Role Models in Islam
It has been estimated that up to 95% of all human behaviors are learnt through looking up to role models. However, even if it were only partially true it is a very good reason to choose positive role models, for ourselves and our children. Sadly, in today’s 24/7 media saturated environment we are more likely to choose role models from the field of sports and entertainment without trying to differentiate between a role model and a hero. A hero is someone you admire perhaps for his sporting prowess or for her superb acting ability but do they lead the kind of lives that we should want to emulate? Role models, on the other hand, are people who possess the qualities that we would like to have and people who have affected us in a way that makes us want to be better human beings. For instance it is from role models that we learn how to handle life’s problems.
It is easy to be influenced by the people around us and whom we look up to. It is easy to take on their mannerisms and qualities without being aware of it. If these are good qualities then it is a good thing, but what if the people you consider as your role models have pushed you away from the remembrance of Allah? This could be a disaster. Fortunately Islamic history is peppered with amazing role models – men, women and children – from whom we learn how to be great mothers, fathers, teachers, friends, students, etc. Positive displays of good morals and manners, determination, will power, and high ethical standards help others emulate these positive attributes.
According to Islam, the best human beings are the prophets. After that, the best human beings are companions, disciples, and followers of the prophets. Of course the greatest example of exemplary behavior in any given situation is Prophet Muhammad himself. We know from his authentic traditions – the Sunnah, that his character was the Qur’an, meaning that he lived and breathed all that the Qur’an teaches. When we are looking for role models we need look no further than the Prophet himself and those who surrounded him in the early days of Islam. In fact, when following the sahabah we are following Prophet Muhammad because they did not learn Islam from anyone other than him. Indeed their virtues are many; for they are the ones who supported Islam and spread the faith, fought along with the Prophet, and transmitted the Qur’an, Sunnah and the Islamic rulings. They sacrificed themselves and their wealth for the sake of Allah. We love them for they loved Allah and His Messenger.
Prophet Muhammad said, “The best of people is my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them.” The sahabah did not all have the exact same personalities, backgrounds, mindsets, outlooks, or tastes. They were all unique; however they were united upon Islam. As Muslims, we too are not all the same. We are able to take distinct lessons from each of the sahabah; we are able to learn from their experiences. Some were gentle, others were strict; some were learned men and women, while others were unlettered. Some of the sahabah were ascetic while others were the millionaires and leading entrepreneurs of their time. It is from the mercy of Allah that He has given us so many role models for behavior, character, and conduct. Let us continue our exploration by looking at two of Prophet Muhammad’s closest friends.
Abu Bakr was a successful merchant with a reputation for honesty and kindness. He was the first adult man to convert to Islam, and accepted Prophet Muhammad’s message instantly. Prophet Muhammad said that if he were to weigh the Imaan of Abu bakr it would outweigh that of the entire Ummah. Abu Bakr excelled in every form of worship and was known as “As-Sabbaaq” – meaning the one who wins in every competition. Umar Ibn Al-Khattab once donated half of his wealth to fund the Battle of Tabuk, hoping to outdo Abu Bakr, only to find out that Abu Bakr had already donated his entire fortune. Abu Bakr was tender-hearted and compassionate. He sympathized with the poor and pitied the miserable and when reciting Qur’an, he would weep.
Umar Ibn Al-Khattab
Umar Ibn Al-Khattab went from being one of the strongest opponents of Islam to one of its staunchest believers. Umar was a pioneering figure in the Islamic world. He was a leader, a statesman, a pious and God-conscious Muslim who showed respect for all individuals including non-Muslims and he ordered the Muslims to treat non-Muslims with respect. He showed us how to apply the Qur’anic injunction ‘there is no compulsion in religion’. Umar was known for his power, and strength and he used this, his bold intellect, and his far-sighted wisdom for the sake of Islam and for the empowerment of Muslims. Prophet Muhammad called Umar “Al- Farooq” – the Criterion between good and evil.
Because human beings learn so much through imitating the behavior of others it is important that they choose or are given access to good role models. In a world that more often than not derides Islamic morals and manners it is essential that Muslims have people to look up to, admire and emulate. There are no better people than members of the sahabah, those men, women and children that were close to Prophet Muhammad and were taught Islam as it was revealed. In the previous lesson we looked briefly at two male sahabi and now we will look at two of Prophet Muhammad’s most influential wives.
Khadijah, the daughter of Khuwaylid
Khadijah was the first, and for 25 years, the only wife of Prophet Muhammad. She was 40 years old and twice widowed when she married Muhammed, then aged 25, who had not at that stage been granted prophethood. Khadijah was an accomplished businesswoman, wealthy in her own right with a reputation of dealing with the disabled, orphans, widows and the poor with kindness and compassion; she was known as “At-Tahira”, the pure one. Khadijah loved and supported Prophet Muhammad through the first difficult years of Islam. She did so in the spirit of partnership and companionship that is inherent in a truly Islamic marriage.
Khadijah was the first person to accept the message of Islam and she stood by her husband as family and friends turned against him, and plotted to kill him. Khadijah supported the rise of Islam with her wealth and health. She provided food, water and medicines for the banished and boycotted community. Even though she was not accustomed to deprivation, Khadijah never complained about the poor conditions she was forced to endure. After Khadijah passed away (three years before the migration of Muslims from Makkah to Madina), Prophet Muhammad remarked that she had been a loving mother, a loyal and sympathetic wife who shared all his deepest secrets and dreams.
Aisha the daughter of Abu Bakr
Aisha was the daughter of Abu Bakr, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s closest companions. During her marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, the couple developed a close relationship and it was in Aisha’s arms that the Prophet Muhammad died in 632 CE. Regarded by many as his favorite wife, she was an active figure in numerous events and an important witness to many more.
Aisha was generous and patient. She bore without complain the poverty and hunger that was common in the early days of Islam. For days on end no fire would be lit in the sparsely furnished house of the Prophet for cooking or baking bread and they would live merely on dates and water. The poverty did not distress or humiliate Aisha and the self-sufficiency when it did arrive did not corrupt her gentle ways.
Aisha was also well known for her wisdom and curiosity. She would always ask questions and clarify even the smallest points; this made her a priceless resource. More than 2,000 hadith narrations can be traced back to her. Due to her vast knowledge, she was often consulted before rulings were made or decisions taken. She lived long after the death of the Prophet and was she was able to teach the Muslims their religion for many years before her death.
As we discussed in lesson 1, people, particularly children learn by copying the behavior of the important or famous people in their lives. Try to remember the last time you listened to children playing; many of them desire to be the latest sports star or music sensation. Sadly in some cases by the time they reach adulthood these children can tell you everything about media stars but not a single fact about the companions of Prophet Muhammad. They can quote sporting statistics perfectly but stumble through the recitation of Al-Fatihah. On the Day of Resurrection, these entertainment idols will ignore and disown all those who took them as role models. Interestingly, at the conclusion of a Reebok ad the basketball idol walks to the camera and says, “Just because I dunk a ball doesn’t mean I have to raise your kids.” Even the stars themselves realize that they do not always display behavior that others should aspire to or emulate.
Role models not only demonstrate the best behavior, they also demonstrate how to learn from mistakes and failures. The sahabah in particular often found themselves in difficult situations and on steep learning curves. In many cases it was Prophet Muhammad himself who corrected their behavior, and he did it in a way that did not humiliate or upset the offender. Good roles, such as the sahabah teach by their behavior; they teach those who look up to them to live in a way that is pleasing to Allah. From them we learn that human beings are not perfect but they can seek to please Allah in everything they do and in every reaction to outside influences.
By Aisha Stacey