In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad

256 Pages · 2008 · 36.98 MB · English

  • In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad

    IN THE


    P R O P H E T IN THE


    OF THE


    Lessons from the

    Life of Muhammad

    Tariq Ramadan



    2007 OXFORD


    Oxfmd Univenil}" Press, inc., publ;shc~ 1'/OtXs th~t

    further O:r.ford Unh't'nity'\ obj~"c of acclJencc

    in ~:uch. scholarshp. wd rducanon.

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    C.opyright 0 2007 by Oxford Univcnity PIl"', Inc.

    Publi5hed by (hford Uru''t:rnry !'Tess, Inc.

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    Oxtonl is. ~stc~ tn

    AU rights rcscrYc

    StorM ;n a rcttir:val ')"tcm. or \t'1o.mim:d, in any form or h)' anr means,

    dtttronic. mcdurucaJ, pho

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    fuunulan, Tanq.

    In ,he fo<){sfCPS of the prophet: leSI

    Tan,,! R2madan.

    p. cm. Include, bibliographIcal referencel Qnd inde:.;.

    ISRN-13: 978.o).19-53OllSo..8

    1. Muhammad, Prophet, d. 632----ApprecIlH;on.

    2. Muhammad, Prophet, d. 632----Ethics.

    3. Muhammad, Prophet, d. 632-THdungs.

    4. MUilims-ConduCI of life.

    5. IslmUc "thies.

    I. Tttle.

    BPi6.2R36 2007


    IH] 2()()(,(1260JO


    Pnnted In the LrutM 5"'1 .... of Amenca

    on acid_free po.ptr Contents

    Acknowlcdb>mcnts vn


    Introduction ox

    1 Encounter with the Sacred

    2 Birth and Education 9

    3 Personality and Spiritual Quest 19

    4 Revelation, Knowledge 29

    5 The rvlcssage and Adversity 37

    6 Resistance, Humility, and Exile 51

    7 Trials, Elevation, and Hopes 63

    8 Hijrah 81

    9 J\kdina, Ufe, and \'

    10 Teachings and Defeat 111

    1 I Tricks and Treason 129

    12 A Dream, Peace 149

    13 Coming Home 165

    14 At Home, Over There 181

    15 Debtless 199

    In History, for Eternity 211

    Notes 217

    Index 235 To Najma

    This book is a work of dawn

    And you accompanied it, with your footsteps on the stairs,

    Your mischievous, laughing, or sulky eyes.

    You came to CUI! up in my arms.

    1 would then leave the screen through which I immersed


    In the infinite light of the Messenger's goodness and love,

    To drown in the infinite warmth of your presence.

    The Messenger taught me forgiveness, you offered me innocence.

    i\Iay your path be brjght, my daughter, and may He love you

    Through your smiles and through your tears.

    I love you.

    To ATlma Ali

    An American encoumer and a never-ending gift

    Facing trials. accepting silences.

    You have accompanied my thought and my questions,

    And read and reread and rephrased, often better than I could have done.

    Faithfulness of the heart and soul in the Light of the 110st High

    In the footsteps of His Messenger.

    I forget nothing.

    To Claude D"bbak

    To tell you here of my eSteem and respect

    For that deep modesty and constant humility.

    Behind the translator, one senses deeply rich learning

    And an immense gift offered to \Vestern Muslims.

    Your name too often hides behind authors' works.

    debt is immense, mine in particular.


    In the name of us all, truly, from the bottom of my heart,

    Thank you! Acknowledgments

    In the hours of dawn when trus book was written, there was silence, med(cid:173)

    itative solitude, and the experience of a journey, beyond time and space,

    toward the heart, the essence of spirihlal quest, and initiation into mean(cid:173)

    ing. lvlomenrs of plenitude, and often of tcars; of contemplation and vul(cid:173)

    nerability. I needed this.

    As time went on, the list of the women and men who made it possible

    to complete this project grew longer. I am almost sure that some of these

    precious names are going to escape me, though this in no way lessens the

    importance of their presence and contribution. Others have been moved

    by discretion or other reasons to remain anonymous; I understand, and

    my heart thanks them beyond these pages with the affection and gratitude

    they know go out to them.

    I would first of all like to thank Faris Kermani and Neil Cameron, who


    two years ago asked me to narrate a film, Tn the Footrteps the Prophet Mu(cid:173)

    hammad, for a British television channel. Political considerations (n\'o Arab

    governments having banned me from entering their territory) unfortunate(cid:173)

    ly made that project impossible. I then decided to do something entirely dif(cid:173)

    ferent and write a biography of the Prophet Muhammad, endeavoring to

    throw light on the spiritual and contemporary teachings in the life of the

    laSt Prophet. Many people around me encouraged me to carry this


    work. 1 am indebted to Iman, 1hryam, Sami, !. ..I oussa, and Najma for their

    constant accompaniment and support, and to my mother for some original

    ideas that came up hete and there in our discussions. 1 would like to thank

    Cynthia Read, of Oxford University Press (Nev.' York), very warmly for her

    permanent enthusiasm, faithfulness, and humanity. In her Oxford-based

    collaborators, I have also found thoughtful and kind women and men. VIii

    During this academic year, my work has been accompanied by the pres(cid:173)

    ence of Gwen Griffith-Dickson and Vicky Mohammed of the Lokahi

    Foundation, based in London. At Saint Antony's College, Oxford Uni(cid:173)

    versity, Walter Armbrust and Eugene Rogan (Middle East Center) as well

    as Timothy Garton Ash and Kalypso Nicolaidis (European Studies

    Center) also enabled me to complete this work in the best possible con(cid:173)

    ditions through their academic support and friendship. I do not forget

    Polly Friedhoff (who has now gone into wcll-desecved retirement), Franca

    POttS, and Collette Caffrey, who have been constantly available. To all of

    them, and to all those \\'Omen and men who have surrounded me \\~th

    their recognition and unobtrusive suppon , I would here Jjke to express

    my deepest gratitude.

    There is of course Yasmina Dif, my assistant, who manages my Euro(cid:173)

    pean office in such a warm and efficient manner. Shellna Mcrani, in

    Canada, has also undertaken difficult work with heart and solidarity. ~-funa

    Ali, more than an assistant based in the United States, keeps reading, com(cid:173)

    menting, and sharing ideas faithfully and seriously. Claude Dabbak has

    translated this book and has, with great humility, never failed to put her

    learning at the servjce of the necessary corrections. This book could not

    have been completed without the collaboration of this team, at once fra(cid:173)

    ternal, demanding, and devoted. With aU my heart, I thank them for being

    with me on trus journey and making it possible for us to advance togeth(cid:173)

    er, in I-lis light, against wind and tide.

    My final thanks and my last prayer go to the One, the Most Near, that

    He may accept and receive this Jjfe of the Prophet, that He may forgive

    me its possible errors or failings-which arc due to none but myself-and

    that He may allow it to be a small landmark in the human enterprise of

    understanding and reconciliation: with oneself, with others, with His love.

    I learn daily that the quest for humility cannot justify any lapse from spir(cid:173)

    itual requirements or intel1eerual probity.

    For myself, this book has been an initiatiol1. I pray to the 1\'lost

    Gracious mat it may be so for others. Long is the road of exile leading to

    oneself. ...


    ~hy 2006 Introduction


    Countless biographies of the Prophet Muhammad already exist. From

    classical sources (such as the works of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham) to

    morc recent accounts of the life of God's Messenger, as well as other

    renowned works by Muslim scholars over the course of history, it seems

    that everything must have already been said over and over again and that

    the subject matter must necessarily have been exhausted. So why should

    we undertake yet another attempt?

    The present biography does not aim to compete with classical sources

    (which indeed arc its source material), disclose any new facts, or provide

    an original or revolutionary reinterpretation of the history of prophet(cid:173)

    hood and its context. The aims of the present study are far more modest,

    though it does not make them any easier to achieve.

    The Prophet l\Iuhammad occupies a particular place in the life and

    conscience of i\fuslims today, juSt as he did in the past. According to

    them, he received and transmitted the last revealed book, the Quran,

    which repeatedly insists on the eminent and singular position of the Mes(cid:173)

    senger of God, all at once a prophet, a bearer of news, a model, and a

    guide. He was but a man, yet he acted to transform the world in the light

    of Revelation and inspirations he received from God, his Educator (ar(cid:173)

    Rabb). That this man was chosen and inspired by God but also fully

    accepted his own humanity is what makes Muhammad an example and a

    guide for the 1{uslim faithful.

    Muslims do not consider the Messenger of Islam a mediator between

    God and people. Each individual is invited to address God directly, and

    although the 1tessenger did sometimes pray to God on behalf of his introduction

    community, he often insisted on each believer's responsibility in his or her

    dialogue and relationship with the One. Muhammad simply reminds the

    faithful of God's presence: he initiates them into His knowledge and dis(cid:173)

    closes the initiatory path of spirituality through which he teaches his

    Companions and community that they must transcend the respect and

    love they have for him in the worship and love they must offer to and ask

    of the One, who begets not and is not begotten.

    To those who, in his lifetime, wanted miracles and concrete evidence

    of his prophethood, Revelation ordered him to reply: "I am but a man

    like yourselves; the inspiration has come to me that your God is One

    God."2 This same Revelation also infotms the believers, for aU eternjty, of

    the singular status of this Mes~enger who, while chosen by God, never

    lost his human qualities: ''You have indeed in the Messenger of God an

    excellent example for he who hopes in God and the Final Day, and who

    remembers God much.,,3 These two dimensions-the man's humanity

    and the Prophet's exemplarity-setve as the focus of our interest in the

    present biography.

    This is not going to be a detailed account of historical facts, great

    achievements, or famous wars. Classical biographies of the Messenger

    give abundant information about such matters, and we see no profit in

    dealing with them exhaustively. Our attention is mainly focused, through(cid:173)

    out the natration of the story of his life, on situations, attitudes, or \vords

    that could reveal Muhammad's personality and what it can teach and coo(cid:173)

    vey to us today. \'{'hen Aishah, his wife, was once questioned about the

    Prophet's personality, she answered: "His character [the ethics underlying

    his behavior] was the Quran.,,4 Since the Book addresses the believing

    consciousness through the ages, it seemed essential to observe how the

    man who best incarnated it in his behavior could "speak" to us, guide, us

    and educate us nowadays.

    The initial idea was therefore to plunge into the heart of the Prophet'S

    life and draw out its timeless spiritual teachings. From his birth to his

    death, his life is strewn with events, situations, and statements dlat point

    to the deepest spiritual edification. Adherence to faith, dialogue with God,

    observing nature, self-doubt, inner peace, signs and trials, and so on are

    themes that speak to us and remind us that basically nothing has changed.

    The Messenger's biography points to primary and eternal existential ques(cid:173)

    tions, and in this sense, his life is an initiation. A second type of lesson can nevertheless be drawn from the historical

    events that filled the Prophet's life. I n the seventh cenrory, at the heart of

    a specific social, political, and cui rural environment, God's j\:lessenger

    acted, reacted, and expressed himself about human beings and events in

    the !1ame of his faith, in the light of his morals. Studying his actions in

    this particular historical and geographical setting should enable us to

    throw light on a number of principles about the relation of faith to

    human beings, brotherhood, love, adversity, community life, justice, laws,

    and \\'2r. We have therefore endeavored to approach j\ Iuhammad's life

    from the perspective of our own times, considering how it still speaks to

    us and what its contemporary teachings are.

    The reader, whcther :Muslim or not, is thus invited to look into the

    Prophet's life and follow the steps of an account that is strictly faithful to

    classical biographies (as far as facts and chronology are concerned) but

    which nevertheless constantly introduces reflections and comments, of a

    spiritual, philosophical, social, judicial, political, or cultural narure, in(cid:173)

    spired by the facts narrated. The choice to focus on certain events rather

    than others is of course determined by the wish to draw out teachings

    that speak to our lives and to our times. In each section of the (deliber(cid:173)

    ately short) chapters that make up this book, the reader will notice con(cid:173)

    stant movements between the Prophet's life, the Quran, and the teachings

    relevant to spirituality and tl1e present-day situation that can be drawn

    from the various historical situations.

    aim is more to get to know the Prophet himself than to learn


    about his personality or the events in his life. What is sought are immer(cid:173)

    sion, s}'mpathy, and, essentially, love. Whether one believes or not, it is not

    impossible to uy to immerse oneself in the Prophet's quest and existence

    and recapture the pulse~the spirit-that infused his mission with mean(cid:173)

    ing. This is indeed the primary ambition of this work: making of the

    Messenger's life a mirror through which readers facing the challenges of

    Our time can explore their hearts and minds and achieve an understand(cid:173)

    ing of questions of being and meaning as well as broader ethical and

    social concerns.

    This book is intended for a lar&re audience, both Muslim and noo(cid:173)

    Muslim. The text is academically rigorous in regard to classical Islamic

    Sources, which we hope makes it useful to scholars and the Islamic sciences.

    By contrast, the narrative, interwoven with reflections and meditations, is

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