From the cradle to the grave the Prophet passed through a diversity of circumstances - a diversity which can hardly be met with in the life of a single man. Orphanhood is the extreme of helplessness, while kingship is the height of power. From being an orphan he climbed to the summit of royal glory, but that did not bring about the slightest change in his way of living. He lived on exactly the same kind of humble food, wore the same simple dress, and in all particulars led the same simple life as he led in the state of orphanhood. It is hard to give up the kingly throne and lead the life of a hermit, but it is harder still that one should weild the royal sceptre yet at the same time lead a hermit's life, that one should possess power and wealth yet spend it solely to promote the welfare of others, that one should ever have the most alluring attractions before one's eyes yet should never for one moment be captivated by them.
When the Prophet actually became the ruler of a state, the furniture of his house was composed of a coarse matting of palm leaves for his bed and an earthen jug for water. Some nights he would go without food. For days no fire would be lighted in his house to prepare food, the whole family living on mere dates. There was no lack of means to live a life of ease and comfort. The public treasury was at his disposal. The well-to-do among his followers, who did not shrink from sacrificing their lives for his sake, would have been only too glad to provide him with every comfort of life, should he choose to avail himself of it. But worldly things carried little weight in his estimation. No mundane craving could ever prevail over him, neither in times of indigence nor of plenty. Just as he spurned wealth, power and beauty which the Quraish offered him when he was yet in a state of utmost helplessness, so did he remain indifferent to them when God granted him all these things out of His grace.
Not only did he himself live the simple life of a labourer, but he did not even allow wealth to have any attraction for his wives. Shortly after their immigration into Medina, the condition of the Muslims had changed, and they carried on a prosperous trade. Their conquests, later on, went further to add to the comforts of life which the Muslims enjoyed. A quite human desire crept into the hearts of the Prophet's wives that, like other Muslim families, they too should avail themselves of their share of comforts. Accordingly, they approached the Prophet in a body to prevail upon him to allow them their legitimate share of worldly comforts. Thereupon came the Divine injunction:
O Prophet ! Say to thy wives, If you desire this world's life and
its ornature, come, I will give you a provision and allow you to depart
a goodly departing. And if you desire Allah and His Messenger and
the latter abode, then surely Allah has prepared for the doers of good
amoung you a mighty reward. [33:28,29]
Thus they were offered two alternatives. They might either have worldly finery, or remain in the Prophet's household Should they decide to have the former, they would have plenty of what they wanted, but would forthwith forfeit the honour of being the Prophet's wives. Is this the reply of a sensual man? Such a man would have done everything to satisfy the whim of the objects of his affection. Nay, he would himself have desired that his wives should wear the most beautiful dress and live in comfort. No doubt the Prophet cherished great love for his wives. He had immense regard for the rights of women and was the champion of their cause. But when his wives came to him with what was apparently a quite legitimate demand to have more finery and ornaments, they were coldly told that if they would have these things they were not fit to live in the Prophet's house. This shows beyond a shadow of doubt how free the Prophet's mind was of all base and sensual thoughts. He was prepared to divorce all his wives rather than yield to what he regarded as unworthy of his wives - an inclination towards worldly things. It shows conclusively that the object of his marriages was anything but self-indulgence.
Let us consider once more the historical facts which led the Prophet to take a number of wives within the short space of five years from the third year of Hijra to the seventh, while before that he passed nearly thirty years of his life in a monogamous state. This period coincides exactly with the period during which incessant war was carried on between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. The circle of Muslim brotherhood was at the time very narrow. The perpetual state of war; created disparity between the male and the female elements of society. Husbands having fallen on the field of battle, their widows had to be provided for. But bread and butter was not the only provision needed in such cases. Sex-inclination is implanted in human nature, and the statesman who neglects the sex requirements leads society to moral corruption, ending ultimately in the ruin of the whole nation. A reformer with whom morals were all in all could not content himself with making provision merely for the maintenance of the widows. The Prophet was anxious for their chastity to a far greater extent than their physical needs. It became therefore necessary allow polygamy. This is the reason that he himself took so many women for his wives during the period when war was raging. Nearly all his wives were widows. If self-indulgence were the motive, the choice would not have fallen on widows. It would have been an enviable privilege for any Muslim to be the father-in-law of the Prophet. But the object was a noble one - the protection of the widows of his friends. In polygamy alone lay the safety of the Muslim society.
We now come to the fourth period. With the conquest of Mecca in 8 A.H., internal warfare came practically to an end. Disturbances there were, but, on the whole, peace had been established in the country and normal conditions were restored. From the eighth year of the Flight to the end of his life we again find that the Prophet did not contract any new marriage. What is the evidence of the facts then ? The Prophet added to the number of his wives only during the time that he had to live in a state of warfare, when the number of males was reduced and many women would have been left without protection and without a home if the difficulty had not been solved by permitting a limited polygamy. Before the Prophet had to enter on a defensive war, he lived in idle company of a single wife, and when war ended, he contracted no new marriage. This sets all doubts at rest as to the motive of the Prophet. In all the marriages which he contracted during the war, there was some ulterior moral end in view. There arose situations in his life under which he could not consistently, with the moral and religious mission of his life, help taking more wives than one. In that, he only showed compassion to the weaker sex.
Living in a country in which polygamy was the rule, the Prophet had no liking for polygamy. He passed the prime of his life, up to fifty-four years of age, as the husband of a single wife, thus showing that the union of one man and one woman was the rule under normal conditions. But when abnormal conditions arose, he did not, like a sentimentalist, shirk his duty. He saw that the chashty of woman was at stake if polygamy was not allowed, and for the sake of a higher interest he permitted polygamy as an exccption to meet exceptional circumstances Exactly thus he had to revert to war, though by disposition he was averse to it. Full forty years before the Call, he had been living in a land where the sword was wielded as freely as as a stick elsewhere, where fighting and feuds were the order of the day, where men would fly at each other's throats, like wild animals, where there was no chance of survival for one who could not use the sword, yet not once during these forty years did he deal a blow at an enemy. The same was the case with him for fourteen years after the Call.
That he was peace-loving by nature is shown by the clear injunctions relating to peace in the Holy Quran:
And if they incline to peace, do thou also incline to it and trust
in Allah ... And if they intend to deceive thee, then surely
Allah is sufficient for thee." [8:61,62]
The Prophet's acceptance of the truce of Hudaibiya, though its conditions were humiliating for the Muslims, who were ready to lay down their lives one and all rather than accept those terms, is also a clear proof of his peace-loving nature. But when duty called him to take the field to save his community, he did not hesitate to take up the sword against an overwhelming majority. He acted as a sagacious general in all fields of battle and behaved like a brave soldier when opportunity demanded. He knew how to disperse an enemy in time before it had gained sufficient strength to deal a severe blow at the Muslims. And once, in the battle of Hunain, when his army was in flight owing to the severe onslaught of the enemy's archers, he was all alone advancing towards the enemy forces, till his soldiers rallied round him. By disposition he had no inclination for war, yet circumstances arose which dragged him into the field of battle, and he then displayed the wisdom of a general and the bravery of a soldier. So by disposition he was not inclined to polygamy, living a celibate life of unexampled purity up to twenty-five years of age and a married life of a monogamous husband up to fifty-four, but when duty called him to take more women under his shelter, he answered the call of duty.
Brief as this treatment of the Prophet's life is, it would be incomplete without a few words as to his manners and morals. When his wife, 'A'isha, the most privy to his secrets, was questioned about his morals, her reply was, "His morals are the Quran." In other words, the highest morals that were depicted in the Holy Quran were possessed by him.
Simplicity and sincerity are the keynotes of the Prophet's character. He would do all sorts of things with his own hands. He would milk his own goats, patch his own clothes and mend his own shoes. In person would he dust the house, and he would tie his camel and look after it personally. No work was too low for him. He worked like a labourer in the construction of the mosque, and again in digging a ditch round Medina. In person would he do shopping, not only for his own house-hold but also for his neighbours or for helpless women. He never despised any work, however humble, notwithstanding the dignity of his position as Prophet and King. He thus demonstrated through personal example that man's calling does not really determine his nobleness or his meanness.
His actions and movements were characterized by homely simplicity. He did not like his companions to stand up on his arrival. Once he forbade them, saying, "Do not stand up for me as do the non-Arabs;" and added that he was a humble creature of God, eating as others eat and sitting as others sit. When a certain man wanted to kiss his hand, he withdrew it remarking that that was the behaviour of the non-Arabs to wards their kings. Even if a slave sent him an invitation he accepted it. He would take his meals in the company of all classes of people, even of slaves. When seated among people, there was nothing about him to make him conspicuous.
The Prophet had a deep love for his friends. While shaking hands with them, he would never be the first to withdraw his hand. He met everybody with a smiling face. A report from Jarir ibn 'Abdullah says that he never saw the Prophet but with a smile on his face. He would talk freely, never putting on artificial reserve to give himself an air of superiority. He would take up children in arms and nurse them. He disliked back-biting and forbade his visitors to talk ill of any of his friends. He would ever take the lead in greeting his friends and shaking hands with them.
The Prophet's generosity even towards his enemies stands unique in the annals of te world. 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy, the head of the hypocrites, was a sworn enemy of Islam, and his days and nights were spent in plotting mischief against the Muslims. Yet at his death, the Prophet prayed to the Lord to forgive him and even granted his own shirt to enshroud his body. The Meccans, who had all along subjected him and his friends to the most barbarous tortures, were not only awarded a general amnesty but were let off even without a reproof. Twenty long years of persecutions and warfare were absolutely forgiven and forgotten. "The magnanimity with which Muhammad treated a people who had so long hated and rejected him is worthy of all admiration," says Muir. The fact is that no other example is met with in history of such magnanimous forgiveness of inveterate enemies, who had shed innocent blood, who had shown no pity for helpless men, women and children, who had exerted themselves to their utmost to kill the Prophet and to annihilate the Muslims. The prisoners of war were almost always set free even without demanding a ransom. It was only in the case of the prisoners of Badr that ransom was demanded; after that, hundreds of prisoners and in one case, in the battle with Hawazin, as many as six thousand, were released without taking a pice as ransom. At the battle of Uhud, when he was wounded and fell, down, a comrade asked him to curse his persecutors. His reply was: I have not been sent to curse but as an inviter to good and mercy. O Lord ! guide my people, for they know not." Once a Bedouin pulled him and threw his wrap round his neck. When asked why he should not be repaid in the same coin, he pleaded that he (the Prophet) never returned evil for evil.
In the administration of justice, the Prophet was scrupulously even-handed. Muslims and non-Muslims, friend and foe, were all alike in his eyes. Even before the Call, his impartiality his honesty and integrity were of household fame, and people would bring their disputes to him to settle. At Medina, tie Jews and the idolaters both accepted him as the arbitrator in all their disputes. Notwithstanding the deep-rooted malice of Jews against Islam, when a case between a Jew and a Muslim came up before him, he decreed in favour of the Jew, regardless of the fact that the Muslim, nay, even perhaps the whole of his tribe, might thereby be alienated. In his dealings with his worst enemies he was always true to the Quranic injunction which says:
"Let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably;
act equitably, that is nearer to piety." [5:8]
On his death-bed, immediately before he breathed his last, he had it Publicly announced:
"If I owe anything to anybody, it may be claimed;
if I have offended anybody, he may have his revenge."
In his dealings with others he never placed himself on a higher pedestal. Once while he held the position of a king at Medina, a Jew whom he owed some money came up to him and began to-abuse him. 'Umar was enraged, but the Prophet rebuked him, saying:
And he paid the Jew more than his due. On another occasion when he was out in the wood with his friends, the time for preparation of food came. Everybody was allotted a piece of work, he himself going out to pick up fuel. Spiritual and temporal overlord though he was, he would yet do his share of work like an ordinary man. In his treatment of his servants, he observed the same principle of equality. A report from Anas says that during the ten years that he was in the Prophet's service at Medina, where he ultimatcly became the master of the whole of Arabia, he was not once scolded by him. He never kept anybody in slavery. As soon as he got a slave, he set him free.
In charity the Prophet was simply unapproached. He never gave a flat refusal to a beggar. He would feed the hungry, himself going without food. He never kept any money in his possession. While on his death-bed, he sent for whatever there was in his house and distributed it among the poor. Even for the dumb creatures of God his heart overflowed with mercy. He spoke of one who drew water from a well to quench the thirst of a dog as having earned paradise with this act of kindness. He spoke of a deceased woman that she was undergoing punishment because she would tie up her cat and keep it hungry. Form his earliest days he had a deep sympathy for widows and orphans, the poor and the helpless. He would ever stand by the oppressed. He vindicated the rights of women over men, of slaves over their masters, of the ruled over the rulers, and of the subjects over the king. Negro slaves were accorded the same position of honour as the Quraish leaders. He was the champion of the oppressed and the ill-treated ones. He was very fond of children, and while walking along he would pat and stroke those whom he met on the way. Without fail would he visit the sick to enquire after their health and console them. He would also accompany a funeral.
Humble and meek in the highest degree, he had yet the courage of the bravest of men. Never for a moment did he harbour fear of his enemies. Even when plots to take his life were being hatched in Mecca, he moved about fearlessly day and night. He told all his companions to emigrate from Mecca, himself remaining almost alone among infuriated enemies. With his pursuers at the mouth of the cave in which he had hidden himself, he could yet console his companion, saying, "Allah is with us." On the field of Uhud when the whole of his army fell into a trap, he shouted aloud, regardless of all danger to his own person, to rally the confused soldiers. In the battle of Hunain when the Muslim rank and file took to flight, he advanced alone towards the enemy, calling aloud, "I am the Prophet." When one night a raid was suspected, he was the first to reconnoitre the outskirts of Medina, riding his horse without saddling it. On a certain journey, while resting under a tree all alone, an enemy came upon him, and unsheathing his sword shouted out: " Who can save thee now from my hands?" Calmly the Prophet replied, "Allah." And the next moment the same sword was in the Prophet's hand who put to his enemy the same question, on which he assumed a tone of abject humility, and the Prophet let him go.
The Prophet's integrity and sincerity were of universal fame throughout Arabia. His worst enemies had often to confess that he had never told a lie. When he once pledged his word, he kept it under the most trying conditions and even at a heavy lost. He faithfully observed the truce made at Hudaibiya, though he had to refuse shelter to Muslims escaping from the persecution of the Meccans. His biographers are all at one in their admiration of his unflinching fortitude and unswerving steadfastness. Despair and despondency were unknown to him. Hemmed in as he was on all sides by a gloomy prospect and severe opposition, his faith in the ultimate triumph of the truth was never for one moment shaken.