characteristic of this Muslim
nationality – the hatred of false gods and the passion for the One and
Immaterial God… The conquest of one-third of the earth to his dogma was
his miracle; rather it was not the miracle of a man but that of reason.
“His life, his meditations, his heroic revilings against the superstitions
of his country, and his boldness in defying the furies of idolatry, his
firmness in enduring them for thirteen years at Makkah, his acceptance of
the role of public scorn and almost of being a victim of his fellow
countrymen: all these and finally, his migration, his incessant preaching,
his wars against odds, his faith in his success and his superhuman security
in misfortune, his forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely
devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire, his endless
prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after
death – all these… (served) to affirm conviction which gave him the power
to restore a creed…
“Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas,
restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images; the founder of
twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As
regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well
ask, is there any man greater than he?”
(Lamartine, “Histoire de la Turquie”, Paris, 1854.)