EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 36: THE SUNNAH OF THE BELOVED
If envy is a sin then I am the incurable sinner for I envy every eye that ever caught a glimpse of you. I envy the waves that carried your voice, and the air that touched your cheeks. I envy even the ground that once served you, and I confess to you that despite my indulgent sins, my shameful whimsies and ugly flimsies, I confess to you, "I love you..."
"...But for me, and may God forgive me, your Sunna is a moment of unadulterated beauty spent in your love. Your Sunna is your beauty, and beauty cannot be mimicked. It must be felt and loved. All the descriptive manuals of the world cannot teach an ugly heart about beauty. And all the reports and transmissions of the world cannot teach the obstinate heart the Sunna of the beloved."
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 50: DREAMING OF THE PROPHET
"...I confess my love to you, my Prophet, but my love is not a eulogy of enchantment and idolization. It is the love of the assiduous engagement; the love of conviction, of reflection, of study and examination. I want to study your trials and tribulations, your strength, your power and patience, your intricate balance, and unfathomable beauty.
You are but a human—a beautiful human—and a blessed example for all the nations. I see no merit in the love of selfishness and simple sensations. I see no merit in the love that is simply a form of indulgent self-affirmation. I want to absorb your example, transform myself, and learn the road to our salvation. I want to explore the meaning, the subtleties, the implications, and permutations. If I study your hadith and Sunna, I find but a complex mixture of data. It is the heart and mind that places this matrix of data on a bed of beauty. It is the heart and mind that weaves its morality. It is my vigilant heart and probing mind that engage you in my dreams, and guide my sensations.
I see you after your migration with your camel leading the way. It picks the spot where the mosque in Medina is destined to be. But the land belongs to two young men, and they insist that the land is a gift. But you insist on paying them just and full compensation.
You did not take the rights of people for granted; you did not pretend that the ends justify the means. You treated your people with dignity, and with dignity they learned to live free of fear.
After the hardship and homesickness of migration came the affliction of disease. Both Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (d. 22/634) and Bilal Ibn Rabah (d. 17-21/638-642) fell ill with malaria, and when ‘Aisha (d. 58/678) would nurse them they would lament their homesickness in poetry. I see you praying that God would replace the hardships with ease. I see you imploring God that Medina would become the land of the free. It came true my Prophet, but today, we continue our migrations chased by our fears. Our loss of dignity has become an unrelenting moral disease.
I see you, my Prophet, your gaze to the ground is longer than the sky, ever reflecting, adorned by humility. I see you in your dignity. If a newcomer arrives, you move quickly to give them a seat. I see you quick to smile, quick to greet, neither harsh nor offensive, rarely angry. If you did become angry, you simply turn your face away in silence. I see you generous with praise, never castigating or disparaging, averse to conflict, and averse to comfort—always rising to the challenges of history.
I see you in the day of Badr with ‘Ali and Abu Lubaba by your side alternating the ride on one camel on the way to battle. ‘Ali and Abu Lubaba offer you their turn on the camel, and you exclaim, “You are not more capable of walking than I, and I need God’s blessings no less than you.”
At the end of the battle, in the midst of your happiness at God’s victory, you learn that your beloved daughter Ruqayya (d. 2/624) died, succumbing to disease. And so, victory mingles with calamity, and the blessings and tests of God never cease. So many tests and so many blessings, and I reflect upon your remarkable balance. After the Battle of Khaybar and during the ecstasy with God’s victory, your daughter Zaynab (d. 7/628) takes her last breath as you sit close by. You comfort your son-in-law and now motherless granddaughter, and bury your daughter with your own hands. After the expedition of Tabuk, you returned home to find that Umm Kulthum (d. 9/630), your daughter, had died. You console her husband, bury her, and dry your tears. Truly, the tests of God never cease. Then, honored with the Lord’s victories and the approach of the Farewell Pilgrimage, a calamity befalls your son Ibrahim (d. 10/632). He falls ill and takes his last breath at your side. He was a vivacious and lively child; your arms embraced him with the delight of love, but now you hold his lifeless body, as your love bleeds in tears. When the sun eclipsed, the mourners said it eclipsed in bereavement, but you stood up and said, “The sun and moon are the signs of God. They do not eclipse for the death of any human being.” Earlier during the life of your beloved wife Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid (d. 619), you witnessed death taking your baby boys al-Qasim and ‘Abdullah from her arms. My Prophet, you know that people witness the death of a single child and their sense of balance forever dissipates. I beg of you, teach me your sense of balance in confronting the trials of my fate...."
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 52: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE BELOVED
"...Beauty is not to counterfeit what cannot be copied, but beauty is to bring to life the truth of the Prophet. And, the truth cannot be placed within the idiosyncrasies of limits. We cannot follow the Sunna of the beloved, we must live it—as if inhaling the fragrance only to emit it.
"So, I stand in the road of my life confronting my own fate, but I confront it with his fragrance, his truth, and his beauty. I stand in dignity, steady, somber, and staid, for I sit in judgment over myself before God seals my case. When presented with a problem or an argument, I exercise diligent self-restraint. For I ask myself the fundamental question that transcends time, place, or any limitations, “What would the Prophet have done in this situation?”...
"The response to the question is mine and yours, not the Prophet’s, for the truth, that is the Prophet, is not susceptible to relative individualization. But to ask the question will unlock the heart to the Prophet’s beautiful authenticity, and the heart’s own moral self-realization.
“What would the Prophet have done in this situation?” A society built on this solemn inquiry is a society permeated with his blessed fragrance, and his miraculous beauty becomes its salvation. His Sunna would not be pursued in malformed and contorted imitations, but a fundamental state of transformation..."
Dr. Abou El Fadl presents a "first-hand meeting" with the Prophet. Based on a review of original Arabic texts, this seminar:
1) Gives a view as to the moral lessons from the Prophet's life as a model for humanity;
2) Brings to life his moral example;
3) Provides a portrait of the living tradition of the Prophet's character: how he looked, smiled, laughed, talked, and got angry;
4) Presents the opportunity to learn to identify at a personal level with the identity of the Prophet as a symbol of someone real.
The seminar is neither a review of the institutional history of the Prophet's life, nor a chronology of events of his life.
Dear Dr. Abou El Fadl,
I would like to begin by saying that I am an avid reader of your work, and have a deep respect for the Islamic tradition. If it isn't too bothersome, I just have a few questions that I have yet to find satisfying answers too. A good friend of mine recently confronted me on the issue of the Prophet's (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) wife, Aisha. I was rather confounded on how to answer, particularly because he phrased the question approximately as such: "Did Muhammed rape a child?" The use of the word rape to describe the relationship between Allah's final messenger and his second wife threw me especially off guard, as my understanding was that the aforementioned marriage was one of great love and friendship, as recorded in the Sunna. I was also disturbed because I myself am a strong admirer of Aisha, for her bravery (such as at the Battle of the Camel), and for her extensive importance in the transmission of ahadith.
In all honesty, my attempt at an answer to my friend's question was shameful, and I desperately tried to explain that modern standards of marriage can't be applied to 6th and 7th century Arabia. This is indeed my opinion, but afraid of how my friend might view the religion that I love so greatly, I placed Aisha's age as twelve instead of nine. As I am sure you are well aware, Salih al-Bukhari records that Aisha herself narrated her age as six at the time of marriage, and nine at consummation. However, I have read the Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi, with Hisham ibn Urwah as his source, and Ibn Khallikan both placed nine as the age of marriage and twelve for consummation. Other, more modern theories, have placed her age as late as fifteen or even eighteen. These latter opinions I am inclined to disagree with, their logic is often stretched far too thin, and they occasionally frame Aisha as a liar who exaggerated her age. This proclamation I can not accept, as it compromises Aisha's integrity in recording the Prophet's (peace and blessings of God be upon him) life. I do apologize, as I am sure this is a subject brought up to you frustratingly often. I was wondering what your view is on al-Baghdadi and Ibn Khallikan's citations, as well as your personal opinion on Aisha's age and how you would respond to my companions question.
Thank you for time, and al-salamu 'alaykum.
[Name Withheld for Privacy]
Thank you for writing me. Yes, indeed, I am hesitant in responding to messages such as this. Not only because of the number of times I have had to address this question, but also because many of the inquiries I receive are from Islamophobes disingenuously trying to pose as sincere Muslims confronting a serious existential crisis.
The initial response is to become educated in historiography and the construction of didactic and dialectic traditions...