Mandela’s Ideology – An Embodiment of the Legacy of Prophet Muhammad 7 December 2014

Sajda Khan reflects on paralells between the Prophet Muhammad and Mandela, one year on from the latter’s death.

Mandela on release

Writing about Muhammad, the last Prophet of Islam, orientalist scholar W Montgomery Watt said: ‘Of all the world’s great men, none has been so much maligned as Muhammad.’  A long history of Islamophobia characterises the West from the time of the Crusades. There is a plethora of narratives by orientalists discrediting Muhammad as a Prophet. For Muslims however, he is the ultimate role model
Muslims are required to emulate Muhammad’s exemplary manners such as, being selfless, tolerant, and concerned for the well-being of others. Despite being an Arab, he was sent by God to all of humanity – his message was one that was universal.

All of the Biblical Prophets articulated a vision of peace through justice for all and selflessness. It is said though, that there are not many people who possess these qualities. Iconic figures such as Nelson Mandela were not Prophets or divinely inspired, but chose a prophetic path to adhere to an abstemious way of life and a relentless pursuit of fairness for all.

Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest men of the twentieth century; this December will mark the first anniversary of his death. Mandela was, without a shadow of doubt a symbol of selflessness and rectitude, revered by millions.
I recall how the world mourned the loss of one of the world’s most admired statesman. Eulogies at his memorial service reminisced over his noble characteristics, wishing him a peaceful repose, while beckoning humanity to embrace his legacy.
I believe that Mandela embodied the characteristics and principles espoused by the Prophet Muhammad. Mandela fought for the justice and liberty of his people in the twentieth century; and eventually led South Africa out of the apartheid era and into a multicultural, diverse and democratic state which gave rights and dignity to everyone. He was tortured and incarcerated in prison for 27 years for being anti-apartheid. When he was finally released from prison in 1990, he did not seek revenge; instead he sought reconciliation.  This monumental act of peace and reconciliation has its origins in the practice of Muhammad during what is known as the ‘Conquest of Mecca.’ This was the first formal peace and reconciliation process enacted at a state and continental level over 1400 years ago.  Muhammad and the early Muslim community endured 21 years of persecution, imprisonment, torture, boycott, killing and abuse that resonates the situation of black and non-white people during the apartheid era in South Africa.

Following this period, the Muslims eventually prevailed and gained ascendance over their tormentors and oppressors, returning to Mecca their homeland and birthplace from which they had to flee. One can only imagine what may have prevailed and what the fate of the tormentors would have been, as many waited in trepidation as Muhammad came with a host of 10,000 to reclaim their rightful home.

However, he demonstrated colossal morality and profound magnanimity forbade all forms of aggression and forgave all the residents of Makkah. Hence, this was a bloodless conquest.  Muhammad not only avoided mass killings and bloodshed, but also united a previously disparate and war-torn nation under the banner of equality, justice and fraternity. He forgave all his enemies and those individuals who inflicted personal harm on him and his family members. It was this peace and reconciliation process that was replicated in Northern Ireland and then in South Africa.

When life became formidably unendurable for the Prophet, due to relentless torture and persecution from the Meccan elites, he went to the neighbouring town of Taif in search of support. The leaders of Taif ridiculed him and hurled insults at him. They also steered the children and slaves to pelt him with rocks and stones. Many years later he recalled it as the worst day of his life. Following this dreadful event, it is recorded in Muslim traditions that God sent an angel who was prepared to destroy the town and all its inhabitants; but Muhammad declined saying: ‘Forgive my people for they know not what they do and, perhaps from them will come a people who worship God.’ Prophet Muhammad did not seek revenge. He sought reconciliation. He did not preach violence. He advocated peace, and thereby, demonstrated unprecedented mercy and compassion.

Mandela had the desire to protect minority rights; give positions of ruler-ship to those previously denied, because of their perceived lower status, and to create a multi-racial and pluralistic society. When Muhammad migrated to Madina in 622CE, it was a pluralistic society; he established a peace treaty known as the Constitution of Madina. This remarkable political-constitutional document was the first ever human rights charter describing a multi-faith society. It is the oldest written national constitution and preceded the English feudal bill of rights, the Magna Carter of 1215, by almost six centuries.   Not only is this treaty important in the sense that it is the first written constitution, it is also contemporary as it conferred equal rights to every citizen.

Muhammad scrupulously applied the principles of honesty and justice to everyone, even those who did not share his faith. He was both a spiritual leader and a statesman. His practical example of forgiveness, social justice and reconciliation exemplifies a living role model for both Muslims and non-Muslims at times of geo-political conflict.

Sadly, the West has a legacy of reviling and caricaturing the Prophet of Islam.  For centuries, it has failed to understand Muhammad and the universal principles he stood for.

There is a desperate need in the West to quell the tendentious depictions about the Prophet of Islam. The medieval rancor and clichés will continue to perpetuate hatred and tension unless Muhammad is understood from the lens of the original sources, rather than the facile distortions.
While, it is true that legends like Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were a conscience and made our world a much better place; we must not be oblivious of the fact that Muhammad was the epitome of social justice, equality, graciousness and liberty.  The Qur’an eloquently encapsulates the morals of Muhammad: ‘And you (O Muhammad) are upon an exalted standard of character.’

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About Sajda Khan

Sajda Khan is a British writer and is currently completing a PhD on the topic of Islam in contemporary society.