A visitor to the Prophet’s grave (burial chamber) should bear in mind the actual import of the spot he is standing at and of the body (luminary) he is visiting.
A visitor should feel privileged that he could stand just a few meters away from the body of the one who has been sent to bring honour to the world and to save it by taking it from the darkness of falsehood to the light of the truth, and from the chasm or black hole of senselessness to the gratification of reason.
A visitor is advised to remember that the Prophet is not dead in the wider sense of the word and an Islamic understanding of life and death. This applies to the physical and metaphysical dimensions of existence, but of course in agreement with the specifications of the next world.
Which is to say that the Prophet’s current life is not in a tangible sense, but in the sense of al-barzakh as a stage of the Hereafter.
This affirmation is analogous to the Qur’anic statements: “And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Rather, they are alive, but you perceive (it) not” (al-Baqarah, 154) and “Never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and they receive good tidings about those (to be martyred) after them who have not yet joined them - that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve” (Al ‘Imran, 169-170).
If this is the prestige of martyrs, the same is more appropriate in the case of not just Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, but also all prophets. The office of prophethood is so illustrious that it also entails the boons of martyrdom. Prophethood represents the pinnacle in the hierarchy of ranks and distinctions associated with them.
In fact, prophethood is the source from which all other ranks and their distinctions stem; whatever repute they may have is sourced from it. Prophethood is the cause, other categories are effects. While every prophet by definition is a martyr, no martyr can ever be elevated to the degree of a prophet. The Prophet is reported to have said: “The prophets are alive in their graves, praying” (Musnad al-Bazzar; the hadith is classed as sahih).
The Prophet as humankind’s only hope
By virtue of being the seal of prophets, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is the only hope humankind has. He is the true and only messiah (the liberator and saviour of the world). After him, the only correspondingly big thing to occur will be the end of time. He thus can also be portrayed as a Noah’s Ark for the latter chapters of human existence.
Accordingly, there is no genuine goodness enjoyed by people nowadays, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, that is not harvested, one way or another, from the Prophet’s legacy and the legacies of those who down the ages walked in his footsteps.
There can be no truth beyond that which was delivered by the Prophet, and no goodness other than the one his teachings have produced and keep producing whenever given the chance. There is only one way: the Prophet’s way (the way of Islam).
The Prophet was the embodiment of perfection. He was the quintessence of what every leader has ever aspired to, yet could not reach, and the consummation of what all utopians have ever fantasized about. In brief, he was the superman par excellence.
This undisputable veracity about the Prophet compelled George Bernard Shaw (d. 1950), an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist, to say about him: “He must be called the Saviour of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it much needed peace and happiness.”
Alphonse of Lamartine (d. 1869), a French author, poet and statesman, also wrote: “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad ﷺ? Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational beliefs, a founder of twenty terrestrial empires and one spiritual empire. Of all standards by which human greatness can be measured, we may well ask ... is there any man greater than Mohammed ﷺ?"
The Prophet’s legacy versus the legacies of other leaders of the world
A visitor to the Prophet’s grave can quickly juxtapose the reputation and legacy of the Prophet with the reputations and legacies of the rest of religious and secular leaders of the world. He will easily realize that the latter pale in comparison with what the Prophet has done for humankind.
If carefully examined against the background of the standards of the truth and all the other essentials the human race has been yearning for since time immemorial, such as universal peace, happiness, prosperity and overall wellbeing, most world leaders’ bequests to the world are either inflated or manipulated.
They are certainly not what they are presented to be. The value of an item is not always judged by its shine. For the most part, the legacies and their records do not speak for themselves; instead, it is the persons and the narrow circles of their brainwashed devotees who do the talking.
Those leaders and icons are but the products of sustained and aggressive national and even international campaigns. Many were idolized by a people (nation) – or a group of them, forming political and economic alliances or blocs - but loathed, or simply disregarded, by others. Their roles and contributions were average at best, but were inflated by means of their indoctrinated or ignorant followers.
Their ideas were alive and in use while they, their indoctrination apparatuses, blinded followers and mercenary cohorts were also “alive” and in operation. Artificiality and mediocrity were quickly exposed. History is as much the witness of the phenomenon as the necropolis for the modi operandi of its protagonists. They are all cloaked in the shroud of obliviousness and buried under the ruins of the passage of time.
From Heroes to Crossroads
Owing to the recurrent fabrication of history and the meddling with the truth, it is unsurprising that, often, falsehood is extolled – and paraded - in lieu of the truth, tyranny in lieu of justice, ignorance in lieu of knowledge, and savagery in lieu of civilization. That this is all true bears witness the fact that on the heels of hundreds of socio-political, scientific, philosophical and religious heroes, the world is still at a crossroads. The most fundamental ontological questions are yet to be answered, and the most critical existential needs of man are yet to be adequately satisfied.
En bloc, humanity is experiencing distress; and why it wouldn't when it suffers from spiritual, moral, intellectual and civilizational malnutrition. The most that is regularly served to it are such venomous dogmas as advocate that the truth is neither known nor knowable.
So why someone should waste his time and energy and try to concern himself about anything relatable to the world of the ultimate truth; that the moral, religious and epistemological relativism represent supreme ideals; that nothing exists except matter and its movements as well as alterations; that life is an accident.
Hence, inconsequential, and that it is a random product of a series of coincidences; that the goal of life is to seek sensual pleasures and to avoid physical pain; that a bunch of myths, folk tales, fabrications and fictions are valuable enough to be turned into structured philosophies, ideologies and even religious convictions.
The Dilemma of Modern Leadership and the Earth's Sustainability
It follows that virtually all leaders had narrow agendas rooted in dubious worldviews, which in turn translated themselves into correspondingly either narrow or dubious programs of action. Since problematic ideas can only lead to problematic consequences, the predicaments of mankind were piling up and their effects expanding exponentially over the years, so much so that the modern man, after his designs had assumed global proportions, managed to bring the whole world ever closer to the point of extinction.
As a result, the foremost theme that is being widely debated amongst influential global social circles is the sustainability of the planet earth and the survival of the human race. Such is a sign of one’s intellectualism as well as benevolence.
Although some may deem this to be a commendable development, it highlights nothing but acts of desperation and panic. The truth of the matter is becoming increasingly clear and time is running out with fewer solutions at hand. It is difficult to deny that the religious and secular leaders of the world, in many ways, lack authenticity.
Many are out-and-out frauds. They deceived the masses by making them believe in mirages and follow civilizational cul-de-sac or dead-end paths. The responsibility for the compounding misery of the world is to be placed directly at their feet. Undoubtedly, those leaders are of Pharaoh’s, Nimrud’s, Haman’s, Qarun’s, Samiri’s and Abu Jahal’s ilk. In the name of ostensible pre-eminence, all they could demonstrate, again and again, was predictability and smallness.
The Day of Resurrection
On the Day of Judgment many leaders and their followers will reproach each other That said, when people gather on the Day of Judgment, things will be made plain and scores settled in such a way that everyone will be able to understand what and how went wrong. In a remarkably vivid style the Qur’an presents two dialogues between the weak (manipulated ones) and those who were superior and big-headed (deceiving chiefs).
The dialogues will unfold on the Day of Resurrection when everyone will appear before Almighty Allah for the judgment, and in the Hellfire when people will dispute and accuse one another.
The Qur’an says: “And they will come out (for judgement) before Allah all together, and the weak will say to those who were arrogant (leaders and influencing societal elites): ‘Indeed, we were your followers, so can you avail us anything against the punishment of Allah?’ They will say: ‘If Allah had guided us, we would have guided you. It is all the same for us whether we show intolerance or are patient: there is for us no place of escape’” (Ibrahim, 21).
Also: “And (mention) when they will argue within the Fire, and the weak will say to those who had been arrogant: ‘Indeed, we were (only) your followers, so will you relieve us of a share of the Fire?’ Those who had been arrogant will say: ‘Indeed, all (of us) are in it. Indeed, Allah has judged between the servants’” (Ghafir, 47-48). And when the matter is settled, as residents of the Hellfire, non-believers will wish that they “had obeyed Allah and obeyed the Messenger (Muhammad ﷺ the Saviour)” (al-Ahzab, 66).
Drawing attention once more to the source of their torment, non-believers will disclose: “Our Lord, indeed we obeyed our masters and our dignitaries, and they led us astray from the (right) way” (al-Ahzab, 67). Non-believers will then beseech Allah that the main culprits’ punishment be proportionate to the nature and severity of their crimes: “Our Lord, give them (chiefs and dignitaries) double the punishment and curse them with a great curse” (al-Ahzab, 68).
The Prophet is unrivalled
Nobody therefore can deny that the Prophet is in a class of his own. No other person is even worth mentioning along the Prophet’s name. This is a fact known to whosoever objectively studied his life and mission. Nobody rejected the Prophet on account of finding flaws or shortcomings in his character or performances. He was flawless, infallible (ma’sum). Those who rejected him did so mainly because of some other shallow reasons, such as the nationalistic, economic, political, egocentric and bigotry-oriented considerations.
For this reason is the scholarly honesty of Michael H. Hart to be applauded. In his 1978 book “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” he placed Prophet Muhammad ﷺ at the top of the list. Though a non-Muslim, Michael H. Hart admitted that he had to acknowledge the obvious: “My choice of Muhammad ﷺ to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.”
In his book “Memoirs of the Life, Exile and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon”, Emmanuel-Augustin-Dieudonne Las Cases wrote that Napoleon, similarly, was of the opinion that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was a great man, a genius who changed the face of the world. He also criticized Voltaire’s prejudiced views of the Prophet, pointing out that Voltaire was completely wrong in his assessments.
Departing “both from nature and history”, Voltaire neither wanted nor could get to the bottom of the secrets of the Prophet’s greatness. By the way, Napoleon’s unselfish admiration of the Prophet prompted speculations that, after all, he might have become a Muslim.
The Exemplary Legacy
Given the status of the Prophet, his community (ummah) was fashioned in his image. Despite its fluctuations and varying fortunes, the substance of the Muslim ummah, just like its Prophet, is the best. It is the standard setter for the rest of the world. As per the explicit teachings of the Qur’an, Muslims are the best community that ever existed among humanity and was raised up for the universal benefit of the world. The reason for that is the truth that of all people, it is only Muslims who combine the authentic faith, good deeds and affirmative change, which is in accordance with the first two thrusts.
The Qur’an asserts: “You are the best nation produced (as an example) for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah” (Al ‘Imran, 110). Notably, immediately after these words, Almighty Allah gives the example of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) as an antithesis of the Muslim paradigm: “If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient” (Al ‘Imran, 110).
So, if this is the state of affairs concerning the Jews and Christians, who are closest to and most aligned with the Muslim model, one can imagine how degenerate the others are, chiefly the proponents of polytheism and non-belief and a seemingly endless plethora of their derivatives.
Therefore, the two best successors of the Prophet and, at the same time, the two best examples of the Muslim ummah: Abu Bakr and ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, were buried next to the Prophet inside the same enclosure. They deserved it from the perspective of both the realm of faith and ummah leadership.
Both the ummah and history testify to their matchless merits. In order to complete the guild, when Prophet ‘Isa (Jesus) returns to earth, by virtue of being the best human being at the time, and by virtue of upholding, together with reinforcing, the religion of Islam as revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, he, too – based on a weak tradition, though – when he eventually dies will be interred in the Prophet’s burial chamber.
Enriching the Soul through Prophet's Legacy
Taking all of the aforementioned elements into consideration, a visitor to the Prophet’s burial chamber should feel content, happy and proud. He furthermore should feel rich, because his are the greatest treasures of the world. Islam, the Prophet and ummah are all his. He belongs to them and they belong to him.
Positively, there are no alternatives that can replace these. They are unending and have what it takes to allow a person’s quest for self-fulfilment to move from strength to strength. The reward for possessing and properly handling the authentic treasures of this world are the infinite treasures of the Hereafter.
To be rich means to everlastingly possess much of genuinely valuable things – both material and immaterial - and experiences. Being rich is not to own bogus possessions, nor to have them today but not tomorrow, nor to work on satisfying the fleeting needs of the fleeting body (matter) but neglect the enduring needs of the enduring soul. Genuineness, perpetuity and inclusiveness are the preconditions of true prosperity and wealth.
Journey of Spiritual Transformation
Accordingly, it is generally accepted that some of the greatest misfortunes that may befall a person – and societies - are along the lines of having something of true value and then losing it, or not having much and yet being deceived into believing he is wealthy. It stands to reason that the ideologies of materialism and hedonism are the banes of existence. They are the primary culprits of the contemporary human suffering.
Standing next to the Prophet, his two successors and the place where Prophet ‘Isa, perhaps, will be buried as well, should be, apart from enlightening and enriching, a humbling experience too. A visitor should feel appreciative and indebted, appreciative because he is the Prophet’s follower and a son of the Muslim ummah, and indebted because being a Muslim - especially nowadays when arrogance and ignorance, as the foundation of an omnipresent culture of non-belief, signify global official creeds – is as much a privilege as a responsibility. The situation is akin to an axiom that in the age of darkness, with light comes great accountability.
A visit to the Prophet’s grave should be viewed as a time for introspection. A person should evaluate the extent of his loyalty both to the Prophet and the ummah: how much he knows about the Prophet, how much he loves and respects him, and how much of his life model he emulates. A person should deliberate if his spiritual, intellectual and behavioural affiliations with the Prophet display an upward movement, or otherwise.
If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, a visitor should keep it up, nevertheless continuously working on improving his condition. But if the answers are in the negative, a visitor should hasten to make amendments wherever and however much necessary.
The Profound Impact
Positively, a Muslim cannot be a good Muslim unless his knowledge, love, appreciation and following of the Prophet and his Sunnah (life pattern) are meeting the expected standard and continue to improve. To learn about the Prophet as part of one’s learning generally about Islam is an imperative. A person cannot love, respect, or follow someone if he is ignorant about and unmindful of him.
Travelling to Madinah for the sake of visiting the Prophet’s mosque first and his grave second, and overall for the sake of walking in his footsteps, is expected to function as an impetus insofar as a visitor’s spiritual life is concerned. Such is expected to signify the beginning of a new phase in one’s affirmative relationship with the Prophet and his Sunnah.
After the visit, a desirous person will never experience life the same way again. He will realize that being a Muslim and a follower of the Prophet denotes embracing quality and essence, instead of harbouring superficialities and deadening symbolism as well as ritualism.
This profound ethics of visiting the Prophet’s grave – burial chamber – is entailed in one of the main formulas a visitor is advised to utter while performing the visit. That formula is: “Peace be upon you, O Prophet, and the mercy of Allah, and His blessings. O Allah, send prayers upon Muhammad ﷺ and upon the family of Muhammad ﷺ, as You sent prayers upon Ibrahim and the family of Ibrahim, verily You are Worthy of Praise, Full of Glory. O Allah, send blessings upon Muhammad ﷺ and upon the family of Muhammad ﷺ, as You sent blessings upon Ibrahim and the family of Ibrahim, verily You are Worthy of Praise, Full of Glory. I bear witness that you are indeed the Messenger of Allah, that you conveyed the message and fulfilled the trust, and advised the ummah and strove truly for the sake of Allah. May Allah reward you on behalf of your ummah better than any Prophet is rewarded on behalf of his nation.”
The references - yet bearing witness - to the unparalleled greatness of the Prophet, to the success of his prophetic mission, to the fulfilment of his religious and existential trust, and to the critical importance of the ummah, as contained in the said formula, are thresholds by which an individual visiting the Prophet’s grave can relate to the domains of spirituality in general and to the Prophet in particular.
A visitor thereby can discover and appraise himself and his purpose. As if a person pronouncing the formula declares that he is a follower of the Prophet, a product of his prophetic mission, enlightened due to the Prophet’s message, progressive, plus honourable, due to his fulfilled trust, and a productive member (son) of the Muslim ummah whose ultimate aim is the pleasure of Allah.
Lessons from Quranic Panels in Madinah
The embedded messages of the following four Qur’anic verses, which in the form of three panels adorn the south section of the screen of the Prophet’s burial chamber, greeting and reminding visitors, abbreviate the above codes.
Panel one: “O you who have believed, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet or be loud to him in speech like the loudness of some of you to others, lest your deeds become worthless while you perceive not” (al-Hujurat, 2).
Panel two: “Indeed, those who lower their voices before the Messenger of Allah - they are the ones whose hearts Allah has tested for righteousness. For them is forgiveness and great reward” (al-Hujurat, 3).
Panel three: “Muhammad ﷺ is not the father of (any) one of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah, of all things, Knowing. O you who have believed, remember Allah with much remembrance” (al-Ahzab, 40-41).