By Yusuf Islam
In a world where people are overshadowed by darkness and increased fear, for those fortunate enough to have love of truth and knowledge, it is a sign of hope to witness a growing global interest in Islam. Although we lament the fact that this interest has sometimes arisen due to increased tension and arguments surrounding freedom of speech and expression, I personally believe it is a golden opportunity to shed further light on the last messenger of God and his much needed message of peace, unity and light for humanity.
Like many people in the West - regardless of our being blessed with immense economic advancements, superb technology and highly evolved political systems - I was brought up in a state of embarrassing poverty regarding knowledge and information about Islam. Images of Muslims as aliens, with strange religious customs, genies, magic carpets, moons and stars, war and bloodshed, the crusades, dominated my view - there was hardly anything presented to me which could be said to represent true Islam, until I actually discovered it when given an English translation of the Qur'an back in 1976.
The very first lesson that I learnt from the Qur'an was the message of unity and peace. This was not that dark, foreign religion which I had expected. Firstly, it was talking about belief in One God and Sustainer, overseeing over all people, creatures and events in this matchless universe.
It was a pleasant surprise to discover so many Qur'anic verses talking about biblical prophets as brothers, preaching the same unifying script, showing every man and woman the way to Paradise. I saw the names of Jesus, of Moses, of Abraham, of David, Jacob, of Noah. But a big surprise for me was to be introduced to a new name in the list of human luminaries - the last and most recent - Muhammad (pbuh)
Another most amazing discovery was to learn that the word Islam actually meant entering into 'peace' with God, and consequentially, finding peace within all of His creation.
The more I read, the more it became clear that there was no real division between the essential teaching of all prophets and wise men of religion. Because there was no sign of racialism or separation between the messengers of Truth, it logically follows that their flocks and devotees, although apparently split into different nations and religions, belonged to one universal family of humanity under One Merciful and Indivisible God.
It was then I knew that this book, the Qur'an, was truly a Revelation from above. From that moment there was nothing left for me to do but to be a Muslim - one who submits and enters into peace with God - and that was what I did.
One of the most continuously amazing things after embracing Islam was to discover the unique and detailed life and story of the last blessed Prophet (pbuh) in explaining and showing the practical example of the words and teachings of the Glorious Qur'an.
Throughout history there have been thousands of people who have influenced the course of humanity. Kings, warriors, philosophers, writers, poets, all have left their mark on the pages of time, but none have left us with such a perfect documentation of sayings and conduct, which continues to illuminate, impact and influence the present and future direction of mankind, as the last messenger.
From how he combed his hair to the way he walked, from details of his intimate moments with his family to the Prophet's pronouncements and utterances related to the discourse between religions and nations, every moment of his Prophetic life and teachings have been scrupulously saved, committed to writing and followed. The Qur'an confirms:
You have indeed, in the messenger of God, a beautiful pattern of (conduct) for anyone whose hope is in God and the Last Day and who engages much in the remembrance of God.1
One of the most important goals of his life and mission was the calling of humanity to the grand purpose of the universe, to worship the One True God. The fact that the Prophet cared for every human being and tried his best to ensure their security in the hereafter, must be the most telling of his love and compassion.
While Islam is projected today as inimical and hostile to Christianity, Judaism and other religions, the truth is that the Prophet was the great educator, teaching people the meaning and explanation of their own faith, correcting and assisting them in following the right path as taught by his predecessors, the earlier prophets and messengers.
O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion; nor say of God aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His messengers.2
Even Muhammad's greatest enemies had to admit that no fault could be found in his behaviour or integrity. In addition, those Western scholars and historical figures who over the centuries were brave enough to gaze with an honest heart at the miracle of Muhammad's life and achievements have testified to this. Some of their observations are remarkable. For example, George Bernard Shaw said:
"I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving the problems in a way that would bring the much needed peace and happiness. Europe is beginning to be enamoured of the creed of Muhammad. In the next century it may go further in recognizing the utility of that creed in solving its problems." 3
I end with a conclusion that the Prophet taught for those who want to learn Islam and benefit from the mercy which he distributed to all people. He said,
"You will not enter heaven until you believe; and you will not believe until you love one another. Should I not guide you to a thing that if you do it will increase love amongst you? Spread 'As salam' (peace)"4
1. The Prophets (21), verse 33
2. The Women (4), verse 171
3. George Bernard Shaw, A Collection of Writing of Some of the Eminent Scholars, 1935.