by Minoush Abdel-Meguid
“So remind, [O Mohamad]; you are only a reminder. You are not over them a controller.” (Verse 21 Al Ghashyia, Holy Quran).
This is perhaps one of my favorite verses of the Holy Quran as it reflects the true meaning of spiritual leadership, it implies that spiritual leaders should in essence serve to “remind” us of our infinite potential, guide us to establish a higher connection with ourselves and our spirituality rather than control our actions and our ways of life. Spiritual leaders at all times should serve as role models for us to follow, through their own lives, deeds and actions. It is then up to us to follow their paths by understanding the meanings in their actions.
Social media today pours with quotes from various spiritual leaders; Buddha, Christ, Mohamed and many others. It seems that in this day and age we have become so fixated with the minute details of what these leaders have actually said, what they ate, how they spoke and sometimes even how they dressed, forgetting the spirit of their teachings which is derived from their actions. Sometimes the deep respect with which we hold our spiritual leaders makes us forget they were also human beings, they emphasized their spirituality in their actions and approach to life but they were also human beings who had their moments of weakness. The majority of spiritual leaders who have actually contributed to world history were not only preachers of God; they worked, earned a living, encountered life with all its contradictions, and embraced it on so many levels.
Prophet Mohamed is the spiritual leader of a quarter of the world’s population, the Muslims’ messenger, their role model, praised for his greatness, his strong ethics and profound wisdom his name whenever written or spoken follows the phrase Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH).
Mohamed was a 40 year old man when, in 610 AD, he heralded a new faith pillared on worshiping only one God as well as the fundamental equality of all human beings: “there is no virtue of an Arab over a foreigner nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin nor black skin over white skin, except by Righteousness.” Mohamed himself emphasized the essence of universal human equality, breaking key social and economic taboos at the time, banning slavery and allowing all human beings the freedom to worship one God and giving them the ultimate choice to do so. Unlike other religions, Islam was given its name from the start, adopted by Mohamed and his growing followers; the literal translation of the word Islam in English is “Surrender” with this immaculate definition of the faith in the Holy Quran: “Whoever surrenders themselves entirely to Allah, and is a doer of good, their reward is with their Lord; no fear shall be upon them, nor shall they ever grieve.” (Verse 112 Al Bakraa, Holy Quran).
Like so many other spiritual leaders, Mohamed was the subject of much controversy in his days, and is perhaps even more controversial today. To some in the West, Mohamed may be viewed as a man who married a much younger woman, preached violence and stands in a way responsible for the Islamic militants’ actions in today’s global affairs. But to a large section of the world’s population he was a man of God and preserves a natural right to be respected like all other spiritual leaders.
The history of Islam and various biographies of Mohamed indicate that he was a merchant who traded with integrity and honesty till the end of his days and was always described, even by his opponents, as “an honest man who only spoke the truth.” He was a supportive and loyal friend who gave advice to his friends and praised them publicly, he was also a foster father who adopted and raised a boy with generosity and compassion. He cleaned his house himself and was often seen arranging the entrance of his house with much modesty. He was kind and gentle with animals and once told a story of a woman who was promised heaven in the afterlife just because she gave water to a thirsty stray dog. He respected all other faiths and coexisted with them. He fathered girls in an era that honored sons over daughters and valued men over women. He respected his wives immensely, appreciated his daughters dearly and never shied away from publicly displaying love and affection. He was a grandfather who allowed his grandchildren to ride on his back and played with them tirelessly. He was a wise man who guided women about raising their children, cherishing their families, treating their neighbors and gave tips to men on communicating with their wives. He was an illiterate man yet Mohamed strongly valued education and asked his opponents in Mecca to teach illiterate Muslims to read and write as a truce of peace.
But Mohamed was still a mortal man and like all human beings he had some flaws, he won battles, lost a few, he argued with his wife, he sometimes argued with his friends, he liked and disliked certain things and foods “I am only just a man like you, to whom has been revealed that your god is one God.” (Verse 110 Al Kahf, Holy Quran). He walked the streets, bought and sold merchandize, rode a camel and fed it. The Quran describes some of his contemporaries’ bemusement by most of his human actions as “And they say, “What is this Messenger who eats food and walks in the markets?” (Verse 7 Al Farqan, Holy Quran). He lived a life that was beyond political conquests, conflicts, preaching and teaching, he lived a full life just like all other human beings.
We look at the life of Prophet Mohamed, an illiterate man, and see so much wisdom which makes us wonder whether perhaps awareness and wisdom are indeed gifts from above. This wisdom reminds us that spirituality seldom means denouncing material possessions; it means acknowledging life just as it is, embracing it with grace and detachment and simply surrendering to the love in our hearts and the wisdom of our souls. His life implies that spiritual leaders sought to inspire us by their actions more than by their words. They preached what they first practiced, promoted love by being great fathers and husbands, rejected hate by being loyal friends and good neighbors, and advanced humanity by simply being real and authentic people, so they reminded us that life is a learning journey for us to grow, refine our thoughts, feelings and actions with the objective of becoming the best possible manifestation of our pure selves. The Buddhists call this state Enlightenment, the Sufi call it Fan’aa and Mohamed himself called it Jihad Al Nafs (Challenge of the Self).
So Mohamed, like all inspiring and great spiritual leaders, was a “reminder”, a preacher who lived like any mortal man. He set an example with himself, through his everyday actions and his approach to life more than with anything else. It is a fallacy to think that the purity of spiritual leaders is synonymous with their detachment from living and from life in general. We often unintentionally place our spiritual leaders on a pedestal, worshiping and idolizing them second to God, believing that this implies their holiness and hence spirituality, when in fact it is their approach to life, their authenticity that is the true essence of their leadership and their humanity the very core of their spirituality.
Prophet Mohamed was a Messenger of God and an inspiring spiritual leader by all means, but he was also a father, a husband, a friend, a neighbor, a merchant, a political activist. He was all that, but more importantly, he was a man – and a great one indeed.