The Seven Phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life

Scholars as well as the ordinary person in the West are starting to show an understanding and appreciation of Islam and its belief system. However their knowledge of Islam's Messenger, Muhammad (S), his personality and the nature of his mission remains woefully inadequate. Muslim scholarship on this subject has largely focused on anecdotal details of his life, and descriptions of his personality. Only sporadic attempts at analyzing and understanding the dynamics of his life have been made. Trying to gain insight into the "why" of his actions, rather than merely detailing the "what" and "how", is essential in extracting true lessons for those who have an interest in his complex and inspiring life. An understanding of Muhammad's (S) actions and the context in which they occurred is also essential in truly comprehending the message of the Qur'an, and what Islam is all about.
The objectives of this analytical essay are twofold:
a. To stratify his life into various "phases" based on the changing nature of his struggle.
b. To attempt an analysis of the internal dynamics of his mission and extract its relevance to the current human situation.

Muhammad's (S) life is uniquely different from those of the founders of the other major world religions in that he experienced all the trials and ease, hope and despair, near defeat and total victory that any human being can possibly experience. Rather than simply expounding theory and laying out principles, he was able to demonstrate through word and deed how one would act in different situations in life. These life experiences can be divided into various "phases," which are quite distinct and different from each other and are therefore clearly demarcated. An understanding of these phases can provide precedent, hope, and solace to those who seek to comprehend his mission and learn from it. The fact that among the major religious leaders of the world, Muhammad (S) was arguably the only one who lived in the light of history makes this an achievable objective. A review of these well-defined broad phases in his life, rather than particular incidents, is perhaps of better use to us today. In all of the phases he remained the exemplar of the ideals outlined in the Qur'anic message and an individual who set standards by his practice which he hoped all humanity would aspire to achieve. These phases may be briefly summarized as follows.
First phase: The "the seeker of truth" deeply troubled by the problems facing humanity. The early part of his life before the initial revelation (Wahy) experience; the phase when he was deeply troubled by the status of society and spent much time pondering over it.
Second phase: "The recipient of the mantle of prophethood/ the warner and the exhorter". The revelation and its immediate aftermath were a period of both great excitement and torturous self-doubt.
Third phase: "The stoic optimist". The period of open invitation to Islam, and the brazen hostility it generated. He exhibited inspiring optimism while faced with the great frustrations of an excruciatingly slow progress in the spread of his message. It ends with the ascension (Mi'raj) episode that reconfirmed for him the validity of his mission.
Fourth phase:"The pluralistic leader". An unexpected avenue for expansion of Islam opened with his Migration (Hijrah) to Madinah. A highlight of this phase was signing the covenant of Madinah that exemplifies his inimitable statesmanship and set standards for pluralism.
Fifth phase: "The courageous yet reluctant warrior". This phase is marked by a clear change in the direction of his mission, both literally and figuratively, and the battles for survival (Badr, Uhud, Khandaq). The local Jewish communities played a crucial and tragic role in this phase.
Sixth phase:"The statesman par excellence, and the Teacher". In this phase he signed a peace treaty with the Quraysh and reaped it's dividend. In this phase he exhibited the foresight and perspective to compromise and accept apparently humiliating conditions for peace, this quickly turned into his greatest victory. These few years of peace were marked by the largest increase in conversions to Islam. He proved himself as adept at being an administrator and lawmaker in peace as he was a leader and strategist in war.
Seventh phase: "The compassionate ruler and spiritual leader". In this final phase he consolidated the remaining objectives before his death.

I have a few additional observations. Although I have used numerous sources in compiling this essay, I have used the Qur'an as the primary and major source for the events of Muhammad's (S) lifetime. The Qur'an is essential to understanding Muhammad's (S) mission (risalah), just as the knowledge of his struggle is invaluable to understanding the Qur'an. His contemporaries often characterized him as the living embodiment of the Qur'an. The Qur'an and the Sunnah, in fact are as essential to each other as the body is to the soul.
Additionally in this review, I have kept in mind the Prophet's (S) own admonition about any attempts at deifying him; "Allah condemned the Jews and the Christians, because they built places of worship upon the gravesites of their prophets." Muhammad (S) was very conscious of keeping a clear distinction between his words and the divine words he received through the revelatory experience, and made it certain that no one confused one with the other.
Finally, when I shall discuss the 'seven phases', I am not attempting to demonstrate any type of parallelisms with the number seven, as is done in some Islamic mystical literature. (Seven heavens; seven orifices in the human head; seven visible planets; seven intervals of a musical octave; seven days in each quarter of a lunar cycle). I could have used the words "many" or "various" however, I settled on "seven", as it appeared to be the most direct way of characterizing the results of my analysis.


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