By Dr. Ismail Lutfi Cakan
So diverse are the people who have been called to Islam in the world. It is normal that every segment has felt a need for a guide according to the demands of the time.
For this reason, in order to meet all the needs, shape their responses, and provide an example for different segments of society on the level of the individual, family, nation, Ummah, humankind, and universe, Allah sent Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) with the message of Islam.
A Prime Example
The Prophet’s behavior and life are a unique, universal model. Allah, the Almighty, says, (You conform (yourself) to sublime morality) (Al-Qalam 68:4). In his life the Muslim can find a harmonious variety, richness, fluidity, and practicality of examples within an Islamic framework for all life conditions and circumstances.
His Companions responded to this diversity of his life with the approach that “there definitely is an aspect in all of his behaviors that address us, so we should take him as an example,” rather than the interpretation that “he is a Prophet; he is different from us, so let’s take care of ourselves.”
Therefore, those who evaluate the Prophet’s life according to his nature must be aware of this universal quality and his merit of being an example in every stage of life.
The essence of the Prophet’s life before prophethood was that he remained away from the idolatry and the lifestyle of the Makkan society, which were contrary to the nature of pure humans.
He lived chastely and truthfully; supported the fair and opposed the unfair; and, keeping in seclusion for long periods of time, spent his days and nights in a cave, in contemplation and seeking of the truth of existence. In one word, we can say he had a clean past.
Anyway, almost every moment of the Prophet’s life during his Prophethood was recorded and can be known by everyone. In particular, during the intense activities of his early days in Madinah, the Muslim society had the opportunity to closely watch all of his actions. Actually, giving a practical example is the best way to teach others. The fact that Muhammad is a unique example for the Ummah should be thought of from this perspective.
What Is Sunnah?
Sunnah means the path the Prophet followed and the life he chose for the purpose of acting in accordance with Allah’s commands.
It is also the description of Muhammad, the envoy of Allah who was mentioned in the last divine book, the Glorious Qur’an, with many fine attributes and names. Allah, the Exalted, nicknamed him (The last of the Prophets ) (Al-Ahzab 33:40), (A mercy to the worlds) (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:107), and (An excellent exemplar) (Al-Ahzab 33:21). He also says, (You conform (yourself) to sublime morality) (Al-Qalam 68:4) and (It grieves him [i.e., the Prophet] that you [O people] should perish; ardently anxious he is over you; to the believers he is most kind and merciful) (At-Tawbah 9:128).
For this reason, in spite of human, geographical, historical, social, professional, and economic differences, the Qur’an invites all of humankind to harmonize with the seerah or life model of Muhammad, to follow his footsteps, and to walk on his path.
His Sunnah is rich enough to be an example for all segments of society. As considered the practical application of the Qur’an, his life is a bright example and guidance for human life, and it implies many aspects that can be taken as an example.
The real reason for any mistakes in which many people have fallen and any difficulty many have found in understanding Muhammad is that they do not see his Sunnah as a whole in its richness and universality and that they do not perceive the practicality of the Prophet and the religion of Islam he called to. Correcting all the negative ideas and misconceptions in this concern relies on perceiving the Sunnah in its totality and its universal dimension.
The Wholeness of the Sunnah
The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) were aware of this truth. That is why they immediately applied what they saw from the Prophet to their own circumstances. The following points can be drawn from the information they gave that shows the inclusiveness of the Prophet’s Sunnah, which can be applied in a universal manner.
He commanded only what people could do. `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated, “When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) commanded something, he always ordered an amount and manner that could easily be handled by the Companions.”
He would consider the whole Ummah. Ibn `Abbas reported that the Prophet said, “If I were not concerned about giving hardship to my Ummah, I would have ordered them to make the night Prayer late at night ” (Muslim).
He was sensitive to his surroundings and community. Anas ibn Malik narrated, “While the Prophet was praying, he heard a child who had come to the mosque with its mother crying, so he quickly read a short verse” (Ahmed).
The Prophet established the golden principle: “Make it easier, not harder; give good tidings and do not make something detestable. ” (Al-Bukhari)
People of every profession and disposition can find prime models and shining examples for themselves in the Prophet’s life, because Allah has gathered all good qualities of humanity in one personality, i.e., that of Muhammad, and made him an example to be imitated.
With the authority Allah gave him, the Prophet made the same call to kings and heads of state in other countries, to shepherds in pastures, to teachers in schools, to students in classes, to the poor in tents, to the rich in castles, to armies in barracks and battlefields, to commanders in military units, to parents and children in homes; in short, to everyone in the world — the Prophet invited them all to follow him.
In spite of being busy with serious matters like peace, war, worship, trade, and justice, the Prophet’s involvement in everyday life has puzzled many people.
On the other hand, when the Prophet did not want divine qualities to be attributed to him, when he was asked to make decisions regarding worldly matters in relation to some technical subjects, and when he was mistaken about the performance of some forms of worship, he insistently pointed out that he was just human.
Hence, considering the Sunnah within its universal wholeness and accepting it as a reference of action for all of our behavior will save us from immediately rejecting what we are not able to interpret and leaving this to the time and the place where it will be easy to interpret and act upon.