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The Prophet's Personality

Many anecdotes bear witness to Muhammad's (pbuh) great affection for children. For example, he once had Umama on his shoulders at the time of worship, and he kept her there, putting her down when he bowed or prostrated, then picking her up again. When Aisha came into his household as his betrothed, she brought her toys with her, and he enjoyed watching her play with ‘Solomon's horses'.

Muhammad (pbuh) had many close men friends. It was said that when he talked to people, he always gave them such complete attention that each would seem to be the most important person in the world. Ten friends were to be of particular importance for the part they were to play in the development of Islam after his death, and these will be described in detail in the next chapter. One of the greatest personal blows to him was the death of Zayd Ibn Haritha, for whom he still felt a fatherly tenderness, although no longer legally his adoptive father. Few men were as close to Muhammad as Zayd, and he was entrusted with the leadership of nine expeditions - far more than anyone else except the Prophet. He died leading an expedition to Muta on the borders of Byzantine Syria in AH 8 (629).

Tradition gives many examples of Muhammad's (pbuh) fondness for animals, with which he had close dealings all through his life. An often-repeated story is that he took off - or even cut - his cloak to avoid waking a cat that was asleep on it.

Muhammad (pbuh) was a man of great physical courage and endurance. Between the approximate ages of 50 and 60 he led the Muslims in twenty-seven of their eighty-odd expeditions and engagements. Various authors describe how he had chain-mail armour and was skilled with sword, spear and bow and arrow. Even while on campaign, he was careful of his personal appearance, according to Ibn Saad, taking with him mirror, comb, and hair-oil. But he was no dandy; his clothes were few and simple, and he made them last until they were very old.

Aisha is reported as remarking that besides women and perfume he liked food, especially sweet things, but that while he had been blessed with the first two, he had not had much of the third. He took two meals a day, sitting on the ground, usually either barley-bread or dates or a little meat, and he milked his own goats and drank their milk, but he fasted every Monday and Thursday. On one occasion he was presented with a pumpkin, which he enjoyed so much that he continued to speak of it long after.

The missing element from our image of Muhammad is his portrait. The early Muslims refrained from creating any image that might be taken as an idol, and even the Persian miniaturists left a blank in place of his face. In modern times, the same reticence has prevented the making of films portraying his life, with the one exception of The Message. Again, Ibn Saad offers the most information. He is said to have been of a little more than medium height, broad-chested and sturdily built, and he walked quickly, like a man going downhill. He had a large head with a prominent forehead, dark, wavy hair, which he wore down to his shoulders, and a thick beard. His eyes were large and dark, his nose hooked and his mouth wide. He was often grave and silent, but never idle. When he spoke, it was always rapidly and to the point. His voice was gentle, and he scarcely ever raised it.

Muhammad's (pbuh) last illness came when he was about 62, two months after returning from his Farewell Pilgrimage. His thoughts had been on death, and he had spent the night before the first symptoms praying in the cemetery of al-Baqi, where so many of his family and friends lay buried. With his usual tact, he asked permission of his other wives to be moved to Aisha's room for her to nurse him. Some thought this was acknowledgment that she was his favourite, but it could just have been because her room had a door into the mosque. His condition grew rapidly worse. On Monday the 12th of First Rabi, AH 11 (8 June 632), at the hour of the dawn worship, he appeared at the door of Aisha's room and raised his hand to the worshippers.

Abu Bakr had been delegated to lead the worship during the Prophet's (pbuh) illness. Thinking that his appearance at Aisha's door meant that he was getting better, Abu Bakr left to see his wife on the edge of Medina, from which he had to be recalled in haste. Muhammad Ibn Abd-Allah died in the heat of noon that Monday. It was the day said to be the tenth anniversary of his arrival in Medina and conventionally taken to be his birthday. Worn out by his exertions and his privations, he was ready to die, having completed his life's work.

- Philip Stewart

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Introduction: 

An extract from Philip Stewart's forthcoming book, Unfolding Islam. In this section he describes the wisdom and kindness that surrounded the prophet's personality