When Mu?ammad became the last Prophet, most of the people amongst him were crippled and subdued due to the situation of the time. But it is these people that went on to become giants of his ummah and spread the message of Islam to parts of the world; spreading over the Arabian Peninsula and reaching as far as China. But how did the Prophet instill this belief and responsibility into broken people who would go on to become frontrunners in the limited time of 23 years?
The Prophet was not generally followed by the elite of society in the early days of his prophethood. Many of the early believers were considered the modern day equivalents of the “untouchables”; the peasants and slaves of Makkah. Let us consider Bilal in one of the most symbolic images from the 8th year after hijrah; when the Prophet returned to Makkah as a conqueror, 8 years after being expelled, with 10,000 marching companions behind him.
When Bilal entered the holy city, he separated from the crowd and began to climb the Ka’bah. Once he had reached the top, he stood with the Ka’bah at his feet and loudly called out the adhan.
This event in itself marked an incredible transformation for Bilal, while the inhabitants of Makkah who were in their homes watched. “Their” Ka’bah; a political and status symbol for the Arabs, now had a freed black slave standing at its summit. When the Quraish saw this, they said “Al?amdulillah, our fathers have passed away before they saw a black person on top of the Ka’bah.” The diseases of some of the people of Makkah were as evident as before.
These were the attitudes towards a man who did not have a tribe, was not of an accepted skin tone and who spoke in a different accent. One can imagine how such judgement and treatment would create great insecurity within those on the receiving end. This was a city that made Bilal (ra?iyAllahu?anhu) believe he was worth nothing. But the Prophet was special in that he could accelerate a person’s confidence and develop a true feeling of self-worth, even when they had been conditioned to believe they were worthless. How did he make this man, among many others, an example of strength, power and confidence?
The Prophet made it haram for anyone to be belittled. The Prophet took these people and built them up so they became role models for the later generations of his Ummah. The people he transformed formed part of his legacy. The Prophet did this not just with Bilal but infused people with qualities that are infused into this Ummah today. He did not start off with the “dream team”, rather he transformed his people into incredible role models for the rest of time. So how can we apply this principle into our day and age?
Unfortunately, we are an ummah that is insecure; an ummah that lacks confidence; and an ummah that questions our place within society. Racism and discrimination are rampant amongst the Muslim community let alone the wider demographic. Ethnicity, colour, language and physical or mental disability are just some reasons a person is belittled in the modern world. Yet, for each one of these examples, a story can be plucked from the time of the Prophet and his speech and actions can be used to refute those who fixate on these issues and build grudges between people today.
One of the Prophet’s wives, Safiyyahwas of Jewish origin and when tensions would arise amongst the wives, they would call out to her by the term ‘O Jewess’, which obviously put her in a position of discomfort. When she told the Prophet that his wives were calling her by this title, he equipped her with logic by saying to her:“You are certainly the daughter of a Prophet Harun, and certainly your uncle was Prophet Musa, and your husband is Mu?ammad.”
Another area is disabilities – be it physical or mental; the limited functions that a person has or even the way they look is often a cause for denigration. There was a woman at the time of the Prophet who suffered from epilepsy and she asked the Prophet to make du’a that her seizures stopped. He replied: If you wish, be patient and you will have Paradise; and if you wish, I will invoke Allah to cure you.”As expected, she chose to be patient, but as she could not control herself and in turn her clothes when she would have these seizures, some of her body would become uncovered; so she asked that Allah did not allow her body to become uncovered, which the Prophet supplicated for instead.
Finally, people are belittled for their social and economic status. Many times we look down on people without an education or who have jobs that we consider “low”. Let us consider Zahir b. Aslam; a Bedouin and an uncivilised desert roamer. The Prophet said about him, “Zahir is our man of the desert, and we are his people of the city.”
Zahir would come into Madinah and would buy and sell products. One day the Prophet came to him while he was selling his merchandise, and caught him from behind while Zahir could not see him and the Prophet shouted in a joking manner “Who would like to buy this slave from me?” Zahir tried to wriggle free until he realised it was the Prophet, and then he leaned back into the Prophet’s chest and he said to him “By Allah you will find me to be a poor sell.” The modern day equivalent to ‘I’m not worth it’. How many people have said a statement like this? This is something all too common nowadays. Belittlement of others is so common that people have started to adopt the mentality of belittling themselves. However in response to Zahir, the Prophet said “But to Allah, you are very valuable.” He comforted a man who felt worthless. He raised his self-confidence and his self-worth; this was the constant prophetic habit.
The Prophet often gave teenage companions significant responsibility, firstly by developing strong confidence. Usama b. Zayd led an army against the Byzantines at the age of 17. A 19-year-old, Rabi b. ?Amir was sent as an ambassador of the Muslims to the empires of Persia, the superpower of the world, and it was there he made a mission statement that would be remembered for centuries after:
“We are a people whom Allah has sent to remove mankind from the worship of creation to the worship of the Lord of the creation, and from the oppression of religions to the justice of Islam, and from the constriction of this world to the expansiveness of the next.”