Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author e-mail alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
It's about 2:30am in Abu Dhabi and I'm sitting in my hotel room with my wife eating halal chicken nuggets from McDonald's. I am quite happy at the moment, alhamdulillah.
Earlier this evening we broke fast with a small, yet quite unique, group of individuals that included Karen Armstrong, Lesley Hazleton and Her Highness Sheikha Mariam bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. We went on from dinner to attend a private gathering hosted by Sheikha Mariam in which I, Karen and Lesley spoke about the concept of compassion and tolerance in Islam. It was most refreshing to be a part of a gathering that brought diverse voices together to speak positively not only about Islam, but also the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
More often than not, the only stories that get told about Muhammad these days in popular media are those that malign him. Even in the few instances where opportunities are presented to offer a different perspective, a barrage of negativity follows anything that is positive. Karen and Lesley represent two important voices for Islam, even though they are not Muslim. The manner in which they speak about Muhammad is remarkable. They've moved beyond the basic stereotypes that people feed into, done extensive research, and literally written books that speak about his life, his character, and his pursuit of compassion for all people.
To me, the Prophet Muhammad is someone to look up to. He embodies a sense of compassion and mercy towards others that is hard to find in much of the world today. Selflessness was the basis of his character as he sought to serve his Creator by serving creation. He sought to act justly with others but did not demand justice for himself. Even when he himself was being ridiculed and mocked by his people, when his companions were being boycotted, beaten and even killed, his prayers would include those who were causing the harm. A regular supplication that he would make was Allahuma-ghfirli qawmi, fa innahum laa ya'alamoon -- Oh my lord, forgive my people for indeed they do not understand. Here he is not seeking forgiveness for just Muslims, but for people in general. His compassion wasn't limited to his ummah, a Muslim nation, but to his qawm, his society-at large.
Even those who were his staunchest opponents bore issue mostly with his message, not he himself. His character was something that one in his time could not criticize. He was known as being trustworthy, honest, and always kept his promises. He smiled at people when he greeted them, and he greeted everyone from the young to the old, men and women, people who were of all races and ethnic backgrounds. He never would turn his back towards someone when speaking to them, and he spoke in such a way where no one walked away not understanding what he was trying to say.
"I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind.... I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle. When I closed the second volume (of the Prophet's biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of that great life." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
"I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence which can make itself appeal to every age. I have studied him - the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity." ~ Sir George Bernard Shaw
The audience tonight was moved by the words of Karen Armstrong and Lesley Hazleton. It was easy to see that these women had immense respect for the Prophet of Islam. A question was posed from the audience as to why they would go to the extant of writing books on his life. The response? Upon reading this man's life and learning what he actually was like, as opposed to what those who attack Islam would say, how could they not write these books? The importance of his life and the telling of his narrative as a man in pursuit of compassion and the well-being of those around him is something that needs to be shared and celebrated.
I obviously have personal biases, but I am inspired by how this man embodied the values that he preached. He did not simply tell people to act compassionately, he himself was compassionate. None of the good things that are said of him really came from himself. He did not stand and say that he is honest, or trustworthy, or merciful. It was the people around him that attributed these characteristics to him, both his companions and friends, and those who were vehemently against him. No one could question his character. He was undeniably a good man.
For those who are not familiar with Lesley Hazleton or Karen Armstrong, I would encourage you to read their books and listen to their lectures. A couple of their TED talks are linked below.
If you are in Abu Dhabi, the three of us will be speaking at a public lecture on Wednesday at 10 p.m. Details can be found here
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