The virtues of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing be upon him, are too numerous to mention. Many chapters are required to enumerate them. If we were to illustrate these with examples, then many volumes of books would be needed.
The Quran testifies that he is of the exalted standard of moral conduct (68:4), and in him is excellent pattern to be followed by everyone (33:21). Many more verses allude to this matter, but by taking the above two verses, and couple them with our knowledge about the kind of person he is, we have in our Prophet the example by which if we follow, we would not only be on the right path, but would also excel in everything we do.
Combining these two verses together, we know that he not only does the right thing (as verse 68:4 suggests), but also does it right (as verse 33:21 suggests). The modern management gurus talk about leadership and define a leader as someone who does the right thing, and they talk about management and define a manager as someone who does things right. And they say people don’t often excel in both, but only in one.
Muhammad, however, excels in both. He not only provides leadership, but the management as well. Even for a supposedly small matter, he does it well.
For instance, when he talks to others, he gives them full attention and in the manner most suited to their needs, aspiration or predisposition. Thus, the noble would feel respected; the poor would feel cared; the youth would feel loved; the sick would feel consoled; and the needy would feel fulfilled. Even the enemy would feel that he is being treated fairly and truthfully.
So good is his dealing with others that these people would feel that they are important to the Prophet, as if they are being singled out and given preferential treatment by their leader. The story narrated by Amru bin al-Aas illustrates this point very aptly.
Now, for those less familiar with Amru al-Aas, a little background on him would probably come handy. Amru is noted for being intelligent and cunning. He is a competent leader and likes to be in the leadership position. He is considered as one of the leading companions, but he is not among the early converts. In fact, he is among the Prophet’s staunch enemies for the most part of the Prophet’s career.
During the period of Ignorance (jahiliyyah), he is famous for his failed attempt to extradite the fugitives who fled Makkah, seeking political asylum in Ethiopia. During the Battle of Uhud, he was commanding the Quraysh contingent, along with Khalid al-Walid, fighting against the Muslim army, of which the Quraysh won.
He becomes Muslim only after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, before the conquest of Makkah. This takes place after the Prophet assumes his ministry for almost 20 years. He converted the same time with Khalid al-Walid. These two famous figures, along with the less famous one, Uthman bin Talhah, had gone to Madinah, and the trio declared their faith in, and allegiance to, Islam.
Not being among the early converts, we would think that the Prophet would have treated him less congenially. Such, however, is not the case. The Prophet knows the kind of person Amru is, and he treats him the way Amru wants to be treated.
The Prophet knows that Amru is a competent leader and cherishes the opportunity to lead. Thus, in one of the expeditions, known as Dhat as-Salasil, Amru was appointed as the leader, although in that expedition, there are more senior companions including Abu Bakar, Umar and Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah. As the leader of the expedition, Amru was to lead the prayers as well, though he was only recently acquainted with Islam.
As Amru himself narrated, the Prophet used to pay attention even to the worst man in the community with a view to win his heart.
"Towards me also," said Amru, "he used to pay much attention, addressing me more than he did others, wherefore I began to think that I was the best man in the community.”
So, under this impression, one day Amru asked the Prophet: "Am I superior or Umar?"
“Umar,” the Prophet answered simply.
Feeling that the answer couldn’t be right, Amru asked again for confirmation. Again the Prophet gave similar answer. Later on, Amru thought that he should not have asked the Prophet such things.
In this short narration from Amru, at least two things come to the fore. In his dealing with others, the Prophet would go extra mile making them feel that they are being treated in the manner that they are being favored or most loved by the Prophet. Yet, at the same time, the Prophet would not shield from the truth and would state the matter as it is, without fear or favor. In the process, he brings the best out of people without being hypocritical.
As we know, the companions of the Prophet are people of mixed pedigree. Some are rich, others are poor. Some like to be in the limelight, others prefer to stay in the background. Some are noted for piety, others are noted for leadership. Some are very intelligent, others are less endowed with cognitive capacity. All of them, however, are people of virtue. And all of them feel that they are being treated in the best manner possible by their leader.
Amru belongs to the group of the more intelligent companions. In fact, he is considered as the most wily and most cunning of them all. A person like Amru should have known better that being among the late comers, he would not be regarded as superior to the early comers, especially to a person of Umar’s stature.
While Umar is not exactly among the earliest followers of Muhammad, since he becomes Muslim only by the fifth or the sixth year of Muhammad’s prophethood, Umar superiority among the companions are well known. Yet, because the Prophet treats him so well and in the manner most congenial to his predisposition, Amru felt that he is being favored by the Prophet.
One may raise the question that, by treating his companions like that, the Prophet gives false impression as to their worth. There is perhaps some superficiality in the way Muhammad carries himself, or the way he deals with others.
But nothing is further from the truth. As the story narrated by Amru suggests, if there is any hint of superficiality in the Prophet, he would have given the answer in the affirmative. He could have said: “Yes, of course. But don’t tell Umar. I don’t want to break his heart.” Amru would have reveled in that knowledge, and would have gladly kept the matter to himself.
But no, the Prophet simply cannot tell the falsehood, even though that might have been quite harmless, and would have made Amru feels better.
In this short story, two of the four mandatory attributes of the Prophet come to the fore, namely intelligence and truthfulness. As an intelligent person, the Prophet knows how to get the best out of his companions. As for his truthfulness, this is well known.
As mentioned in the beginning of this entry, the Prophets have many virtues. But of these many virtues, four are singled out as the mandatory attributes of the Prophet. They are: (1) truthful (siddiq), (2) trustworthy (amanah), (3) deliver (tabligh) and (4) intelligent (fathonah).
The first three of these attributes are well known. Our religious teachers and scholars always allude to these when they talk about Muhammad the Prophet and his teachings. The last attribute, namely intelligence, however, is touched less frequently. Our religious teachers always depict Muhammad as a virtuous man, but they do not often portray him as an intelligent person.
In our subsequent installments, we shall try to analyze the Prophet from the angle of these four mandatory attributes, with a particular focus on intelligence.