By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem
According to the Muslim lunar calendar, today happens to be the birth anniversary of Mohammed (Peace be upon him), the Prophet of Islam and the day is popularly known as ‘Eid Milad.’ Incidentally, all Muslims across the world in reverence always suffix the name of their Prophet with the phrase ‘Peace be upon him’ or (PBUH) and this is considered proper Islamic etiquette.
Across many parts of the world wherever there is a significant population of Muslims, this day is celebrated as the birthday of any other prominent personality would be celebrated with much fanfare and show of joy. That is why perhaps the prefix ‘Eid’ to the event. It is a different matter that many so-called Islamic nations do not observe this anniversary as a festival, preferring to go strictly by the Islamic tradition of not observing birth and death anniversaries of any personality however important.
Strictly speaking, Islam ordains that only two feasts be celebrated by Muslims. These are the feast of Ramazan or the Eid Ul Fitr which comes immediately after Ramazan, the month of fasting and the feast of Bakrid or Eid Uz Zuha which coincides with Haj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage. Incidentally, Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the same God, calling him by different names and the main point over which these three strongly monotheistic religions differ is in whom they accept as their Prophets.
The interesting thing here is that the followers of each one of these faiths stopped at accepting their own Prophets and refusing to acknowledge the Prophethood of the successor ! So while the Jews proclaimed that Moses was the final Messenger of God and refused to accept the Prophethood of Jesus Christ, the Christians refused to acknowledge the Prophethood of Mohammed (PUBH) who came six hundred years after Christ!
The Muslims are a little different in that they accept the Prophethood of all the Prophets who preceded Mohammed (PBUH) but they consider Mohammed (PBUH) to be the final Messenger of God. This belief along with the acceptance that Allah is the only God worthy of adoration and worship is one of the most important requirements for any person to be considered a Muslim. Any disagreement upon this belief or any kind of the slightest deviation from this stand takes you away from your faith.
This has indeed happened in the recent past notably in two instances. Firstly, in the case of the Baha’i faith which originated in Iran in the nineteenth century when some Muslims became the followers of Baha’ullah who proclaimed that he and his mentor Bab were Prophets, having received divine communications regularly from God Himself. The second instance was when some Muslims in Pakistan who happened to be adherents of the Ahmadiyya sect under the leadership of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed started believing and proclaiming that he was divinely appointed to become a new Prophet sometime in the future.
Leaving controversies like these aside I feel that shedding a little light on the life and times of the Prophet of Islam would be in order on a day that marks the anniversary of his birth and so here I am.
The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) who became a very influential and effective political leader later in his life did not inherit this position. He in fact had very humble origins as a shepherd looking after his flocks in and around Mecca where he was born in the year 570 as a posthumous child, a few months after the death of his father Abdulla. He also lost his mother at the age of six becoming a complete orphan and coming under the care of his paternal uncle Abu Talib and his wife Fatimah.
Being completely unlettered and illiterate, he was a shepherd in the service of a wealthy widow Khadija who was much older to him. Impressed by his honesty in all his dealings she proposed marriage to him and they were married when he was twenty-five-years-old. It was not until he was forty years old when he experienced his first brush with a divine phenomenon which suggested to him that he had been chosen by God to be His Messenger.
It quickly became clear to him that the same God who had chosen Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus as Prophets was communicating with him too through the archangel Gabriel. These visitations by Gabriel whom Muslims call Jibriel resulted in a series of revelations which after compilation became the ‘Koran’ which is the Holy book of the Muslims today. The uniqueness of the Holy Koran lies in the fact that even to this day, one thousand four hundred years after it was revealed, it exists in just one single version all over the world and all Muslims across the world accept it as the divine word of Allah, the God they all believe in!
For three years after he started getting revelations from Allah, Mohammed (PBUH) preached his religion only to his close relatives and associates after which, in the year 613, he started propagating Islam, the new faith, to all people in and around Mecca. He faced much opposition from the Meccans who saw him as a threat to their own beliefs and thus persecuted him and his followers. Fearing a threat to his safety, Mohammed (PBUH) migrated in the year 622 AD to Medina (then known as Yathrib), a town about two hundred miles to the North of Mecca where he was assured not only protection but also acceptance and position as a leader and Prophet.
This journey which marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar called ‘Hijri,’ a word that comes from ‘Hijrath,’ meaning migration, is one of the most iconic events in the history of Islam which perhaps is the youngest religion in the world. Muslims across the world are now in the 1440th Hijri ! Mohammed (PBUH) gained considerable political power in Medina as a result of which a series of battles took place between his followers and the Meccans. These wars ended with Mohammed’s (PBUH) triumphant return to Mecca as a conqueror. The remaining two-and-a half-years of his life saw a very rapid growth in his followers and when he passed away in the year 632 AD, he was a virtual ruler of the Islamic world which had already started overflowing the borders of Arabia.
Mohammed (PBUH) was buried in his mosque in Medina and he was responsible for the theology of Islam and its moral and theological principles for two reasons. Firstly, because the Koran, the book that was revealed to him was collated and compiled by Islamic scholars strictly as instructed by him and all his utterances, recommendations and judgements whenever he intervened and arbitrated over disputes, were compiled in a series of books called the ‘Hadees.’ The Koran and the Hadees together are the mainstay of the guidance that helps all Muslims to navigate through their lives even to this day.
Looking back at the achievements of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), the final Prophet of the Muslims, over his short lifespan of sixty-two years and his much shorter tenure of just twenty-two years as a Prophet and political leader, it is not surprising that he has been designated the first place by Michael Hart in his book ‘The Hundred’ where he has compiled the biographies of the hundred most influential people of all time!
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