Nearly two billion individuals are about to begin the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims around the world will be fasting during daylight hours in reverence to the period in which their sacred text, Qurʾān, began to be revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
I am not Muslim. Nor am I particularly religious. Yet, as a secular man raised in the West there is much I have learned and resonated with when exploring the life of one the most influential leaders to have ever lived.
What lessons can we all learn from the life and story of the Prophet Muhammad?
Muhammad shares the same ancestral roots as do all Christians and Jews. His lineage traces him back to Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, who he bore with Hagar is the patriarch of Islam and from whom Muhammad is a direct descendant.
Muslims around the world turn towards the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia five times a day in prayer to face their most venerated site, the Ka’bah. The black granite cube shaped temple which sits at the centre of the Great Mosque of Mecca is believed to have been built by Abraham and his son Ishmael as a place for monotheistic worship.
Muhammad was born fatherless in 570 CE in Mecca. His father died months before his birth and by the age of six, he was orphaned. After the death of his mother, this young six-year-old boy was placed in the care of his paternal grandfather and later his paternal uncle.
He was raised in a pre-Islamic context which had drifted away from the monotheistic roots that Abraham and Ishmael had tried to establish. During his life, Arabia was ruled by various clans and tribes. These clans established their own pagan style of polytheistic worship which benefited them both politically and financially.
Honour & Love
Muhammad’s young adult life is not one which would have necessarily destined him to prophethood. He lived his life as an honourable man. An individual who worked hard, was honest, respectful, successful, handsome, funny and kind.
At 25 years old he worked for a successful, widowed businesswoman who was fifteen years his senior and was drawn to these honourable attributes in him. She saw in him something special. Muhammad married Khadijah who became his first wife and by all accounts the great love of his life even after her death.
Prayer & Meditation
Muhammad had instituted a practice of prayer and meditation throughout his life. He’d often go off to a mountain and pray in a cave. It was during one of these prayer and meditation sessions that it is believed that he was first spoken to by the angel Gabriel. Muhammad, 40, was hesitant and somewhat fearful to have been chosen to reveal what was being shared. Khadijah was a pillar of support during this period and the result was the beginning of the revelation that became known as the Qurʾān.
Oneness and Submission
Prophet Muhammad taught an incredibly simple message. It was a message of the oneness of God and ultimate submission to God. In a polytheistic worldview such as the one he lived in this message of oneness and submission had radical implications. He was adamant that he was simply a man and messenger which is why to venerate him is considered so deeply blasphemous in Islam. Orienting oneself towards and submitting to God as the one supreme being had the resulting effect of making every individual an equal. Muhammad’s message began the process of creating a society based on equality and peace. His message became the great equalizer and one he committed his life to delivering.
What can we learn?
Who among us has not lived a portion, if not all, of our lives in a place of personal disintegration? Who among us has not chased our own forms of false idols (i.e. money, sex, career, fame, etc.)?
It takes courage to explore one’s interior landscape with honesty, fearlessness and to submit to a much higher interior calling. To move from disintegration to wholeness a man must open himself to areas where he is out of balance and often keeps hidden.
Leadership becomes an internal dynamic focused on a constant striving to be the man you were born to be by submitting to your highest purpose. This is the jihad (which translated means ‘to strive’) we are all working towards.
Integration and Wholeness
In the final year of his life, the Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon in the Plain of Arafat. He concluded his touching sermon by saying to the people present that he was leaving them two things; the Qurʾān and his example.
For Muhammad, his life was the ultimate and complete dedication to the alignment of his actions and words. He used his life as a living example which aligned completely with his personal beliefs. It was this ultimate integration between words and actions which in my opinion made him such a transcendent leader.
The legacy you decide to leave will be predicated on your choices. Will you indulge in chasing more personal false idols or strive towards a much deeper wholeness; one where you’ve submitted to your most highest integrated self.
I cannot think of a more beautiful or powerful legacy to leave behind.
What choose you?
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