The prophet Muhammad is certainly one of the most influential figures in history. Michael H. Hart, in his book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, puts Muhammad at the top of the 100 most influential personalities.
More than a billion people across the world follow Muhammad and take him as their guide, mentor and leader. Muslims' respect, love and reverence for Muhammad are deep and genuine. Out of regard, Muslims always say "Peace be upon him" every time they invoke his name. Muhammad's legacy is far-reaching and permeates every aspect of Muslim life.
Today, Saturday, coincides with the birthday of Prophet Muhammad. Interestingly, this day isn't celebrated as a religious day. In some Muslim countries it is an official holiday; in others it isn't. The birthday of Muhammad doesn't have the same religious significance as the birthdays of other religious figures. This is partly due to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad himself, who taught his disciples not to glorify him and only refer to him as the "servant of God."
Prophet Muhammad is unique among historical figures. Many aspects of his private and public life have been recorded by his disciples. Things as simple as the number of grey hairs in his head, how he smiled, how he walked, what type of foods he liked, etc., have been recorded with great detail. His rulings, sayings and precedents are the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence.
Prophet Muhammad was a man with many dimensions. He was a prophet, family man, political leader, army commander, teacher, spiritual guide and reformer who transformed a nation steeped in ignorance to a leading nation in art, science and civilization.
Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), a French writer, described Muhammad as a "philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas of a cult without images; the founder of 20 terrestrial empires."
Lamartine noted: "If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad?"
Given the multidimensional roles of Muhammad, different aspects can be noted. Two aspects, however, can be identified as key to his legacy. The first is mercy, or "rahma." Once he was asked to curse his tormentors, he replied, "I wasn't sent to curse, I was sent as a mercy." In the Qur'an he is described as "mercy to the worlds." Accordingly, Muhammad's core message was a message of forgiveness, kindness and compassion to all creatures of God. Even where war was forced on him by his rivals, he counselled his companions to be humane and mindful of human life. When he entered the city of Mecca victoriously, one of his commanders said: "Today is the day of blood and revenge." Muhammad dismissed him instantly and said "today is the day of forgiveness."
The second aspect of his legacy is good character. He summarized his mission by stating: "I have only been sent to perfect good manners." He once said to his disciples: "The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character." People who met Muhammad were overwhelmed by his character. He earned their love and regard instantly.
Prophet Muhammad's legacy is sometimes misunderstood by both his followers and his detractors. Some of his followers fail to grasp the greater objectives of Muhammad's message and focus on some peripheral aspect, undermining the substance of his message. On the other hand, some of his detractors study his story with preconceived notions, or rely on stories taken out of context or stories that have questionable historical basis. Further, they occasionally focus on single peripheral incident to project out of it a distorted image of Muhammad.
Muhammad's contribution to humanity is deep and everlasting. He has inspired humans in the past and present to live exemplary life full of humility, integrity, decency and love for all. May the peace and blessing of God be upon him!
Ismael Mukhtar is the president of the Manitoba Islamic Association.