The life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is full of countless examples that show his status as a role model for Muslim societies and individuals. His life is one that was dominated by a superior morality, good habits, noble and gentle feelings and superior skills, all of which are characteristics that help prevent people from getting entangled in a web of sin. The rich and the prosperous, the poor and the needy, the ruler and the ruled, the weak and the lonely, the conqueror and the victorious commander, the teacher and the student, the preacher and the mentor, the merchant and the craftsman, the employer and the employee - in other words, every sort of person can find truths in Prophet Muhammad's life that constitute an example for them to follow.
Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) status as a role model is an issue based on the Holy Quran and the sunnah. Islamic scholars, as with many other issues, have examined the status of the Prophet as a role model and leader not in a sectional framework, but from a unified perspective, and they have reached the conclusion that the best method is to examine the verses of the Holy Quran that determine and demonstrate the status of the Prophet as a whole. For this reason, when discussing the status of the Prophet as a role model, issues such as believing in the Prophet, obedience to the Prophet, following the Prophet, and disagreeing with the Prophet also come to the fore.
THE HOLY QURAN AND THE ROLE MODEL STATUS OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (pbuh)
In the Holy Quran the only verse that refers literally to the status of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a role model is as follows:
The Arabic word uswa (example) in the original verse means example or model that should be obeyed and followed. A person who follows another person's lead imitates that person; they follow their attitude and style. That is to say, they identify themselves with that person. In terms of Islamic faith, uswa, that is to say being an example or a role model, is an attribute that is found in those who possess goodness, beauty and righteousness. This verse shows the importance of Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) sunnah in the lives of Muslims. As a matter of fact, the Quran clearly states that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has a superior character and demonstrates an exemplary life style.
If one accepts that Islam is the final and perfect religion, then it would be inconsistent to not consider the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as an example for the Muslim community or to not accept his life as something that shapes and guides the daily lives of Muslims. For that reason, the life style and personality of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), demonstrated during his prophethood of 23 years, includes very significant provisions and principles for the religious, political, social and moral life of Muslim communities as a whole. The following hadith summarizes the statements found in the Quran:
"The best of speech is unquestionably the speech of Allah. That is the Book of Allah (the Quran). The best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. Of all matters, the most evil of things are those which are newly-invented (in religion), and every innovation is a deviation, and every deviation leads people to Hell" (Muslim, Cuma 43; Nesâî, “ʿÎdeyn”, 22; İbn Mâce, “Muḳaddime”, 7)
THE SUNNAH AND PROPHET MUHAMMAD'S (pbuh) STATUS AS ROLE MODEL
Islamic scholars state that the terms sabil (road), sirat al-mustaqim (straight path) and uswa al-hasana (best of examples), which are mentioned in the Holy Quran, in the hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and in the words of his Companions, are words and terms that represent the concept of the sunnah. All these terms indicate the path to be followed and the model to be taken as an example. The name of this road is the sunnah, and it is collectively followed by the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the believers.
Johann Fück, who mentions the great cultural unity that was accomplished by Islam, believes that the reason for this is the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who serves as a role model (al-uswatu'l-hasana) for every Muslim; he concludes, "Sunnah forms the face of Islam and gives it the characteristic features that we see all around the Islamic world." At this point, how the Quran introduces and describes Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the status of the Prophet according to the Quran is of great importance to us. As a matter of fact, all the characteristics of a person who is an example and a role model must be known and thus their life can be examined in detail. The information on this subject must be accurately passed on to the following generations. The life of the Prophet is unique when looked at from this perspective.
The Quran repeats many times that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is neither superhuman nor a deity, but that he is a human being. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) verifies this truth over and over again. The conclusion of scholars on this subject, which is also of great importance for the role model status of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is that every action of the Prophet is not necessarily related to necessity or good deed, and often only represents a routine action. This is because the Prophet practiced routine, good, or obligatory actions, but he never practiced sinful actions that are prohibited. If by mistake he performed an action that was a minor sin, this mistake was criticized by Allah, thus making all other actions valid as examples to be followed. All actions performed by Prophet Muhammad have been examined, and if the indications show that this was an action performed to become close to Allah, that action is followed, otherwise it is not necessary to follow it. If the action was a routine action, people may perform it or not. This status as a role model is not only present in issues that are considered compulsory, but also in fields that represent routine actions.
The exemplary and role model status of the Prophet have a quality that covers all types of sunnah. Each type of sunnah is right and there is no place for superstition in them. The role model status of the Prophet is not limited to merely worshipping or actions that are a compulsory part of the religion, a requirement, or examples of good morals. The sunnah descriptions given by the hadith researchers are in line with the verses found in the Quran about his role model status and the orders and advice he gives in the sunnah context; it is according to all these factors that general opinion is formed, "The sunnah, whether it constitutes a base for a provision or not, are all the words, actions, teachings, characteristics, examples of the morality and personality of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)"
Within the hierarchal evidence in Islam, sunnah ranks as the second most significant aspect after the Quran. The term sunnah used within the hadith of the Prophet and the words of the Companions and followers of the Prophet indicates collective deeds and involves every part of life, such as faith, worship, morality and ethics.
The fortification that was necessary to the Islamic ideal was provided by the sunnah. Once the views were solidified and the ideals were achieved, the sunnah turned the theory into a reality. The values of Islam were formulated and perpetuated in this way. Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) practices for worshipping Allah took on the form of the application of the sunnah. This form of worship, which continued during the last twenty-two years of his life, guided the believers even after his death. Contemplating the sunnah of the Prophet and applying it supports the connection between the Prophet's ability to perceive, his attitude, thought, life and history.
This is the reason why the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) have become an instructor for millions of people.
Sunnah materials are classified under four groups, each one of which forms an image of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the minds of Muslims:
- The principles related to those practices that describe the Prophet as a worshipper of and believer in Allah,
- The texts related to the missions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which make contact with and call people to the new reality, yet make it clear that he is a human being who only lives for his own mission,
- The principles related to the aspects of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a human, husband, father, relative and friend,
- The principles concerning Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) leadership within the state administration, at the battle-ground, at the market place, at school or in the masjid.
Each and every one of these principles is an indication that reflects the comprehensive extent of his exemplary, role-model status and his ability to provide guidance.
The following principles might be mentioned when discussing Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as an example for adherence to the sunnah:
- The path to deliverance from excess and instability can be achieved by following the sunnah. The applications stemming from the differences in sunnah are not perceived as areas of conflict,
- We should evaluate the validity and invalidity of our own opinions, thoughts and practices according to the Quran and the Sunnah,
- The perception of some people of the sunnah consists only in the physical aspect. For instance, such people think that the most important thing is to trim the beard and moustache and the cleanliness of clothes, etc. Such people claim that they are applying the sunnah in their lives; yet they forget and ignore the other significant parts of the sunnah. In reality, issues like affection, moderation, clemency, fear, hope, chastity, compassion, generosity and the reflection of these in life are more important and have higher priorities,
- While speaking of certain issues, some of us consider randomly reading from the Quran and the hadith as a form of devotion to the Quran and sunnah. Without understanding the significance of the Quran and sunnah, without following this path, without abiding by the contents of these two cornerstones, without directing our lives by the light of these principles, what does reading the Quran and hadith truly mean? Obeying the sunnah with the correct attitudes is more effective and accurate in approaching true Islam than merely uttering words.
MORALITY AND THE PROPHET'S STATUS AS A ROLE MODEL
A person cannot be considered to be a role model sent to guide people and at the same time be a person who commits deeds that are against the will of Allah. For this reason, all the prophets have been granted with a particular high-moral quality. They never intentionally or deliberately acted against the consent of Allah. The mistakes that they made and the faults which stemmed from forgetfulness caused Allah to remind or warn them. These mistakes and faults are not reflected to the people as an aspect of their status as role model. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) committed no mistakes that would harm the conveyance of the Quran and this is proven in the Holy Quran and is agreed upon by Muslim community. Those who accept that it was possible for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to make mistakes believe that in such cases he was immediately warned and corrected by Allah. No Muslim doubts the fact that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was free from faults in the conveyance of the Shariat (Islamic law) and that his conveyance was dependent on the revelation imparted unto him by Allah. According to the generally accepted perceptions and approaches, the sunnah put forward by Prophet Muhammad resulted from orders found in the revelations. It is understood from the verses of the Quran and the qualities granted to the Prophet by Allah that the revelations imparted to him do not only consist of the Holy Quran. Many verses in the Quran clearly state that each word and behavior of the Holy Prophet is proof of the existence of Allah.
It is clear that the revelations were all conveyed accurately to the Muslims, and that those types of sunnah that are attributed as being free of faults in the Quran are valid guides and examples that are relevant at all times. However, it is not possible to say that the level of importance for each of these types of sunnah is the same. As a result, from the very start Islamic scholars have drawn attention to the differences between the sunnah.
THE PROPHET'S STATUS AS A ROLE MODEL AND THE PRACTICES OF THE COMPANIONS
The verses in the Quran that command belief in, obedience to, conformity with and submission to the Holy Prophet are unambiguously clear. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) invited the believers to obey him, to devote themselves to the sunnah and to abstain from incorrect actions. In such conditions, if we want to witness the practices of the Prophet, we must look at the lives of the Companions. There are many clear accounts that provide us with adequate materials on this issue. As the revelations related to faith, obedience and submission were imparted to the Prophet, the Companions did not consider performing any practice without his permission or confirmation. At the same time, if the ruling of the Prophet was on something related to worldly issues, the Companions asked him how and why this was; when a ruling on religious issues was required, they would speak to him about the points revealed by the ruling; when it was a ruling imparted to Muhammad by Allah, they would ask him in order to understand its purpose and try to understand the truth. None of these questionings implies opposition to the Prophet; on the contrary it is known that the Companions adapted and implemented some of the attitudes of the Prophet without asking or knowing the reasons. What these actions do imply is that in Islam to ask questions and to understand the reason why something has been commanded is permitted, and even encouraged.
There were times when the Companions understood the rulings in the Quran and the sunnah in a way that was not intended and practiced them in an incorrect manner; in such cases they were corrected by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Sometimes the Companions performed actions at their own discretion which were later ruled to be incorrect and subsequently they were corrected by the Prophet. All of these are examples of how strictly Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) trained his Companions, who were deemed as the "exemplary generation."
Another important attitude of the Companions is the way in which they dealt with problems when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not available. They would seek the solution to the problem firstly in the Holy Quran, secondly, if they could not find the solution there, they would turn to the sunnah, thirdly, if they found no answer there either, they would practice what they thought was the best action. When they once again encountered the Prophet, they would state the matter and seek his opinion; they would correct their faults if there were any. There is no instance that shows that the Prophet's companions displayed an attitude that was opposed to the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
- The importance of the status of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a role model is defined in the Holy Quran and in the sunnah; this constitutes one of the foremost practices for Muslims.
- There is no disagreement among Muslims as to the fact that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) constitutes the best example with his morality, actions, words and other features.
- It would not be correct to demote the Prophet's status as role model to a limited number of fields. This status is related to all fields of life.
- Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) status as role model is important not only from the perspective of the individual, but also from the social perspective. Its binding features and determination of methods must be considered from these two perspectives.
- Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) status as role model and the validity of the sunnah are not limited to his life or to a certain time period. The Holy Quran and the notions of the sunnah state this issue clearly, and the fact that Muslim community practices his sunnah is proof of this issue.
- Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) status as role model and the continuity of his sunnah are the most important components that provide a unifying force in the Muslim world.
- It is important to study the lives of the Companions in order to understand and comprehend the status of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a role model.