Often when people are investigating the message of the Qur’an, and indeed when Muslims give examples to establish that the Qur’an is guidance from our Creator, the focus tends to be on intellectual arguments such as its miracles. While these are highly compelling and ample evidence for the truthfulness of its message for those who are sincere and seeking the truth, one of the most beautiful aspects of the Qur’an which is often neglected is its spirituality. The Qur’an has the amazing quality of being able to completely transform the lives of human beings, making them the best of people.
It’s easy to get caught up in the Qur’an’s miracles, but we must not forget that the main purpose for the revelation of the Qur’an is guidance for humanity: “This is a Scripture which We have sent down to you [Prophet] so that, with their Lord’s permission, you may bring people from the depths of darkness into light…” [14:1]. The best example to look to for the fruits of Qur’anic guidance is none other than the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He embodied the morals and teachings of the Qur’an to the extent that when his wife was asked about his manners she remarked, “Do you read the Qur’an? His manners were the Qur’an.” . It’s very difficult to try and do justice to this great personality in an article when entire volumes have been written about his character. Here are just a few examples of what makes Prophet Muhammad such an outstanding role model for humanity:
i. Lifelong reputation of being truthful.
“Keep your duty to God and fear Him, and speak (always) the truth.” [33:70]
Throughout his life Muhammad had a reputation for being honest, so much so that he earned the titles of “The Trustworthy” and “The Truthful”. This was the case for 40 years of his life, long before his Prophethood. His family, friends, neighbours and business acquaintances knew that he was the most honest and truthful person among them.
This quality is demonstrated in an incident that took place before he publicly announced his Prophethood. One day Muhammad climbed to the top of a hill and called out to all the tribes of his city. They quickly gathered around him and he asked them, “O Quraish! If I say that an army is advancing on you from behind the mountains, will you believe me?” All said in one voice, “Yes; because we have never heard you telling a lie” . All the people of his city, without any exception, bore witness to his lifelong truthfulness and honesty, for he had lived a pious life among them for 40 years. It’s no wonder that God chose Muhammad to deliver His final message to mankind, for only a pure vessel could carry the words of God in his heart.
The Qur’an took this noble quality of his and nurtured it over the next 23 years of his life, commanding him to be truthful and stand for justice even if it was against himself: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives…” [4:135] A beautiful demonstration of this is in an incident that took place thirteen years into his prophetic mission. His people forced him to flee his home city of Makkah by nightfall, because of a plot by his enemies to murder him whilst he slept. Whilst he was making plans to escape, he still had in his possession the valuables belonging to the would-be murderers. What this shows is that even though many of his people turned into his enemies, opposed the Qur’an and persecuted him and his companions, such was their unwavering trust in his noble character that they still entrusted him with their valuables for safekeeping. Since he was leaving behind his house and furniture, to take their valuables in place of his own would have been seen as the smallest of compensations. But such was his honest character that before his departure, the Prophet asked his cousin, Ali, to stay behind to ensure every article in his house was given back to its rightful owner.
Muhammad’s unwavering honesty is a testament to the truthfulness of his claim of Prophethood. Liars and conmen typically display certain behaviour and share a common psychological profile: they have a reputation for lying that starts out with small lies which gradually get bigger and bigger. Does it make sense that Muhammad, a person who had never told a lie, neither big nor small, during his entire life would start lying by inventing the biggest lie of all, that he had been chosen by God to be His Prophet and receive the Qur’an? How could Muhammad tell lies about God, when he did not tell lies about human beings? His conduct shows his steadfast honesty even in the most difficult times! If such a man were a liar then nobody has ever spoken the truth.
“God does not love arrogant or boastful people.” [31:18]
When you think of kings and leaders, what images come to your mind? Status and power is usually associated with exquisite food, fancy clothing and monumental palaces. When it comes to Prophet Muhammad however, such a picture could not be further from the truth. Throughout his 23 years of Prophethood, Muhammad led a very simple and humble lifestyle. Sahl ibn Sa’ad, one of Muhammad’s companions, said with regards to his diet, “The Prophet of God did not see bread made from fine flour from the time God sent him (as a prophet) until he died.”  He did not like to be wasteful; there was never any surplus food in his house [Tirmidhi – Book 36, Hadith 56]. He emphasised the feeding of the poor and one’s neighbours, even saying that “He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while his neighbour goes hungry” .
The Prophet would never complain about the food that was brought to him, and he accepted and attended invitations where bread made of barley and rancid fat a few days old was served . His living quarters were similarly modest. There is a narration by his companion Umar ibn Al-Khattab which gives a description of what he saw when he went to visit the Prophet in his living quarters. Umar saw that the Prophet was lying on a mat which was made out of the leaves of the date-palm tree, his head was placed on a leather pillow stuffed with the bark of the date-palm tree. When the Prophet got up to greet him, Umar saw that the tough texture of his bedding had left marks on his sides. This moved Umar to tears, upon which the Prophet asked him what makes him weep. Umar stated that the kings of Rome and Persia lived in luxury and that since he is the Prophet of God he deserves better. The Prophet responded by saying that they should be happy that others may have this worldly life but that they have the afterlife .
Despite Muhammad’s responsibilities as a Prophet, teacher, statesman and judge, he still used to milk his goat , mend his clothes, repair his shoes and help his family with the household work . Some people are forced to live simple and humble lifestyles because they have no other choice due to their circumstances. Muhammad lived this simple life until he died, in spite of the fact that the Muslim treasury was at his disposal and the greater part of the Arabian Peninsula was Muslim before he died. He had very few material possessions and he did not make any arrangements for special treatment for his own family upon his death. When he died he left very little wealth behind, and what he did have was given to charity:
Amr Ibn Al-Hareth, one of Muhammad’s companions, said that when the Prophet died, he left neither money nor anything else except his white riding mule, his arms, and a piece of land which he left to charity. 
Prophet Muhammad’s life and death were what we would expect for someone who was not motivated by materialism but rather had his sight firmly set on the hereafter. It’s important to point out that his example doesn’t mean that eating nice food or trying to acquire nice things is wrong. Prophet Muhammad taught that believers should be generous to their guests, should wear their best clothes on days of celebration and strive for excellence in all walks of life. Some of his greatest companions, such as Abu Bakr and Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf, were very wealthy, successful businessmen. The lesson that we should take from his simple and humble lifestyle is that we should not allow material things to make us lose sight of the hereafter as this world is transient and the hereafter is eternal.
Some sceptics might argue that Muhammad endured such harsh living conditions in order to achieve an end goal of power and domination over Arabia. This can’t be the case, as early on in his mission when the Muslims were in a position of weakness, those who opposed him offered him power and kingship in order to try and persuade him to stop preaching against their worship of idols:
“If you desire money and wealth by preaching what you are preaching, we will collect enough for you from our own. We will make you the wealthiest of all of us. If it is chieftainship that you desire, we are ready to make you our paramount chief, so that we will never decide on a matter without you. If you desire rulership, we will make you our ruler…” 
What this incident demonstrates is that Muhammad was not motivated by money or power, but rather he was sincere about the message he was preaching.
iii. Equality of human beings.
“O mankind, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognise one another. In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware.” [49:13]
Here the Qur’an speaks of human equality in no uncertain terms. Islam rejects the notion that certain individuals or nations are favoured because of their wealth, power or race. God created human beings as equals who are to be distinguished from each other only on the basis of their faith and piety. The life of Prophet Muhammad is a beautiful realisation of this Qur’anic standard. Throughout his Prophethood, Muhammad advised his people to set aside their ignorant and perverse values and to live by the Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad’s love for humanity, irrespective of race or nationality, is demonstrated in his famous Last Sermon. In perhaps the most noteworthy manifestation of anti-racism of any religious figurehead in recorded history, he challenged an ultra-nationalistic and highly racist society by calling on people to unite under a banner of humanity:
“O People, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today… All of mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white, except by piety and good action.” 
The Prophet’s anti-racist mentality helped lead his people out of the darkness of nationalism and racism and into the light by guiding them onto the path of racial equality. The fact that Islam spread amongst all the colours and races of the world is testimony to the fact that Islam did not accept these false divisions. Today millions of people across the world, black, white, Asian, African and European are all part of the unique Islamic brotherhood.
Prophet Muhammad’s anti-racist views were apparent very early on in his Prophetic mission through his friendship with Bilal ibn Rabah, a black slave who rose to a leading position within the Muslim community of 7th century Arabia. He was appointed as the official muadhin of the Prophet, meaning that he was responsible for making the public calls to prayer. In choosing Bilal for this honourable role, Muhammad demonstrated that social exclusion and subordination based upon skin colour was not to be permitted in an Islamic society. Prophet Muhammad broke down racial barriers for black believers in a part of the world that had one of the poorest track records for human rights, preceding the Western civil rights movement and Martin Luther King by nearly 1,500 years. It’s no wonder that British historian Professor Arnold J. Toynbee wrote, “The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue.” 
Throughout his Prophetic mission, Muhammad and his followers encountered and lived among many different communities. For nearly a decade Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans were all living together in the city of Madinah. Prophet Muhammad united people of different faiths and secured social cohesion by making social agreements. In order to grant full rights to different religious minorities living in Madinah, the Prophet initiated a historic charter which put in place measures to prevent bloodshed among the different tribes. Moreover minorities were granted not only social and religious freedom but also judicial power to decide their own civil matters. Allowing the establishment of independent judiciary systems free from external interference guaranteed the protection of the interests of citizens and secured justice for all regardless of religion. The Prophet warned Muslims against abusing or oppressing those of other faiths who lived among them by saying, “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”  These basic guidelines that were set out by Prophet Muhammad form a blueprint of how Muslims should deal with people of other faiths and were based on the concept of justice laid out in the Qur’an: “You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly– if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.” [4:135]
iv. Mercy and forgiveness.
“Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better…” [41:34]
Muhammad was born and raised in 7th century Makkah, a city of the Arabian Peninsula. At the time, the vast majority of Makkans were polytheistic in religion. Then, in 610 CE, God appointed Muhammad as His Prophet at the age of around forty. He began to call his people to a new, monotheistic religion. Initially, Muhammad preached in private, and his early followers congregated in secret. When Muhammad eventually declared his message publicly, he and his early followers were met with increasing hostility. His mission to reform society, which included the call for his people to renounce idolatry and advocating for the rights of the poor and weak, inevitably put him on a collision course with the rich and powerful tribes of Makkah.
The leaders of Makkah instigated a sustained campaign of violence against what they saw as a rival faith and a threat to their power structure. For over a decade Muslims would go on to suffer severe persecution; they endured beatings, torture, imprisonment and some were even killed. The leaders of Makkah even signed a pact resulting in the complete social and economic boycott of Muslims along with the two tribes associated with them. Muhammad and his followers were forced by circumstance to leave their homes and resettle in the outskirts of Makkah. Confined to the harsh and barren desert valley, they struggled to survive for three years, with even food and medicine being barred to them. During what is known as the Year of Grief, Muhammad’s uncle Abu Talib passed away. Abu Lahab, early Islam’s arch-enemy and Muhammad’s bitterest foe, replaced Abu Talib as the chief of the tribe. The persecution of the early Muslim community in Makkah intensified and in 622 CE, after suffering for nearly a decade and a half, Prophet Muhammad and his followers fled their home city of Makkah in order to escape persecution. They had to leave behind their possessions and properties which were confiscated by their enemies.
They arrived safely in the city of Madinah. There, the early Muslim community regrouped and eventually flourished. The persecution by their enemies had by no means come to an end, as over the next ten years the tribes of Makkah fought numerous wars against the Muslims. In 629 CE the Makkans broke a mutual peace treaty with the Muslims. Prophet Muhammad then led a Muslim army of ten thousand in a triumphant return to their home city of Makkah, nearly a decade after they had been forced to flee it. This historic event is known as the Conquest of Makkah. Before ordering the troops to enter Makkah, the Prophet instructed his men to lift their hands only against those who drew swords against them. He also directed them neither to lay their hands on any moveable or immovable property of the Makkans, nor to destroy anything .
The Muslim army entered the city peacefully. No house was robbed; no man or woman was harmed or even insulted. Then the Prophet went before the defeated people whose hearts were trembling, waiting to see what the victorious conqueror would do with them. The Makkans were afraid because the Arabs had lived by the law of retaliation; their own practice was that of revenge and murder. Many of them were expecting some sort of punishment in accordance with the traditions of the Arabs, and Muhammad had the power to exact that punishment. But instead the Prophet granted a general amnesty to the entire population of Makkah, saying to them, “What do you suppose I should do with you?” They replied, “What is good. You are a generous brother and the son of a generous brother.” The Messenger of God replied, “Go, for you are free.”  Muhammad could have taken vengeance against all those who had persecuted him and his people for so many years, but instead he forgave them, reciting the following verse of the Qur’an: “There is no censure on you on this day. May God forgive you, for He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.” [12:92] . Prophet Muhammad never took revenge on anyone for personal reasons and always forgave even his firm enemies. It’s one thing to forgive others when you are in a position of weakness and have no choice, but it’s very difficult to do so when you find yourself in a position of strength over your staunch enemies and brutal oppressors. This is one of the many beautiful qualities of Prophet Muhammad that changed the hatred in the hearts of his enemies towards love for him.
From a historical perspective it would not have been unusual for a bloody conquest. Such was the behaviour of conquering kings and armies of the times. Six hundred years later, when a Mongol army conquered Baghdad, then the capital of Muslim lands, a full week of pillaging and destruction commenced. The Mongols destroyed palaces, hospitals and libraries. The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. History records that the waters of the Tigris River ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into it. Citizens attempted to flee, but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers who killed in abundance, sparing neither women nor children. It is estimated that close to 90,000 people died . Although the mercy of Prophet Muhammad is a rare example in a human history that is littered with bloody conquests, we should not at all be surprised by his conduct as he was a living embodiment of the Qur’anic teachings of mercy and forgiveness that lie at the heart of its message.
v. Patience and gentleness.
“Indeed, God is with the patient.” [2:153]
Many of the examples we’ve looked at so far have been in the public domain. The best way to judge a person’s character is by their treatment of their inner circle. It is easy to be a nice person under the watchful eye of the public but your true self is shown by your treatment of your family and those who are under your care. From this perspective perhaps the person best placed to give an assessment of the character of Prophet Muhammad was Anas ibn Malik. Anas bin Malik entered into the household of the Prophet as a young child: “I served the Prophet for ten years, I lived with him for ten years and not once did he rebuke me. Not once did the word ‘uff’ come from his mouth. He never said to me, ‘why did you do this?’ or ‘why didn’t you do that?’”  Anas narrates that he served the Prophet for ten years. He was with him day in and day out, both when the Prophet travelled and when he was at home. The word “uff” is the Arabic equivalent to English expressions of annoyance such as “argh” or “ugh”. Here Anas is saying that for ten years, he never even once heard the Prophet utter “ugh”, which is not even a word of anger, it’s the smallest expression that one can make when they feel annoyed or impatient. Any parent will appreciate how difficult it can be to not lose patience, especially with young children who overflow with energy and often lack self-control.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has had more written about him than any other human being in history, yet no amount of words can do justice to his outstanding character. Thanks to the preservation of the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition, humanity has access to a comprehensive, divinely ordained way of life with a practical example to follow in order to perfect their worship of God: “The Messenger of God is an excellent model for those of you who put your hope in God and the Last Day and remember Him often.” [33:21] This transformative quality of the Qur’an was not limited to just Prophet Muhammad, but his companions also embodied these values which revolutionised not only Arabia for the better but ultimately the entire world: “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” [21:107]
1 – Al-Bidaya wan Nihaya, vol. 6, p. 37.
2 – Sahih Bukhari, Hadith #4971.
3 – Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #5413.
4 – Sunan Al-Kubra, #18099.
5 – Shama’il Muhammadiyah, Chapter 46, The Humbleness of Prophet Muhammad, #316.
6 – Saheeh Muslim, Book 9, #3507.
7 – Ahmad, #25662.
8 – Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #676.
9 – Saheeh Al-Bukhari, #2739.
10 – Seerah ibn Hisham, vol. 1, p. 293 – 294.
11 – Musnad Ahmad, #19774.
12 – Civilization On Trial, New York, 1948, p. 205.
13 – Abu Dawud, vol. 3, #3052.
14 – Seerah ibn Hisham, vol. 2, p. 409.
15 – Seerah ibn Hisham, vol. 2, p. 242.
16 – Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra, vol. 2, p. 142.
17 – Martin Sicker, The Islamic World in Ascendancy, 2000, p. 111.
18 – Bukhari, vol. 8, book 73, #64.