To travel through any Muslim land is to see tall, graceful towers – minarets – studded across the landscape from which, five times a day, the muezzin punctuates communal life by calling believers to prayer (salat). This stark, yet simple call serves to remind the community that in their day to day life – with its joys and its pains, its hopes and its disappointments – there runs a thread leading them to their ultimate purpose and end goal: Allah, and that it is time now – for a short while, at least – to put aside the world and restore to the soul a fuller and more natural awareness of Him. It is a call which helps put life into perspective.
The muezzin starts his call by first extolling Allah’s greatness (takbir, allahu akbar) and then follows it by proclaiming the Declaration of Faith, or shahadah. The first half of this Declaration is to testify to: la ilaha illa’Llah – ‘There is no god worthy of worship but Allah’. The second half bears witness to: muhammadun rasulu’Llah – ‘Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ The first half affirms the doctrine of tawhid; the second, the method by which to live out and implement this doctrine.
Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah obliges on each believer certain rights or huquq, all of which have been mentioned in the Qur’an. Scholars explain that these rights are seven in number:
1. To Believe in Him: This does not mean to merely believe he was a true, historical figure of seventh century Arabia, but to believe in his prophethood (nubuwwah) and in Allah’s message (risalah) to him too. The Qur’an says: Believe, therefore, in Allah and His Messenger, and the light which We have sent down. [64:8] One hadith says: ‘I have been ordered to fight mankind till they testify that there is no god but Allah and until they believe in me and what I was sent with.’ [Muslim, no.34]
2. To Obey Him: It is not enough to believe in him, peace be upon him. Instead, true faith necessitates that we be guided by his message and obey its demands: O you who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not turn away from him when you hear him speak. [8:20] He who obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah. [4:80] One hadith declares: ‘All my nation will enter Paradise save those who refuse.’ They asked: O Messenger of Allah, who would refuse? He replied: ‘Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, whoever disobeys me has in fact refused.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.7280]
3. To Emulate His Example: Given that Allah says about His beloved Prophet, peace be upon him: Yours is indeed a tremendous character, [68:4] it should come as no surprise to enlightened minds that imitation of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is also a right we owe him. The Qur’an states: Say: “If you love Allah, then follow me.” [3:31] Elsewhere it tells us: You have in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful example. [33:21] One celebrated hadith says: ‘Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not of me.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5063; Muslim, no.1401]
No doubt, within the overall obligation of ittiba‘ – to “follow” or “emulate” him – there are certain matters where emulation is mandatory, and other places where it is highly encouraged and urged, but not obligated (there are even some matters recorded about his life that are just descriptive, not prescriptive). A sound knowledge of fiqh should help distinguish between these levels of imitation and emulation. With that being so, believers try their best to conform to the prophetic example, and mould their lives in the light of his Sunnah, as far as possible. For it is in him that the Adamic perfection is found and the beauty of behaviour made manifest.
4. To Love Him: We find in the Qur’an: Say: “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribe, the wealth you have gained, the trade you fear my slacken, and the home you delight in are more loved by you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His cause, then wait till Allah brings about His command. Allah guides not the corrupt. [9:24] Indeed, love of the Prophet is what distinguishes believers in their perfection of faith, as one hadith says: ‘None of you believes until he loves me more than his father, his children and the whole of mankind.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.15; Muslim, no.44]
An essential part of loving the Prophet, peace be upon him, is to love his Family. The Prophet, peace be upon him, once urged: udhakkirukumu’Llaha fi ahli bayti – ‘I advise you concerning my family.’ [Muslim, no.2408] Once, Zayd b. Thabit was once praying the funeral prayer for his mother, after which he brought his mule near in order to mount it, upon which Ibn ‘Abbas came and took hold of the stirrup. Zayd said: ‘Let it be, O nephew of Allah’s Messenger.’ Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the scholars.’ So Zayd took hold of Ibn ‘Abbas’ hand and, upon kissing it, said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the family of our Prophet.’ [Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.4746]
5. To Honour and Revere Him: True faith (iman) not only demands that he be loved, but that he be honoured and revered too. The Qur’an insists: Those who believe in him, honour him, support him, and follow the light that was sent down with him: those are the successful. [7:157] That you may honour him and revere him. [48:9] Al-Qazwini contrasts honour, reverence and veneration (described by terms such as tabjil, tawqir and ta‘zim) with that of love and cites Imam al-Bayhaqi saying: ‘This is a higher degree than that of love; for not all who love revere. A father loves his child, or a master his slave, but does not revere him. Whereas all who revere also love.’1
6. To Believe that Prophethood Ended With Him: The Qur’an declares: Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah has knowledge of all things. [33:40] Needless to say, when a thing is “sealed”, it is complete and so there can be no further addition to it. In a like manner, the Prophet Muhammad sealed the cycle of prophethood and brought it to a close: he is the last Prophet, after whom there will be no prophet. Henceforth, revealed truths shall be revived and reanimated by scholars, saints and renewers; but never again by prophets. That our Prophet, upon whom be peace, is khatim al-nabiyyin – “the Seal of the Prophets” – is also confirmed in many hadiths; one of which says: ‘There will arise among my nation thirty liars, all of them claiming to be a prophet. But I am the final Prophet; there will be no prophet after me.’ [Muslim, no.2889; Abu Dawud, no.4252]
7. To Send Blessings (Salat) and Salutations of Peace (Salam) Upon Him: When telling us that Allah and His angels are constantly raising the rank, status and honour of the Prophet, peace be upon him, the Qur’an states the following: Allah and His angels send blessings upon the Prophet. O you who believe! Send blessings upon him and salute him with a worthy salutation. [33:56] The hadith literature records: ‘Whosoever invokes one blessing upon me, Allah will send ten blessings on him.’ [Muslim, no.384] And: ‘Those closest to me on the Day of Resurrection are those who invoke most blessings upon me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.484] And: ‘The miser is he who, whenever I am mentioned in his presence, does not invoke blessings upon me.’ [Al-Tirmidhi, no.3546]
As for what it means for Allah to “bless” or “send salat” on the Prophet, Abu’l-‘Aliyah, a famous tabi‘i, explained: ‘Allah’s salat is His extolling him to the angels; the angels’ salat is their supplication [for him].’2 The majoritarian view seems to be the one al-Tirmidhi records: ‘It is related from Sufyan al-Thawri and others from the people of knowledge that salåt of the Lord is His mercy, and salat of the angels is their seeking forgiveness for him.’3
Hence Allah blesses the Prophet by the constant effusion of mercy descending upon him; such divine mercy referring to: light, knowledge, revelation, support, protection, swift response to prayers, exalting in rank and nearness to Him, honourable mention of him, as well as other things that only Allah and His Beloved know. The angels bless the Prophet by praying for him and supporting him. The believers, by invoking Allah’s blessings upon him. As for salutations (salam), it is praying for protection, safety and peace upon him.
In conclusion: May Allah send blessings and peace upon our Prophet whenever his name is mentioned by those who may remember him, or neglected by those who are heedless of him. May Allah bless him among the first and the last of generations with the most favourable, most abundant and purest blessings that He has bestowed upon any of His creation. For, as the venerable Imam al-Shafi‘i has written, ‘no blessing, be it seen or unseen, has ever descended on us by which we gained spiritual or temporal gain, or by which spiritual or temporal harm was repelled, except that Muhammad, upon whom be peace, was the reason for it; the leader to its goodness; director to its guidance; protector from its destruction and evil that oppose righteousness; warner against what brings ruin; ever ready with sincere advice for guidance and warning. So may Allah’s blessings be upon him and his family, as His blessings are upon Abraham and his family. Indeed You [Allah] are Praiseworthy, Majestic.’4
1. Mukhtasar Shu‘ab al-Iman (Cairo: Maktabah al-Turath al-Islami, n.d.), 29.
2. Related by al-Bukhari as a Chapter Heading (bab) to hadith no.4797.
3. Al-Tirmidhi, as a gloss to hadith no.485.
4. Al-Risalah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, n.d.), 16-17.