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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

The Teachings of the Prophet

Sublime Character

In the Quran the Prophet Muhammad is described as being of “sublime character.” Here are two sayings of the Prophet, which throw light on what this “sublime character” consists of:

Never debase your character by saying that if people treat you well, you will treat them well, and if they harm you, then you will do worse to them. Rather, become accustomed to being good to those who are good to you, and not wronging those who harm you. (Jami‘ at-Tirmidhi, hadith no. 2007)

Join hands with those who break away from you, forgive those who wrong you, and be good to those who harm you. (Jami‘ al-Usul, Ibn al-Athir al-Jazari, hadith no. 9317)

There are two levels of character, an ordinary and a superior level. An ordinary character is based on the principle: do as other have done to you. Such a character might be termed a “knee-jerk character,” for those possessed of such a character offer only reflex responses to treatment by others, breaking with those who break with

Join hands with those who break away from you, forgive those who wrong you, and be good to those who harm you. The Prophet Muhammad

them, wronging those who wrong them, and harming those who harm them. But the higher level of character is based on the principle: do as you would like others to do to you. Those possessed of such a character deal with both friend and foe in the same principled manner, irrespective of how they have been treated. They are reconciliatory, even joining with those who break with them. They are compassionate, even to those who seek to harm them. They are forbearing, even towards those who wrong them.

When the Prophet entered Makkah victoriously in 630 AD, a question facing him was what treatment should be meted to those Makkans who had conspired and waged battles against him. These people were in the position of prisoners of war and according the custom of the time this invited capital punishment. Western historians have noted with astonishment that the Prophet declared a general amnesty and said to the Makkans who engaged in hostilities: “Let no reproach be upon you this day. Go, you are free.” (Sirat Ibn Hisham, vol. 2, p. 412)

Refraining from Retaliation

Once a group of Rabbis came to the Prophet. When they entered, instead of giving the normal ‘Assalamu alaykum’ greeting (peace be upon you), they said ‘Assamu alaykum’, meaning “death to you”. Ayisha heard this, and was not able to contain herself and exclaimed: “Death to you instead,” which means, “May God damn you.” The Prophet told Ayisha not to answer back in this manner. “God is gentle,” he said, “and He likes gentleness in every matter.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 6927) In truth, there is no more effective method of winning a person’s heart than by returning soft words for harsh. It is possible to withstand armed onslaught, but noble conduct is a force in itself that no one can resist. It is sure to prevail in all situations.

This principle has been expressed in a verse in the Quran: “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Do good deed in return for bad deed and you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.” (41:34)

This action of the Prophet illustrates that his followers should be unilateral well-wishers of others. Even if they have been treated acrimoniously by those with whom they are dealing, they should still behave respectfully and honourably.


The Quran sums up the Islamic method in the following words: “Then if they should be inclined to make peace, make peace with them, and put your trust in God. Surely, it is He who is All Hearing and All Knowing.” (8:61-62)

This shows that the true Islamic method is to pursue our aims peacefully. Even when there is a fear that our

In truth, there is no more effective method of winning a person’s heart than by returning soft words for harsh.

opponents may deceive us, Muslims should still put their trust in God, and be ready to make peace. What this means is that we should concentrate our efforts in that field of action where – without any confrontation with others – there are opportunities for us to advance. As for other fields, those in which no opportunities present themselves – one should let the forces of nature go to work.

Behaviour with People of Other Faiths

Madinah was also inhabited by some idolaters and Jews, who were in a minority. The Prophet decided that some form of law should be established so that there would be no misunderstanding or hostility of any sort, in the future between them and the Muslims. To solve this problem the Prophet of Islam issued a charter commonly known as the covenant of Madinah. Since the Muslims were in the majority, the Prophet’s position became that of a leader, or a head of state. In this capacity he declared in this charter that all the inhabitants of Madinah would enjoy equal rights. A clause of the charter read: Lil-yahud dinuhum wa lil-muslimin dinuhum, that is, “For Jews their religion, for Muslims theirs.” (Sirat Ibn Hisham, vol.1, p. 503)

Everyone would be free to follow the religion and culture of his or her choice: the affairs of the Muslims would be decided according to the Shariah, while the affairs of the Jews and idolaters would be decided according to their traditions, laws and customs.

While in Madinah one day, the Prophet saw a funeral procession passing through a street in the town. At that time the Prophet was seated, but on seeing the funeral, he stood up out of respect. One of his companions said: “O Prophet, that was the funeral of a Jew. Why are you giving so much respect to a deceased non-Muslims?” The Prophet replied: A’laysat nafsan, that is, “Was he not a human being?” (Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1312) This example set by the Prophet of Islam shows that irrespective of religion or tradition, all men and women are equally worthy of respect.

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