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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


    FOOTSTEPS OF THE


    P R O P H E T IN THE


    FOOTSTEPS


    OF THE


    PROPHET


    Lessons from the


    Life of Muhammad


    Tariq Ramadan


    OXFORD


    UNIVtiRSITY PRESS


    2007 OXFORD


    VNIVEIt.SITY PRESS


    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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    Library of Congre. . C.taloging-in-Publ;catinn Data


    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


    297.6'3--dc22


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


    35798642


    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


    w:l8


    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.


    OUf


    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


    0/


    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


    Out


    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. ...


    London


    ~hy 2006 Introduction


    1


    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


    OUf


    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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