Non-Muslims often struggle to understand Muslims because they fail to grasp the role that the Prophet Muhammad plays in our lives. Failing to realize the breadth of the Prophet’s teachings and the depth of love for the Prophet throughout the Islamic world, many non-Muslims are quick to believe ISIS, the Wahhabis, and other militant groups when they claim that it is they who adhere to the precepts set by the Prophet Muhammad and are thus the true followers of the “prophetic model.”
Yet the understanding of the prophetic model among militant Islamist groups falls far short of what is conveyed by the classical Islamic tradition. Far from being the literalists that some portray them to be, militant Islamists choose to ignore or explain away those teachings that expose their wanton violence for what it is. When non-Muslims fail to recognize this, they succumb to severe miscalculations regarding both ISIS and the nature of Islam. It is thus of the utmost importance to consider what the prophetic model means to the majority of Muslims.
Several years ago, the song that topped the charts in Turkey, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Arab world was Sami Yusuf’s “Muallim” (Teacher), a song in praise of the Prophet Muhammad. A few years later, Mesut Kurtis topped the charts with “The Burdah” (The Mantle), whose refrain is “Our Lord, bless and have peace, at all times and forever, upon the beloved who is the best of all creation.” The title and refrain of the latter come from the most widely read poem in the history of Islam, “The Mantle” (al-Burdah), written in thirteenth-century Egypt, and recited to this day by Muslims from Indonesia to Europe, from Senegal to South Africa to the United States and almost everywhere in between.
The Prophet As a Source of Love and Hope
The enduring love of the Prophet Muhammad exhibited in this and thousands of other poems is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of Islam. As the German scholar Annemarie Schimmel observes, even Western accounts that display tremendous respect for the Prophet Muhammad “betray nothing of the mystical love that his followers feel for him.” This love endures throughout popular culture among the young and old alike, as evoked in this oft-recited passage of “The Mantle”:
Incomparable, his beauty has no peer—
The essence of beauty itself is inseparable from him.
Ascribe to his essence what you wish of honor,
Attribute to his exalted status what you will of greatness!
Truly, the Messenger of God’s bounty
Cannot be overstated by two lips and a tongue.
If a miracle could equal his magnitude,
The mere mention of his name would revive decaying bones.
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