What is exemplary character? What is good manners?
As we have mentioned before, it is impossible to find someone in history whose life is examined and recorded as detailed as the life of the Prophet (pbuh). Many volumes would not be sufficient, if every aspect of his exemplary life were attempted to be written.
In Islamic sciences, different aspects of Prophet’s life are taken as main foundations and as the basis of ijtihad. This is why different aspects of Prophet’s (pbuh) life have been examined by different Islamic sciences.
In fact, all of the Islamic books written from the last fourteen hundred years are written only to interpret one book or the Holy Qur’an and one person or the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had exceptional beauty both in the material sense as well as in the spiritual sense. An example of this would be when one day when Khalid b. Walid (r.a.) stopped by an Arab tribe and the head of the tribe asked him:
“O Khalid! Depict us the physical and spiritual characteristics of the Messenger of Allah.”
Khalid (r.a.) replied:
“This is impossible. No words can be sufficient to describe him.” The chieftain of the tribe insisted saying:
“At least tell us about him as much as you can do.”
Khalid (r.a.) gave them the following magnificent response:
“The one who is sent would fit with the dignity of the sender. Since the sender of the Prophet (pbuh) is the Creator of the entire existence, then imagine the glory of the Messenger whom He sent.”
We understand from the statement of Khalid b. Walid (r.a.) that it is impossible to properly describe the physical and spiritual beauty of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). In this regard, Imam Qurtubi says:
“All of the beauties of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) are not shown to us. If they were shown, our eyes would not be able to look at him.”
In fact, even among those who were always with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) there were very few people who could stare at the Prophet’s beautiful face out of their respect for him. According to some reports, during sermons of the Prophet (pbuh) only Abu Bakr and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) could look at his face, and the rest of the companions would look down.
Amr b. al-’As (r.a.), the conqueror of Egypt, expresses this situation in his following statement:
“I was with the Messenger of Allah for a long time. Then no one was as dear to me than the Messenger of Allah and none was more sublime in my eyes than he, Never could I, pluck courage to catch a full glimpse of his face due to its splendor. So if I am asked to describe his features, I cannot do that for I have not eyed him fully.” (Muslim, Kitāb al-Imān, 192; Ahmad b. Hanbal, IV, 199)
With our limited ability and capability, it is impossible for us to completely comprehend the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), who was a wonderful creation, because our understanding of him in this world is not enough to explain and comprehend him. Just like the impossibility of fitting an ocean into a small glass, proper comprehension of the Muhammadan light is impossible.
Let us give some of the exceptional examples from His exemplary personality within the limits of our understanding.
The blessed face of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was the purest and most beautiful of the faces, which was dispersing peace and assurance to everyone around him. During the migration to Medina, Abdullah b. Salam, a Jewish scholar, curiously asked for the Messenger of Allah, and when he found him, he said looking at his face:
“This face can never tell a lie.” Then he converted to Islam.
The beauty, peace, splendor, majesty, and charm in his face was so much that he did not need another miracle, proof, or evidence to prove his prophethood.
Whenever he (pbuh) liked or disliked something, it was easily understood from the change in his face.
Fitness, a strong feeling of modesty, and determination were combined in his pure body. He was more bashful than a young virgin. And the level of his tenderheartedness could not be decently elucidated.
He (pbuh) would not stare at people’s faces. He usually looked down more than he raised his gaze up. Because of his modesty and great personality, he would not tell anyone his/her faults to his/her face. He would not openly tell the name of the person who had done something wrong; instead he would say that “What is wrong with those who do such and such…?” Sometimes he would attribute the fault to himself and nicely warn his followers saying that: “What is happening to me that I see you are doing such and such …”
There was beauty in his face, fluency in his speech, elegance in his actions, eloquence in his talk, and purity in his speech. He would not talk in vain; every one of his words was full of wisdom and advice. There was no gossip and useless talk in his speech. He would choose his words according to everyone’s level of understanding.
He was gentle and modest. He would not laugh loudly; but he always had a smiling face.
Those who saw him for the first time would be seized by awe; while those who had a chance to converse with him would fall in love with him.
He would show his respect to people according to their levels; and he would generously help his relatives. Just like he treated his own family, he would treat others gently and graciously.
He would pay special attention to his servants. He would have them wear whatever he wore and have them eat whatever he ate. He was generous, merciful, compassionate, and brave when it was necessary and gentle when it was needed.
It is not possible to properly appreciate his generosity. His generosity was more than the generosity of someone who would not fear poverty.
As it is reported by Jabir b. ‘Abdullah: “It never happened that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was asked for anything and he said: No.” (Muslim, Fada’il, 56)
He was the one who visited his relatives most; the one who showed most mercy and compassion to people; the one who treated others in the best way; the one who abstained from bad manners most; and the one who had the best manners.
He was trustworthy and always kept his promises. He was better than other people in good manners and intelligence; and he was well-deserved for all kinds of praises.
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) always felt sadness and continuously contemplated. He would not speak unless it was absolutely needed. His silence was long. When he began to talk, he would not stop in the middle of what he was talking about. His words were clear, and they were neither too many nor too few. Even though he was a gentle person, he was strong and awe-inspiring.
He would not get angry except when a right was violated or the performing of an Islamic rule was prevented. When someone’s right was violated, he would be angry until his/her right was returned and only then he would calm down. He would never get upset for personal reasons. He would not defend himself or dispute about his personal issues.
He would never enter someone’s house unless he had permission to enter. When he was at home, he would divide his time into three, one part for worshipping Allah, one part for his family, and one part for himself. During the time he spared for himself, he would take care of people’s problems. He would never leave anyone deprived. Thus, he would earn everyone’s love and respect.
He would not sit in the same part of the mosque, but he would sit in different parts in order to prevent his followers from developing a custom for one place. He would not approve attributing sanctity to places and behaviors which would cause pride in congregation. When he went into a congregation, he would not look for a special place but sit wherever was empty; and he would ask everyone to do the same.
When someone asked for something from him, he would not feel comfortable until carrying out his/her request no matter how insignificant or significant it was. When he did not have the means to take care of his/her request, then he would at least say nice words and try to relieve him/her. He would always share others’ grieves and problems. As a human being, everyone would see the same treatment from him whether he/she was a scholar or an ignorant person or rich or poor. All of his meetings were places where patience, shyness, knowledge, trust, and loyalty were active and prevalent.
He would never reproach anyone for his/her faults and defects; when a warning was needed, he would do it without offending him/her. He would never search for others’ mistakes and he would strongly prohibit his followers from such an action.
He would not talk about issues unless he hoped religious rewards for it. He was in a state of spiritual rapture during his sermons. His companions were so attentive in his speeches that according to Umar’s (r.a.) report, they would sit like they had a bird on their heads and they did not want to scare it away. Because his companions’ imitated their manners and shyness from him, they would often think asking questions as insolence. For this reason, they would wait for a Bedouin to come and ask the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) a question about Islam so they, too, could benefit from his answer. Bedouins were people of the desert who would ask things easily due to their harshness.
Also, it is not possible to imagine a hero braver than the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) because he was never seen being scared or in a state of panic. When he faced abnormal situations, he would keep calm and remain patient, and he would never make a mistake as a result of being scared. He fearlessly passed through the Meccans, who were waiting to kill him, by reciting the following verses:
“We have put yokes round their necks right up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up (and they cannot see). And We have put a bar in front of them and a bar behind them, and further, We have covered them up; so that they cannot see.” (Yasin 36; 8 – 9)
Aisha (r.a.) narrates:
“At the most fierce moments of the Battle of Badr, sometimes we were hiding behind Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He was the bravest one among us. He would stay at the closest places to the enemy.” (Ahmad b. Hanbal, I, 86)
Bara’ b. Azib says that:
“When the battle grew fierce, we, by Allah, would seek protection by his side, and the bravest among us was he who confronted the onslaught and it was the Holy Prophet (pbuh)” (Muslim, Jihad, 79)
He would always fight in the front row in order to exalt the word of Allah. At first in the Battle of Hunayn, the Muslim army began to break up, but the Prophet (pbuh) did not panic or lose his firmness. He attacked the enemy and increased his companions’ courage and finally they won the battle with the help of Allah the Almighty.
He (pbuh) says that:
“I swear by Allah with whose Will and Power I live, I would want to fight for the sake of Allah and become a martyr; then get resurrected and go and fight again and become a martyr; then fight again and become a martyr…” (Muslim, Imarah, 103)
Aisha (r.a.) describes some of the manifestations of his mercy and compassion as follows:
“Whenever he had to choose between two things he adopted the easier one, provided it was not sin, but if it was any sin he was the one who was the farthest from it among the people; and Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) never took revenge from anyone because of his personal grievance, unless what Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, had made inviolable had been violated. He never violated the rights of slaves, servants, not even the rights of animals…”
In fact his success in his sacred mission was the blessing of his high manners. Allah the Almighty expresses his perfection in this regard in the following verse:
“Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you…” (Al-i Imran 3; 159)
As a matter of fact, people of the age of ignorance were positively affected by his lenient, forgiving, good-mannered, generous, and forbearing character; and they were saved from the hands of savageness and became like moths around the blessed light of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Because He wanted people’s salvation not their destruction; He represented mercy not wrath.
He always was a monument of sincerity. He would never speak out the things which he did not feel in his soul. He was like a living Qur’an with his morality. He did not advise others about the deeds which he did not perform.
In short, he was the most exceptional and exemplary character of human history. His entire life has presented human beings unique qualities, merits, and both material and spiritual beauties about:
- Servitude to Allah the Almighty
- Relationship with other humans
- And morals.
He was such a guide of eternal bliss that he was aware of his responsibility of being an exemplary character for his followers.
In this respect his sensitivity about ritual prayers was beyond everything else. He slept only a very little part of the night; his blessed body often would not see his bed. When everyone was asleep, he was awake, prostrated before Allah the Almighty and was shedding tears for forgiveness. Close to the end of his life, even when his illnesses became very serious, he left his home and went to the mosque to pray in congregation.
With the revelation of the verse of alms giving (zakat), believers have been ordered to pay their zakat and give in charity. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) himself performed this Divine command before anyone else. He lived the requirements of the following command in his own life:
“Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them.” (Baqarah 2; 3) He would also praise the possessions given in charity and those who gave them.
 Qur’an And Sunnah Of The Prophet, Which Are Also Called Naṣṣ, Are The Bases Of Islamic Sciences. Sunnah Means The Sayings, Actions, And Approvals Of The Messenger Of Allah. If Something Is Clearly Stated In The Qur’an Or In Sunnah, There Is No Place For Personal Reasoning About It. Ijtihad Means A Legal Scholar’s Personal Reasoning Performed Within Certain Rules In Order To Issue An Opinion In Cases Where There Is No Clear Ruling In The Qur’an And Sunnah. Cf. Munawi, Fayḍ Al-Qadir, V, 92; Imam Kastalânî, Mevâhib-I Ledünniyye Tercümesi, P. 417. Muslim, Faḍāil, 79; Abū Dawūd, Kitāb Al-Adab, 4
Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş, Erkam Publications