The Seven Phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life
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
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.