The lover begins his spiritual quest for the Beloved ﷺ by studying what Allah has revealed about him in the Holy Qur’an. He diligently reads what has been relayed from him ﷺ in the Sunnah and what has been relayed about him ﷺ in the words of those closest to him: the People of his Household and his illustrious Companions. He reflects on his ﷺ noble names and peruses the previous heavenly scriptures seeking celebratory allusions of his ﷺ auspicious coming.
That being said, knowledge about the Messenger of Allah ﷺ can be surmised into five genres:
- Sirah (‘Ilm al-Sirah); in which we read, investigate and research the biography of the Prophet ﷺ, his days and his nights, from the moment of his noble birth to his passing.
- Shama’il (‘Ilm al-Shama’il); in which we explore the pristine features, beautiful character, and behaviour of the Prophet ﷺ, as well as his pure lineage and his blessed names.
- Fada’il (‘Ilm al-Fada’il); in which we learn about the qualities and virtues of the previous Prophets and Messengers in comparison to the qualities and virtues bestowed upon him ﷺ.
- Dala’il (‘Ilm al-Dala’il); in which we examine the incontrovertible proofs of his ﷺ prophethood, his miracles, prophecies and of his ﷺ foretelling in the previous scriptures.
- Khasa’is (‘Ilm al-Khasa’is); in which we study the unique and exclusive qualities that have been bestowed upon him ﷺ and upon his fortunate nation ﷺ.
Each of these genres has its own identity in terms of the contents and issues that it deals with, as well as the sources that it draws from, and the benefits, effects and fruits that are gained from their study and mastery.
These genres, taken as a collective, aim to provide the seeker with a comprehensive image of the perfect personage of the Prophet ﷺ. As a result of this knowledge, the application and internalisation of the Prophetic model into our lives then become a more ripe and mature possibility. This explains why it is important to be grounded in the aforementioned disciplines if we desire to be close to the Prophet ﷺ and imbibe the Prophetic message.
‘Ilm al-Sirah, in sum, is wherein we read, investigate and research the biography about the Prophet ﷺ, his days and his nights, from the moment of his noble birth to his passing ﷺ.
In detail, it discusses the sixty-three lunar years which the Prophet ﷺ spent on the face of the earth and upon which Allah swears an oath: ﴾By your life! They were wandering blindly in their intoxication.﴿ [Al-Hijr, 15:72] Thus, Allah took an oath upon every single day and night of the Prophet ﷺ.
The knowledge of the Sirah comprises the blessed life of the Prophet ﷺ from the moment of his momentous birth and the events which transpired with his noble mother, Sayyidah Aminah, his ﷺ infancy, and later upbringing with the Banu Sa’d. It discusses his ﷺ marital life, his ﷺ tradesmanship, those who brought faith in him ﷺ, the migration to Abyssinia, the Year of Sorrow, the incident of Ta’if, the Night Journey and Ascension, the pledges of allegiance, the migration to Madinah, his ﷺ participation in battles and warfare, his ﷺ establishment of a Prophetic polity, his ﷺ sending of letters to leaders and kings, reception of envoys, until the final Hajj and his passing.
Authors who wrote in this genre (presented in chronological order) include:
- ‘Urwah b. al-Zubayr in 92 AH;
- Wahb b. Munabbih in 110 AH;
- Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri in 124 AH;
- Musa b. ‘Aqabah in 141 AH;
- Mu’ammar b. Rashid in 150 AH;
- Muhammad b. Ishaq in 152 AH;
- Ibn Hisham (who summarised Ibn Ishaq) in 218 AH;
- al-Suhayli commented on Ibn Ishaq in 581 AH;
- Abu Dharr al-Khushni summarised Ibn Hisham in 604 AH;
- Badr al-Din al-’Ayni in Kashf al-Litham fi Sirah Ibn Hisham in 805 AH;
- Muhammad al-Damiri versified it in al-Fath al-Qarib fi Sirah al-Habib in 793 AH;
- Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Salihi in Subul al-Huda wa l-Rashad;
- Some more recent works in this genre include the Sirah of Sh. Ahmad Zayni al-Dahlan, Tawarikh-e Habib-e Ilah by Mufti Inayat Kakorwi, Sirat-e Mustafa by Abd al-Mustafa al-‘Azmi amongst many others.
Ilm al-Shama’il, in sum, is wherein we explore the pristine features, beautiful character, qualities and behaviour of the Prophet ﷺ, as well as his pure lineage and his blessed names.
Linguistically, the singular form of Shama’il is ‘Shamlah’ or ‘Shamilah’. It refers to what a person adorns themselves with. Others have opined that the word is derived from ‘Shimal’ which refers to a person’s nature or way of being.
Every person has two principal depictions: one which is sensible and seen by the eyes, and another which is spiritual and seen by the heart. There is a relation between both, for the inner is made apparent upon the outer, and the outer leaves an impression upon the inner. We call the outer form ‘features’ and the inner form ‘character’.
Qatadah said: “Allah has not sent a Prophet save that he had a handsome face and a beautiful voice; and your Prophet ﷺ was endowed with a handsome face and a beautiful voice, and he did not chant in a quavering voice.” [Tirmidhi, Shama’il, §319]
The Shama’il has come in the Holy Qur’an.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾We have seen you turn your face towards the Heaven.﴿ [Al-Baqarah, 2:144] The face here is the countenance of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾Did we not open up your chest for you?﴿ [Al-Inshirah, 94:1] The chest here is the magnanimous chest of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾That had weighed so heavily on your back?﴿ [Al-Inshirah, 94:3] The back here is the dignified back of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾Move not your tongue with it in haste.﴿ [Al-Qiyamah, 75:16] The tongue here is the eloquent tongue of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾Who brought it down upon your heart.﴿ [Al-Baqarah, 2:97] The heart here is the precious heart of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾And lower your wing unto the believers.﴿ [Al-Hijr, 15:88] The wing here is the tender arm of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾Nor did you write it with your right hand.﴿ [Al-’Ankabut, 29:48] The hand here is the generous hand of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾Say, ‘an ear of good for you.’﴿ [Al-Tawbah, 9:61] The ear here is the attentive ear of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾And let not your eye turn away from them.﴿ [Al-Kahf, 18:28] The eye here is the piercing gaze of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet.﴿ [Al-Hujurat, 49:2] The voice here is the beautiful voice of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾It is not for the people of Madinah and those around them to remain behind from the Messenger of Allah, nor to prefer themselves over himself.﴿ [Al-Tawbah, 9:120] The self here is the ethereal self of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Allah Almighty says: ﴾And purify your clothes.﴿ [Al-Muddathhir, 74:4] The clothes here are the garments of our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
Despite seeing the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, the Companions would go to one another and ask of his physical appearance. For example, the beloved grandsons of the Prophet ﷺ, al-Hasan and al-Husayn, would ask their uncle, Hind b. Abi Halah, to describe their grandfather ﷺ to them.
As for the character of the Prophet ﷺ, then the reports describing his bravery, courage, generosity, compassion, steadfastness and perfection are innumerable to cite here.
The importance of envisioning the Messenger of Allah ﷺ cannot be understated in a world full of images; for it – the Muhammadan form – is the visage par excellence.
Some works written in this genre:
- Tirmidhi, al-Shama’il al-Muhammadiyyah;
- Nabhani, Wasa’il al-Wusul ila Shama’il al-Rasul;
- Munawi, al-Rawd al-Basim;
- Kattani, Munyat al-Sa’il.
‘Ilm al-Fada’il, in sum, is wherein we learn about the qualities and virtues of the previous Prophets and Messengers in comparison to the qualities and virtues bestowed upon him ﷺ.
The foundation of this genre is the following premise: There is no virtue, quality or miracle endowed to a prophet of Allah but that our Master Muhammad ﷺ has also been endowed with it—rather, he ﷺ is the one who possesses them in the greatest degree.
- The Red Sea was split for Prophet Moses; whereas the Moon was split for our Master Muhammad ﷺ.
- Prophet Moses implored thus to Allah Almighty: ﴾My Lord, expand for me my chest.﴿ [Taha, 20:251]; whereas it is Allah Almighty who says to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ﴾Did we not open up your chest for you?﴿ [Al-Inshirah, 94:1]
- Prophet Moses said to Allah Almighty: ﴾And I hasten to You my Lord so that You may be pleased.﴿ [Taha, 20:84]; whereas it is Allah Almighty who says to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ﴾And your Lord is sure to give you such that you be pleased.﴿ [Al-Duha, 93:5]
- Prophet Abraham pleaded thus to Allah Almighty: ﴾And do not disgrace me on that Day when they will be raised.﴿ [Al-Shu’ara’, 26:87]; whereas it is Allah Himself who declares: ﴾On the Day when Allah will not disgrace the Prophet and those who believe with him.﴿ [Al-Tahrim, 66:8]
Some works written in this genre:
- Ghumari, al-Ahadith al-Muntaqah;
- Nabhani, Jawahir al-Bihar;
- Nabhani, al-Arba’in fi Fada’il Sayyiduna Muhammad ﷺ.
‘Ilm al-Dala’il, in sum, is wherein we examine the incontrovertible proofs of his ﷺ prophethood, his miracles, prophecies and news of his ﷺ coming in the previous scriptures.
The evidence for the prophethood of our Master Muhammad ﷺ can be divided into three categories:
A) Signs and foretokens of his ﷺ coming before his birth.
B) Miracles in the life of the Prophet ﷺ.
C) Miracles after his passing to The Most Exalted Company.
As for [A], then the signs and foretokens of the Prophet’s ﷺ coming are found in the previous heavenly scriptures, such as the Psalms and Bible, as well as the auguries from priests, rabbis and soothsayers that were proclaimed prior to his ﷺ birth, and the miracles that occurred around his ﷺ birth which indicate towards him ﷺ being sent by Allah.
As for [B], then miracles in the life of the Prophet ﷺ can include [i] spiritual miracles and [ii] extraordinary material feats.
i) This features the inimitable revelation of Allah, the Holy Qur’an, which addresses all of humankind, and which rendered mute the pagan poets of Arabia.
ii) This features the inexplicable feat that occurred at the blessed hands of the Prophet ﷺ, including the splitting of the moon, making scarce water abundant, the animals and pebbles speak, healing the wounded, and so on.
These miracles serve to prove the prophethood of our Master Muhammad ﷺ; that Allah, the One and Mighty, has sent him ﷺ as the Final Prophet to guide humanity to Him.
As for [C], then the miracles after his passing include his prophecies and the miracles that transpire at the hands of saints and the pious – those who bring faith in him ﷺ – which thus corroborate the Prophet’s ﷺ truthfulness.
‘Ilm al-Khasa’is, in sum, is wherein we study the unique and exclusive qualities that have been bestowed upon him ﷺ and upon his nation ﷺ by Allah.
The exclusivities can be divided into two principal categories:
- Those in himself ﷺ.
- Those in his ﷺ law.
As for [A], then these include the Seal of Prophethood marked upon his ﷺ noble back, that he ﷺ was able to see from behind himself just as he ﷺ could see from in front, in darkness and in daylight alike, that his ﷺ captivating eyes would sleep but his God-conscious heart would not, and more.
As for [B], then these include the permissibility for the Prophet ﷺ to marry more than four wives, that he ﷺ could pray immediately after waking without needing to perform ablution, that he could remain in the Masjid whilst in the state of Janabah, that six prayers were obligatory upon him as opposed to five [including tahajjud].
Some works in this genre:
- Suyuti, al-Khasa’is al-Kubra;
- Ibn Mulaqqin, Ghayat al-Sul fi Khasa’is al-Rasul;
- al-Mahdi al-Fasi, Matali’ al-Masarrat li Jala’ Dala’il al-Khayrat;
- ‘Izz al-Din ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, Bidayat al-Sul fi Tafdil al-Rasul.
Adapted from al-Qaddumi’s al-’Ulum al-Nabawiyyah.