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Following Muhammad’s (PBUH) Footsteps

By Tariq Ramadan

When I started to write a book about the Messenger, it was quite important for me to reconnect the academic work that we have, when it comes to talking about the prophets and messengers which are the facts, the substance and the scientific dimensions or historical dimensions, with something which is very important in academia: not only to look at the facts but to look as a fact to the way people understand their religion. It is a fact that has to do with a scientific approach.
When it comes to psychology you might agree or not with facts, but at the end of the day when you speak about spirituality or religion it is important to not only look at the scientific dimensions but the way people understand the religion, the way they deal with it, the essence and the light that they take out of their spiritual experience and the way they understand things.
So this is what I wanted to do when I wrote “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” to come to the very essence, not to deal only with facts, but with meanings and understandings; objectives and a vision.
I found out that justice is a means for a higher objective, and I found that the very essence and objective of Islam is peace.
Writing was a reform process for me, because for almost 25 years when I was asked about the main principle of Islam, I used to stress that Islam is all about justice, God commands justice. And while I was writing I said, look it is wrong. I found out that justice is a means for a higher objective, and I found that the very essence and objective of Islam is peace.
In Islam there is the word salam, which is also one of the names of God “As-Salam” one of the names of Paradise “Dar As-Salam”, that is something we have to get in our hearts and in our roles, peace in life and peace within the society.
The Prophet, used to say to people, “Spread peace among you.” When you greet someone in Arabic you don’t say, have a nice day, you say “peace be with you,” which is the essence of this religion. Peace is not only something that we get, it is an ongoing objective…
In our societies today, it is very important to get the right relationship between spirituality and religion. Many people, coming from different traditions, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, say that “I’m not very religious, but I’m spiritual.” What is the difference?
It is as if we are keeping spirituality because we are disappointed with religions, not really with religions but with representative of religions; the people who are talking in the name of their religions are sometimes disappointing.
Sometimes we take spirituality as less demanding than religion, while in fact when you come back to all spiritualties all around the world you find out that there is nothing more demanding than a true spiritual life. You can’t really get the level of spirituality without discipline.
If you want to free yourself from your ego, you have to be disciplined… It is important to understand the relationship between ethics and religious ethics in economy, politics, social dynamics; social justice and society…
If you want to change the world, change yourself, reform yourself and call the people to the same process.
If we try to follow in the footsteps of the Messenger, to try to understand what happened to him, in the beginning, we notice that the starting point is very spiritual, and this is something essential. If you want to change the world, change yourself, reform yourself and call the people to the same process…
Between 35 and 40 years, Prophet Muhammad was not happy with the way the people were living around him; he was not happy with people worshipping idols; he was not happy with social structures; so he started to take time for himself to go into a specific exile; into a cave and he was used to doing this thing every year, and to try to find the answer to his questions…
The Prophet was not happy with worshipping idols, an idea that is the key to the central message of Islam which is the oneness of God. The oneness of God means that you to free yourself from every single idol and to come to God and worship Him alone, and this is the meaning of la ilahailla Allah, (there is no God that is worth to be worshipped but Allah)…
It is exactly like the journey between the heart and mind. Your heart looks for an answer with your mind, but at the end of the journey your mind is telling you to go back to your heart, that means that your heart is the centre.
When you read the Messenger’s life and you understand what happens in the very beginning; it is the very essence of spirituality that is you look for the truth; you look for an answer and you get the answer which is, from an Islamic point of view, to worship one God and no other being.
God didn’t only give dignity to Muslims, not only to monotheistic traditions, but to every single human being. With or without God, he or she has dignity; and human beings are women and men… The only just requirement to be a dignified human being is to ask yourself the right question; “Why?”…
We have to reconcile our students with four disciplines: History, philosophy, history of religion, and arts. Arts is very critical because there is spirituality within arts, arts is a way to ask a question through imagination and creativity…
God sent us a message throughout history, if you want to follow in the Prophet’s footsteps, you need to go to the spiritual experience, and to ask the right question, why?
You have to look for truth; and there is no other way to come to this unless you respect your mind. To respect your mind means that you do not come with the answers from outside; it is to answer the questions that are coming from within. Listen to your mind when it is questioning the meaning of your life…
The Prophet himself was going through this intellectual journey and asking questions, and he got an answer and its answer is coming from the revelation but it means something that is critical; the first, which you keep on repeating when it comes to Islam.
Muslims keep on repeating that the first revelation was talking about reading and knowledge, so you should first respect your mind and intellect… On the other hand, you need to understand that knowledge is critical and to get knowledge means that you need to be educated.