As you read these lines, 1.5 billion Muslims will be celebrating the birthday of their beloved prophet, a day known as Milad un-Nabi or Mawlid. Muslim love and admiration for the Prophet Muhammad manifests itself beautifully through these various kinds of religious celebrations blended with local cultures and traditions.
I have made it a habit to celebrate Prophet's birthday by reading and reflecting upon his famous last sermon every year. This sermon, which was delivered by Prophet Muhammad at the end of his final pilgrimage to Mecca and shortly before his death to more than 100,000 early Muslims has been considered as the Prophet's will to his companions and long lasting universal message and teaching to his Ummah.
For those who can drop their 21st century cultural baggage and read this sermon in its own historical context, one can't help but admire it as one of the earliest declarations of human rights in written history. Almost everything he says in this prophetic sermon was almost unheard of and inconceivable prior to the arrival of Islam. The prophet of Islam addresses some of the core universal values in a society where those values are long forgotten and violated in a systemic basis. The prophet didn't only say but transformed his society, in a very short period of time, remarkably in all the values and lessons that he talks about.
All human beings are equal, racial supremacy is unacceptable, women have rights, socio-economic inequality is despicable and should be fought against and so on. In twenty three years he united a deeply divided and polarized Arabian peninsula, stopped the ongoing bloodshed, restored the dignity of women, minimized the gap between the poor and the rich and more. In his lifetime former slaves become governors of provinces and generals. Centuries old, deeply rooted primitive patriarchal and oppressive cultural practices were wiped out, racism and tribalism were defeated. There is hardly any other religious figure who has been as successful both in religious terms as well as in secular terms as Muhammad.
In this sermon of Muhammad, Muslims find their deep commitment to the universal human values such as sacredness of life and property, equality, justice, peace and more. Upon these high universal values, the religion of Islam was built.
We still have so much to learn from this 1,400-plus-year-old cry and we are so much in need of this message of Muhammad in our broken time where we continue to struggle with almost identical issues in our global human community. We need to go back to these core teachings and examples of Islam and similarly strive for achieving an ethical and moral society, wherever we live, where no one inflicts nor suffers inequity, unfairness and in justice.
Peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad and upon all prophets came before him. Here is his sermon:
"O People, listen well to my words, for I do not know whether, after this year, I shall ever be among you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.
O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Treat others justly so that no one would be unjust to you. Remember that you will indeed meet your LORD, and that HE will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury (riba), therefore all riba obligation shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer inequity. God has judged that there shall be no riba and that all the riba due to `Abbas ibn `Abd al Muttalib shall henceforth be waived.
Every right arising out of homicide and blood-killing in pre-Islamic days is henceforth waived and the first such right that I waive is that arising from the murder of Rabi`ah ibn al Harith ibn `Abd al Muttalib.
O people, the Unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calendar in order to make permissible that which God forbade, and to forbid that which God has made permissible. With God the months are 12 in number. Four of them are sacred, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Sha`ban. Beware of the devil, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.
O People, it is true that you have certain rights over your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under God's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. It is your right and they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste...
O People, listen to me in earnest, worship God (The One Creator of the Universe), perform your five daily prayers (Salah), fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your financial obligation (zakah) of your wealth. Perform Hajj if you can afford to.
All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before God (The Creator) and you will answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
O People, no prophet or messenger will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand words, which I convey to you. I am leaving you with the Book of God (the Quran) and my Sunnah (the life style and the behavioral mode of the Prophet). If you follow them you will never go astray.
All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness O God, that I have conveyed your message to your people."