What prompted George Bernard Shaw to refer to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as ‘The Savior of Humanity’?
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the main reason to have managed to bring about a change over the world,
the man who brought upon one of the major religions today: Islam. Using methods not only effective but relatively more amicable as well, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has started out with transforming what was initially a savage country to a far more refined civilization, before his teachings began to spread over the globe. He had administered education to many people who were illiterate, applying laws for social reformation, and even implemented better equality amongst his people as a whole as well. Hence, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) can be referred to as ‘The Savior of Humanity’ what with his abilities to have not only successfully deliver a religion, but a religion that also teaches morality and humanity as well to its people.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had ensured that education was implemented on his people, as a good number of them were uneducated. The most remarkable incident that had first brought on education was after the battle of Badr, in the year 624 CE (Szczepanski, Kallie). The prisoners that the Prophet’s army had captured were taken in and looked after by the Prophet’s men themselves. As mentioned, ‘The captives were parceled out to be held in the custody of various companions [of the Prophet Muhammad] under conditions of house arrest until their fate could be decided.’ (Emerick, Yahiya).
While the prisoners were to pay ransom to be freed, not all the prisoners paid by money for their freedom. Another form of option the prisoners were given, were to educate those of the Prophet’s people who were unlettered. It is said that ‘A shrewd decision was made by the Prophet when he stipulated that any prisoner who could read and write would be set free for no ransom, if he taught ten Muslim children to read and write… His decision, therefore, shows that his grasp of all matters was so good that he realized to provide basic education for ten Muslim children equaled the large amount of money (1,000-4,000 dirhams) many of the prisoners had to pay in order to buy their freedom.’ (Salahi, M. A.).
The method proved useful, as many children who had previously been unschooled finally were able to learn how to read and write, as stated, ‘The ransom for the prisoners ranged between 4000 and 1000 dirhams in accordance with the captive’s financial situation. Another form of ransom assumed an educational dimension; most of the Makkans, unlike the Madinese, were literate and so each prisoner who could not afford the ransom was entrusted with ten children to teach them the art of writing and reading. Once the child had been proficient enough, the instructor would be set free.’ (Mubarakpuri, Safiur Rahman). Thus, this showed that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) considered education to be important, so much so that it was important to the extent he made certain it was given to his people.
Before the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was even born, the Meccan people’s lifestyle was outrageous. Many appalling acts were committed as almost a common occurrence for most Arab tribes, from usury, robbery, and even more atrociously so were prostitution and infanticide. Almost all of the Arabs, if not everyone, partook in thievery, and they would do it enough times for them to be more than fluent in their operations. As for those who gave out loans, they would viciously raise their interests over a period of time, making it hard for debtors to pay so that in the end, the debtors would have to practically give up almost anything and everything they owned. This made easier so for the creditors what with the debtors originating from poor backgrounds, thus making it much more difficult for them to pay back the money soon.
Prostitution, on the other hand was something that had been done quite willingly as well as unwillingly, either as a job, or for hereditary reasons, or even as a source of the men’s exploits for it to be publicized proudly.
Another circumstance that occurred, was infanticide. While not everyone had done it, nonetheless most Arabs carried it out, committing the action due to seeing it as themselves maintaining their dignities in a cruel, twisted way. This particular incident marked exactly how heartless and how ruthless the Arabs could be before the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had made laws on this matter.
Recorded in history books about these subjects prior to the Prophet, however, it is reported about the Arabs, “… the defects of deceit, cheating and conniving in trade and business were plentiful. They were expert in raiding and highway robbery of the nomadic type. Almost all were addicted to looting the travelers and snatching away goods by force… Some of them were proverbially expert in committing theft.” … “The custom of killing their [the Arabs] daughters was rampant among the Banu [Tribe] Tamim and the Quraish. They took pride in killing their daughters and it was for them a status symbol. This heartlessness reaches such a height in some tribes that when the daughter became five or six years old and started uttering sweet words, the stone-hearted father would take her in beautiful garments to a place outside his settlement where he had already dug a deep ditch. He would then make his daughter stand beside the ditch and then push her into the ditch stoning her to death while she called for her father’s help… They [the Arabs] took pride in burying their daughters alive.” (Najībābādī, A. S., Mubārakfūrī, Ṣ A., Abdullah, A. R., & Salafi, M. T.)
“Another cruel institution among the Arabs was merciless usury. The Pagan Arabs as well as the Jews indulged in it. Most of the debtors were the needy poor peasants and workers who were subjected to cruel exploitation. If a debtor could not pay within the stipulated period the rate of interest was enhanced with geometrical progression and if not paid, the debtor’s entire assets were confiscated. The worst part of the system was that sometimes women and children were also mortgaged and if the debtor was unable to pay, they too became the property of the usurer.” (Shah, S. Dawood).
And lastly, on the topic of prostitution; “These vices [Illicit sexual activities] were not only condoned but proudly eulogized by their great poets. Imra’-ul-Qais, the classical Arab poet of the Jahiliyah period who is esteemed the greatest of poets composed a “Qasidah” (an ode) depicting his sexual adventures… Prostitution was practiced as a profession… Even Abdullah ibn Ubayy whom the people of Madinah, before the arrival of the Prophet, had resolved to crown as their king used to compel his slave girls to earn money through prostitution. As they valued bravery more than morality sometimes they would allow their wives to cohabit with a brave man to get a brave son… They even used to circumambulate the Ka’bah stark naked without any modesty.” (Shah, S. Dawood).
And so, in the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, the Prophet had made sure to prohibit these heinous crimes and to reform the people from engaging in them, one of the main movement done by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) leading to the Arabs finally morphing from their previous selves into cultivated citizens. By illegalizing these and adding additional laws, usury, theft, prostitution and infanticide being amongst the forbidden rules, a pledge had been made, that which involved laws as to what he had banned mainly.
Some of the laws are as follows; “…2.We will not steal nor commit adultery. 3. We will not kill our little girls.” (Covenant of Aqabah Level2 P1).
The Prophet’s own companions have quoted the Prophet on the matter, “‘Narrated Abu Hurairah: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) as saying: Refrain from seven (characteristics) which cause destruction. He was asked: What are they, Messenger of Allah? He replied: To assign partner to Allah, magic, to kill a soul (man) which is prohibited by Allah except for which is due, to take usury, to consume the property of an orphan, to retreat on the day of the battle, and to slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing.’ (Al-Albani)” (A.) … “Narrated Ibn Abbas (RA): The Prophet (PBUH) said, “When an adulterer commits illegal sexual intercourse, then he is not a believer at the time he is doing it; and when somebody steals, he is not a believer at the time he is stealing.” (Sahih Bukhari)” (Stealing – QUR’AN and HADITH). Thus, with laws passed out on the outlawing of these sins, to be firmly followed, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had ensured that the entirety of the Arab population instead of only a select few tribes or people, had been revolutionized into a model of upstanding citizens.
Human rights was an idea that hadn’t even existed for several years until the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had quickly rectified the situation with his rulings over his time. Women and slaves were treated as nothing more than lowly human beings – if not worse. From being forced to reside well away from the center of the city – compared to those with any rank which is higher than that of a slave’s – to being given cruel punishments. And while the punishments had been reserved to the men for the most part, women were treated just as horribly or even more so. Female slaves had either been dealt with as merchandise of sorts, or as objects for pleasure. While there were nonetheless women who kept away from prostitution themselves and clung to their dignity, it was very hard to avoid being dealt with as goods, even for those who were unwilling. The prospect of women inheriting was also unheard of.
The unfairness of how these people were treated is mentioned as, “…women were on an equal par with merchandise, in a very literal sense, for they were passed down through inheritance. If a man died, his wife was passed down to his eldest son – provided, of course that she was not his actual mother. He then had the right to marry her, or even to prevent her from marrying… women – as well as children – were not allowed to inherit wealth, for the entire estate of the deceased went only to those who could fight and help protect the tribe. It was not a written law that women couldn’t inherit wealth, but it was a practice recognized through established custom, and custom often had more force than legislated law.” (Ṣallābī, ʻAlī Muḥammad Muḥammad) … “The Makkans loved their wine and the revelry it brought. It helped them satisfy their passionate search for pleasure and to find that pleasure in the slave girls with which they had traded and who invited them to ever increasing indulgence… Beyond these stood the the houses of the less important tribes, and further still stood the houses of the slaves, servants and those without honor. In Makkah, the Jews and Christians were slaves, as we said earlier. There were therefore allowed to live only in these far away houses on the edge of the desert.” (Haykal, M. Ḥ, & Al-Faruqi, I. R.) … “A terrible fate awaited some who ended up in the hands of cruel masters or mistresses who exploited their labour to the full and treated them with the utmost harshness.” (Hamid, Abdul Wahid).
However, during the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, with the delivery of his message and laws, slaves were treated far more humanely and with such equality that they could not even see themselves as slaves as opposed to how they had previously been treated. Even before the Prophet had started to actively pass around his message though, he would treat his personal slaves so much so that they were as if family to him, as quoted by James A. Michener, an author of many books, about the Prophet’s care for people; “Orphaned at birth, he was always particularly solicitous of the poor and needy, the widow and the orphan, the slave and the downtrodden.” [“What Non-Muslim Scholars Said about Prophet Muhammed (pbuh)”].
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) even had said to Khadijah about his slave, a woman named Barakah who had taken care of him since he was born, “This is Barakah. This is my mother after my own mother. She is the rest of my family.” (Hamid, Abdul Wahid).
Another slave who was brought into the Prophet’s life upon the Prophet’s marriage to his wife, Khadijah, was a man named Zaid ibn Harithah. He had been captured and made into a slave, before being sold and bought, and finally gifted to Khadijah who was the one to have brought him into the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) life by gifting Zaid to her husband, in which Zaid’s treatment finally changed. It is reported about Zaid, “…Zaid was sold as a slave to a Makkan merchant, who gave him as a present to his aunt Khadījah bint Khuwaylid… For Khadījah in turn gave Zaid as a present to her husband Muhammad (salla-Llaahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam). Unlike other Makkans, Muhammad (salla-Llaahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) did not like to see the boy living with him as a slave. So he set him free, and treated him more like a son than a servant.” (Sieny, Muhammad Esma’il) Such was the care of the Prophet towards Zaid. When Zaid’s father came to know of his son’s whereabouts, after losing him since he was captured as a slave, he had come asking the Prophet to leave his son to them without knowing who the Prophet was, even willing to pay ransom for his son. The story is as goes;
“Muhammad (salla-Llaahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) loved Zaid very dearly. But he [the Prophet] appreciated Hārithah’s right to his own son. So, Muhammad (who was not a prophet yet) suggested that they call Zaid and give him the opportunity to choose between his own father and his master Muhammad (salla-Llaahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam). When Zaid came, Muhammad (salla-Llaahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) asked him, “Do you know these gentlemen?”” Zaid said, “Yes, this is my father, and this is my uncle.” Then the Prophet informed him of the choice he had to make, upon which Zaid immediately answered, “I can never give anyone preference over you (meaning Muhammad). Muhammad’s eyes were filled with tears of joy. So, he took Zaid along with him to the meeting place of the Makkans and announced his adoption of Zaid… Islām brought with it the new concept of equality…” (Sieny, Muhammad Esma’il).
However, majority of slaves had not had such easy going lives. When the Prophet had started to spread around his message, many shunned his words and any who followed him. But if slaves had been found to follow the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) words, their predicament was much terrible as the cruelest of punishments had been inflicted on them. An example is of one such particular slave to have been found have accepted the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) message; Bilal Bin Rabah. It is said about his suffering, one of the harshest ordeal, “… the polytheists [referring to the non-Muslims] seized them, dressing them in steel armor and placed them in the melting heat of the sun… They handed him [Bilāl] over to two young boys who dragged him round the mountain paths of Makkah and he kept saying: ‘Ahad! ‘Ahad!’ (meaning: there is only One God).’ When the sun became scorching, his master, Umayyah bin Khalaf, would place his back on the burning sand of the desert. Then they would place him on his stomach (face down) like a barbecued chicken. They kept reinventing new methods of torture to break his will but Bilāl persevered. His master would order for a heavy stone and it would be placed on his chest.” (Yūsuf, Abū ʻAzīz Saʻd, and Suleman Fulani).
Bilal bin Rabah was saved soon after the stone incident by one of the Prophet’s closest companions, Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq. As to elaborate on the incident where Abu Bakr saved Bilal using the quickest and efficient method possible at the moment; “After some time, Abu Bakr, the right-hand man of the Messenger (SAW), went to the place where he [Bilal] was being tortured; he negotiated with Umayyah ibn Khalaf saying to him, “Won’t you fear Allah about this poor man? How long will this go on?” Umayyah replied, “You have corrupted him, so save him from what you see.” Abu Bakr said, “I shall do that. I have a black slave who is tougher and stronger than him, and he follows your religion; I will give him to you in return for Bilal.” Umayyah said, “I agree; he is yours.” Abu Bakr gave his slave to him, and he took Bilal and set him free. According to one report, he bought him for seven or forty units of gold.” (Ṣallābī, ʻAlī Muḥammad Muḥammad, and Nasiruddin Khattab).
But during the time the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was actively and publicly spreading his message, one slave named Salman Al-Farsi came to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to help Salman buy his freedom from his master; “He [Salman] felt a burning desire to be free He thought of purchasing his freedom. But the price his master was asking to set him free – forty ounces of gold and the planting of three hundred date palms – was beyond his means. He eventually went to the Prophet to seek his help. The noble Prophet agreed to help. As for the planting of the three hundred date palms, the Prophet called on his Companions to contribute the palm shoots which they did, one contributing thirty, another twenty and so on. He told Salmān to dig the holes and then with his own hands he planted the agreed number of date palms. As for the gold, the Prophet gave him a piece of gold which had been given to him from one of the mines. From this Salmān paid the Jewish slave owner the full amount and became a free man.” (Hamid, Abdul Wahid). Not only did the Prophet help him earn his liberation, Salman was able to be recognized personally by the prophet thanks to his hard work, in which the Prophet claimed Salman as one of his own men, regardless of his past as a slave; “Salmān being fit and strong and used to such hard labor is said to have done the work of ten men. While each section of the Muslims sought to claim Salmān as its own, the Prophet was moved to say, “Salmān is one of us, the people of (my) household.” (Hamid, Abdul Wahid).
Another example of the Prophet’s attentiveness to those who weren’t of high rank or wealth was of a man named Anas Ibn Malik. It is reported of him about the Prophet’s behavior, “There are many instances that show his kindness and gentleness, especially to the weak and the poor. Anas, who was his helper, said: “I served Allah’s Messenger for ten years and he never said to me, ‘Shame’ or ‘Why did you do such-and-such a thing?’ or ‘Why did you not do such-and-such a thing?’” (Bukhari, 2038).” (Zohery, Ali).
Indeed, the Prophet did not let anyone’s past as a slave hold them from rising in society whatsoever. He himself gave heavy responsibilities and weighty duties to even men of a younger generation, recognizing their potential instead of ignoring it in favor of following the traditions of giving such tasks to elders, whom due to age would be seen as more wise and/or responsible. An example of which is given, “The Messenger of Allah (SAW) gave the command of this army to Usamah ibn Zayd even though he was a young man of twenty years of age; and the leading shaykhs of the Muhajireen and Ansar, such as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali, those who had been the first to enter Islam and made such great sacrifices for its sake, elders who were of high status, all marched under the leadership of Usamah. This is one of the splendid ways in which Islam sought to erase the differences in status, age and virtue that exist between people, and giving a task to the one who is most qualified for it, regardless of his age or status… The fact that Usamah was given command over men like Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali set a great precedent that no nation had ever seen. This indicates that it is essential to open the field to the brilliance of qualified youth and enable them to take charge of affairs if they are fit and able for that.” (Sibāʻī, Muṣṭafá, and Nasiruddin Khattab).
In fact, be it duties, or much harsher, punishments, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not falter in treating people the same. That is to say, even if a crime were committed, unless with good reason, then no matter the person, the Prophet explicitly put down for the sentence to be the same whatsoever, as mentioned, “…not only did Muhammad (SAW) uphold the highest standard of justice, but also that he did not differentiate between the noble and the common folk when applying Islamic justice.” (Halimah, Ahmad M.).
Because of the laws finally put into place by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on Human Rights and Equality, many people’s lives have improved quite drastically, and for the better. Hence, with the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) actions, the prospect of slaves being treated as less than humans was obliterated, to be replaced by all people to be treated equally and to be given the respect they deserve – as humans.
And so with the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) teachings, the Arabs were transformed from brutes to respected civilians, many whose names went down into history as great men as well. People who had been illiterate, of lower status or a committer of heinous deeds had become educated, raised to a status that was equivalent to all so no longer did they have to be looked down upon. If anything, many were looked up to, especially with the greater actions they had begun to do, marking themselves in history, and carrying the Prophet’s legacy in continuing to implement education amongst people, forbidding wrongful deeds, and ensuring that everyone was seen as equals and had their rights they deserved. By passing on and carrying out these measures, the people ensured that these rules stayed in place and letting others as well to live much more humanely and civilized as opposed to how the Arabs had been before the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Hence, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) can easily be referred to ‘As the Savior of Humanity’, what with his ability to transform such people into men and women who can now be looked at as role models with their characteristics and behaviors of living without engaging in sins and looking after each other without belittling or condescending, and also all the while knowledgeable and well versed in educational matters as well.
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