The exact characteristics that allowed the Prophet (pbuh) to do this are innumerable. Nonetheless, chief among his traits was his honesty. The range of names attributed to him includes Al-Sadiq (the Truthful) and Al-Amin (the Faithful).
Even his enemies, who were diametrically opposed to everything he preached, still referred to him by these names. In effect, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was defined through his honesty. The first example of his honesty lies in his conditions of borrowing and lending.
Most significantly, the Prophet (on the orders of God) eliminated charging interest; no longer was the borrower forced to borrow money on outrageous terms that had previously condemned him to a life of servitude to the lender. A testament to the severity of not returning borrowed possessions and trusts lies in the Prophet’s (pbuh) Farewell Address. He reminds the people to be faithful and return whatever has been entrusted to them to its rightful owner.
Muhammad’s Treatment of Women
The character of the Prophet (pbuh) was also seen in his treatment of women. In Pre-Islamic Arabia, women were treated as mere commodities. That is, they held no property rights, divorce rights lay in the hands of men and they were responsible for all household duties. The Prophet (pbuh), however, actively involved himself in household matters. He would help his wife with chores like sweeping the floor. According to author Fazl Ahmad in Muhammad: The Prophet of Islam, when one of his children would fall ill, the Prophet (pbuh) would stay by their bedside and actively take care of them. As ordered by God, the Prophet (pbuh) gave women in Islam the right to initiate divorce and to own their own property, among other liberties.
It is important to note here the critics’ point of view: that Islam, rather than giving women rights, demotes them to a position of subservience to man. Notwithstanding, one needs only to carefully study the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and prophetic sayings to understand Islam’s treatment and emphasis on positive relations with women. [Click here to find out about treatment of women in Islam.]
The directives given were so different from what had been the norm in Pre-Islamic Arabia that even many of the Companions of the Prophet had reservations regarding taking their wives’ counsel for their affairs. Despite this initial reluctance, the belief in God and the example set forth by the Prophet (pbuh) eventually convinced the Companions to integrate this into their lifestyles. In effect, Islam had elevated women to a position on par with men, and the Prophet’s (pbuh) example reinforced Islam’s message of equality.
The Prophet’s (pbuh) goodwill did not simply extend towards women or fellow Muslims. It was inclusive towards people of other religions as well, including the Jews and Christians of the time. An example of this lies in his treatment of prisoners of war during the battle of Badr. The prisoners were kept in extremely good living conditions and even fed proper food. Furthermore, they were given the option of freeing themselves by either paying a ransom or by teaching ten Muslims how to read and write. This environment stands in direct contrast to the appalling conditions most prisoners of war dealt with in the past and continue to deal with in the present, including physical torture and lack of proper facilities. Even with all the right in the world, the Prophet (pbuh) restrained himself and saw to it that his Companions treated their enemies with hospitality and goodwill.
The situation in today’s world is at once startling and discomforting because of the minimal value placed on human life. At both the individual and nation levels, one group may treat another group as disposable simply because their way of thinking is different. The Prophet (pbuh) transcended all of these perceived differences through his character. From the beginning to the end his honesty, his treatment of women and minorities, and his behavior towards non-Muslims set the standard that would inspire all of his followers. This is why author Michael H. Hart recognized the Prophet (pbuh) as number one in a ranking of the 100 most influential persons in history. While many people at the time did not agree with the Prophet (pbuh) on his principles or policy, even his bitterest enemy came to respect the strength his infallible character gave him. As global citizens in the 21st century, it is important to see beyond differences and realize that the human denominator among us is what is most important. We must all seek examples like the Prophet’s (pbuh) and work to incorporate them into our lives, in order to increase tranquility and make the world a more peaceful place for future generations.