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The Prophet's Status: What Can Be Said...?

Mainstream, orthodox Islam (Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama‘ah) has long prided itself on preserving and transmitting the descriptions and distinctions of the blessed Prophet, upon whom be peace. Tirmidhi’s much celebrated Shama’il, which depicts the beautiful attributes – physical and moral – of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, is one such work in this heritage. Imam al-Bayhaqi’s Dala’il al-Nubuwwah, a seven volume anthology detailing the remarkable and extraordinary prophetic distinctions, is another. Also among the notable works in the genre is Qadi ‘Iyad’s unparalleded al-Shifa’, and also al-Suyuti’s al-Khasa’is. And the short monograph of al-‘Izz b. ‘Abd al-Salam, Bidayat al-Sul, counts as a mini treasure-trove in this respect.

These anthologies and compendiums are filled with verses of the Qur’an and hadiths extoling and praising the Prophet, and proclaiming to the world his lofty status, rank and merit. The following paragraphs attempt to distill something of these virtues and distinctions, so that souls can know him and that hearts can be filled with love of him. Summarising such distinctions, however, is far from easy.

For what can be adequately said about the rank and station of someone by whom God Himself swears an oath: By your life, they wandered blindly in their drunkenness. [15:72]

Or what can be said of the one about whom God says: The Prophet has a greater claim over the believers than their ownselves. [33:6]

What can be said about one whose name, Muhammad actually means: “oft-praised” and whose name Ahmad means “most deserving of praise” and who, on the Day of Judgement, will possess the “Banner of Praise” around which all the other prophets shall rally. [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3615]

What can be said about the one whom the Qur’an announces is an excellent example [33:21] or whose is indeed a tremendous character [68:4], or who was depicted in these terms: man rahu badihatan habahu wa man khalatahu ma‘rifatan ahabbahu – ‘Whoever saw him unexpectedly was awestricken by him, but whoever came to know him, loved him.’

What can be said about one who informed us: ‘My eyes sleep but my heart does not,’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3569] or who said: ‘Truly I am not like you, for my Lord sustains me with food and drink.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.1965; Muslim, no.1103]

What can be said of one who, on the Night of the Ascension (laylat al-isra’), the night of his crowning glory, actually passed the Lote Tree of the Furthest Boundary, [53:14] and then approached and came closer, till he was at two bows’ length or even nearer. [53:8-9]3

What can be said about the one to whom God said: ‘O Muhammad! Over what did the Highest Assembly of Angels dispute? I replied: I do not know, O Lord. Then He placed His hand between my shoulders and I felt its coolness in my chest, and knowledge of all things came to me and I then knew it.” [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3235] In another wording, it states: ‘… and knowledge of whatever is between the heavens and earth came to me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3233] In another: ‘ … knowledge of all things between East and West came to me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3234]

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If God Were Proud

In his timeless and celebrated volume of spiritual discourses called Futuh al-Ghayb, the venerable Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d.561H/1166CE) – the leading Hanbali jurist of Baghdad in his time as well as spiritual master par excellence of his age – commences the third of his orations with these words:

When the servant is tried with some difficulty, his first impulse is to try and cope with it by himself. If he is unable to extract himself from it, he looks to others for help, such as those in power, important officials, men of means or influence, or medical experts; if disease or physical ailment is involved. If he still finds no relief, he then turns to his Lord with prayers of petition, humble entreatment and offerings of praise. As long as he feels he can cope on his own, he will not turn to others; and so long as he can count on others, he will not turn to the Creator. [1]

It seems a poor thing to turn to God as a last resort; to remember Him when all else fails us; to lift our hands to Him only when the ship is going down. If God were proud He would never accept us on such terms. But God is not proud. Kind, Compassionate, Merciful – God will have us even if we have shown that we have preferred others over Him and that we come to Him only because we are now at a dead end. Indeed, it does not really proclaim the glory of God if we chose Him only as an alternative to Hell; yet even this He accepts. Such is God’s mercy and kindness; such is how He forgives and overlooks His glory’s diminution: When My servants ask you concerning Me [tell them] I am indeed close, I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. [2:186]

Further on in the very same discourse, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir speaks about how, when the servant’s illusions of self-sufficiency are shattered – and for the servant’s sake they must be shattered – and as he is made to realise that none can help him or grant him relief except God, God responds to his servant’s humility and brokenness and shades him from distress. For God accepts His servants however they may come to Him – if not in loving submission, then by trials and troubles, or by simple fear of the eternal flames; unmindful, even, of His glory’s diminution.

[1] Futuh al-Ghayb (Cairo: Dar al-Maqtam, 2007), 22. My translation of the passage was based on M. Holland, Revelations of the Unseen (Florida: Al-Baz Publishing, 2007), 11.

If God Were Proud [The Humble "I"]

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