Our Prophet's being an example of virtue necessitates his being a model for living and applying moral values. By personally living these values as a human being and by demonstrating them in a tangible way, he became a model for us.
In addition to religion, values are determined by intelligence, emotions and senses - in other words, by man. Value theories determined outside of religion are tied to man - to his emotional, mental and sensational world. For this reason, in value determination tied to man it is not possible to speak of general moral values tied to all of mankind or, in other words, universal moral values, because both man changes and there are differences among people in various times and places. This prevents the formulation of a universal value theory and brings about moral skepticism, because we can never fully know what is right at a particular time and place.
In order to speak about universal moral principles, there have to be absolute moral values. Only moral values determined by an Absolute Being can be termed absolute. According to value theories that are determined by religion, the source of all value judgments is God, whether they are fixed only by revelation or by means of intelligence. As much as Quranic verses describe what good and evil are, they are also judgments that establish values regarding things like right-wrong, halal-haram, beautiful-ugly. The hadiths (sayings) of our Prophet are judgments in the form of words, actions and explanations that determine and place value in accordance with the Quranic understanding. All his life is a whole that shows how the value-determining judgments of the Quran should be understood, interpreted and lived. Consequently, our Prophet's being an example of virtue stems from his being a model of moral values. The judgments of the Quran and the values it puts forth are universal. Because they do not change according to time and place and conditions, they are remote from relativism. Because they preach absolute values, they are remote from moral skepticism. This divine message has come for man. However, it needs to be applied by a human being in order for this message to become functional in a person's life. In other words, our Prophet showed how Quranic principles should be interpreted and applied in social life by living them. At this point we need our Prophet's example, because it is possible to read his life as the objectification of religious values or the transformation of them into a life style, or salvation from relativity and the gain of objectivity. In the Prophet's personality we can see in a clear, concrete way what kind of person will appear from the transmutation of Allah's commands into action. In this respect, his life is a concrete example of Islamic values put in action.
In addition, according to Quranic verses, the sense and belief in value which is a condition for human existence is latent in man and precedes religious rules. A sense of morality (right-wrong), religion (sacred-mundane) and art (beautiful-ugly) and, consequently, values related to it was blown into each man's spirit at creation. "...By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right" (Shams 91/7-8). This verse indicates that values were given to man by Allah when he was created. Man will take the Prophet as an example regarding how to understand, use and apply the values that have been presented through divine revelation and given at creation. For Muhammad (pbuh) is a practicing model of virtue who lived the moral values in his essence before apostleship and Quranic values after apostleship, both of which are compatible because they are derived from the same source. Because Allah is absolute goodness, actions made to gain His approval should be suitable to and worthy of absolute good. For this reason, the Prophet aimed for us to gain "Allah's approval" in our behavior. Every effort and every form of behavior that does not gain His approval is worthless. Then, the highest value in Islamic morality is to gain Allah's approval, and the most valuable action is the one suitable for His approval.
The Quran frequently mentions "those who believe and do good deeds." Here the term "good deeds" is used to sometimes express the good, sometimes the beautiful, sometimes what is halal or merit and sometimes correct behavior. It is understood that "good deeds" is used for behavior that is morally good, suitable to the facts in relation to knowledge, and beautiful in respect to esthetics. Behavior including these three special qualities has the status of "good deeds." As a matter of fact, when our Prophet's behavior is taken into consideration, it can be seen that he acted with goodness in his address and behavior to people, he always spoke truthfully and, at the same time, he realized this good and truthful behavior in a beautiful manner. Behavior void of beauty can not be evaluated as good.
The Medina period, in particular, became a time when the implementation of values providing a new social life and order was experienced by means of the Prophet. The adaptation of new values and the surpassing of difficulties in their implementation were made possible by their application by the Prophet, himself.
Many examples can be given of the Prophet's living and implementing values. However, the transformation in the lives of the Companions who took him as a model is extremely striking. Among the transformations in the Companions who took Muhammad's (pbuh) life as a model for living and applying Islamic values is the example of Omar's life. His change is truly impressive. Omar's personality before his knowledge of Islam is described in history books as extremely harsh, rigid, unmerciful, and pitiless. However, with time, a tremendous transformation occurred. Because virtue is not something people gain in a moment, but new traits they take on over time as a result of habits, he spent a long period of time adopting and assimilating, while taking our Prophet as his guide. The results of this period of internalization can be distinctly seen in Caliph Omar's personality. Proud Omar left and the humble Caliph Omar, who carried a poor woman's bag of flour on his back, emerged. Harsh, rigid, merciless Omar left, and a compassionate Omar, who did not hesitate to cry, appeared.
Today it is our responsibility to comprehend well the Islamic values given to us naturally by Allah and pointed out in the Quran, to study how they should be lived and implemented in social life by examining the concrete examples in our Prophet's life, and to try and live accordingly. Thus, we will understand Islam and its Prophet fully and be saved from sterile imitation.