Reposted, with thanks from Nur Foundation for Sacred Sciences
The Messenger of God ﷺ was the quintessential model of perfection in conduct. He was chosen by His Lord, molded by Him to have excellence in character, and selected by God to be His final Messenger. In God’s Messenger ﷺ we also find a practical illustration of the teachings of the Qur’an, an unsurpassed example of perfection in worship, as well as a manifestation of the standards of Islamic practice for Muslims to strive for. There is not a single command, prohibition, or matter mentioned in the Qur’an except that the Prophet ﷺ implemented it to its full realization. He represented the entirety of the divine teachings of Islam in all of his behaviors and actions, both in public and private. The Prophet’s ﷺ noble character permeated all of his affairs and all of his states; thus making his practice flawlessly consistent with his divine message. When ʿAʾisha (RA) was asked to describe the Prophet’s character she replied, “His character, may God send blessings and peace upon him and his family, was the Qur’an.” This why the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ is a model which Muslims strive to emulate in all aspects of their daily lives.
The Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ embodied all of the elements of good character of the Messengers who came before and surpassed them in perfection. If Nūḥ (AS) was distinguished with both his patience and perseverance in carrying out his mission; Ibrāhīm (AS) known for his generosity, spending, and striving for the sake of God; Dāwūd (AS) for his thankfulness for God’s blessings; Zakariyya and Yaḥyā (AS) for their abstinence from the world and their self-control over their desires; Yūnus (AS) for his state of thankfulness in both hardship and ease; Mūsā (AS) for his courage and strength; Hārūn (AS) for his companionship and flexibility; the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ embodied the combination of each of these distinguishing traits of nobility and perfection. Hence, the brave saw in the prophetic example a paradigm of courage, the generous regarded him as the fullest model of selfless giving, the patient found in the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ an exemplar of perseverance during both adversity and ease, and those who shun worldliness found in the Prophet ﷺ the best example of moderation.
Here, we will examine some of the characteristics of the Prophet ﷺ as illustrated in his biography in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the noble personal traits that made him a teacher and guide to humanity.
THE MESSENGER OF GOD ﷺ WAS FLEXIBLE AND EASY GOING IN HIS PERSONALITY.
He had good conduct with his family, friends, and all others he came into contact with. He did not reprimand servants and he never struck anyone except during battle. Anas (RA) is reported to have said: “I served the Messenger of God ﷺ for ten years. By God, he never [once] said to me the words ‘uff’ (an expression of frustration) nor did he ever say to me for any matter, ‘Why did you do such and such?’ Or ‘Why did you not do such and such?’”
‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib h reported: “The Messenger of God ﷺ was the most open handed [in giving], the bravest of people in hearts, the most truthful of people in speech, and the most loyal of people in protection. He was the gentlest of people and kindest of them in companionship. Whoever saw him unexpectedly was awestruck by him. Whoever interacted with him loved him.”
THE MESSENGER OF GOD ﷺ WAS THE BEST IN HIS TREATMENT OF HIS FAMILY AND THE MOST GENTLE OF PEOPLE TO WOMEN.
He ﷺ used to say, “The best of you is he who is best to his family and I am best to my family.”
The Messenger of God ﷺ used to remain seated after a gathering was over. If the people in the gathering spoke of a matter he would participate in their conversation so as long as it was not pertaining to anything impermissible. Khārija b. Zayd reports that a group visited his father, Zayd b. Thābit (RA), and said: “Speak to us of the character of the Prophet ﷺ.” He said:
“I used to be his neighbor. When revelation would come, he used to call for me and I would write it down. If we mentioned worldly affairs, he would mention it with us. If we mentioned the afterlife, he would mention it with us. If we mentioned food he would mention it with us or all [else] which we speak to you of.”
He used to visit his Companions to honor them, bring joy to their hearts, and give them guidance with his advice and teachings. ‘Abd Allāh b. Qays (RA) reports that the Messenger of Allāh used to frequently visit the Anṣār, both individually and generally. If he was visiting someone individually, he would visit the man in his house. If he was visiting generally, he would visit with them in the mosque. Also, if he ﷺ did not see a man for more than three days, he used to ask about him. If he was away, he used to supplicate for him. If he was present he would visit him. If he was ill, he would go and check on him.
Similarly, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to visit the weak Muslims and treat them with kindness and affection. He used to sit with them, visit their sick, and attend their funerals. In this way, he honored them and raised their sense of self-worth and dignity.
THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH ﷺ WAS ALSO THE FINEST OF PEOPLE IN AFFECTION, LOYALTY, AND MAINTAINING HIS ALLEGIANCE TO THOSE BONDED TO HIM.
‘Ā’isha (RA) reports saying, “If Khādīja was mentioned, the Prophet ﷺ used to praise her and excel in his praises.” She said, “So, one day I felt jealous and said, ‘How often it is you remember her, the toothless woman (ḥamrā’ al-shidqi)! God the Majestic has replaced her with [someone] better than her.’” He said,
God did not replace her with [someone] better than her. She believed in me when the people disbelieved me. She verified [the truth of my words] when the people [accused] me of lies. She provided me with her property when the people kept from me. And God the Exalted has granted me children from her while other women have not.
She also reports that an old woman came to the Prophet ﷺ while he was with me. He said [to her], “Who are you?” She replied, “I am Juthāma al-Muzaniyya.” He said, “No, you are Ḥassāna al-Muzaniyya! How are you? How is your state? How have you been?” She said, “I am well. May my mother and father be sacrificed for you, O Messenger of God.” After she left I said, “O Messenger of Allah, [why do] you greet this old woman with such a welcome?” He said, “She used to come to us during the time of Khādīja. Maintaining the ties of one’s loyalties is from faith (ḥusn al-‘aḥdi min al-īmān).”
THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH ﷺ WAS KNOWN FOR HAVING THE UTMOST OF SHYNESS (ḤAYĀʾ).
This ḥayāʾ manifested in all of his actions and dealings. He never confronted someone with what they disliked out of his ḥayāʾ and desire to preserve their dignity. Rather, he used to say when reprimanding, “What is the matter with he [who does such and such], may his forehead gather dust.”
HE WAS ALSO, MAY PEACE AND BLESSINGS BE UPON HIM, THE FINEST MODEL OF HUMILITY DESPITE HIS ELEVATED RANK AND HONORABLE STATUS.
His humility permeated all aspects of his life, both public and private. From his humility was that he would serve himself. ‘Ā’isha was once asked, “What was the Prophet ﷺ like in the home?” She said, “The way any of you are. He used to mend his own sandals and sew his own garment.” In another transmission, she said: “He was in the service of his family. But when [it was time] for the prayer, he would leave for the prayer.”
From the signs of his humility was that he used to ride a donkey and did not limit himself to only riding horses, as was customary practice at the time among kings and dignitaries. He even used to let some of the children of his Companions ride behind him. He used to answer the call of both the bondsman and the free person, accept gifts even if it was a container of milk, as well as walk alongside the widows and the poor. Anas (RA) reported, “The [little] girl from the girls of the Madinans would take the Prophet ﷺ by the hand and lead him to wherever she wished.”
The clearest indication of the Prophet’s ﷺ humility is that when he was given a choice to either be a Prophet servant or a Prophet-king, he chose the rank of servitude out of his humility with God. Abū Ḥurayra h reports, “Jibrīl sat by the Prophet ﷺ and then looked at the sky. An angel was descending.” Jibrīl said, “This angel has been descending since the day it was created before the hour.” When he descended he said, “O Muhammad, Your Lord has sent me to you. Do [you wish to be] a Prophet-king or a Prophet-servant (‘abdan rasūlan)?” Jibrīl said, “Be humble with your Lord O Muhammad.” He replied, “Certainly, a Prophet-servant.”
Once a man came to speak to him and became overwhelmed with a state of nervousness. The Prophet ﷺ calmed him down saying, “Be easy with yourself for I am not a king. I am the son of a woman who used to eat dried meat.”
He used to hate to be elevated and distinguished among his Companions and he used to participate in the work that they were doing. He, peace and blessings be upon him, partook in the construction of the Prophet’s Mosque and the digging of the trenches on the Day of the Battle of the Trench (Khandaq) as if he were any other person among his Companions.
It is reported that he ﷺ was on a trip and ordered his Companions to prepare a sheep to be eaten. One man said, “I will be [responsible for] slaughtering it.” Another said, “I will be [responsible for] skinning it.” Another said, “I will [be responsible for] cooking it.” The Messenger of God ﷺ said, “I will collect the firewood.” The Companions said, “O Messenger of God, we will work in your place!” He said, “I know that you will work in my place, but I hate to distinguish myself above you. Verily, God hates that servant of His who sees himself as above his Companions.”
THE MESSENGER OF GOD ﷺ POSSESSED IMMENSE FORBEARANCE, FREELY FORGAVE THE WRONGS OF OTHERS, AND NEVER RETURNED A WRONG WITH ANOTHER WRONG.
Indeed, he kept ties with those who cut him off, gave to those who kept from him, spent on those who would not give him, and forgave those who wronged him. He did not carry in his heart ill feelings or hatred for any person. He used to say, “Let not one of you tell me any of [the shortcomings] of another one of you. I like to meet them with a sound heart.”
A Bedouin once came to the Prophet ﷺ to ask for a debt which he owed him. He then became rough with him saying, “I will harm you if you do not pay me back.” The Companions then rebuked him saying, “Beware! Do you not know whom you are speaking with?” He said, “I seek my right.” The Prophet ﷺ thereupon said, “Do you not stand with the one who has a right?”
His forbearance and forgiveness extended to all of God’s creation, even to his enemies who hurt him. When his tooth broke in the battle or Uḥud and his face was wounded and bleeding, his Companions were deeply pained and said, “O Messenger of God, supplicate against the polytheists!” He replied, “I was not sent to curse, I was sent as a mercy.”
On the day that Mecca was conquered and the Prophet ﷺ returned as a victor, all of his enemies were at his mercy. He could have easily executed those who persecuted, mocked, and violently opposed him for years. Had he taken vengeance, this would have been not only acceptable by the standards of his time but also expected. Instead, he ﷺ said, “O people of Quraysh, what shall I do with you today?” Despite their own hard heartedness and conceit, they knew with certainty that mercy permeated the heart of the Messenger of God ﷺ. They replied saying, “[We expect] goodness. [You are] a generous and noble brother the son of a generous and noble brother (akhun karīm wa ibnu akhin karīm).” He ﷺ said, “There is no blame upon any of you today. Go, for you all are free.” Truly, it comes as no surprise that the hearts of humanity were drawn to the love of Muhammad in a way that would be unmatched until the end of time.
HE WAS ALSO, PEACE AND BLESSINGS BE UPON HIM, EXCEPTIONAL IN HIS DIPLOMACY AND ABILITY TO BRING HEARTS TOGETHER.
Before Islam, much of the Arabia was characterized by a milieu of harsh brutality where violence and hostility among tribes was commonplace. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ brought their hearts together, guided them, tolerated their coarse disposition, and patiently endured their harm until they followed his leadership, united upon what he called them to, and emigrated seeking his pleasure while leaving their homeland and loved ones behind.
THE PROPHET ﷺ WAS ALSO VIGILANT ABOUT UPHOLDING JUSTICE AMONG THOSE UNDER HIS RESPONSIBILITY.
It is reported that the Quraysh were concerned about a woman of the Makhzūm clan who had stolen. So they asked each other, “Who can speak about her to the Messenger of God ﷺ ?” Then they said, “Who else would have the courage but Usāma b. Zayd; the beloved of the Messenger of God?” Thus, Usāma spoke to him and the Messenger of God ﷺ said, “O Usāma, do you speak to me of a fixed punishment (ḥadd) from the fixed punishments of God?” Usāma said, “Forgive me, O Messenger of God.” When the evening befell the Messenger of God got up to speak, first praising God as He is worthy of being praised. He then said,
Verily, the people before you were destroyed. If a noble person among them stole, they would excuse him. While if a weak person stole, they would implement upon him the fixed punishment. By the One in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, if Faṭima the daughter of Muhammad stole, I would cut off her hand.
When he ﷺ was nearing death he called the people and said:Some of your backs have a right upon me. So if there is anyone whose back I have struck, this is my back. Take from it [your] right. If there is anyone whose honor I have disparaged, this is my honor, so take from it [your] right. If there is anyone from whom I have taken property, this is my property so take from it [your] right. It is dear to me that whoever has a right [upon me] take it or forgive me for it, so that I might meet my Lord with a pure soul.
HIS SACRIFICE AND SELFLESS CONCERN FOR THE WELFARE OF OTHERS WERE THE HALLMARKS BY WHICH THE PROPHET ﷺ WAS DISTINGUISHED.
He used to love his daughter Faṭima immensely. When he would see her, he would get up for her and make her sit in his place out of affection for her. Despite this, Faṭima did not have a single servant in her home, as was the norm of her time, to assist her. She used to grind the flour herself until her hands became calloused and carry water herself until it hurt her back. One day, Faṭima (RA) learned that prisoners of war were being sent to the Messenger of God ﷺ. She set out to ask him (for a servant) and then changed her mind out of embarrassment. Thereupon ʿAlī (RA) went to the Messenger of God ﷺ complaining of the hardships that he and his wife were enduring. He asked for someone to serve them from among the captives. The Messenger of God ﷺ said, “By God I will not give you [what you seek] and tell the people of the bench to tighten their bellies. I do not find anything to spend on them. But I will sell them (the prisoners of war) and spend on them their worth.”
Sahl b. Abī Saʿd (RA) reports, “A woman came with a cloak. He said, ‘Do you know what a cloak (burda) is?” It was said to him, “Yes, it is a garment which is embroidered in its edges.” She said, “O Messenger of God, I have embroidered this with my [own] hands. Cover yourself in it.” The Messenger of God ﷺ took it and was in a state of need for it, since he came out to us in his waist wrap (izār). A man from among the people then send, “O Messenger of God, give it to me to wear!” He replied, “Yes.” He sat in the gathering and then went back, folded it, and sent it to him. The people said to him, you did not do well in asking him for this. You know that he never turns away one who asks him [for a thing]. The man replied, “By God, I did not ask for it except that it may be my burial shroud the day I die.” Sahl then said, “And it was his burial shroud.”
Anas (RA) reported saying, “The Messenger of God ﷺ was not asked anything for Islam except that he gave it.” He said, “A man came and he gave him spoils [of war] that [filled] between two mountains. He then went back to his people and said, ‘O my people, become Muslim! Verily, Muhammad gives out without fearing loss.”
On the Day of Ḥunayn, he also gave some of the freed prisoners spoils in order to draw their hearts to his ﷺ religion. Ṣafwān b. Umayya is reported to have said, “By God, the Messenger of God ﷺ gave me what he did while he was the most hated person to me. He did not cease until he became the dearest person to me.”
Ninety thousand dirhams were brought to him. He placed them on a straw mat and divided them. He did not turn away anyone who asked until he gave away all of the money.
He was also so generous that if he did not have what was asked of him, he would borrow it on a loan to give it to the person asking him. ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (RA) reports that a man came to the Prophet ﷺ and asked him to give him. The Prophet ﷺ said, “I don’t have anything but take a loan in my name and when I receive something I will pay it off.” ʿUmar then said, “O Messenger of God, you gave him but God does not hold you to account for that which is beyond your means!” He ﷺ disliked the words of ʿUmar. Another man from the Anṣār said, “O Messenger of God, spend and do not fear from the Possessor of the Throne decrease!” His being pleased with the words of the man from the Anṣār became evident from the joy on his face. He ﷺ then said, “This is what I have been commanded!” This is why upon the Prophet’s ﷺ death, his armor was held as a collateral in exchange for an amount of wheat he acquired for his family.
THE MESSENGER OF GOD ﷺ WAS ALSO DISTINGUISHED IN HIS ENDURANCE OF DIFFICULTIES, HARDSHIPS, AND TRIALS.
In addition, he was brave in battle and fought in the frontlines close to his enemies. Barāʾ h reported, “By God, when the battle would intensify we used to be shielded by him (the Prophet ﷺ) and the brave one was he who [fought] alongside him, meaning the Prophet ﷺ.”[26 There was no one closer to the enemy than him. When the pagans encircled him during the battle of Ḥunayn, he got down from his riding beast and said, “I am the Prophet without a lie, I am the son of ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib (Ana al-nabiyyu lā kadhib, ana ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib)!”
HIS ABSTINENCE FROM THE LUXURIES OF THE WORLD WAS IMMENSE.
Abū Umāma (RA) reports that the Prophet ﷺ said, “My Lord offered the valleys of Mecca in gold to me. I said, ‘No my Lord. I [prefer to] be satiated some days and hungry some days.’ He said [this] three times or something like this. ‘For, when I hunger I will be humbled in front of You and remember You. When I am satiated I will thank You and be in gratitude to You.’”
He ﷺ used to spend many days on end in which food never entered his mouth. At times, his hunger pangs would become so intense that he would tie large rocks around his belly to lessen the pain. Months would pass in which a fire was not lighted in the Prophet’s ﷺ household with nothing being consumed outside of a staple of water and dates. He did not eat bread to satiety for three days in a row until he met his Lord. This was out of his own desire to discipline his soul and not out of poverty or thrift, since this practice of the Prophet ﷺ took place even during his days in Medina when he had acquired power and access to an abundance of wealth from the spoils of wars. With the eventual victories of the Muslims, the world submitted itself at the feet of the blessed Messenger of God ﷺ and yet he desired none of it and only took from it in order to meet the needs of others. How often he gave until he had nothing left to give, while his family did not possess enough to satisfy their hunger for the day?
He used to wear whatever was available to him, sometimes a wrap, sometimes a cloak, and sometimes a wool outer garment. He gave no importance to worldly matters. He used to sleep on a straw mat and he died without leaving any money for his family to inherit. He left only his mule, weapon, and a piece of land that he gave as a charity. He left the earth without ever being of the earth.
THE MESSENGER OF GOD ﷺ WAS THE MOST HEEDFUL AND GOD-FEARING OF MEN.
It is reported by Umm Salama (RA), “The Prophet ﷺ was in my home and he was holding a tooth stick. He called a servant girl to him (or to her) until anger became evident on his face. Umm Salama then got up and went to the rooms where she found that the servant girl was playing with a lamb. So she said, “Do I see you playing with this lamb while the Messenger of God ﷺ is calling you? She said, ‘No I swear by the One in whose hand is my soul, I did not hear you.’ The Messenger of God ﷺ said, if it was not for the fear of divine punishment I would hurt you with this tooth stick.” In another transmission he said, “If it were not for the fear of legal retribution (qiṣāṣ) I would have hurt you.”
HE ﷺ WAS ALSO THE MOST WORSHIPFUL OF SERVANTS TO HIS LORD.
He would spend his day calling people to God and spend his nights in prayer. He was constant in his remembrance of God. He used to recite the Qur’an and weep until his noble beard became wet with tears. He used to lengthen his standing in prayer until his feet would swell, despite God’s having forgiven him and His being pleased with him. When asked about this by his wife ‘Ā’isha (RA) he reveals the perfection of his devotion to God saying, “Should I not be a grateful servant?” He used to fast until it was believed that he never broke his fasts and he used to connect his fasts for days saying, “I sleep and my Lord feeds me and [gives] me drink.” If he was bothered with a matter he sought refuge in prayer. In fact, the coolness of his eye (qurrata ʿaynahu) was made in the prayer along with remembering God (dhikr) and calling him.
These are but a few examples of the noble character of the Prophet ﷺ as illustrated in the various aspects of his biography and one can supplement these accounts with countless other similar traditions. If one limits oneself to analyzing only his good character, he would be persuaded that the Prophet’s ﷺ entire life was nothing but noble character. If one looks at the Prophet’s ﷺ role in fighting battles, he would also find an abundance of traditions that would convince him that his entire life was spent fighting in the way of God. Similarly, if one were to focus on the Prophet’s extensive worship it would seem as though his life was entirely spent in worship.
It was often believed in the past that a life of purity and enduring connection to God is not achieved except through isolation from humanity and distance from their demands, problems, empty talk, and corrupt practices; and that this state was only truly realized by elite sages in ivory towers or secluded worshippers. However, the Messenger of God ﷺ contradicted this norm by not allowing the matters of the world to distract him from the matters of the Lord. Indeed, he mingled with humanity, resolved their conflicts, and cured their social ailments while being immersed in a sea of different human emotions, changing hearts, and conflicting views in a way that was unprecedented. Despite all of this, the intensity of his worship and his connection to God remained unaltered. He would leave a profound impression upon all those who came in contact with him without being influenced by the states of their souls. In this sense, he was an unmoved mover. Studying the life and character of our Prophet ﷺ leaves the lover in awe of the perfection with which he was divinely endowed. May God send his peace and blessings upon His beloved who was sent as a mercy to the worlds.