Allah (SWT) said:
“There has certainly been for you in the Messenger excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and who remembers Allah often.” Qur’an, 33:21
As part of their practice of the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (p), some Muslims preach and force the customs and gear of 7th Century Arabia on other Muslims living all over the world. As a result of their action, the image of Islam is harmed and their advice reflects negatively on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This article is an attempt to draw Muslims attention to the real substance of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad displayed in his example. This writing will be making a clear distinction between the method of management and elements that the Prophet used in order to illustrate where lays the Sunnah of the Prophet (p) to be followed.
Prophet Muhammad (p) managed his Da’wah work (inviting people to Islam) based on the tools and customs dominant in his time. Customs local to Arabia are common scenes in his actions and approaches, a must method in which his success could not have been possible.
Prophet Muhammad management of his affairs was based on selecting the best tools of his time and place. His approach was made around tailoring the available means and customs into a meaningful solution. The means and customs that were available to the Prophet then may not be available in other places or times. Within this context, the means and articulates he used may or may not become the core part of his Sunnah, but rather it is his example of approach of utilizing available customs and elements.
To illustrate our theory, let us examine the Prophet’s story surrounding his trip to al-Ta’if. In the 10th year from the first revelation, Prophet Muhammad made a decision to go to al-Ta’if, 150 kilometers south of Mecca to make Da’wah and seek protection. This trip was a direct result of Quraysh’s continuous harm, blockades and obstacles before him in Mecca.
For many years Quraysh has been preventing people from speaking to Muhammad including travelers who enter Mecca for business or other purposes. Also, if the Prophet was able to speak to someone, Quraysh would quickly move-in to spoil that person’s mind. Quraysh may tell the individual not to listen to Muhammad because he is a fool, a liar or magician. These restrictions and rejections forced the Prophet to seek the tribes of Thaqeef at al-Ta’if for his Da’wah.
Our interest in the story is to find the pattern that the Prophet took to evade Quraysh and reach al-Ta’if without Quraysh’s intervention and harm.
In this discussion, we will be able to answer the questions: What were the means that the Prophet used in carrying out his trip? Did he use means relevant to his time and people? Would the means he chose became our Sunnah to use today?
The rationality of the Prophet about these issues begins to shine out as he eases his way out from his house for this trip with his servant Zayd (then known as the son of Muhammad, since adoption was not banned yet), and without any of his close followers and without a camel loaded with supplies for the trip.
It was customary to Arabia that when a major issue of concern was addressed, the nobles of the concerned tribes would be visible at the scene. The wisdom of the Prophet here is getting Quraysh attention away from him. A simple way of doing this would be an outlook that warrants no major concern. The Prophet got out of his house with his servant (son) Zayd without any of his strong companions, such as Umar, or Hamza, and he setout for the trip without a gear for travel. Some believe that this staging sent a message to Quraysh’s watching eyes that he was after a local casual airing; an outlook warrants no major concern to further monitor his movements. As a result, he was able to go to al-Taif and return without Quraysh’s interruption.
From this example, we see that the Prophet (p) used the logic of customs understood by his surroundings and relevant to his time. This simple and meaningful story tells us that the Sunnah of the Prophet here is his example in approach not so much the gear involved, since these tools or mechanics may not be the same in other cultures of the world.
This pattern of management is indeed the same pattern in the definition of Hikmah (Wisdom), which constitutes a major teaching of Islam and dictates to manage things appropriately in the right time, in the right manner, and in the right place. Realizing these facts, one wonders why many Muslims today place so much weight on the gear or tools that the Prophet utilized and pay little or no attention to his approach, which when followed will work for every time, place and culture.
Today’s Muslims must not re-establish the customs of 7th century Arabia in the world to practice Islam. Muslims’ practice of the true Sunnah of the Prophet (p) is by constructing approaches based on customs and logic that their people identify with, otherwise, setbacks and failures are to be expected. Let us confirm our claim again by examining the way the Prophet (p) determined the timing of Ramadan.
Determination of the beginning and ending of the lunar months
Another meaningful example illustrating the true Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, which lays in the way he managed issues, is in the matter of the timing of the lunar month of Ramadan. Surrounding this topic, we find several traditions for Prophet Muhammad reflecting certain available techniques in the determination of lunar dates. Each tradition or group of traditions however takes on a different technique than the other.
All the mechanisms in these traditions however are inconclusive, reflecting the limited knowledge regarding this science. For example a group of traditions points out to the number of days that is in a lunar month, while others speak about the number of days in a collection of lunar months. Another more accurate method revealing the beginning or ending the month of fast that the Prophet (p) pointed out is:
“Sumo le ru’ateh, wa aftiru le ru’ateh” ”Fast when you see the crescent and break your fast when you see the next crescent…”
This option allows for certainty in this matter, and seems to be the best option available to the Prophet (p), which he recommended. This method however is still inconclusive, since the Prophet continued to say: “But if you could not see it then complete the 30th day [in fasting.]” -Bukhari & Muslim.
Along side these traditions, the Prophet points out to the reality of his day and time, stating:
“We are Ummah (a nation) Ummiyah (unlettered) we do not write [in astronomical circles,] nor do we calculate [to arrive at the exact lunar dates.]…,”
The inconclusiveness of this solution is due in part to the complications surrounding seeing the crescent. Modern science states that the birth of the new moon takes place exactly when it is in straight line between the Sun and the Earth, where no reflection of the Sun is ever possible.
It can take 14 to 24 hours before the naked eye can see the crescent. Astronomers indicate that the difficulty in seeing the crescent is compounded with other factors, such as its degree over the horizon, the moon’s orbit and the glare from the sun. Astronomers further said that the beginning of Ramadan can be as much as two days off, even by the method of observation of the crescent by the naked eye. For a broader understanding of moon sighting, see the following websites: http://www.moonsighting.com, http://www.hilal-sighting.com and http://www.ummah.net/moonsighting/.
Learning today’s advanced facts about the lunar months, one can only appreciate by far why the Prophet (p) said: “We are Ummah (a nation) Ummiyah (unlettered) we do not write [in astronomical circles,] nor do we calculate [to arrive at the exact lunar dates.]…"
Muslims must remember that the tools and technology of the 7th century Arabia cannot in any way match the tools and technology of the 21rst century. Therefore, Muslims must, instead, adopt the technology of today’s advanced world in order to eliminate hostilities and further divide our Ummah. If today’s technology will enable our Muslim communities across America and the world to unite with respect to Ramadan’s timing issue, I think following this method is indeed an essence of our faith.
It is quite evident that the Prophet’s approach was based on selecting the best solution available to him during his time. To emulate the Prophet therefore, is to base your solution on the best tools and technology of your own time. The work and approach that deploys the means and customs relevant to their time is the backbone of the example the Prophet (p) and is therefore the Sunnah deemed by Allah to be followed.
For more on this important topic of the timing of Ramadan and the wisdom of the Prophet in the way he managed this matter, see our article, “The Profound Wisdom of Prophet Muhammad Regarding the Lunar Dates and the Unity of the Muslims.”
It is our hope that the underlined facts surrounding the way our Prophet (p) managed his affairs especially that of the lunar months should bring us closed to practice the true Islam, to get us all out of the dilemma we are in, and to set us out on the road for a better future of prosperity and advance.