- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
The Emergence and Legacy of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH
Muhammad: A Prophet For All Humanity
His preaching mission extended over a mere twenty-three years. It was during this short time that he brought about a revolution among the Arab tribes, the like of which the world had never seen. Within one hundred years this revolution had vanquished both the Sassanian and the Byzantine Empires. With the fall of these two great empires of the world, Islam annexed the territory extending from Iran and Iraq to Bukhara in the east, while in the west, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and then the whole of North Africa also fell to Islam. And the torrent did not halt there. In A.D. 711 Islam surged forward across the Straits of Gibraltar into the Iberian Peninsula. In 732 a Frankish prince, Charles Martel, arrested the advance of Islam at Tours. Then followed the Crusades, stretching over two centuries, and after the Crusades the horrific onslaughts of the Tartar tribes. But despite these attacks from outside, the Islamic Empire held its own until the 15th century, when, due to infighting among the Muslims themselves, Spain was lost.
It was then the turn of the Turks and the Mughals to be aroused by the spirit of Islam. In 1453 the Turks conquered Constantinople and advanced into Eastern Europe as far as Yugoslavia. A Turkish army remained encamped outside Vienna until 1683. In the 16th century the Mughals established Islamic rule in India and Afghanistan. Over the last thirteen centuries Muslims have spread to every corner of the globe. Close on four-dozen countries of Asia and Africa have come to constitute a Muslim world. According to the World Muslim Gazetter2 there are 900 million Muslims in the world today.
This was all the result of a twenty-three year effort conducted in Arabia under the Prophet’s guidance. In this short space of time, the Islamic revolution not only assured itself of a permanent place in human history; it also created a new history of its own. Humans alone do not have it in them to accomplish such a gigantic task; it can only be done by God. The Islamic revolution was truly the work of God. When the Muslims were returning from their victory at the Battle of Badr, they were met at a place called Rauha by some well-wishers, who congratulated them on the outcome of the fighting. “Why do you congratulate us?” asked Salmah ibn Salamah. “The enemy were just like tethered camels, and we duly slaughtered them.”
All of this was evidently pre-ordained by God. From the bare Arabian Desert He raised up a people of extraordinary tenacity, a people whose characters had been tempered by their environment. They knew only acceptance or denial; for them there was no third alternative. In them were preserved all the natural qualities needed for dedication to a cause. Added to this there was the fact that the two great powers of the day lay on the borders of their country. It was only natural that the mighty empires of Rome and Persia should not take kindly to the emergence of a new power on their doorstep. In their attempt to arrest the rise of Islam, they waged war against the Muslims. In so doing, they forced the Muslims to fight back. This gave the Muslims the chance to conquer the empires of Rome and Persia, whose borders, at that time, extended to the farthest reaches of the known world. There is no doubting the fact that the conquests of Islam were not wars of aggression against others; rather they were a response to aggression from others. They were wars of self-defence and never, in any country of the world, have there been two minds on the justification for such wars.
Over and above the political significance of these events was the fact that the Islamic revolution opened out hitherto unexplored opportunities for humanity. It made God’s revealed religion a historical reality, something that it had not been before.
It ushered in the age of the press, ensuring the preservation of the Quran for all time. It brought the age of democracy and freedom of speech to the world, removing all artificial barriers that had obstructed preachers in their call to truth. It made new discoveries possible in the world of science, enabling religious truths to be proved and explained on a rational, intellectual level.
An even more important aspect of this revolution was that, through the Prophet, God showed the world what would happen in the hereafter. His life and mission provided us with a preview of the events of the next world. Those who accepted and patterned their lives upon the truth that he brought to them were made supreme, and that is how they will remain forever in the hereafter, if God wills. The wicked, meanwhile, were made to taste the humiliation that they would forever be a prey to in the world to come.
History shows that those who devote their lives to God always appear in a passive and depressed condition, while those devoted to wealth and power always seem to have their way in the world. Such is the sombre evidence of the history of saints and prophets. This state of affairs is quite contrary to reality, for, eventually, God will bestow everlasting honour and glory upon His true servants, while self-worshippers and worshippers of the world will forever be assigned to a pit of humiliation and disgrace.
This world is for our trial. Here, people have the chance to act as they please. That is why God does not hold anyone in check in this world. But once, at least, by means of the prophet of Islam, God has shown on earth the situation that will prevail in its most complete and permanent form in the next world.
The companions of the Prophet, whose homes were demolished, for whom the earth had become a place of unmitigated oppression, who were robbed of their properties, who were so victimized and terrorized that they lived in constant fear of extermination—these very people were raised to a position of great honour. The Quraysh and the Jews, the Romans and the Iranians, the Yemenis and the Ghassanis4 — those who took pride in their wealth and power—were meanwhile reduced to ignominy and disgrace.
Every prophet who comes from God provides a criterion of divine justice. Through him God announces to humanity the decisions that He Himself will announce in the next world. But the Prophet of Islam gave such a display of divine justice that it became a world experience; it became an accepted historical reality. We could see with our own eyes how God honoured His faithful servants and degraded those who rebelled against Him. Heaven and hell were realities that would be made manifest in the next world. But we had been given a preliminary glimpse of them in this world so that we might take heed.
What really emerged with the prophethood of Muhammad was the divinity of God Himself. That is why the New Testament foretells of his prophethood as the “Kingdom of God.” There is no doubting the fact that the revolution of the Prophet had great political and strategic implications. But its main importance is as an earthly manifestation of God’s glory, a revelation of divine justice. The revolution of the Prophet Muhammad showed us in advance the realities that would come upon us in stark and absolute form in the hereafter