What is uswa al hasanah? What is an excellent exemplar?
Muhammad Mustafa (pbuh) is the only prophet, maybe the only human being, in history, whose life has been recorded with all its details. Only a limited amount of the stories of the prophets have reached us; whereas, all actions, sayings, and every detail of the spiritual life of the final Messenger of Allah (pbuh) have been observed and recorded. And with the blessing of Allah the Almighty, these recordings have attained the honor to be narrated as long as human beings exist in this world.
In order to protect ourselves from mischief resulted from all kinds of calamities, evil, and the surprises of life, we have to apply good morals, such as modesty, patience, bravery, altruism, sacrifice, contentment, and living a balanced life, into our lives. In order to be an excellent example with all the above mentioned good manners, Allah the Almighty sent Prophet Muhammad (pbuh),the most perfect human being, to humanity
The life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) will be an example for all future generations until the end of the world. About the Prophet (pbuh), it is stated in the Qur’an:
“(O My Messenger!) And most surely you shall have a reward never to be cutoff. And you stand on an exalted standard of character.” (Qalam 68; 3-4)
The life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and his blessed personality presents us with the apex of human behaviors. He (pbuh) was an exemplary person who personally lived according to his own teachings and became a living example for his followers. Allah the Most High presented him as uswa al-hasanah or an excellent exemplar to entire humanity.
It is stated in a verse that:
“Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.” (Ahzab 33; 21)
The Prophet (pbuh) displayed an exceptional goodness and perfection in every aspect of life. Both essential and detailed behavioral perfection can be seen in his blessed life. Thus, everyone can find the best and most perfect behaviors to take as an example from the life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). In other words, the life of the Messenger of Allah is like a bouquet of the best roses, from which everyone can find the best rose which fits his/her needs.
The Prophet (pbuh) is the best example even for those who are at extreme ends of society. For instance, a prisoner’s life cannot be an example for a judge and a judge’s life cannot be an example for a prisoner. Furthermore, the life of a poor person who spends all his time in search for his livelihood, cannot be an example for a wealthy person, who enjoys all the luxuries of life; whereas the life of the Messenger of Allah presents examples for both parties. Allah the Almighty started his life as an orphan who was socially at the bottom level of the community and made him go through all the steps of life up to the highest and most powerful level which was prophethood and the head of the state. All of the stages of his life display examples for all types of ups and downs in people’s lives. For this reason, his life is an actual, tangible, and excellent example for those who want to imitate him in the extent of their capacities.
People, especially philosophers, who try to explain everything with their limited intellect and who claim to guide others to the straight path and who try to be an example to others, other than the Prophets and their righteous followers, will always be deficient in this respect. Since the prophets base their knowledge on Divine revelation, they came as guides confirming each others’ messages; whereas, philosophers, who aim to guide others to the truth, contradict and confute each other since they lack Divine verification and rely on their inadequate intellects. This is why they can neither find the straight path themselves nor guide societies to it.
For instance, because Aristotle lacked Divine guidance, even though he is considered to be the one who laid down the principles of the philosophy of ethics, we can see that no one in history found happiness by following his principles. Because philosophers’ hearts are not purified and their souls are not cleansed, their actions and thoughts are not matured with the support of revelation.
The only way to refrain from the calamities of which people fall through due to their mental abilities and selfish tendencies, which are not disciplined by divine revelation, is to hold on to the strongest rope, i.e. the Holy Qur’an, which is presented to humanity by the final Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Real and tangible illustrations of the realities of the Holy Qur’an can be found in the life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Therefore, the most significant thing for a human being to do is to find the straight path under the guidance of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh).
In addition, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had people love him because of his loyalty, righteousness, and straightforwardness even before he received the Divine revelation. He was called “Muhammad al-Amin or trustworthy Muhammad,” by Meccan polytheist because of the excellence in his actions. He began conveying his Sacred message after proving his excellence in the eyes of his community.
People knew and admired his trustworthy character even before his prophethood. When the members of his tribe, who gave him the nickname “al-Amin – trustworthy,” fell in disagreement about who would have the honor to place the black stone in its place during the reconstruction of the Ka’bah, everyone accepted his solution without any objection.
The Messenger of Allah was so trustable among his community that even his uncle Abu Sufyan, who was, before his conversion to Islam, one of the greatest enemies of the Prophet (pbuh), could not help but give the following response to the question of Byzantium’s Emperor Heraclius on whether the Prophet (pbuh) had ever broken his promises:
“No, he has never lied and never broken his promises.”
We can attain the real benefit from his exemplary life, if we show the same submission to his message as Abu Bakr (r.a.) displayed during the incident of Mi’raj or Prophet’s ascension to the heavens. When Abu Bakr was asked about his opinion about the Mi’raj, he unhesitatingly said that
“If the Prophet (pbuh) said that, then it is true.”
Another good example, which shows why he was called, “Muhammad al-Amin,” even by the polytheists is as follows:
During the Battle of Haybar, a Jewish shepherd named Yasar came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). After having some conversation with the Prophet (pbuh), he converted to Islam and wanted to join the Muslim army. However, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) told him to first return the sheep to their owners and then to come back and join the Muslims. It was really difficult times for Muslims and they were having a food shortage. Certainly, this is a wonderful example of how a Muslim should have the consciousness of responsibility and be sensitive about people’s trust even under the most difficult circumstances.
As proven by historical sources, many non-Muslims have compelled to confirm Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) exemplary character. Some of the many samples of them are given below.
Philosopher La Fayette, who was among the master minds of 1789 French revolution, examined the legal systems of his time before writing the famous “Declaration of Human rights.” When he saw the greatness of Islamic law, he said:
“O Muhammad! Nobody has reached the level of justice you achieved.”
Another example is as follows:
In the middle of the 20th century, a group of scholars convened in La Hague, Holland where they selected the hundred greatest men of world history. Even though all members of the selection committee were Christians, they selected Muhammad (pbuh) as number one on their list.
The real merit for a Muslim is to have such good qualities that even non-Muslims should feel compelled to confirm his/her rights. And the most perfect example in this respect is the merits and subtlety of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).
Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş, Erkam Publications