By Justice Shaykh Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari (d. 1419 AH)
The chosen slaves to whom Allah (most high) grants the honour of prophethood, He entrusts them with the crucial and sacred responsibility of performing the islah of humanity. By doing so they can enrich humanity with the joy of success in both worlds.
What is meant by islah is a subject that demands attention. If you fill with pearls and jewels the empty sack of a destitute person, you have alleviated his poverty. However, it is very difficult to say that you have also reformed him or performed his islah. It is quite possible that this person who was harmless and satisfied whilst in the state of poverty, now due to inebriating himself with the intoxicant of wealth, he fans the flames of destruction and mischief. A person who does not even have a shelter to cover his head, and is lying on the footpath being targeted by the constant high-handedness of the weather. If you provide a comfortable residence for him, he becomes free from the cruelty of the rain and blustery winds. Again, this does not mean that you have reformed him or performed his islah. It may well be that he adorns himself with the association of mirth and luxury, and as a result along with his comrades drowns in the darkness of impiety and sinfulness.
There is only one true way of islah and that is that the heart which beats within the person be set right.
The person whose heart is set right, poverty and hardship cannot stain his human dignity, and the abundance of wealth cannot make him proud and arrogant. If he is a dervish sitting upon a palm-leaf mat, even then no ruler of the time can buy and take away his self-respect. If he has ascended the throne, even then he will not commit any unsuitable act that would cause his modesty to be tarnished or strike at the delicate values of justice and kindness. The knowledge of such a person remains pitted against the darkness of ignorance. His wealth is spent in lighting the candle of joy and happiness within the darkness of despair and deprivation. His rank and dignity can be seen protecting the weak and helping the helpless. If you place a reformed person who has achieved islah in any type of circumstances, grant him the highest station of choice and authority, he will still be an embodiment of goodness, splendour and light. Whoever comes under the shadow of his affection, will gain peace and tranquillity. Wherever he passes by, he will lavishly distribute the treasures of joy and delight.
The King of the kingdom of knowledge and wisdom, the Confidant of human psyche and the Leader of the universe (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has illustrated this reality in the following words;
“Verily in the body there is a morsel: when it is sound, the whole body is sound; and when it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt. [This morsel] is the heart.”
It is worth considering how this action of the heart’s islah can be achieved. How can the light of islah be lit in the heart? The fort of the heart is very firm whose enclosure is robust and tall. There is no such catapult as yet that can bombard this fort and capture it. No such Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon or Hitler has been born yet who can proclaim his triumph over the realm of the heart.
Regardless of how true the words are, how high the standard of rhetoric and eloquence and how pleasant the tone of the one speaking; these words bounce off the ears of the audience. The heart does not accept such words, let alone listen to them, until the actions of the speaker testify to his words. The more beautiful, elegant and passionate his actions become and the more sincerity there is; the wider the sphere of his influence within the heart.
When the entire humanity was engulfed in the darkness of misguidance. The heart-rending scene of ‘layers of darkness, one upon the other’ was bringing down calamity upon calamity. The ocean of Allah’s mercy raged fiercely. Hence, for the rectitude of humanity He revealed a scripture of guidance in the form of the holy Qur’an. However, it was not the case that the archangel Gabriel brought this clear book from the divine court and placed it on the summit of Mount Abu Qubays, so that the people of Makkah, by reading it, could come out from the marsh of misguidance and begin following the path of guidance. Rather, before presenting to people this truthful call, arrangements were made for a caller to make this call. In order to wave the flag of truth in the realm of the heart, Allah (most high) placed His beloved, Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), within His embrace of mercy and affection, arranged for his training and then perfected him. It is a divine statement;
“(O Beloved!) Did not your Lord find you an orphan, so He embraced you with His affection and mercy.”
In another place Allah (most high) declared, “Verily you reside within Our gaze”; you are always in front of Our eyes, your solitude and public appearance, the effect of your weeping nights, the passion of your supplications, the anxiety of your compassionate heart, the preoccupation of your days; all of this we are observing and supervising. In some instances the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon) describing this reality stated, “My Lord taught me adab, and taught it with perfection.”
After this outstanding education, upbringing, purification and splendour, Allah (most high) gave this orphan of Banu Hashim the Book and sent him for the guidance of the entire world. It is a divine statement;
“Verily for you in the Messenger of Allah there is an excellent example.”
This is to say that if you want to apprehend the message of truth, then study the blessed Qur’an thoroughly. In addition, if you aspire to witness the allures of those teachings manifested in a perceptible body, then observe the days and nights in the life of My Beloved. The truth being discussed by the verses and words of the praised Qur’an, you will observe its living example in the person of the Chosen One (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Whatever you shall read in the Book, here you will see the exact same. A discrepancy as fine as a hair you will not find.
“Look again – do you see any imperfection? Then look again and again, your sight will return to you dazzled and exhausted.”
For this reason, when somebody approached the Mother of the believers, A’isha Siddiqa (Allah be pleased with her), and asked about the conduct of the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Alah be upon him) she replied, “His conduct was the Qur’an.” Only Siddiqa, the daughter of the great Siddiq, could have given such a short and comprehensive answer.
Ponder again over the previous verses. It is a divine statement; “Verily for you in the Messenger of Allah there is an Uswa Hasana.”
Uswa literally means example. Only Uswa has not been mentioned here, rather it has been attributed with a description. There are numerous words in the Arabic language that can become descriptions for Uswa, such as Uswa Kamila (complete example), Uswa Samiya (exalted example), etc. However, the description that the all-Knowing and all-Wise Lord chose to describe the Uswa of His Mesenger is Hasana. Hasana literally means Zat Husn, i.e. the possessor of beauty and splendour. In this way Allah (most high) clarified that the action of My Beloved is not an example of any common form, rather it is such that it comprises of beauty and splendour. As a result, locks on hearts will fall apart in front of his grace and elegance and rocky plains of opposition shall be caused to melt due to the passion of his elegant manners.
The underlying wisdom in this expression (Uswa Hasana) is that the heart is always a tributary and devotee of only beauty. Its proud head knows only to bow down at the alluring benevolence of the beloved. This beauty has come together with all its elegance and splendour in the Prophetic life. Those who possess knowledge understand that beauty has innumerable guises. Example of such beauty other than Rukh Zayba (graceful face), Qamat Bala (grandeur of stature), Chashm Gizalein (gazelle-like eyes), also include integrity, steadfastness, bravery and generosity; all of these are manifestations of beauty and all can be seen in the Prophetic example crossing their own zenith. If there is a lover of any aspect of beauty and a true judge of any form of that beauty, let him be admitted into the court of Prophetic beauty, he will surely spontaneously proclaim out aloud;
Excel the shine of the tresses so curlyCapture the sense, mind, heart and gaze.
Upon entering this realm, the heart changes. The standard of good and bad changes, the notion of gain and loss changes. As a result the call of truth takes its place within the heart and with much passion a person begins to chant;
atani hawaha qabl an a‘rif al-hawa;
fa sadafa qalban khaliyan fa tamakkana.
Its love came when I knew not the meaning of love;It found my heart empty, so it ingrained therein.
It is for this very reason that amongst those who acquired benefit from the Chosen One (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) we find Arabs as well as non-Arabs, the brave and generous as well as the weak and feeble, the rich and wealthy as well as the poor and needy. Whosoever is attracted to any form of beauty, here he comes and spontaneously submits himself. The truth-discerning gaze witnesses in abundance the beauteous reflection of the Beloved’s beauty within the biographies of the Prophetic Companions (Allah be pleased with them all). Rays of prophethood can be seen reflecting upon those who drank from the Prophet’s fountain of benevolence.
Just as beautiful and attractive the Prophet’s example is, so it is broad and spacious. There is no phase of life that it cannot exemplify. There is no illness of humanity that it does not possess an antidote for. To eliminate layers upon layers of darkness is its distinctive quality. With its blessings all impurities depart, the heart and soul become pure, and character and conduct become so firm and stable that no force can jolt such a person from his position. Be it worship, affairs of life, culture and civilization, economics and mode of life; in short, whichever field it may be, the merciful cloud of Uswa Hasana always casts a shadow over them, and with its drizzle awakens the dying abilities, develops them and fills life with passion and delight.
It is not possible for me in this short essay to briefly mention all aspects of the Prophet’s Uswa Hasana. However I will become fortunate by presenting to you two distinct flowers from this garden of wisdom. Due to their effect a zealous storm occurred in the hearts of the peasants and Bedouins of Arabia, which ultimately led to a great revolution.
The noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was once returning from a journey and decided to camp along the way. Various people were entrusted with various responsibilities. Some were erecting tents, some were arranging fodder for the animals, some were bringing water and some were mixing the flour. Everyone was preoccupied in their individual duties. The holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) quietly departs from them and heads elsewhere. After a while the Prophetic Companions become worried and restless for not seeing the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) amongst them. Restless gazes suddenly begin wandering in all four directions in search of their beloved.
As the delay continues, anxiety and impatience intensifies. Eventually the Prophetic Companions observe a radiant figure in the distance. When they approach the figure they are bewildered and astonished as this figure is none other than their Leader and Guide (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who was coming out from the forest carrying firewood upon his own blessed head. The Prophetic Companions humbly speak out, “O Messenger of Allah! Why did you bother yourself as such, were we servants not sufficient for this service?” The noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied with such simplicity, “You were all busy in work, and I did not feel it appropriate to sit as someone credible while you all worked.”
The Prophetic Companions who by seeing this radiant scene had already become enthralled, after hearing this intimate response, their faith and certainty further increased.
Who is unaware of the account of the Trench, when the Prophetic Companions were busy digging the trench, their respected Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was also striking the rocky ground with a pickaxe in his hands and was sometimes placing a basket full of soil on his bounteous head in order to take it for emptying.
It was these captivating factors from the practical life of the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that transformed the Arab Bedouins into lovers and adorers of Islam. Even today if we desire that the call to Islam be admired and this call of truth to cause a change in hearts, then there is only one way and that is to present to people the beautiful features of the Qur’anic teachings through the clear reflection of the Prophetic biography and character. So that they witness with their own eyes the beauty of truth and submit themselves before it. Until we do not show people the various aspects of the biography of the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), we cannot discharge ourselves from the responsibility of preaching nor will we be able to cause people to understand our discourse.
Humanity’s need for Islam is much greater today than ever before. Developed nations have despaired over their culture and civilization. It is their need that they quench their thirst from the sweet fountain of Islam. For this reason, every person whose heart feels for humanity, who is restless due to the ignorance and astray of his brothers, who has complete and firm faith in the prophethood and call of the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), it is his pleasant obligation that he presents the Prophetic biography in an authentic and appealing manner in order to provide guidance for the humanity that roams in darkness.
[For footnotes and references please consult the PDF of this article]
This article was translated by Zulfqar Haider Pirzada al-Azhari (April 2006). The original article can be found in volume one of ‘Maqalat’ by Diya’ al-Ummat, Justice Shaykh Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari (ra).