“Verily in the messenger of God, you have a good example” (33:21)
The brightest aspect of the prophet’s life is that he always did what he said. There was not an injunction revealed to him that he did not demonstrate by his own example. He talked about faith, the unity of God, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, poor-due, charity, struggle for the cause of God, self-sacrifice, patience, endurance, thanksgiving, virtuous deeds, and demonstrated every one of these by setting a personal example. His life, thus, became an illustration of what is written in the Qur’an. Once a few Companions asked Ayesha about the moral virtues of the Prophet. She replied, “Have you not read the Qur’an? He was a personification of the Qur’an.” The Qur’an thus contains precepts in words and phrases, while prophet Muhammad’s life is their practical demonstration.
‘Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, who had spent nine years of her life with the Prophet, affirms: “He never spoke ill of anybody. Instead of returning evil for evil, he used to forgive those who gave offence to him. He never sought revenge. He never hit any maid or slave or servant, or even a dumb creature. He never turned down a seemly request whosoever made it.”
Among the relatives of the Prophet, nobody was closer to him than Ali. He had been with the Prophet from his childhood. He bears witness that the Prophet was of cheerful disposition, kindhearted and had a clear conscience. He was never harsh to anybody. If he disliked a request made by someone, he normally kept quiet instead of giving a blunt reply. Those who knew his habits understood what he meant by his silence. He never liked to sadden anybody, rather, he used to set people’s hearts at ease. He was kind, and compassionate.
It was a pleasure to have his company. Whoever met him for the first time was filled with awe, but on closer contact, became attached to him.
According to the French philosopher, Voltaire (1694¬-1778), “No one is a hero to his valet.” The reason for this is that a valet has access to a person’s private life, and in private life no one is perfect. Those close to a person usually do not hold him in such high esteem as those who are further off. That is why they cannot come to think of him as a hero. But as Soren Smith has written, this does not hold true for the Prophet of Islam. History shows that the closer one came to him, the more one was taken by his fine qualities.
Here are a few incidents, which illustrate that the Prophet Muhammad always practised what he preached to others.
Once when the Prophet was at home with his wife, Umm Salamah, he summoned the maidservant for some errand, but she seemed to take a long time in coming, Seeing signs of anger on the Prophet’s face Umm Salamah got up to see what had happened to the girl. She opened the curtain and saw her playing outside with the goat’s kids. She called to her once again, and this time she came. The Prophet was holding a tooth-stick at the time, “If I had not feared the retribution of Judgement Day”, he said to the girl, “I would have hit you with this tooth-stick.”
It happened that a Woman of Medina, who used to clean the mosque, passed away. She was black-skinned and mentally deranged and there were few to perform her funeral. Those who came to it did not think it proper to inform the Prophet. When he finally heard about it, he asked to be informed of the death of any Muslim in future, irrespective of his or her status. And he performed the funeral service later.
At the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet had his teeth broken by a stone thrown at him by one of the enemy, and blood streamed from his mouth. Some of the Companions urged the Prophet to curse these enemies who wrought such havoc. (Among the many Companions who died in the battle was the Prophet's own uncle Hamzah). The Prophet’s response to this was: “I have not been sent as a curse. I have been sent as a preacher and the bearer of God’s mercy.”
According to Abu Hurayrah the Prophet was never in the habit of finding fault with food. If he liked something, he ate it; if not, he left it.
Anas ibn Malik tells of how, once, when he and the Prophet, who was garbed in a thick-bordered Abyssinian shawl, were walking along together when they came across a man of rustic appearance, who came up to them and caught hold of the Prophet’s shawl. He pulled at it with such force that marks appeared on the Prophet’s neck.” O Mohammad, give me some of God’s wealth, which is in your keeping,” said the man. Quite unaffected by the man’s rudeness, the Prophet smiled and gave orders for him to be provided for from the Treasury according to his needs.
An important statement, which the Prophet made once, concerned the special moments that there should be in the lives of the God-fearing:
There should be:
Moments when one should commune with God,
Moments when one should be one’s own assessor,
Moments when one should be reflecting upon the mysteries of creation,
And also moments for the acquisition of the necessities of life.
Adopting a high code of ethics means practising what one preaches; treating the weak with the same courtesy and deference as one shows to the strong; setting the same standards for oneself as one sets for others. From this point of view, the Prophet of Islam stood at the pinnacle of human ethics, never abandoning the lofty standards that he preached. And no testimony to this superior moral life he led is more reliable than that of his closest companions.