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Why Religion?

Discover Islam


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To better understand the Prophet’s role as educator, let us first study the following verse:

It is He who has raised up from amongst the unlettered a Messenger of their own, to recite His signs to them and to purify them, and to teach them the Book and the Wisdom, though before that they were in manifest error. (al-Jumu‘a, 62.2)

The verse begins with ‘He’. This manner of indirect address is appropriate because the people did not know God. They were ignorant and savage. There was no ‘He’ in their mental world referred to God. So, God first emphasizes the darkness of their character and how far removed they were from being able to receive a direct address from Him.

Then, God calls them unlettered. They were not literate, had no knowledge about God and the Messenger. God, by His infinite Power, sent this petty community the one with greatest will-power, with loftiest spirit and deepest heart and, through him, instructed them as geniuses who would go on to govern much of humanity. Moreover, although God attaches great importance to writing and reading, they were unaware of it.

The word amongst shows that the Messenger was one of them in the sense of being unlettered. Yet, the Messenger was not a man of the Age of Ignorance. It was necessary for him to be unletttered, because God would teach him what he needed to know. He would set him apart from them, educate him and make him a teacher for the unlettered peoples.

... to recite to them His signs, to purify them, points out that he instructs them in the meanings of the Book and the creation gradually, explains to them, and wants to make them complete human beings by educating and guiding them to intellectual and spiritual perfection. He guides them to higher ranks by instructing them through the Book and educating their souls.

... though before that they were in manifest error reveals that God would purify and educate them even though they were astray. He did all of this through an unlettered Messenger.

God teaches the Book, that is, the Glorious Qur’an. This Book will reach the brilliant generations of the future, as it did in the past. All of the so-called original ideas will disappear one by one, like candles blown out, and there will be only one ‘sun’ left. It will never set. Its flag will be the only one waving on the horizon, and every generation to come one after the other will rush to it, breaking the chains around their necks. The signs have already appeared. Consider Russia and China. If you had heard the news about them ten years ago, you would have supposed that it was a dream. Look, how terrifying despotic states are collapsing one by one! And the Qur’an appears like an ember among their ashes. A great world expressing Oneness of God coming to life again. Despite the despotism, tyranny, cruelty and aggression against it, the Islamic spirit, with its freshness allures hearts from all over the world.

Another meaning of the verse is that God taught the Book to His noble Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, so that he could guide his people to higher spiritual ranks, in the brilliant climate of this Book. He would show them how to become perfect, and he would make them rise spiritually so that their souls and hearts could follow his body and soul in his ascension. Yet his nation had been in deep corruption before. If God wills, He may turn coal into diamond, and turn the earth golden, and he did. The Golden Generation of the White Age is still shining. This is by God’s Will. He did it through His Messenger, Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. The one who led humanity to spiritual and intellectual perfection is the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, who is himself at the summit of perfection.

After him, humanity saw his standard carried everywhere by men who had been raised on the wings of sainthood, purification, fear of God and the desire to be close to Him. Wherever they went, they walked in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad. Others will do so in the future.

The education of the Messenger was not just the purification of the evil-commanding self, not just an inward discipline. He came with a universal education system, presented a Message that would raise all hearts, spirits, minds and souls to realize their ideal forms. This is affirmed by the Qur’an. He respected reason, inspired it and led it to the highest under the intellect of Revelation. He did not neglect the human spirit but encouraged it to the highest attainment, higher by far than those of so-called spiritual masters. He led the spirit to the realms it yearned for, the ‘green slopes’ of heaven-like realms. His teaching touched the human faculties and senses with an inspiration that raised them to the heights where even imagination follows limping, which opened the way to progress in every field, economic, social, administrative, military, political and scientific, for his followers and made of them world-renowned administrators, economists, statesmen, military commanders, scholars and scientists. The Messenger came with a universal call which embraced economics, finance, public administration, health and education, justice, the law of states and nations, and knowledge. If there had been any lack in his teaching of mankind, the aim of his Prophethood would not have been realized so fully. He said: Each of the Prophets before me built some part of this marvelous building, but there was a gap which needed to be closed. Every person passing by would say: ‘I wonder when this building will be completed.’ The one who completes it is me. After me, there is no longer any defect in the structure.1

The Qur’an, by affirming him, says:

This day I have completed your religion for you. (al-Ma’ida, 5.3)

In short, the Prophet was one who reformed, completed and perfected the ways of life that had been lacking or deficient or deviated from the Will of God.

The virtues of an educator consist in the following:

· To give due importance to all aspects of a human being, mind, spirit and self, and to raise each to its proper perfection.

The Qur’an mentions the evil-commanding self which drags a man, like a beast with a rope around its neck, everywhere it wants, and goads him continually to obey the desires of his body whereas, by the disposition God gave him, he could be elevated in feeling, thought and spirit.

The Qur’an quotes the Prophet Joseph, upon him be peace, as saying:

Surely the self commands evil, unless my Lord has mercy. (Yusuf, 12.53)

Commanding evil is inherent in the self’s nature. However, through worship and discipline, the self can be raised to higher ranks. It rises to a position where it accuses itself for its evils and shortcomings (al-Qiyama, 75.2), and then still higher, where God addresses it, O self at peace! Return unto your Lord, well-pleased, well-pleasing (al-Fajr, 89.27-8).

Higher than the self at peace (at rest and contented) is the self perfectly purified. Those who have been able to rise to this degree of attainment are the nearest to God. When you look at them, you remember God; they are like polished mirrors in which all the attributes of God are reflected. It is through the training by the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, that almost all of his Companions reached this degree of moral and spiritual perfection and they have been followed by hundreds of thousands of others to this day.

An education system is judged by its universality, its comprehensiveness, and the quality of its students. The students of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, were ready to convey his Message throughout the world. Since this Message is universal, including all times and peoples, regardless of color, temperament, age and differences of intellectual level, it received a warm welcome in a very short period in a vast area stretching from Morocco and Spain to the Philippines, from the Russian steppes to the heart of Africa, and has remained welcome there. The principles of the education system taught by the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, still preserve their validity. After so many upheavals, changes, and social, economic, intellectual and scientific and technological revolutions, his system is the most unique and original, so much so that it is the hope of the future of mankind.

· An education system is judged by the capacity it has to change its students. You know that even a little bad habit like cigarette smoking among a small community can be permanently removed only with great effort. To those who refuse to accept the Prophethood of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, we present as a challenge, not the Arabian peninsula of fourteen centuries ago, but any part of the ‘civilized’ world. Let them go there with hundreds of philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and pedagogues, and strive for a hundred years. I wonder whether they would be able to achieve in that period a hundredth part of what the Prophet achieved in twenty-three years.

When the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was entrusted with communicating the Divine Message, the Arabian peninsula, cut off from the neighboring countries by vast deserts, was one of the most backward areas of the world, culturally and intellectually. In addition, people were habituated to the worst moral corruption. Specifically the Hijaz, where the Prophet was born, had not experienced any social evolution or attained any share of intellectual development worthy of mention. With minds saturated with superstitions, customs barbarous and ferocious, moral standards very degraded, people lived in savagery. They drank wine and gambled, and illicit sexual relations were widespread. Prostitutes would, by way of advertising their trade, hang a flag on the doors of their houses.2

It was a country without law and a government. Might was right, as in many parts of the world today, and looting, arson, and murder of the innocent and weak were commonplace. Any trivial incident could provoke inter-tribal feuding which sometimes developed into country-wide wars.

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, appeared amongst such a tribe. With the Message he brought and his way of preaching it, he eradicated the evils and savage customs and immoral qualities to which the people had been so fanatically attached, and equipped and adorned the wild and unyielding peoples of that large peninsula with all the praiseworthy virtues, and made them teachers of all the world. It was not an outward domination. Rather, he conquered and subjugated the people’s minds, spirits, hearts, and souls. He became the beloved of hearts, the teacher of minds, the trainer of souls, and the ruler of spirits. In place of the evil qualities he eradicated, he implanted and inculcated in the people’s hearts exalted qualities in such a way that those qualities became part of their permanent character.

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, not only changed the people of his age. His Message has continued to spread and to change people radically ever since that age. It was not only quickly accepted by Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Persia, Egypt, Northern Africa and Spain at its first outburst, but, with the exception of Spain, where the most brilliant civilization of the time flourished, it has never lost its vantage ground; it has been spreading ever since it came into being. A nineteenth-century Western writer notes his impressions of the influence of Islamic moral values on black Africans:

As to the effects of Islam when first embraced by a Negro tribe, can there, when viewed as a whole, be any reasonable doubt? Polytheism disappears almost instantaneously; sorcery, with its attendant evils, gradually dies away; human sacrifice becomes a thing of the past. The general moral elevation is most marked; the natives begin for the first time in their history to dress, and that neatly. Squalid filth is replaced by some approach to personal cleanliness; hospitality becomes a religious duty; drunkenness, instead of the rule, becomes a comparatively rare exception. Chastity is looked upon as one of the highest, and becomes, in fact, one of the commoner virtues. It is idleness that henceforward degrades, and industry that elevates, instead of the reverse. Offences are henceforward measured by a written code instead of the arbitrary caprice of a chieftain - a step, as everyone will admit - of vast importance in the progress of a tribe. The mosque gives an idea of architecture at all events higher than any the Negro has yet had. A thirst for literature is created and that for works of science and philosophy as well as for commentaries on the Qur’an.3

Individual examples

In the school of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, many world-renowned individuals have been brought up. Certainly, we come across numerous great men during history in other schools of education as well. God has honored mankind with great heroes, eminent statesmen, invincible commanders, inspired saints and great scientists. However, most of them have not been able to make any deep impression on more than one or two aspects of human life. They have tended to concentrate on one or two aspects of life and overlooked the other aspects. But since Islam is a Divine way leading man through all fields of life, a Divine system encompassing all aspects of life, since it is, in the words of Muhammad Asad, a Jewish convert to Islam, ‘like a perfect work of architecture all of whose parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other, nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure’4, those who have been brought up in the school of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, have usually been able to combine in themselves the spiritual with the rational or intellectual and material, the worldly with the other-worldly, the ideal with the real, and the scientific with the ‘revealed’.

Islam, having at its very outset put an end to tribal conflicts and condemned discrimination on the basis of color and race to the extent of putting the chiefs of the Quraysh under the command of an emancipated black slave, innumerable scholars and scientists, commanders and saints have been raised among conquered peoples. Among them was a Tariq - Tariq ibn Ziyad - an emancipated Berber slave, who conquered Spain. He was a victorious commander. However, more than the day when he defeated the Spanish army of ninety thousand soldiers with a handful of valiants, he was truly victorious when he put his feet on the treasury of the conquered Spanish king and said to himself: ‘Tariq! You were a chained slave, then God freed you and you became a commander. Now you are the conqueror of Spain. Do not ever forget that tomorrow you will stand in the presence of God.’ He did not touch anything of the treasury.

Uqba ibn Nafi‘ was another great commander. He conquered northern Africa and reached the Meditarrenean coast. There he stood and uttered: ‘O God! If this sea of darkness did not appear before me, I would convey Your Name, which is the source of light, to overseas lands as far as the remotest corners of the world.’5

Prior to his conversion, ‘Adbullah ibn Mas‘ud used to take care of the sheep of ‘Uqba ibn Abi Mu‘ayt. He was a weak, little man, to whom no one paid respect. He became a Muslim and one of the most senior Companions of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. During his caliphate, ‘Umar sent him to Kufa6 as a teacher. In the scholarly climate Ibn Mas‘ud formed in Kufa, the greatest figures of Islamic jurisprudence were raised. Among them are Alqama, Ibrahim al-Nakha’i, Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman, Sufyan al-Thawri and especially Imam Abu Hanifa, the founder of the biggest school of Islamic law.

Ikrima was the son of Abu Jahl, the harsh and inflexible leader of the unbelieving party of the Quraysh. After many years of opposition to the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, he became a Muslim following the conquest of Makka. Islam changed him so radically that he was martyred three years later at the Battle of Yarmuk. His son, Amir, was also martyred together with him.

Hansa was among the leading woman poets in the Age of Ignorance. Becoming a Muslim, she gave up writing poems. She used to acknowledge: ‘While we have the Qur’an, I cannot write poems.’ She lost her four sons at the Battle of Qadisiya. This great woman, who had once recited poems of lament over the death of her brother in the Age of Ignorance, uttered no words of objection and, instead, murmured in a deep submission to God: ‘O God! All praise be to You. You have bestowed on me while alive the possibility of offering you as gifts my four sons that you gave me.’7

The most just statesmen history has known have also been brought up in the school of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Besides Abu Bakr, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali and many others who succeeded them, ‘Umar, the second Caliph, has been appreciated in almost every age as one of the most just and greatest statesmen ever to have lived. He used to say: ‘If a sheep falls from a bridge even on the river Tigris and dies, God will call me to account for it on the Day of Judgement.’8 When you compare ‘Umar before his conversion and ‘Umar after he became a Muslim, you will easily see the sharp contrast between the two and understand how radically Islam changes people.

Teaching laws of life

Due to the misconceptions and secular tendencies arising especially in the West in recent centuries, most people in the world tend to restrict religion to mean ‘blind faith’ and/or meaningless acts of worship, or a consolation for the pains of life. Contrary to such notions which have developed in Christendom partly because of the historical mistakes and shortcomings of Christianity and partly because of the tendencies of secularized, worldly people, some movements in Muslim countries have, unfortunately, also reduced ‘religion’ - in this case - to an ideology, to a social, economic and political system. Whereas, Islam, standing between these two extremes, addresses itself to all of the faculties and senses of man, including his mind, heart and feelings, and encompasses all aspects of life. That is why the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, gave due importance to learning, trading, agriculture, action and thought, and encouraged his people to do perfectly whatever they would do and condemned inaction and begging.

For example, he said: God loves a believing, skilful servant.9

A believer should do in the best way whatever he does. For the Qur’an declares:

Say: ‘Work; and God will surely see your work, and the Messenger and the believers’. (al-Tawba, 9.105)

Whatever one does in the world will be exhibited on the Day of Judgment. So a believer cannot work carelessly and do something in a manner of wishing to get rid of it.

God’s Messenger declares: When you do something, God likes you to do it perfectly.10

Islam encourages man to work and regards it as an act of worship that one works to earn one’s living and support one’s family in lawful ways. Unlike Christianity, it does not idealize (nor even advise) life as a hermit. However, it forbids dissipation and luxury. Its aim is to ensure man’s prosperity in both worlds, and therefore it warns man against living a self-indulgent life and neglecting his religious duties. For example, in one of his concise sayings, which summarizes the essentials of a happy economic and social life and the prosperity in both this world and the next, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, declares:

When you let yourselves go into speculative transactions and are occupied with animal-breeding only and content with agriculture and abandon striving in the way of God to preach His religion, God will subject you to such a humiliation that He will not remove it from you until you return to your religion.11

This hadith is extraordinarily apt in describing the pitiable condition of Muslims over the last few centuries. Speculative transactions signify the dying of a healthy economic life and the resort to unlawful, self-abandoned ways of earning one’s living. Contentment with agriculture and animal breeding is the sign of laziness and abandoning scientific investigations, whereas the Qur’an explicitly states that God has created man as His vicegerent on the earth and entrusted him with knowledge of the names of things. This means that by discovering Divine laws of nature and reflecting on natural phenomena, man should establish sciences and exploit natural resources. However, while doing this, he should aim at gaining God’s good pleasure and practicing His religion. In many verses such as Say: ‘Are they equal-those who know and those who know that?’ (al-Zumar, 39.9), the Qur’an emphasizes the importance of knowledge and learning, and warns that among His servants, only those who have knowledge truly fear God (al-Fatir, 35.28), meaning that true piety and worship can be possible through knowledge. Confinement of knowledge to ‘religious’ sciences devoid of reflection and investigation, must inevitably result, as indeed it did, in contentment with animal breeding and agriculture, and in idleness and neglect of striving in the way of God, and ultimately in misery, poverty and humiliation. God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, drew attention to this important fact in some other sayings of his also. For example, he said: One hour of reflection and contemplation is better than one year of (supererogatory) religious worship.12 He also said: A powerful believer is better and more lovable to God than a weak one.13 Being powerful requires both spiritual and physical health and having scientific and technical competence. Restricting the meaning of ‘being powerful’ to mere physical strength shows lack of understanding of the basis of power.

Being a good Muslim is possible through being a good student in the school of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

Further remarks on the education system of God’s Messenger

Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet, who emigrated to Abyssinia in the face of the unbearable persecutions of the Quraysh polytheists, once told the Negus, the then ruler of Abyssinia:

O king! We used to drink blood, eat of carrion, commit fornication, steal, kill one another and plunder. The powerful used to oppress the weak. We used to do many other things shameful and despicable.14

The Prophet Muhammad came and set the best example for them in belief, worship, and good conduct, and, in short, in all aspects of life. They had used to bury their daughters alive; having a daughter was a cause of shame for them. When the Prophet came with the Divine Message, women enjoyed their rights fully. Once a young girl came to God’s Messenger and complained: ‘O Messenger of God! My father would force me to marry the son of my uncle, but I am unwilling to.’ The Messenger sent for her father and warned him: You cannot force your daughter to marry one whom she does not want. ‘I won’t do that’, the man replied. The girl stood up and explained:

O Messenger of God! I did not intend to oppose my father. I came here only to find out whether Islam allows a father to marry his daughter to somebody she does not want.15

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, warned his Companions not to beg. However poor and needy, the Companions did not beg from anybody. They were so sensitive in this matter that they even refrained from asking help. If, for example, one of them dropped his whip while on a mount, he would not request anybody to pick it up and pass it to him; rather, he got off and picked it up himself.16

Prior to Islam, people worshipped idols and did not pay due respect to their parents. God’s Messenger came with the Divine Message, which commanded them: Your Lord has decreed you shall not worship any but Him, and to be good to parents (al-Isra’, 17.23). This Divine decree changed them so radically that they began asking the Messenger whether it would deserve punishment if they were not able to return the looks of their parents with a smile. The Qur’an ordered them not to approach the orphan’s property (al-Isra’, 17.34) and forbade theft, and they were so sensitive in respecting others’ rights that history does not record more than one or two thefts in that blessed period of the Prophet’s rule.

Murder was extremely widespread in the Age of Ignorance. However, when the Prophet came with the prohibition, Slay not the soul God has forbidden (al-Isra’, 17.33), it was all but eradicated.

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, also forbade fornication. This was enough for the end of all kinds of illicit intercourse. However, we do encounter a single incident of fornication during the blessed period of the Prophet’s rule, upon him be peace and blessings.

One day a man, pale and exhausted, came to God’s Messenger and asked: ‘O Messenger of God! Cleanse me!’ The Messenger turned his face from him, but the man insisted: ‘O Messenger of God! Cleanse me!’ This was repeated four times. At last, the Messenger asked: Of what sin shall I cleanse you? ‘Of fornication’, the man replied. The sin of illicit intercourse weighed on his conscience so heavily that he desired to be punished.

The Messenger asked those present: Does this man suffer from insanity?

- No, he is sound, they replied.

- See, if he is intoxicated!

They examined him. He was sober. In the face of his insistent confession, God’s Messenger had to order the execution of the punishment on the man. After it, he sat and wept.

A few days later, a woman appealed to God’s Messenger to cleanse her of her sin. She was the man’s partner. Many times God’s Messenger turned away from her and sent her back. In utmost remorse, the woman insisted on being punished. The Messenger sent her back once more, saying: You may be pregnant. Go and give birth to your child. The woman went and came back again after she had given birth. The Messenger excused her: Go back; your child needs feeding. After the child had been weaned, the woman came again. When someone reproved the woman during the execution of her punishment, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, frowned at him and said: By God, this woman repented of her sin so much that were her repentance to be shared out among the whole of the people of Madina, it would suffice for their forgiveness.17

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, established such a magnificent system and formed such an excellent community that neither Plato nor Thomas Moore nor Campanella nor any other utopian has been able to imagine its equal. Among thousands of other examples, the following - the last we have space to give in this book - illustrates this fact.

Abu Hurayra, one of the poorest of the Companions, once came to God’s Messenger. He had not eaten anything for some days. Abu Talha, one of the Helpers, took him home to give food. Nevertheless, there was nothing at home save some soup which Abu Talha’s wife had made for her children. She consulted with her husband and they decided: They would make their children sleep without eating anything. The soup was too little to make all of them full so only the guest should have it. They sat at the table and it was just when they began eating that Umm Sulaym, Abu Talha’s wife, knocked the candle as if by mistake. In darkness, they acted as if they ate but they did not. The guest ate the soup and was satisfied.

It was dawn when they stood for prayer after God’s Messenger in the mosque. At the end of the prayer, the Messenger turned to them and asked: ‘What did you do last night, that this verse was revealed in praise of you: “They prefer others above themselves, even though poverty be their portion” (al-Hashr, 59.9)?’18

1. Bukhari, Manaqib, 18; Muslim, Fada’il, 20-23.
2. Bukhari, Nikah, 36; Abu Dawud, Talaq, 33.
3. Waitz quoted by B. Smith, Muhammad and Muhammadanism, 42-3.
4. Islam at the Crossroads, 5.
5. Ibn al-Athir, el-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, 4.106.
6. Kufa was a famous city in the early history of Islam, situated on the west branch of the river Euphrates, to the south of the ruins of Babel, in southern Iraq.
7. Ibn al-Athir, Usd al-Ghaba, 7.88-90; Ibn Hajar, al-Isaba, 4.287.
8. Tabari, Tarikh, 5.195; Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 3.305; Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya, 1.53.
9. Munavi, Fayd al-Qadir, 2.290.
10. Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 3.907.
11. Abu Dawud, Buyu‘, 54; I. Hanbal, Musnad, 2.84.
12. ‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, 1.370.
13. Muslim, Qadar, 34; Ibn Maja, Muqaddima, 10; I. Hanbal, 3.366.
14. Bukhari, Wasa’ya’, 9.
15. Nasa’i, Nikah, 36.
16. Muslim, Zakat, 108; Ibn Maja, Jihad, 41.
17. Muslim, Hudud, 22-3.
18. Bukhari, Tafsir, 6; Muslim, Ashriba, 172.

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The military dimension of Muhammad's Prophethood

Last Updated on October 09, 2000

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