When the American historian Michael Hart, writing his The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History more than half a century ago considered Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the most ‘influential single figure in human history’, he was stating the obvious.
Muslims, in keeping with the explicit injunction of the Holy Qur’an that “Indeed you have in the Messenger of Allah the most beautiful example…” (The Qur’an 33: 21) have perennially looked upon the Prophet (PBUH) as the person most worthy of being emulated. To enable them to do that in a justifiable manner, they took great pains to collect traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) pertaining to the most ritually sublime moments of his life (such as his late night devotions and supplications) to the most earthly affairs of life such as playing with his grandchildren or sharing moments of intimacy with his beloved wives (upon whom be peace and blessings of God).
Through these instances of emulation, Muslims did not only recreate the physical action of the Prophet in their own person, they were further blessed with the adoption of a more subtle yet far more influential aspect of the Prophet’s persona which we can call the Adab. Adab commonly translated as etiquettes, refinement of manners and even right action, Traditionally Muslims expanded the implications of Adab to every sphere of life. So etiquettes were not restricted to adopting correct mannerisms when eating, speaking, listening or traveling only for instance; rather in dealing with oneself, with ones relatives and neighbors, with ones peers and elders, in fact with plants and animals, with nature and environment, in short with everything around us. Needless to say, this Adab needs to be based on a sound knowledge of ones own place and of the place of people and things around us. It thus follows that in the Islamic tradition, etiquettes need to be knowledge based. Knowledge of anything allows us to determine not only the place that it deserves in the scheme of things, rather its rights and responsibilities as well. This kind of knowledge when actualized in oneself is called Adl (justice) in the Islamic tradition. Adl literally means to put something exactly where it ought to be. The opposite of justice is Zulm (oppression), which literally means, putting something where it does not belong. Simply put, proper knowledge of something leads one to engage with it in a justified manner. When this sense of justice (Adl) is actualized it leads to a refinement of character (adab). When this refinement of character is guided by the Quranic worldview and actualized by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), it is called the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH).
The problem of the modern man and more particularly the youth of our times is the ‘loss of Adab’. Whatever reasons may be cited for the loss of adab, in the final analysis they all boil down to a compromised state of knowledge. Moreover, this loss did not occur overnight, rather over a period of time and more often than not in bits and pieces, in much the same manner as the termite eats into a wooden frame.
In the Islamic tradition, knowledge is wholesome and knows no duality. Ever since, Muslims fell prey to a dual concept of knowledge – where specific forms and areas of knowledge were considered sacred while others secular or profane – they resolutely moved a step away from the Quranic worldview. This duality lies at the root of all our problems as it prevents us from seeing things in their reality (haqā’iq). When the very foundation of adab i.e. knowledge stands compromised, it necessary follows that all later processes would come under the impact of this compromised state. Without going into specific details, the Prime Minister’s Single National Curriculum (SNC) initiative is a bold yet welcome step in addressing this malaise. We will have occasion to address this issue some other time.
For the time being, I wish to direct the attention of the reader to a second initiative which was promulgated last October in 2021; the National Rahmatul lil Aalameen Authority (NRA). The idea of the NRA arose from the Prime Minister’s persistent allusion to the exemplary model of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the society that he was able to create in a brief span of just 23 years and the need to replicate and embed the foundational values governing all attitudes of Madina society in Pakistan. The NRA Ordinance clearly stipulates that its primary function is to ‘actualize the concept of Riyasat-e-Madina based upon justice, rule of law and a welfare state through character building of the nation.’ In addition, to ‘develop educational and learning processes for better personality development of the young generation on the pattern of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) life.’
The focus of the Prime Minister and subsequently the ‘Ordinance’ on the youth of the nation is telling. The Prime Minister has often said that the youth of Pakistan are its main asset. Rather unfortunately, the youth population of the world is diminishing in several developed countries and that is a source of major concern for them; in Pakistan however, a large percentage of the society still constitutes the youth and it is therefore incumbent that right guidance is provided to them. What better guidance could we possibly provide our youth than the guidance of our blessed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The very same idea was endorsed by Imam Malik bin Anas, the jurist of Madina when he rightly said, nothing will reform (and allow the later generations of this nation [the Muslims] to reach excellence) other than that which reformed its earlier generations. It is thus not without reason that the Qur’an exhorts Muslims to follow the beautiful example of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
In order to envisage how the Prophet’s example can be considered a beacon of light for contemporary man and society and what actually enabled the Prophet (PBUH) to convert a handful of bedouins to a group of people who went on to conquer the civilized world of that period the Prime Minister got in touch with some of the foremost scholars of the Muslim world and posed the question to them. On the basis of the responses received from these scholars, it was determined that members of NRA would conduct workshops and sessions with people from various segments of the society, educate them on the fundamental objectives of NRA, generate a nation-wide discussion around it enabling its dissemination and judicious enactment.
This in itself is not enough. There needs to be a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of leaders and practitioners of all walks of life to at least engage with this initiative in a depoliticized manner. If love of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his image and persona, his likes and dislikes, his dealings, attitudes and demeanor and the manner in which he carried himself about mean anything to us then who pontificates for this love should be the least of our concerns. It is high time that we translate our vociferous claims and chants of Prophetic love – quite often hollow, at times meaningful – to contemplative action.
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