By Yusuf Rios
He or she who wishes to understand what Islam is and who was the person of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) let him resort to what the Quran said about the Prophet (peace be upon him). Almighty Allah says,
And we have not sent you except as a mercy to all of Creation.” (Al-Anbiyaa 21:107)
The single verse mentioned illustrates in detail his mission and identity.
The Arabic words of this verse are much richer in meaning. Arabic is the language of the revelation and the oldest living language on the earth.
There are other tongues like Sanskrit older than Arabic but they are all dead languages, no longer spoken. Given this reality we wish to expound upon this verse from its original language so that the most meaning can be derived from it. Let us begin to ponder on the meaning of the verse as it is traditionally done in the Arabic language.
An Analytical View of the Verse
1. “And We”
In these two words, the message related is that it is the one and only Allah, the Exalted, who commissioned the Prophet (peace be upon him). So, the origin of the Prophetic teachings and message is not the wisdom of a wise man or an ascetic, but rather it is Divine.
Sometimes, Allah uses the singular first person “I” referring to Himself and sometimes uses the royal “We”. In many languages, there is a mechanism for one to speak in the plural giving the meaning of elevated status. For example, a chief of an Arab tribe might address his people as “We” when talking to them. Of course, after the revelation and the conversion of Arabia to Islam this became restricted to the Qur’an, Islam urges people to be humble.
2. Have Not Sent You except as a Mercy
This part of the verse is very profound and deserves the most possible attention. Here, Almighty Allah is declaring why He commissioned the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Arabic reflects a restrictive meaning as it reads as such -the Prophet was sent for no other purpose except to be a means for humankind to attain Allah’s Mercy. There is an emphasis on the role of the Prophet as a vehicle of mercy sent from Allah, in addition to the point that this mercy is to be shared with all of humanity.
The mission with which Allah sent the Prophet (peace be upon him) is not restricted to a particular audience but rather it is an inclusive message. It is a message to all humanity. In other words, Islam is a message for all of humanity. It is comprehensively characterized by mercy for all of humanity and all of creation, thereby inclusive of the eco-system. This Mercy even applies to those who choose not to believe in it.
To understand the Quranic verse better, it is necessary to key in on the notion of “mercy” in this verse. Mercy here means that Allah (glory be to Him) sent the Prophet (peace be upon him) with “guidance to a meaningful existence”.
He was sent to teach humankind the path to a communal and social life which is pleasing to Allah. He taught respect and love in a way that grants all the right to co-exist and lead a full life. This understanding of mercy is a path to a peaceful existence in this world and a path to a blissful eternity after death.
Also, this can only be understood in the context of Allah having created the human being to lead a purposeful life, a life of worship and a life in which the purpose of existence is fulfilled by living a committed and profound relationship with the Creator.
It is the Prophet (peace be upon him) who guided us to understand the nature of our life and taught us the path to self-fulfillment and how to be humane not only to fellow human beings but also to fellow creatures.
This was not merely done by wise sayings but it was through his lived example. The thousands of authentic narrations related about his life (known as Hadiths) were; statements, actions or tacit approvals.
3. To All of Creation
This part of the verse makes clear that the message of Islam is universal and directed at all peoples in all walks of life and from all backgrounds without any kind of discrimination.
In fact this part of the verse is a declaration that Islam calls humanity to brotherhood and cooperation and rejects tribal, nationalistic and racist thinking. Islam considers all humanity as brothers, and promotes mutual sense of brotherhood.
Islam declares that the unity of humanity lies in recognizing Allah’s Mercy as presented by all Prophets. The noble Prophets of Allah all taught that even though life is not free of hardship, it has meaning and that existence is not haphazard.
The aim of life is to contemplate our origin and our end and to reflect on the deeper order of Creation. It is through reflection upon the life of the Prophet, being sent as “a mercy to mankind”, this issue can be more firmly grasped and better understood.
The following are a list of authentic narrations about the mercy propounded by Almighty Allah by means of the Prophet Muhammad for all of mankind.
1- There were a lot of people who went to extreme inhuman measures to assassinate him, cursed him and the divine message with which he was sent, and tortured and killed his followers. Also, there were hundreds of enemies who did many horrible things to the believers. Yet, when asked by his companions to invoke Allah against them, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
“I was not sent to curse people. Yet, I have been sent as a mercy.” (Muslim)
2- It is also well known that the Arabs were harsh hearted. Men rarely ever interacted with their children and would show little love to them. Once a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and saw that He (peace be upon him) was holding his grandson Husain and that He (peace be upon him) kissed him. The man said to the Prophet “I have ten kids and I have never kissed anyone of them”. The Prophet said
“Whoever is not merciful, will not receive mercy.”(Al-Bukhari)
3- It is also well known that Arabs used to view their women and servants as inferior beings, and they would often beat them in a fit of anger. Lady Aishah, the wife of the Prophet and mother of the believers, said about her husband (peace be upon him),
“He never hit a women or a servant.”(Al-Bukhari)
It was also narrated that he said
“I would come to prayer sometimes intending to read a long portion of the Qur’an. Then I would hear a baby crying and I would shorten the prayer, so his mother who wishes to leave the prayer can attend to him.”(Al-Bukhari)
4- The Prophet was even merciful and compassionate when in war. He commanded his companions,
“Do not kill women, old men, children, or religious monks and priests. Do not cut or burn down trees.”(At-Tirmidhi and Al-Bukhari)