All of us have had role models growing up. Boys look up to their fathers or other older males in their families. Girls observe their mothers and copy their behaviors. A boy in the class or a girl claims our admiration and esteem with some quality extraordinaire. We wish to have those qualities ourselves.
There are some who dominate our dreams, like a musician, for example. We all like music. It plays on the strings of our souls and puts the turbulence of our minds into relaxation. Therefore, the image of a rock star rides on the tide of our emotions. Sports are an outlet for our competitive and combative expression --- a basketball player or a quarterback walks on the turf of our appreciation and personifies what we wish we could be! A boxer --- a Mohammad Ali throws punches at the opponent, knocks him down --- giving our own ego a proxy victory over an imagined adversary.
All these role models are stars twinkling far away in the horizon, symbolizing our fancies and our aspirations. We want to be like them --- on the guitar that we may never play, on the turf that we may never tread on and in the boxing ring that we may never step in. We live in the world of our dreams, which may never cross the threshold of reality.
No superstar can be a life model
Life however, is not just music, nor basketball nor boxing. Life is a complex multi-dimensional thing, posing challenges of different kinds at every step, demanding choices, decisions, judgments, sacrifices, laying obstacles and distractions all the way. The road to success is paved with pitfalls of all kinds. To be successful in life at every step, one has to be either endowed with superhuman qualities or bestowed with superb inspiration and guidance. No singer, no basketball player, no film star can provide a model with so many facets to emulate --- no, not even the father or the mother or that venerated priest in the temple.
Qualifications of a role model
Just because a man can hit a baseball further than many of us, he does not become a role model for us, for we do not wield a bat while combating the challenges of life. The challenges do not come to us in the form of a baseball. They come to us in various forms and manners. To meet them head on, we need the strength of character, foresight and wisdom. Our role model must be someone, who sets standards in every walk of life. If there is one who excels in the playground or on the guitar but whose life is wreckage at home and a disaster in the community or one who shines as the brightest star and then is extinguished with a drug overdose can hardly be a model for survival, let alone success.
Our role models have to be human beings like us, who have experienced life as we do. For example, a man who has never married will have nothing to offer in terms of matrimony and family matters. Gods incarnate, if they ever walked on earth would not be of human substance and therefore could not exemplify human behavior. Also, legendary miracle makers from remote history could hardly serve as models for us ordinary humans.
My role model
Let me tell you about my role model. He lived in the full light of history, whose life incidents are verifiable by all modern historians. He was an orphan, shepherded goats, like his peers before him; spent his childhood and his youth in poverty; married a widow, after serving her as an agent in trade, who bore him children; earned the reputation of being the most trustworthy, honest and truthful; rejected the worship of idols, which every one around him worshipped; came to believe that God was One, none other than the God of Abraham; told his people to worship no other than the one, who spoke to Moses on the Sinai and none other than the one, who gave Jesus the powers that he exercised.
The messenger of God
He received the first revelation in a cave while meditating. “Read” a voice commanded him. “But I cannot read” he protested, as he was illiterate. “Read” the voice roared again. “Read in the name of your Lord Who Created.” He was terrified. Came home, shivering from head to toe. He thought he was going mad. His wife comforted him and covered him with a blanket. Next day she took him to an old Christian monk, who was her cousin. The monk realized the significance of this event and saw that this man was a messenger of God in the true tradition of the Book. He predicted that his people would put upon him untold hardships. The message he was commissioned to give to the people was very simple: “There was no god but Allah” (the one and the only). His people were pagans. They had converted the House that Abraham had built for the worship of Allah into a hotbed of idolatry and polytheism.
The mission begins
At first, the Messenger preached his message secretly; then he was commanded to go out into the open. As was the tradition in the town, when the news of an impending danger was to be given, he went on a hill and called at the top of his voice all the clans in the vicinity by their names and when they gathered around him he said: “ Oh people! If I were to tell you that beyond this valley, there is an army of armed horsemen heading towards you to attack you; would you believe me?” “Yes of course!” They exclaimed in unison: “We have never known you to lie” Encouraged by this positive response, he shouted: “ Then let me tell you, I am sent to you to warn you against grievous suffering. It is not in my powers to secure any benefit for you in this life or any blessing in the life to come, unless you believe in the Oneness of Allah --- “ This was too much for the people to take, even from someone, who was known to be the most trustworthy. He was challenging their value system and was threatening to overthrow their traditional way of life. To a man, they protested and left, dismayed by his impertinence.
Persecution, migration and success
As had happened to such men before, his persecution by his fellowmen was swift and severe. He endured but did not waver in his beliefs. He was offered wealth and riches, if only he would abandon his “crazy claims” and teachings. His answer was: “Even if you put the sun in my one hand and the moon in the other, I would not abandon my mission.”
He was driven out of the town, together with his followers. The inhabitants of another town welcomed him, accepted his teachings and his message; swore allegiance to him and made him the Head of the community, later to be expanded into a state. By the time he died, the entire Arab peninsula was at his feet and his message had reached the ears of the emperor of Byzantine and the emperor of Persia. Soon after his death, his call reached the four corners of the world. Today 1.2 Billion people practice the religion he taught and try to follow his personal example in their lives.
A role model in every walk of life
He was no god; never claimed to be one, nor any part of it. He was a human being, who walked on earth; lived among people, who obeyed and adored him. He married and had a family. His marital life was an open book containing lessons for all those who have families. He started a political community, of which he was the head. His life spanned all the avenues of living, from domestic to the civil to the political --- all in one. His handling of socio-political and religio-judicial matters is precedent for us all. His moral teachings and his ethical practices are the envy of all social reformers and ethicists. He was not just a teacher and a preacher but a meticulous practitioner and demonstrator of all that he taught and preached.
He gave the people a book, a book of guidance, a book in conformity with the Book of the past, but one, which would live forever as no one could ever rewrite it in his own words. The Word of God was scribed and imprinted on memory as it was spoken and has remained unaltered ever since. The book was Al-Qur’an and the man who brought the book was Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him), the last Messenger of God. The Book was the Criterion, the Law, the Code of ethics, the Guidance, as the man was the Mercy for all mankind. God said of him in the Book “Indeed, in the Messenger of God you have example of good behavior”. God made matters easy for us in that when he sent down the instructions, he sent with them a model. Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) was that model, who taught not out of his own volition but by divine wisdom, who was an embodiment of correct and righteous human behavior, tested and proven by its impact on society over a millennium and half. He carried the standard law of morality for all times and lived to practice it and made that practice a tradition for those, who desire success in this life and in the Hereafter.
The essence of his mission
There are volumes written about the traits of his character: his simplicity, austerity, humility, his sense of justice; his mannerism, his advocacy of seeking knowledge, how he was kind to women and children and we can write many more as witnessed by his companions and transmitted to us through authenticated traditions. However, we are content by quoting two statements that he made before he passed away:
When he was on his deathbed, he came out from his private quarters into the mosque where a large crowd had gathered and addressed the people thus:
“Oh People! If I have ever flogged someone on his back, here is my back; he may flog me. If I have ever scolded anyone, he can now pay me back in kind. If I have ever usurped anyone’s property, he may take compensation from whatever I have. Let no one think that if he took revenge upon me, I would be displeased with him. such is not my way.”
His parting speech at the culmination of his last pilgrimage to Mecca is of historical significance, which contains the essence of his mission. A part of what he said is as follows:
“Oh People! Indeed your Lord is One. There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a Black over a Red (White), nor of a Red (White) over a Black, except in righteousness. The best among you, in the eyes of Allah is one who is God-fearing. Have I conveyed the message to you?” They all shouted; “Yes, Oh Messenger of God.” Then he said: “Let those who are present carry the message to those who are not.”
Thus began a unique revolution in the history of mankind, which subsists and is ongoing after the passage of one and a half millennia.
What they said about the Prophet
Following are quotes from some of the famous people, who are not Muslim:
Michael H. Hart: “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.” New York, Hart Publishing company, Inc., 1978, p33
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.”
George Bernard Shaw, famous playwright
“He must be called the Savior of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it much needed peace and happiness.”
Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, ”Young India”
“I wanted to know the best of one who holds today undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind --- I became more than convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the 2nd volume (of the Prophet’s biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of the great life.”
Thomas Carlyle, English author, “Heroes and Hero Worship”
“How one man single handedly, could weld warring tribes and wandering Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades.”
Lamartine, Histoire De La Turquie, Paris, 1854, Vol. II, pp. 276-277
“Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images; 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?”