After several years of persecution and little success in preaching the word of God to his own people in the ancient city of Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad decided to take his message and teachings to the people of Ta'if, an agricultural city southeast of Mecca. The Prophet's Meccan persecutors sent word to their allies in advance of Muhammad's arrival in order to thwart his mission and turn the people against him. As the Prophet entered the precincts of the city of Ta'if, much to his bewilderment, he was met with sticks and stones as the people tried to drive him out. The Prophet ran for his life, bloodied and bruised like never before, finally finding safety and taking refuge in a vineyard. He turned his face to the heavens, admitting his weakness and asking God for strength to carry on. The Archangel Gabriel appeared with the angels of the surrounding mountains and asked the Prophet if he would allow them to crush the city of Ta'if for the way its inhabitants treated him. The Prophet, instead, asked for the people to be forgiven and prayed that future generations would be rightly guided. After this, God revealed in the Qur'an about the Messenger, "And, We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds."
This mercy really comes to define the way and path of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet's wife, Lady Ayesha, recalled after his passing that he would always be the first to greet his family with peace upon entering the home; constantly serve the members of his household with tasks and chores without complaint; and, he would mend his own clothes and repairs his own shoes. The Prophet would playfully rub the children's heads and encouraged his grandchildren to ride his back like a horse. A smile would come upon his face and he would stand up to greet his beloved daughter Lady Fatimah, the only child of his seven children to live longer than he, when she would come in his presence.
The Prophet's relationship with his community was similar. His companions would say that when he spoke to them they would feel like they were the most beloved to him, and he would direct his full attention to them when they spoke to him. The Prophet preferred to sit and eat with the poor and weak, and he would always be the first to visit the sick and depressed. He showed as much concern for his closest friends as he did for the African woman who swept the floor of the Prophet's Mosque. And, he taught his followers to also resemble this mercy, teaching them to share their food with others even if it was half a date; to remove harm from the path even if it was a small branch; to smile and give cheer even on a bad day; and, to smell nice and clean even if resources were little.
But, it was, perhaps, his way with rude and hostile people that really exemplified the Prophet's mercy. Early on in Muhammad's advent as a Prophet, a woman would throw her garbage on him every time he would pass by her place. One day the woman did not come out, so the Prophet became concerned and inquired about her. Learning that she had become ill, he went to visit her and offered comforting words. Once a Bedouin entered the sacred precincts of the Prophet's mosque when he was with some of his companions and began urinating and defiling the space. The companions immediately rose to physically confront the Bedouin, but the Prophet stood in their way and calmed them down. He asked his companions to wash the mess that was made and took the Bedouin aside to talk to him. He spoke of the sacredness of a worship space and spoke well to the Bedouin until the man exclaimed, "May God have mercy on you and I, and no one else!" The Prophet laughed upon hearing this, and replied, "You have limited something that is immeasurably vast," teaching him that God's mercy envelops all beings.
In the West, the Prophet Muhammad is often portrayed only as a warrior who led and fought in battles. The Prophet was indeed a warrior who defended his community with the courage of a lion. But, it is also true that the Prophet practiced the highest ethics in war by avoiding the killing of innocents, prohibiting torture and mutilation, the poisoning of wells, cutting down fruit-bearing trees, and so on. Even on the battlefield, the Prophet practiced restraint and patience at every turn.
The Prophet's mercy extended to the universe around him. He taught his companions to protect birds; he even consoled grieved animals; and showed endearing concern for the trees and plant life. The Prophet always took little from the earth and taught his followers to preserve water even if they were near a running river.
So, why is the Prophet Muhammad so beloved? It is because, for Muslims and for anyone who comes to know him with love, the Prophet exemplified the life of compassion toward all that was around him. And, even when he was offended and harmed, he showed his followers how to find inner peace with God, to live with grace and dignity under pressure. For this and more, this month we celebrate his birth, life, and legacy. Peace and blessings be upon the Messenger Muhammad, the great teacher of truth and wisdom.