As I mentioned in my last post, over the past several days, I’ve been reading Tariq Ramadan’s book “In the Footsteps of the Prophet, a biography of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) that seeks to highlight lessons and points of reflection from his life and mission for the contemporary reader. It is a book that needs to be experienced for oneself, but below are a few reflections on lessons I gained from the read.
1) Trust God, Pay Attention to Your Life And Work as Hard as You Possibly Can.
The thing that struck me the most about learning about the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was the tremendous trust and hope he had in the Divine throughout this life. So much happens to him: his father dies before he is born, his mother dies when he is six, he loses his grandfather when he is eight, his clan goes through an incredibly difficult boycott because he refuses to stop spreading the message of Islam, his wife dies, his uncle dies, he buries daughters, he loses friends and Companions in battle, he loses his son, you name the type of loss, and it is reflected in the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life. Instead of closing his heart when someone dies or he experiences a test though, his heart is open, and his love and his concern for those around him is deep, beautiful and evident.
There is self doubt, but the book tells about how the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) prays for openings, goodness, success, and how he does absolutely everything in his capacity towards those ends as he prays and turns to the One. He is full of hope and he is constantly working. He demonstrates excellence in every sphere and role of his life.
And so to read this book is to realise that instead when things are difficult how we respond matters. Reading about the example of a man who went through such tremendous challenges and yet was always hopeful, constantly cheerful, showed goodness to everyone around him, forgave those who wronged him, and was so unbelievably kind and beautiful, is inspiration to strive to be better than I am today.
2) To understand Islam better, you need to learn about the life of the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him.
Often at Islam Awareness Weeks or at other events meant as introductions to Islam, the book that is given out is a translation of the Qur’an. But without knowing the context in which certain verses were revealed and a good commentary to refer to, it can be difficult to access a translation as the first book you ever read about Islam. Learning about the life of Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) however, gives context to verses but most importantly helps the religion become something human and real. Particularly in a time when so many people don’t know Muslims in their local community (I am at least told this regularly by strangers and acquaintances alike), this is needed. Books like this one are important conversation starters.
In addition, this book made me realise that instead of talking about why Islamophobia is bad (a reactive conversation) what is needed is conversations about the fundamental principles of Islam. We need conversations about love and mercy and beauty, and we need to apply these principles in our community development work.
3) Spiritual Practices Need to Produce Personal Transformation
This book was a reminder that principles and beliefs are meant to be lived. The lessons and insights in this book about space, family relations, interfaith communication, the environment, serving the poor, war ethics, friendship, psychology, animal rights (the list goes on!), are complex and beautiful, and demonstrate how a faith transformed a community and a region for the better. It is a reminder that to create healthy hopeful communities today, faith must be something that is not constrained to places of worship, but rather something that structures the way we work for peace in multiple ways.