Don’t Talk to me About Muhammad :: Beautiful True Story
Posted April 20, 2011on:
Don’t Talk to me About Muhammad
A long time ago, in a land far, far away, there lived an old woman who was carrying a heavy load along the road in the desert. It was a bit difficult for her, but she was managing as best as she could. A young man asked if he could help her with her load, and she readily obliged. Here is the conversation that transpired:
“It would be such a pleasure to have you come alone with me. I accept your gracious offer of kindness and company,” she said. She was a very talkative woman, and the young man did not want to interrupt her. So, he let her speak the entire time they were together without interruption:
“But as we walk along young man and as you help me with my load, I have only one request as we travel down this road: Don’t talk to me about Muhammad! Because of him there is no peace and I have trouble in my mind. So, don’t talk to me about Muhammad! And as we walk along together, we will get along just fine.”
“That man upsets me so, so much more than you could know! I hear of his name and reputation every where I go. Though his family and his clan once knew him as an honest man, he’s dividing everyone with his claim that God is one!”
“He’s misled all the weak, the poor, and the slaves. They think they’ve all found wealth and freedom by following his way!” she sarcastically snorted.
“He’s corrupted all of our youth with his twisted brand of truth. He’s convinced them that they all are strong and gave them somewhere to belong. So, don’t you dare talk to me about Muhammad!”
They reached their destination, and the man helped the woman put away her belongings. The old woman, with a wide smile of gratitude at this stranger’s kindness, turned to him and said,
“Thank you now, young man. You’ve really been so kind. That generosity and smile is very rare to find now a days. Let me give you some advice, since you’ve been so very nice to me. Stay away from Muhammad. Don’t heed his word or emulate his way. If you do, you will never have true peace, and all you will find is trouble.”
As the young man turned to walk away, she stopped him: “Now before we part and go, if it’s alright just the same, may I ask my dear young man, who are you? What’s your name?”
He told her, and she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Forgive me, but what was that? Your words weren’t very clear. My ears are getting old, and sometimes I have a hard time hearing. You know, it’s truly rather funny, but I’m sure I must be wrong. Yet, I thought I heard you said that your name is Muhammad.”
“I am Muhammad,” the Prophet (peace be upon him) told the old woman.
She replied, “I bear witness there is nothing worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
This conversation was based upon a hadith in the Prophetic literature, and Dawud Wharnsby Ali made a song out of it, where I first learned of this conversation. Almost every time I hear the song, tears roll down my face. In the song, after the woman utters the shahadah, she says,
“Oh, talk to me, Muhammad. Upon you I pray for peace/for you have eased my troubled mind. Oh, talk to me, Muhammad. And as we walk along together/we will get along just fine. As I travel down life’s road/I will get along, just fine.”
This story never ceases to amaze me. The Prophet (pbuh) offered to help this woman, and all she does throughout their encounter is to mock and malign the Prophet (pbuh). Yet, he says nothing. He continues to help the woman with her load. He does not lash back at her; he does not pray for God’s destruction upon her; he does not drop her stuff and let her fend for herself. No. He helps the woman anyway, and when she finds out who he is, all she could do was follow him into Islam.
Yet, the fact that she became Muslim is not the most important aspect of this story for me. It was the Prophet’s character that amazed me the most. It is this aspect of the Prophet’s sunnah that many of us have completely neglected. I grew up being told about how important it was to follow the sunnah. We must have a beard; we must clip our nails; we should wear leather socks. Some of my brothers wear a turban, and put kuhl around their eyes, and wear an Arab gown in an effort to physically emulate the Prophet.
I have no quarrel with this. Abdullah ibn Umar (r) used to physically walk in the footsteps of the Prophet because he believed there was a blessing in doing so. Yet, the thing with which I do have a quarrel is the extent to which we Muslims today harp on the physical, outward sunnah and totally neglect the other, equally important “sunnah.”
For instance, if a cabbie wears a long, flowing beard – while shaving his moustache – in accordance with the sunnah, but cheats his customers, isn’t this wrong? Isn’t he neglecting the sunnah, even though he has a big beard? If a Muslim merchant stands in his store with the standard-issue leather socks, in accordance with the sunnah, yet falsely advertises his meat as “Halal,” isn’t this contradicting the sunnah? If a Muslim never fails to carry his miswak in his pocket, taking pains to clean his teeth before every prayer, yet curses his fellow human beings or fails to even smile in the face of his brother or sister, does not he miss the picture? Isn’t smiling in the face of your brother or sister also part of the sunnah?
I mean, the outward is important, but it must never become the be-all and end-all. The inward is equally – if not more – important. For instance, as we fast the month of Ramadan, abstaining from eating and drinking is the least important task. How do I know? Our Prophet (pbuh) told us so: “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions [while fasting], God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” You see, the fast is so much more than just not eating and drinking. We are not supposed to say something wrong, or even curse at the driver who just rudely cut us off in traffic. If we fail to do this, then we have missed the entire point of fasting.
The Qur’an has already admonished us about becoming too beholden to ritual at the expense of morality and spirituality:
“True piety does not consist in turning your faces toward the east or the west – but truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day, and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance – however much he himself may cherish it – upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage; and is constant in prayer, and renders the purifying dues; and [truly pious are] they who keep their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and hardship and in time of peril: it is they that have proved themselves true, and it is they, they who are conscious of God.” (2: 177)
This is an amazing verse, forever railing against the choking effect of ritualism. “True piety,” God says, “does not consist in turning your faces toward the east or the west.” This verse was revealed after the qiblah was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca, which caused a big scandal among the Jews of Medinah. Yet, God responded by saying, true piety consists of making sure one’s morality is upright by having belief and then translating that belief into actions. Actions speak louder than words. If one adheres to every aspect of the outward sunnah, so that one may physically resemble the Prophet (pbuh), yet neglects to act the way the Prophet (pbuh) acted – i.e., with kindness, mercy, and compassion – it is pretty empty, don’t you think?
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