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Peace and Reconciliation - A Legacy of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

The world mourns the loss of one the world's most revered statesman. Eulogies at his memorial service reminisce over his noble characteristics, wish him a peaceful repose and beckon humanity to embrace his legacy...

The world mourns the loss of one the world's most revered statesman. Eulogies at his memorial service reminisce over his noble characteristics, wish him a peaceful repose and beckon humanity to embrace his legacy.

Mandela was one of the greatest men of the twentieth century; yet many are oblivious to the fact that he embodies the characteristics and principles espoused by the last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh). Mandela fought for the justice and liberty of his people in the twentieth century; and eventually led South Africa out of the apartheid era and into a multicultural, diverse and democratic state which gave rights and dignity to everyone. He was tortured and incarcerated in prison for 27 years for being anti-apartheid. When he was finally released from prison in 1990, he did not seek revenge; instead he sought reconciliation.

It is this monumental act of peace and reconciliation that has its origins in the practice of Muhammad (pbuh) during what is known as the 'Conquest of Mecca.' This was the first formal peace and reconciliation process enacted at a state and continental level over 1400 years ago. Muhammad and the early Muslim community endured 21 years of persecution, imprisonment, torture, boycott, killing and abuse that resonates the situation of black and non-white people during the apartheid era in South Africa.

Following this period, the Muslims eventually prevailed and gained ascendance over their tormentors and oppressors, returning to Mecca their homeland and birthplace from which they had to flee destitute. One can only imagine what may have prevailed and what the fate of the tormentors would have been, as many waited in trepidation as Muhammad came with a host of 10,000 to reclaim their rightful home.

However, he demonstrated colossal morality profound magnanimity, forbidding all forms of aggression and forgave all the residents of Mecca. Hence, this was a bloodless conquest. Muhammad (pbuh) not only avoided mass killings and bloodshed, but also united a previously disparate and war-torn nation under the banner of equality, justice and fraternity. Not only did Muhammad forgive all his enemies but also the individuals who inflicted personal harm to him and his family members. This peace and reconciliation process was also replicated in Northern Ireland and then in South Africa and clearly, has its origins in the tradition of Muhammad (pbuh).

When life became formidably unendurable for the Prophet (pbuh) due to relentless torture and persecution from the Meccan elites, he went to the neighbouring town of Taif in search of support. The leaders of Taif ridiculed him and hurled insults at him. They also steered the children and slaves to pelt him with rocks and stones. Many years later he recalled it as the worse day of his life and at the time said: 'Forgive my people for they know not what they do.' It is recorded in Muslim traditions that God sent an angel to Muhammad (pbuh) following the incident, who was prepared to destroy the town and all its inhabitants; but Muhammad (pbuh) declined saying: 'No, perhaps from them will come a people who worship God,' he thereby, demonstrated unprecedented mercy and compassion for humanity.

Mandela had the desire to protect minority rights; give positions of ruler-ship to those previously denied because of their perceived lower status and to create a multi-racial and pluralistic society. When Muhammad (pbuh) migrated to Madina in 622, it was a pluralistic society; he established a peace treaty known as the constitution of Madina. This remarkable political-constitutional document was the first ever human rights document describing a multi-faith society. It is the oldest written national constitution and preceded the English feudal bill of rights, the Magna Carter of 1215, by almost six centuries. Not only is this treaty important in the sense that it is the first written constitution; it is also contemporary as it conferred equal rights to every citizen. He scrupulously applied the principles of honesty and justice to everyone, even those who did not share his faith.

Some journalists are comparing Mandela to Jesus (pbuh); while it is true that the teachings of peace and forgiveness were embraced by Jesus (pbuh); he was a spiritual leader and not a statesman. Muhammad however, was both a spiritual leader and a head of state; his practical example of forgiveness, social justice and reconciliation exemplifies a living role model for both Muslims and non-Muslims at times of geo-political conflict.

Sadly, the West has a legacy of reviling and caricaturing the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). For centuries, the West has failed to understand Muhammad (pbuh) and the universal principles he stood for. The orientalist scholar W Montgomery Watt wrote: 'Of all the world's great men, none has been so much maligned as Muhammad.'

There is a desperate need in the West to quell the tendentious depictions about the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). The medieval rancor and clichés will continue to perpetuate hatred and tension unless Muhammad (pbuh) is understood from the prism of the original sources, rather than the facile distortions.

No doubt, legends like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were a conscience for the world; it must not be forgotten that Muhammad (pbuh) was the epitome of social justice, equality, graciousness and liberty. The Qur'an eloquently encapsulates the morals of Muhammad (pbuh): 'And you (O Muhammad) are upon an exalted standard of character.'

This article was first published in the Gulf News in December 2013