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This du’a of the Prophet ﷺ was uttered by him at the moment of his greatest helplessness, after his humiliation in al-Ta’if at the hands of the nobles of Thaqif, when it looked as if his mission to establish Allah’s din was all but impossible to achieve. This may seem a strange way to open an article dedicated to examining his role as a great ruler. However, the total submission to Allah it demonstrates, and the complete dependence on Him it displays, are in fact the hidden secret of both his inner splendour – revealed shortly after this incident during the Night Journey and his Ascent through the heavens to the very Presence of his Lord – and his outward worldly power – whose beginnings can be traced to his meeting with the delegation from Yathrib that occurred during the Hajj of the following year. And not only that, because the truth is that the total submission to, and dependence on, Allah expressed in the du’a remained unalterably the inner reality of the Prophet ﷺ, even during the days of his eventual almost total outward supremacy. In spite of his mastery of Madina, the dramatic success and spread of Islam and his total victory over his enemies, he remained utterly and continually aware of the fact that all power and all strength belong to Allah alone.
“O Allah I complain to You of my weakness, my lack of means, and my insignificance in other people’s sight. O Most Merciful, You who are the Lord of the weak and You who are my Lord. To whom will you entrust me? To people far away who will abuse me? Or to my enemies whom You have given power over me? As long as You are not angry with me, I do not mind. But Your good pleasure is my hope and my desire. I seek refuge in the light of Your Noble Face, by which all darkness is dispelled and everything in this world and the Next put in its rightful place, from Your anger descending on me or Your wrath alighting on me. You have the right to reprove until Your good pleasure is complete. There is no power and no strength except in You.”
Reflecting this, when Jibril (‘alayhi al-Salam) came to the Prophet ﷺ and offered him the choice of being a Prophet-king or a Prophet-slave he chose to be a Prophet-slave. This choice was underlined in a hadith related by Abu Mas‘ud al- Badri in which he reported that a man stood before the Prophet ﷺ, trembling from fear. Seeing this, he said, “Calm yourself. I am not a king.” It must be understood, however, that in rejecting kingship he was rejecting the outward appearances of the regal state not the responsibilities of rulership it also entails. He wanted nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance of monarchy, with the conspicuous wealth, the sumptuous dwellings, the elaborate protocol and court procedures and all the other trappings of power that inevitably accompany it. Indeed, throughout his entire time in Madina he continued to live in the same way as the most modest of its inhabitants and a great deal less comfortably than many of them. But this did not mean that he was not in every sense the ruler of the burgeoning Muslim polity as he himself explicitly affirmed in the hadith of Ibn Abi Hala when he said ﷺ, “Convey to me the need of someone who cannot bring it. If someone conveys to a ruler the need of someone who cannot bring it, Allah will make his feet firm on the Day of Rising.”
Although it is true that nearly all the compilers of the Sira and those who write about the Prophet ﷺ do acknowledge him to be the political leader of the growing Muslim Umma, almost none of them really go on to specify what that meant in real terms. It is frequently implied that real government and political administration within the Muslim Umma did not actually come into being until the time of the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, with the accompanying implication that the governing structures they employed were in fact based on, and borrowed from, Roman or Persian models. That is far from the case. The truth is that the guidance of the Qur’an and its implementation in the Sunna of the Prophet ﷺ were as much in evidence in matters of governance and administration as they were in any other aspect of the life of the first community of Islam and the Prophet ﷺ was as much a model in respect of these matters as he was in every other area of life.
It is a commonplace that, for the Prophet ﷺ, the din was not limited to acts of worship but extended into the affairs of everyday life, and there is no doubt that this included, in detailed and practical terms, the governance and administration of the fledgling Muslim Umma. The theory that Islamic civilisation was somehow acquired by later association with the Roman and Persian empires ignores the tremendously powerful educative influence of the Prophet ﷺ himself in every area of activity. The scope of the subjects he expressed interest in is truly vast. They included anatomy, medicine, various aspects of natural science, general behaviour, ethics, travel, history, geography, mathematics, agriculture and he encouraged intellectual enquiry into and, practical application of, all these fields of human endeavour.
This first and foremost had the effect of utterly transforming the people to whom it was directly addressed. As al-Kattani says of this Prophetic education process: “It taught these great men how to diffuse the true principles of Islam and enabled them to save the world from the brink of collapse. These were men who, before they became Muslim, knew only their day-to-day existence in this world and how to tend herds and gain their livelihood in the meanest kind of desert life. After Islam, they were transformed into sophisticated leaders. They were resourceful, wise politicians and governors entrusted with administration, so that al-Qarafi said in al-Furuq: ‘The Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ were vast seas of knowledge in a great variety of matters of the Shari‘a, the intellect, mathematics and politics, and inward and outward knowledge.’”
However, in the course of effecting this change, the Prophet ﷺ inevitably had to confront the increasingly complex social and political needs of the expanding Muslim community. Although, as I have said, this aspect of his work has failed to gain the recognition it deserves from most of those who have studied the development of the first community of Islam, the truth is that there is virtually no area of later governance which cannot trace its origins back to the direct guidance and instructions of the Prophet ﷺ himself. If we examine the departments which governments to this day consider to be necessary for the correct and effective implementation of the authority they embody, we find almost all of them prefigured in a seminal form in the administrative and political activity of the Prophet ﷺ in al-Madina al-Munawwara. Internal affairs, foreign affairs, financial affairs, legal affairs, defence and military matters, markets and trade, health, provincial government, education, agriculture, and even sport! All these were systematically dealt with by the Prophet ﷺ and those he delegated to assist him with them. In his great work al-Taratib al-Idariyya Shaykh Abdalhayy al-Kattani devotes two large volumes to examining in enormous detail this aspect of the Prophet’s legacy. There is obviously not the time to go into this exhaustively but a brief look at some of what he covers will show how the wisdom, guidance and organisational ability of the Prophet ﷺ, in his role as political leader and chief administrator, played an absolutely vital part in the primal formation of the Muslim Umma and how it was also an indispensable element in its future development as a world power, first at the hands of the Khulafa al-Rashidūn, then in the kingdom of the Bani Ummayya, then in the empire of the Bani Abbas, and then beyond them in every Islamic dynasty and government down to the present time.
Prophethood & Politics
Perhaps the first overtly political action of the Prophet ﷺ was the ba’ya – the oath of allegiance – given him in Mina during the Hajj by twelve representatives of the tribes of ‘Aws and Khazraj from the oasis of Yathrib. This was followed a year later by a second oath taken by seventy-three members of the same tribes by which they invited him to become their leader. This led directly to the Hijra of the Prophet and the Makkan Muslims to Madina and has been, even down to some of the wording used, the foundational basis of political leadership within the Muslim community ever since.
A further early example of the political acumen of the Prophet occurred at the moment of his entry into Madina, the place that was to be his home for the rest of his life and was to see the first flowering of the social and political reality of Islam. He allowed his camel to choose the spot where his mosque was to be built and then made the building of that mosque, in which the whole community participated and which became the core and hub of all their activities from that time on, the first undertaking of the newly formed Muslim polity. The way the place was chosen removed any possibility of mutual animosity and the way the mosque was built brought together the disparate elements of the community and unified them immediately in the performance of a common task in which they all participated. Very shortly after this he appointed the site of the main market of Madina close-by the mosque. These two actions provided a precedent for the creation of Muslim settlements that has continued to be followed down through the centuries to our own time.
Another very significant political act instigated by the Prophet ﷺ shortly after his arrival in his new home was the drawing up and signing of a comprehensive and detailed pact of mutual support, which bound together all the various factions of Yathrib, Arab and Jewish, several of whom had been hostile to one another up until that time, into a single, unified polity with mutual rights and obligations agreed on by all participants. This document, both in its observance and its breach, was to provide the political backdrop to the life of first Muslims throughout the early years of their struggle to establish Islam as a living social reality.
One other political action of this early period of the Prophet’s governance was to have repercussions that vastly transcended the deceptive simplicity of its original appearance. It alone would mark out the Prophet ﷺ as a great political leader. I am referring to the pact of brotherhood he instituted between the Muhajirūn – the Muslims who had emigrated to Madina from Makka – and the Ansar – the Muslims who were the original inhabitants of Madina. Each of the Muhajirūn was allotted a brother from among the Ansar, following the instruction of the Prophet ﷺ: “Let each of you take a brother in Allah.” In this way a bond was formed that cut through all the precedents of Arab culture. Until then all relationships had been based on clan and tribal ties, to the extent that, politically speaking, no other relationship had any real meaning at all.
By this one move, the Prophet ﷺ created a previously unknown type of social bonding, whereby the political relationship of those within it was determined, not by any genealogical factor, but by a common religious belief. It was reinforced by the fact that among those participating in it, were the African, Bilal, and the Persian, Salman. So the pact set aside tribal, ethnic, and racial differences and created a completely new social and political order based solely on mutual adherence to the tenets of Islam. It is fair to say that the dramatic spread and subsequent worldwide presence of Islam was only made possible by this extraordinarily farsighted political decision.
Once settled in Madina the Prophet was faced with the task of organising the Muslims, who up until that time had had no kind of political unity, into a single organic whole. It is beyond the scope of this article to enumerate all the many measures he took to achieve this aim but it is worth mentioning just a few. One simple but effective measure was the unification of the whole settlement through the prayer. Bukhayr b. ‘Abdullah b. al-Ashjam said in Abu Dawud that there were nine mosques in Madina, apart from of the mosque of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, and all of them prayed by the adhan of Bilal. Another thing he did ﷺ was appoint a number of scribes who firstly recorded in writing the Book of Allah at the dictation of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ himself but who would also write down all sorts of other matters concerning the general administration of the community, such as treaties, letters of instruction to envoys, contracts of various kinds, letters to rulers, land grants and other such things. Prominent among them were Ubayy b. Ka’b, Zayd b. Thabit and later Muawiyya b. Abu Sufyan, but there were many others as well. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi al- Hatimi says in his al-Muhadarat that al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awamm and Juhm b. al-Salt would write the property of the zakat, Hudhayfa b. al-Yaman would write the estimates of the palms, al-Mughira b. Shu‘ba and al-Husayn b. Numayr would write down debts and business transactions, and Shurahbil b. Hasana would write documents to kings. In all there were said to have been forty-two of these scribes.
Functions of Government
The place where they used to write was known as the diwan and this continued to be the name of the chief administrative departments of the main centres of Islamic government down to the end of the Ottoman era. Of course, they became more and more sophisticated and much greater in size, as the complex needs of the lands under Muslim governance multiplied over time, but they certainly found their source in this original Prophetic institution in al-Madina al-Munawwara.
On the legal front the majority of cases were judged by the Prophet ﷺ himself, firstly on the basis of the Qur’anic guidance he had received, some of which was revealed as a direct response to specific situations with which he found himself confronted, but also, of course, on the basis of his own innate wisdom and his knowledge and reading of the particular circumstances of the case in question. They covered an enormous variety of different matters. Among them were cases concerning wills and inheritance, all aspects of marriage and divorce, parentage issues, apostasy, fornication, slander, drunkenness, theft, capital crimes, personal injury, retaliation and blood money, emancipation of slaves, sales and business transactions, hunting, slaughtering, and warfare.
These and every other kind of dispute were brought to him for resolution. And, of course, his decisions concerning them created precedents which have remained in force ever since and are still acted upon today. Occasionally his intervention in a dispute was somewhat unexpected as when Ka’b b. Malik was demanding the repayment of a debt from Ibn Abi Hadrad in the mosque. Suddenly the curtain dividing the Prophet’s quarters from the mosque was lifted up and he ﷺ called out, “Ka’b, reduce it by half!”
Although the majority of cases were dealt with by the Prophet ﷺ himself he did appoint others as judges, particularly when he sent people to other regions, but also in Madina itself. There is the famous instance when the Prophet ﷺ asked Sa’d b. Mu’adh to pass judgment on the rebellious Jewish clan, the Bani Qurayza. Among others appointed to fulfill a judicial role were ‘Umar b. al- Khattab, ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, ‘Abdullah b. Mas‘ud, Ubayy b. Ka‘b, Zayd b. Thabit, and Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari. We find in Ibn Hanbal and al-Hakim, a hadith related from Ma‘qil b. Yasar in which he says: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ commanded me to judge, and he said, ‘Allah is with a judge as long as he does not deliberately act unjustly.’” And in Ibn Hanbal again that two disputants came to the Prophet ﷺ and he said to ‘Umar, “Judge between them!” And he said the same thing to ‘Uqba when two disputants came: “Judge between them!” The Prophet ﷺ instructed those he appointed in how to give judgment and there is no doubt that all Islamic judiciaries formed since them have been based on this original model instituted by the Prophet in Madina.
Regional & provincial government
The same applies to regional and provincial government. The Prophet ﷺ appointed governors over all the areas that came under his control, giving them detailed instructions about how best to fulfill the task with which he was entrusting them. Sometimes this was in the form of a letter and the texts of a few of these letters have survived down to our own time. Al-Zurqani said in the commentary on al-Mawahib that the commanders whom the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sent to various areas were numerous. They included the governor of Makka, ‘Attab b. Usayd. Ibn Jama‘a said, “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ put ‘Attab b. Usayd in charge of Makka and establishing the ‘Īd and the hajj for the Muslims in 8 AH.” According to Subh al-A‘sha, when Badan, the representative of Khusrau, became Muslim, the Prophet ﷺ appointed him over the entire district of Yemen. His residence was at San‘a. He remained there until he died after the Hajj of Farewell. The Prophet ﷺ then appointed his son, Shahr b. Badan over San‘a. He appointed a governor over every district under his control: Ibn Abi Shayba over Ta’if, Sa‘id b. Khaffaf over the sub-tribes of Tamim, Salama b. Yazid al-Ju‘fi over Marwan, Sayfi b. ‘Amir over the Banu Tha‘laba and others elsewhere. Again, this administrative system, inaugurated by the Prophet, was the model followed by the subsequent rulers of the Muslim Umma.
Regarding places further afield – what we might call foreign affairs – there was also considerable activity emanating from the Madina of the Prophet ﷺ. We know that Dihya b. Khalifa al-Kalbi was sent with a letter, that he was told to give to the governor of Bosra in order that it should be passed on to Heraclius, the Emperor of Rome. ‘Abdullah b. Hudhafa al-Sahmi was sent to Khusrau, the Emperor of Persia. ‘Amr b. Umayya was sent to the Negus, King of Abyssinia; Hatib b. Abi Balta‘a to al- Muqawqis, the ruler of Alexandria; al-‘Ala’ b. al-Hadrami to al-Mundhir b. Sawa, the King of Bahrayn. Shuja‘ b. Wahb al-Asadi went to al-Harith b. Abi Shimr al-Ghassani and al-Muhajir b. Abi Umayya al-Makhzumi to al-Harith, the King of Yemen. The Prophet ﷺ instructed each of these envoys in the kind of diplomacy he wanted them to practise during their missions and often supplied them with a written message to deliver to the ruler to whom they were being sent. The Prophet also received embassies and delegations from other lands in Madina. Once more, in the course of this activity the basic nature of the relationship between the Muslim polity and foreign powers was defined and clarified and was to form the basis of all foreign relations between Islamic governments and foreign powers from that time on.
Finance & Trade
Then we have the vital area of finance and trade. As we know, in the books of fiqh, an enormous amount of space is devoted to these matters. Again, something that does not come across in most versions of the Sira is that, during the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ, Madina was a buzzing hive of economic activity. There was, of course, the work connected with date palms and other agricultural crops, animal husbandry, market trading and occasional caravans but there were also a multitude of other businesses being carried on in the city. Dozens of different crafts and trades essential to the daily life of the community employed considerable numbers of the inhabitants of the city. And so it can be seen that the economic life of Madina was, in fact, much more complex than is generally supposed and all this commercial activity, of course, required a certain amount of regulation and supervision. Once more the responsibility for this fell squarely on the shoulders of the Prophet ﷺ.
Although he never minted any coins himself, the coinage in use in Madina was precisely specified and defined by the Prophet ﷺ. The coin most commonly used was the silver dirham. Al-Nawawi says in the commentary on al-Muhadhdhib, “The sound view on which one must rely and which one must accept is that the common dirhams in the time of the Prophet ﷺ had a known weight and known value. They were already understood, and zakat was connected to them as well as other duties and values in the Shari‘a.” The same applied to the gold dinar. The precise weights of these coins were meticulously recorded and formed the basis of currency within the territories of Islam from then on, being used throughout history as the standard measure for the payment of zakat and many other legal uses. Other measures of both weight and volume were confirmed and ratified by the Prophet ﷺ and are still in use today, for instance, the mudd and sa’a, measures of volume which he asked Allah to bless, are still used to calculate zakat al-fitr, the amount of grain or other foodstuffs every Muslim must give to the poor at the end of Ramadan.
The prohibition against riba meant that it had to be clear that all contracts and transactions were absolutely free of any usurious element and this clearly involved some scrutiny of what was taking place in the marketplace. That was partly carried out through market inspection known as hisba and muhtasibs, the people charged with this duty, were appointed by the Prophet ﷺ to make sure all the business in the market was being carried on according to the dictates of the shari’a. For instance he appointed Sa‘id b. al-‘As over the market of Makka after the Conquest and ‘Umar was appointed over the market of Madina. As well as this, people were appointed to record contracts. Al-Quda’i and Ibn Hazm tell us that al-Mughira b. Shu‘ba and al-Husayn b. Numayr used to write down debts and business transactions and we know from Ibn Hajar that al-‘Ala’ b. ‘Uqba and al-Arqam used also to write down debts, contracts and business transactions between people. All of this had to be organised and authorised by the Prophet ﷺ.
Then there was the important matter of the collection and distribution of zakat and the jizya tax. Firstly, zakat had to be assessed. Al-Kattani says: “Assessment in the time of the Prophet ﷺ was done with dates, grapes and grains. Abu Dawud related in his Sunan from ‘Attab b. Usayd that the Prophet ﷺ sent him out and told him to assess the grapes in the same way that dates were assessed. He said that he should take the zakat of grapes in the form of raisins in the same way that the zakat of dates was taken in the form of dried dates.” Zakat was also recorded in writing. Ibn Hazm says in his book, Jawami‘ al-Sira, “The scribe of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ who used to write down the zakat was al-Zubayr b. al-‘Awwam. If he was absent or excused, then Jahm b. al-Salt and Hudhayfa b. al-Yaman wrote it down in his place.”
Collectors were appointed. Ibn Is’haq tells us that the Prophet ﷺ sent out zakat collectors to the Arabs. They included ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, Khalid b. Sa‘id b. al- ‘As, Mu‘adh b. Jabal, ‘Adi b. Hatim al-Tayy, al-Zibraqan b. Badr al-Tamimi and others. The same applied to the jizya tax. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr quotes from Ibn Shihab in al-Tamhid saying: “The first to give jizya among the people of the Book were the people of Najran who were Christians. Then the Messenger of Allah ﷺ accepted the jizya from the people of Bahrayn who were Magians. Among those who were entrusted with collecting the jizya in the time of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ were Abu ‘Ubayda b. al-Jarrah and Mu‘adh b. Jabal.” And once collected this revenue had to be stored and distributed, all of which necessitated a considerable amount of organisation and administration. Alongside this was the general supervision of the financial affairs of provincial governors. Ibn al-Qayyim says: “The Prophet ﷺ took a full reckoning from his governors for their accounts regarding their expenditure as is stated in the two volumes of the Sahih from Abu Humayd al-Sa‘idi.”
The last of these economic matters, and one of paramount importance to the future economic landscape and social order of the Muslim umma, was the establishment of awqaf, also known as habous. These are charitable foundations devoted to fulfilling the social and financial needs of Muslims in clearly specified ways. Al-Waqidi tells us: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ made a waqf of al-A‘raf, Barqa, Muthayyib, al-Dalal, Hasna and al-Safiyya and the water-hole of Umm Ibrahim in 7 AH. ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, ‘Uthman b. ‘Awf, ‘Ali, Talha, al-Zubayr, Zayd b. Thabit, ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar and ‘Amr b. al-‘As also all made habous.” Al-Kattani says: “The Prophet ﷺ and the Muslims after him continued to use the habous until it became one of the main sources of revenue in Islam to help its people, and the income from awqaf today in all Muslim lands exceeds that obtained by means of taxation.” This was written in the early part of the twentieth century and it is clear from it that during the whole history of Islam, from the time of the Prophet ﷺ onwards almost into our own time, the great majority of the social welfare needs of Muslims throughout the world were taken care of by myriads of awqaf, founded on the model established by the Prophet ﷺ in Madina more than fourteen hundred years ago.
Another area involving the leadership of the Prophet ﷺ is one which has been covered far more thoroughly by scholars than many of those we have looked at so far, namely his role as a military leader. Because so much information is readily available elsewhere I will not go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that during the whole of his time in Madina the Muslim community was in a constant state of warfare and military matters must have taken up a considerable amount of his time and energy. He himself personally led twenty-six military expeditions and organised a further thirty. He oversaw the recruitment of those participating in all of these, was responsible for the tactics in those he led, and masterminded the overall military strategy of the Muslims throughout the whole period. He created an efficient intelligence network and introduced several innovations in warfare previously unknown among the Arabs, including the well-known defensive ditch in Madina and testudos and catapults in the siege of Ta’if.
The Best of Mankind
And just think about the amount of work all this involved; imagine its impact on the day-to-day life of the Prophet ﷺ; what his days must have been like. They must have been filled from dawn to dusk with almost constant activity. Choosing people to send here or there for this or that purpose; calling a scribe to write down the latest piece of the revelation; gathering the community together to send on an expedition and deciding who should go and who should stay behind; meeting a delegation and explaining the basics of Islam to them and appointing people to go with them to instruct them further; calling another scribe to write a message to accompany an envoy who also had to be picked and instructed by him; judging some of many cases brought to him for adjudication; deciding on which coins should be used and which abandoned; seeing to the safekeeping and feeding of the animals collected as zakat and overseeing their distribution; and to the storage and distribution of agricultural produce collected for the same reason. And this is just a tiny part of what he was having to deal with all the time. And, betwixt and between all this, he was also leading every one of the five prayers every day and simultaneously carrying on the ordinary domestic activities of a conscientious husband and father. It is difficult to see how he could possibly have been able to fit it all in!
Yet the list of what he did goes on and on. The Prophet ﷺ took great interest in every area of the lives of those he governed and, apart from what we have already seen, also implemented measures in the fields of education, health, agriculture, social welfare and even housing, many of which had implications that extended far into the future. What is astonishing to realise is that all this intense political and administrative activity, most of which was adopted by later Muslim rulers and thereby formed the basis of the governance of the Muslims throughout the whole of their history, and much of which is still in current use today, was compressed into a period of less than ten years. And, moreover, nearly all of it was actually ancillary to the main goal of his life, which was to remind those around him of the true nature of existence and transmit to them the Message revealed to him by his Lord. In the course of doing that he purified their hearts and trained them, so that they in their turn, were able take that Message out into the world and establish the worship of the One God in such a way that it would be made available to all future generations of human beings in every part of the world. Nonetheless the simple truth remains that, in the whole of human history, few rulers have been able to achieve so much administratively and politically in so short a time and none whatsoever had anything like the same influence on the future, for the effects of the administrative and political decisions made by the Prophet ﷺ are still clearly visible in every part of the world.
Noble Qualities of Character
So far we have concentrated purely on the activity of the Prophet ﷺ in this domain – on what he did. We should now spend a little time looking at how he did it – at what it was that enabled him to accomplish so much and make this extraordinary impact in such a comparatively short time. The key to it lies in what he said about himself when he said, “I have only been sent to perfect the noble qualities of character.” He did this by exemplifying in himself all the qualities he was referring to, and a number of these qualities have a great bearing on the way he fulfilled his role as the ruler of the first Muslim community and the outstanding success he had in doing so. First and foremost among them was the quality I mentioned at the very beginning: his constant awareness of and dependence on Allah, his Lord. This was reflected in the consistency of his worship, the frequency of his supplication, and the constancy of his recollection of his Lord in every situation. It meant that in everything he did his prime objective was the pleasure of Allah alone and it absolved all his actions from any self-seeking or self-serving motives. He was absolutely free from any kind of personal ambition and any thought of personal gain.
Alongside this some of the qualities of character he so perfectly embodied are particularly pertinent to his role as ruler. Among these are his integrity, his courage, his generosity, his forbearance, his resolution and his humility. As regards his integrity, even before Islam he was known to the whole population of Makka as al-Amin, the Trustworthy One. People would give him things on trust in the certain knowledge that they would be safe with him and this was amply demonstrated by the fact that, when he was forced to flee for his life from the city of his birth, he nevertheless left instructions for the return to their owners of all the items he still was holding in trust for them. He was never known to tell a lie and everyone, even his enemies, knew that they could absolutely trust what he said. He was famous for the fact that his feelings could be gauged from the expression in his face. With him you could be certain that what you saw was what you got. This meant that people knew that they could trust him and that he was not going to say one thing to their face and then do something else behind their back. An important and immensely reassuring quality in any leader.
His undoubted courage enabled him to always lead from the front both actually and metaphorically. A frequently cited example of it is what happened at the battle of Hunayn. When the large Muslim army was suddenly ambushed the Muslim fighters went into retreat and the retreat soon turned into a rout. Almost alone the Prophet ﷺ stood his ground. Facing the enemy on his white mule with a few loyal supporters around him, he called out to the fleeing soldiers, ”Where are you going men? Come to me. I am the Messenger of Allah, I am the son of Abdal-Muttalib.” Little by little men came to him and gradually order was restored, and the day was won. This is one example among many of this inspiring aspect of his character. Shaykh Alawi al-Maliki says about the courage of the Prophet ﷺ in his book Muhammad al-Insan al-Kamil: “It was because of it that he participated in all the many battles he attended in his military life; and it is not known that he retreated from his position even a single foot, or a single finger’s breadth. This made him for his Companions a leader who inspired the utmost confidence and obedience, so that the young and old of them alike would be quick to heed his signals – not only because he was the messenger of Allah but because of the courage they witnessed from him ﷺ…”
His generosity ﷺ was fabulous and another factor that inspired others to follow him. He is not known to have sent anyone, who asked him for something, away empty-handed and, in order to do this, he would even borrow from others when he had nothing himself. There are far too many examples of it to be able to do justice to them here but one that is relevant in this context would be useful. Muslim narrates that Anas (radiya Allahu ‘anhu) said: “The Messenger of Allah ﷺ was never asked for anything except that he gave it. A man came and he gave him all the sheep between two mountains. The man returned to his people and said, ‘O my people, embrace Islam, for Muhammad gives like one who does not fear poverty.’”
Another quality that had enormous bearing on his calibre as a leader was his inexhaustible forbearance. Again, the examples of this are too numerous to catalogue here but a couple of examples will illustrate the importance of it to his leadership role. On one occasion a Jewish rabbi, wishing to test the claim of the Prophet ﷺ to Prophethood, rudely and roughly asked for the delivery of a consignment of dates before it was actually due. ‘Umar b. al-Khattab who was present called him an enemy of Allah and threatened to kill him. The Prophet ﷺ chided ‘Umar saying, “He and I needed other than this from you ‘Umar: that you should encourage me to honour my commitment properly and him to ask me more politely.” He then asked ‘Umar to give the man his due and add some more on account of having frightened him. Having witnessed this example of forbearance on the part of the Prophet ﷺ, the rabbi and all his household but one became Muslim.
And in a hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim Anas (radiya Allahu ‘anhu) said, ”I was with the Prophet ﷺ when he was wearing a thick cloak. A Bedouin pulled him so violently by his cloak that it left a red mark on his neck. Then he said, “Muhammad! Let me load up my camels with the property of Allah you have in your possession for you will not let me load up from your own or your father’s property.” The Prophet ﷺ was silent for a time and then said, “All the property is Allah’s property and I am His slave.” Then he continued, “Shall I take retaliation from you for what you have done to me?” The man replied, “No.” The Prophet ﷺ asked “Why not?” The bedouin said, “Because you do not pay back a bad action with another one like it.” The Prophet ﷺ laughed and ordered that one camel be loaded with barley and the other with dates. The importance of this character trait to the Prophet’s task is made clear in the Qur’an: “It is a mercy from Allah that you were gentle with them. If you had been rough or hard of heart, they would have scattered from around you.”
This tendency to kind-heartedness so integral to the character of the Prophet ﷺ must not, however, be taken in any way as an indication of any kind of weakness on his part. When needed he had a firmness and resolution that were absolutely relentless in character. This was clearly demonstrated in the early days of Islam when his uncle and guardian, Abu Talib, at the instigation of the Makkan nobles, tried to persuade him to abandon his task of calling people to Islam. His memorable reply to his uncle was, “By Allah, if they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left on condition that I abandon this course before He has made it victorious or I have perished in my attempt to make it so, I would not abandon it.” This uncompromising determination hallmarked his life and he never wavered in his struggle to see Allah’s din established completely despite the appalling persecution he suffered and the many obstacles that continued to obstruct his way. Once he had made a firm decision, he resolutely stuck by it and saw it through, no matter how difficult the consequences.
And where the rights of Allah and the administration of justice was concerned he never allowed himself to be turned away from what he knew to be right. There is the famous hadith recorded in both Bukhari and Muslim in which ‘A’isha reported that the Quraish had been anxious about a Makhzumi woman who had committed theft, and said, “Who can intercede with Allah’s Messenger ﷺ on her behalf?” They said, “No one would dare do that, but Usama, who is so loved by Allah’s Messenger ﷺ.” So Usama spoke to him. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Do you intercede where one of Allah’s prescribed punishments is concerned?” He then stood up and addressed the people saying, “O my people, those who have gone before you were destroyed because, if any one of high rank committed theft amongst them, they spared him, and if anyone of low rank committed theft, they inflicted the prescribed punishment upon him. By Allah, if Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, were to steal, I would have her hand cut off.” He was never angry for himself or for any matter connected with this world, but when he became angry for the sake of Allah, nothing whatsoever could stand in his way.
Finally there is the astounding matter of his unprecedented humility. He arrived in Madina as its acknowledged ruler and by the time of his death he was to all intents and purposes the absolute ruler of the whole Arabian peninsula and yet his way of life never changed and he continued to live as simply as the most humble of those he governed. There can never have been any other ruler of even the smallest territory who was his like in this respect. He swept his room, soled his shoes, patched his clothes, fetched the water, milked the goats, ate with his servants, dressing them as he dressed himself, and he carried what he bought in the market place to his house. He did not like a special place to be reserved for him in a gathering and would sit wherever there was an empty place. He would ride a donkey, visit the sick, join funeral processions and answer the invitation of all who invited him. Anas tells us that on one occasion a mentally ill woman came up to the Prophet ﷺ and said, “I need you to help me.” He replied, “Sit in any street in the city you wish and I will stay with you until your need is fulfilled.” Anas also said that any servant girl in Madina could take hold of the Prophet’s hand and lead him wherever she wished. In other words he completely shared the lives of those he lived among, suffering the same hardships as they did and going hungry when they went hungry. No wonder those people were happy to accept his leadership.
And this brings us to my final point. When all these qualities I have mentioned are brought together in a man only one reaction is possible. The power of some rulers over those they rule is gained through fear. With others it is, perhaps, respect. In the case of the Prophet, Muhammad, it was nothing but love. He inspired tremendous love in all those who followed him so that what bound the Companions to the Prophet and made them obey him and follow him to the letter was simply their love for him. When the Quraysh sent ‘Urwa b. Mas’ud al-Thaqafi as their emissary to the Muslims camped at al-Hudaybiyya, he returned to them and said, “I have seen Chosroes in his realm, Caesar in his empire and the Negus in his kingdom, but never have I seen a people who love their leader as the Muslims love Muhammad. Not a hair falls from his head that they do not cherish. They will never give him up so think what you are going to do.” The first community was built on this love and held together by it, and it was this that turned them into an unstoppable force that spread across half the known world in a single generation. And it is this, along with those far-ranging achievements we looked at earlier, that marks out the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as almost certainly the greatest ruler and political leader the world has ever seen.
“A Messenger has come to you from among yourselves. Your suffering is distressing to him; he is deeply concerned for you; he is gentle and merciful to the believers. But if they turn away say, ‘Allah is enough for me. There is no god but Him. I have put my trust in Him. He is the Lord of the Mighty Throne.’”
There is no power and no strength except in Allah, the Exalted, the Almighty.
 Al-Qur’an 3:159
 Al-Qur’an 9:128-9