The 25th of December is, as even the most ignorant, laid-back, good for nothing, illiterate dim-wit will tell you, Christmas Day; the day Jesus was born (according to popular Christian myth). When is Saint Valentine's Day? Most people will be willing to wager, without hesitation or a moments pause for thought, their life savings that it is on the 14th of February. Ask all romantics or for that matter non romantics, ask any Shabir, Imtiyaz or Rayhanah, from those in their earliest teens to those of us for whom youth is a collection of rapidly fading memories of a distant past, this question and others like it pose little difficulty.
I was testing a child whose parents took a keen interest in his school education. I asked him the dates of some historical events to which he fired back the answers unfalteringly.
"When was the Battle of Hastings?" I asked him.
"The Great Plague?"
"1664 to early 1666. It claimed the lives of some 70’000 people."
"The Fire of London?"
"2nd to 5th September 1666. It started at Pudding Lane, 13’000 homes were destroyed."
"England's only World Cup Final victory?"
"1966, and weave never heard the end of it," he joked.
"First moon landing?"
"Neil Armstrong 1969."
"Span of the First World War?"
"1914 to 1918, treaty signed with Germany at Versailles in June, 1919."
"The birth of the Prophet Muhammad ?"
"When was the Prophet Muhammad born?" I paused to rephrase the question. "When was YOUR Prophet born?" I asked, laying emphasis on the your.
"Ah, yes, well, umm..." he began to falter.
I did not wish to embarrass him further. "He was born in the year referred to by the then Arabs as Aamul-Feel (The Year of the Elephant), corresponding to 571 CE (Christian Era), on the twelfth of Rabiul Awwal." I informed him.
"Rabiul-what?" he spoke as if he were articulating the words of an alien tongue.
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‘Rabiul-what?’ is precisely what this article is about. If your knowledge of the final question's subject matter amounts to ‘Rabiul-what?’ then this article has been written for you. As an article is precisely that and not a book, the following information is presented only as an appetiser. For those who wish to indulge themselves, exhaustive and thorough studies on the subject are widely available.
Rabiul Awwal is the third month of the Islamic Calendar. Two momentous events transpired in this month. Both events are of tremendous significance to the Muslims, as they have profound implications for us. The first event heralded the dawn of a new era. It was the beginning of a process of change that not only reshaped the destiny of humanity, it completely transformed it. The ugly caterpillar that was the human being would be turned miraculously into the most delightful and dainty butterfly that was ever conceived.
The event I refer to was the birth of a man. Nothing remarkable you may think. Men are born and men die. The cries and screams of babies exposed for the first time the surroundings of their worldly abode, ring sharply in huts, homes and hospital wards throughout the world. The conception of a new life if far from being a unique or even rare phenomenon. So what's in the birth of a man?
These sentiments may be true about ordinary men but this was no ordinary man. This was the great man, no not simply great, for ‘great’ can be superseded; this was the birth of the greatest man, Muhammad. Your birth and mine may have meant the world to out mothers but they added little more to the world itself than digits on its population figure. The birth of the Messenger of Allah was a far more significant event.
This was a man at whose hands Allah would raise the people to a level of civilisation that shares no parallel in the pages of history. This was a man who would initiate a process of therapy that would ‘fix’ the demented minds of society, who would spray in the hearts of people the pure waters of tawheed and wash out from them the sickness that lay therein, who would smash to bits the deep, superstitious beliefs that had fettered every aspect of people's lives and placed unbearable pressures on them, who would create the Kingdom of God on Earth, who would restore peace and harmony, justice and equality, who would open the eyes of men to dimensions of this world and the hereafter that were far beyond anything presented to them by the sum of their intellectuals and greatest thinkers.
His birth was not just a case of the world having to feed one more mouth, one more to provide for, one more consumer. It was a gift to all peoples and all nations, to the rich as well as the poor, to the old as well as the young, to black and white, man and woman, to you and I.
He came not to take from the world but to give to it. He came with charity and kindness not greed and misery. He came with warmth and compassion not hate and malice. He came with modesty and chastity not immorality and shamelessness. He was humble, not proud; modest, not vain; considerate rather than selfish. Honesty and integrity has permeated his being, even his arch enemies paid tribute to him. He was a humble, quiet, thoughtful man. He spoke with wisdom, eloquence and complete clarity. He was unfrivilous, yet in his simplicity commanded the deepest respect. Overawed by the spiritual powerhouse that he was, many of his companions avoided direct eye contact with him, preferring to lower their heads and cherish the moment the hand of fortune had dealt them.
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But along with the reverence there existed a bond of affection and intense love that knew no bounds. Each individual was made to feel he enjoyed a level of intimacy with him that was unrivalled. They spoke to him, openly and frankly. They confided in him, shared with him their most deepest anxieties, their innermost thoughts. They opened their hearts out to him. In turn he listened attentively, sympathised sincerely and spoke wisely. He guided those who needed guidance, cautioned those who were at fault, provided for the needy, protected the weak, comforted the sick and consoled the bereaved. He was pillar of strength for them, a tower of fortitude, a friend, a brother, a spiritual mentor. They felt at peace in his presence, grew restless in his absence. They spoke of him as their father.
He was human but an extraordinary one. He saw his Lord and spoke to Him; over a period of twenty-three years his heart bore the weight of direct divine revelation; the truth became manifest on his tongue; miracles materialised at his hands. The strength of his spirituality was almost tangible; piety radiated from his face.
He had deep insight into human nature. His leadership brilliance was acknowledged by friend and foe, he steadied the rocking ship of humanity and steered it out of the bleakest period of history known to man. He had the power but did not exploit it, had influence but did not abuse it. He was offered kingdom and wealth but chose poverty. "My poverty is my pride." he once commented.
He was human but rose above human passions. He was man but was not motivated by base manly desires. He had feelings just like our own, a heart that could hurt, eyes that could weep. And that for me makes him all the more remarkable, for in his humanity, plagued by human emotions, the depth of character he displayed and the lofty example he portrayed at all times defies both belief and description.
From his birth as an orphan, through to Prophethood at the age of forty, and his twenty three year struggle to discharge the duties of his divine office, his whole life reads like long chapter of one insurmountable tribulation after another. Yet he came through them unscathed. He remained calm and composed where men of iron-will would have been destroyed. He was able to forgive where lesser mortals would have screamed vengeance. He showed practically how men could be human in form, angelic by nature, tread the Earth as men, fulfilling their just human needs and desires yet possess discipline and self-control that propelled them to a status far superior to that of angels.
Bukhari records a heartrending episode in which the Prophet is described lovingly cradling his dying son, Ibrahim, in his hands. As the child struggled to breath, the eyes of the Messenger became moist and he wept. His companions expressed surprise. Was this a show of dissatisfaction with the decree of the Almighty Allah. "This is compassion," he responded and then shedding further tears he said something, something of profound wisdom. They were not the words of a mere mortal, they were the words of a man inspired.
He said, "Verily the eye weeps, and the heart grieves, but we will not utter a word save that which is to the pleasure of Our Lord. (Nevertheless) Ibrahim, your parting causes us deep sorrow."
There you have an illustration of the perfect man, one completely aware of his being. He weeps because human nature requires it but resists complaint because his sense of servitude to the All-Knowing, Compassionate Lord demands it.
So an individual was born this month, but no ordinary individual. Amongst stones there is the diamond, amongst men there is Muhammad .
The month of Rabiul Awwal is celebrated by Muslims throughout the world. Often different communities around the globe have their personal understanding of how to commemorate this blessed occasion. It is indeed a time of happiness but alas as in many other matters, Muslims have fallen prey to their own whims and engaged in practices that rather than commemorate the birth of the Prophet and the dawn of Islam, contradict everything he ever stood for.
We have every right to feel happy but on this occasion happiness is more in the mind and heart than action. Happiness in this month means a pause for thought, a moment of quite reflection: The Messenger of Allah was born in this month, the standard bearer of Islam entered the world in this month, the torch of guidance and the final link in the faultless chain of Prophets was conceived in this month. What meaning does this have to my life? How does this affect the way I live? Does it have any significance in the way I conduct my affairs, in my treatment of others, and in my relationship with God?
If the answer is no, then why not? Is he not my Prophet and I his follower? Is he not my mentor and I his disciple? Is he not my guide and I his humble servant? Do is not profess to love and cherish him? Do I not owe my allegiance to him? Am I not indebted to him? Do I not wish to meet him at the waters of Kawthar, his radiant face beaming with joy and a smile playing across his auspicious lips, his blessed hands outstretched, waiting to embrace me, waiting to greet me, waiting to take me into his arms and hold me tightly, till my soul and entire being are immersed in the light of his prophethood and I am overwhelmed by the power of his spirituality; waiting to congratulate this gallant son of Islam who bore the most sever social and political pressures with patience and fortitude and in the face of injustice, criticism and ridicule upheld the banner of Islam with uncompromising pride.
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The second momentous event that occurred in this month was the passing away of the Prophet . If his birth was the arrival of spring then his demise for his companions and for the world at large was a winter of extreme sorrow and bereavement. If did not mark by any means the end of Islam; the garden of Islam was yet to flourish. A closing verse of divine revelation refers to Islam not as ending, but rather reaching perfection and completion:
"This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you…" Holy Qur'an: Surah Maidah Ayat 3.
So the death of the Prophet signifies the completion of Islam, not the end of it. It also signifies the completion of the institution of prophethood. As the Qur’aan declares him to be the ‘seal of the prophets’, his death meant a termination of divine revelation. The trust of Prophethood had been reposed in the breast of one Prophet after another, until finally it found comprehensive and conclusive expression in the person of the Prophet Muhammad . Now, with his death and fulfillment of his divine mission, the time had come to lift this trust from the shoulders of men.
On Monday the 12th of Rabiul Awwal 11 AH, with the words, "(I seek no one) but the most elevated companion," he departed from this world. His companions were devastated but the inspired Abu Bakr shook them from their state of shock. His memorable words as he delivered the sermon on the Prophet’s pulpit are as uplifting and inspirational today as they were all those years ago:"Those who worshipped Muhammad , then Muhammad is dead and those who worshipped Allah, verily He is alive, death does not overtake Him."
Let us take heart from these words. As Muslims, on this month and indeed at every moment in our lives we have much to celebrate: a perfectly comprehensive religion, a Prophet accomplished every respect, a book of guidance, unique in content and explosive in style, a way of life that guarantees contentment in this world and ultimate success in the hereafter…..the list is endless. Let us live as good Muslims and die as such. This, my friends is the way to celebrate!
see also: Biography of the Prophet Muhammad
Bukhari – A book contains the sayings of the Prophet .
Tawheed – Oneness of Allah (God).
Kawthar – A fountain in Paradise.