1. The Qur'an on Muhammad's (S) Persona
Indeed there is for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern (Qur'an 33:21)
The Qur'an gives us a glimpse of Muhammad's (S) personality in various verses.
With Allah's grace, you behaved with them with a kind heart. For if you were vengeful or hard hearted, they may have abandoned you. (Qur'an 3:159)
On another occasion the Qur'an addresses its listeners in the following fashion,
Among you is a Messenger who is distressed by your difficulties.
He is anxious for your welfare, and is generous towards the believers. (Qur'an 9:128)
The Qur'an extols Muhammad's (S) high character.
And Muhammad (S) is the bearer of glad tidings and mercy as well as a warner.
And have We not sent you as a mercy unto the worlds. (Qur'an 21:107)
And have We not sent you but as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner unto all mankind (Qur'an 34:28)
Verily you are of a high and noble character. (Qur'an 68:4)
In addition, talks about the qualities one would acquire by following him.
Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find written down in the Torah (Old Testament) and Injil (The book revealed to Jesus).
He bids them to the seemly and prohibits the unseemly;
Allows unto them things clean and forbids unto them things unclean;
And relieves of them of their burden and the shackles which have been upon them.
Those who believe in him and side with him and support him and follow the light which has been sent down with him;
Those shall fare well. (Qur'an 7:157)
2. Personal Traits (Appearance, Dress, Likes and Dislikes)
Prophet Muhammad (S) is reported to have been of medium height, well proportioned with a fair complexion. He had a wide forehead, closely-knit eyebrows, and wide-set black eyes with long eyelashes. His face was lightly fleshy and the mouth was wide. He had a long neck, relatively large head, and broad shoulders. His beard was thick, and his wrists and shoulders were hairy. The palms of his hands were broad and fleshy. The wrists were long, the ankles thin, and the arches of the feet somewhat high. His physical appearance and charisma invariably impressed people. When someone remarked to Jabir bin Samurah that the Prophet's face shone like a sword, he replied, "No, it shines like the sun and the moon."
On the Prophet's back, between the shoulders, there was a raised oval the size of a pigeon egg. Jabir bin Samurah is quoted in the traditions recorded by both Muslim and Tirmadhi as saying, "I saw a pigeon egg sized raised fleshy area between the Prophet's shoulders." Another description speaks about a collection of moles near the left shoulder, which is sometimes called the seal of the Prophet.
His hair was usually shoulder length. At the conquest of Makkah, people noticed his hair was lying on the shoulder in four bundles. As the Prophet preferred the "People of the Book" to the Mushrikun (disbelievers), and because the Mushrikun parted their hair, the Prophet initially wore his hair without a part. However, according to Tirmadhi, as later the Mushrikun practically disappeared, the Prophet no longer felt that he had to be careful not to look like them and started parting his hair. He frequently oiled his hair, and combed itevery other day; very few of his hair had turned gray.
The Prophet used to walk fast, leaning forward slightly, as if he were walking downhill. His conversation was very sweet and pleasant. He used to speak carefully and in concise sentences so that the listeners often remembered every word of what they had heard. When he wanted to emphasize something, he repeated it several times. Often, when speaking, he appeared to be gazing at the sky.
The most touching description of Muhammad (S) is recorded in the words of Khadijah . Consoling him when he was awed and shaken by the first revelation, she said, "Allah will never make you sad. You share the burden of those who have loans they cannot pay, you help the poor, you are a great host, you uphold justice, and you help people in need."
Muhammad (S) had an acute sense of justice and fair play. This was seen most clearly when he dealt with his enemies. Once, the body of a companion (Abdullah, cousin of Muhayyisah) was found in a ditch in the town of Khaybar, an exclusively Jewish town. It was clear that he had been murdered. Muhayyisah asked for a judgment of retribution against the people of Khaybar. The Prophet asked Muhayyisah if he had witnessed the crime and Muhayyisah replied he had not. However, he suggested that the Jews from Khaybar should be brought in to take an oath that they did not commit the murder. The Prophet said that that would be unfair and instead gave the just recompense from the general treasury.
It was common in pagan Arabia for the people from a higher class to be judged by a more lenient standard. Once, a woman from the Quraysh was caught stealing, and one of the companions requested leniency because she was from the tribe of Quraysh. Muhammad's (S) face showed signs of some anger. He said, "Banu Isra'il were ruined because they were tough in punishing the poor and were lenient toward the rich."
4. Simplicity and Egalitarianism
Muhammad (S) ate anything that was offered to him, so long it was within the bounds of what had been prescribed as acceptable in Islam. He wore anything that was available. Frequently, his clothes were old and rough. In fact, he disliked fancy clothes and formality. He sat down anywhere on the floor, whether on a reed mattress or the bare floor. He frequently wrapped himself in a woolen blanket and sometimes slept in it. His mattress was an animal skin stuffed with date bark. He felt no hesitation or embarrassment in helping with household chores.
The rich and the poor, the free and the slave, the Quraysh and the non-Quraysh were treated alike. Food was shared equally, manual labor (as in the construction of the Masjid at Madinah and the digging of the trench) was shared equally, and above all, justice was meted out equally.
The Prophet could never say no to a request. Once, when someone asked for his help, he replied, "I have nothing to give this time." He then went with that person to 'Umar's house to get the needed help. Many a time, he purchased something from a person and gave it back to the same individual as a donation. He disliked keeping any "dinar" (gold coins) for more than three days. At the time of his death, he was practically destitute by choice. Despite his position in the society, he lived a simple and modest life without any luxuries.
6. Attitude Toward the Disenfranchised, the Displaced, the Dispossessed and the Disabled
Although the Qur'an never explicitly banned slavery, Muhammad (S) did everything possible by word and action to get rid of it. Freeing a slave was considered an act of high charity. Slaves were allowed to buy their own freedom, and they were to be treated like family members. He would encourage people to use phrases like "my son" and "my child" when referring to slaves. The attitude that slaves were to be treated like family members explains the curious and unique phenomenon of slave kings and rulers in Muslim history. Both in India and Egypt, kings nominated their favorite slave to succeed them to the throne, resulting in slave dynasties of kings which lasted several generations.
Another group of abused and dispossessed in the society was women. He was able to achieve dramatic changes in the status of women. I will discuss the issue in some detail later in this paper.
7. A Gracious Host
Muhammad (S) took great pleasure in personally serving his guests. It was not uncommon for him to serve whatever he had at home and let his family go hungry. He liked giving gifts and was also pleased to accept them. "Send each other gifts. It will increase love and affection."
However, he would not accept favors. When Abu Bakr gave him a camel for the ride during Hijrah (Migration), he paid Abu Bakr for it. Even the land on which the first Masjid was built in Madinah was not accepted without compensating its owner.
8. Dislike of Begging, Monastic Behavior and Excessive Praise
The Prophet Muhammad (S) is recorded as saying, "It is better to carry wood on your back and sell it, than beg." On another occasion, he said, "On the day of reckoning, begging will be like a blemish on the face of the beggar."
He said begging is permitted in three extreme situations. First, for someone who is literally drowning in debt, he may beg until his needs are met. Second, when someone is affected by a sudden financial tragedy, he may beg until he is back on his feet. Third, if someone is starving he may beg.
Some of Muhammad's (S) companions considered adopting monastic behavior for self-purification and attainment of greater spirituality. When the Prophet heard of this, he called them in and expressed his displeasure. He said, "Your body has a right over you, so do your eyes and so does your wife." Some companions would fast daily. He admonished them not to fast for more than three days in a month (except during Ramadan). When one of the companions insisted that he had the strength to fast more often, Muhammad (S) allowed him to fast every other day, saying, "This was Dawud's (David) (as) practice."
He particularly disliked excessive praise. When someone would start praising him, he would immediately stop him. On another occasion, when someone started reciting poetry in his praise, he stopped him by saying, "Do not praise me excessively---; I am but a servant of Allah."
9. Promises and Pacts
Muhammad (S) always kept his word. The Makkans used to call him al-Amin (the trustworthy) even before he received the Wahy (revelation). When Negus, the Christian ruler of Ethiopia, was interrogating the Muslims who had migrated to Ethiopia about Muhammad's (S) character, one of his questions was, "Does your Messenger keep his word?" The answer was, "Yes; always!" Whether it was the "Covenant of Madinah" or the "treaty of Hudaybiyah" all pacts were honored scrupulously.
Muhammad (S) never took personal revenge and forgave easily and quickly. There are many instances when he took verbal and even physical abuse imperturbably. Sometimes his companions would become very upset at the insulting and arrogant behavior of the Quraysh. He would cool them down and urge them to forgive. He forgave even his worst enemies. His forgiveness and grace toward Hind, on whose urging Hamzah was murdered and mutilated, stands as a witness to his extraordinary compassion. He was always courteous to the Munafiqun (hypocrites) and even the pagans (Kuffar) in the community. He knew that some of the hypocrites would participate in congregational prayer and even in some battles. He was fully aware of the fact, but never confronted them.
11. Desire To Spread Literacy and Education
Although personally unlettered he loved education. The acquisition and spread of knowledge was considered a sacred duty. He frequently ransomed prisoners of war if they promised to teach Muslims to read and write. "The ink in a scholar's pen", he is reported to have said, " is more precious than the blood of a martyr."
12. Public Display of Affection
He was a very affectionate man and had no hesitation in displaying it. Whenever he met Fatimah, his daughter, he would greet her very warmly. This love for her daughter was not tainted by even a trace of favoritism.
Because of all the hard manual work Fatimah had to do at home, like carrying water from the well in the "mishk" (water skin) and using a hand mill to crush grain into flour, her hands had black and blue marks and calluses. Yet, Muhammad (S) would not allot her a servant. They were allotted preferentially to those who fought in the battle of Badr.
Muhammad (S) liked humor. He smiled a lot and enjoyed playing with children. There are multiple examples of his gentle sense of humor.
Once, an old woman came up to him and asked for paradise. He said, "Old women do not enter the paradise." The woman started crying. As she started leaving the room, the Prophet, showing his subtle sense of humor, stopped her and said, "Old women will become young before entering the heaven." (Tirmadhi)
One of his companions was Zahir, who used to trade in metal objects. Once the Prophet was passing by the bazaar, he saw Zahir and playfully grabbed him from behind and said, "Will anyone buy this slave?" Zahir laughed and said, "O Messenger of Allah, whoever buys this slave will be in loss." The Prophet smiled and said, "In Allah's eyes, your value is high."
On another occasion, a man approached the Prophet and asked him for a camel to ride. The Prophet said, "I would give you a camel's child". The man said, "O Messenger of Allah. What will I do with a camel's child?" The Prophet smiled and said, "Is there any camel who is not the progeny of a camel?"
Studying reports in Sirah (biography of the Prophet) and Hadith literature, Muhammad's (S) personality emerges as that of a thoughtful, introspective individual, who lived a modest life. He was easily accessible to even the poorest in the community, disliked excesses in behavior, had a gentle sense of humor, was profoundly God conscious, and was single-mindedly devoted to establishing socio-economic justice.
The defamous image created by some authors of a man who was cunning, cruel, unjust, power hungry, and given to debauchery is such a fiction that it must astound any serious scholar of Muhammad's (S) life. In fact, upon reviewing the biographical literature of religious leaders, it is difficult to come up with another example in which a religious or world leader has been so misrepresented, vilified and calumniated.