[The following is a transcript of a question and answer session with Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui. It contains minor modifications from the spoken word for the purposes of readability.]
Question: I am coming from a Christian background, where I left the notion of Jesus as God, and praised as God. I find it difficult, now as a Muslim, to understand the extent of praise given to Prophet Muhammad when we are against the excessive praise of any human being. How can we reconcile this?
I believe the question of the deification of Isa [Jesus, peace be upon him] and our grand reverence and love for the Messengerﷺ, and that Allah granted his Messenger with many special gifts, is, alhamdulillah, very easily and naturally reconcilable.
First of all, the questioner, as he or she mentioned, has come from a Christian background, a background in which Jesus was deified, was considered God, or part of God, or part of the Trinity, considered as one of three which constitutes divinity itself. And that, alhamdulillah, as Muslims we know, as Allah told us, that is not what Jesus claimed. That’s not what he was. He was very special, a very, very special human being, endowed with many great gifts by Allah, to the extent that he was brought to this world without the intermediary of a father. And that’s already a very momentous maqaam [spiritual station] that Allah granted him. Allah calls him kalimat-ullah and ruhallah; he is called the “word of Allah” and the "spirit ouf Allah" (Glorified and Sublime be He). That is all in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah. And that’s highly special in the spiritual realm. He (peace be upon him) was made to give life to the dead, by the permission of Allah. And that’s a great, grand gift of God, who creates and uncreates as He wills (Glorified and Sublime be He). And the laws of creation and annihilation are in His control (Glorified and Exalted is He). And He gave Sayyiduna [our leader] Jesus that gift. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and cured the leper. All of that is in the Qur’an and the Sunnah as well. And his dua [supplication] was answered, and we could go on and on. In other words, like every Prophet of Allah, and Messenger of Allah, Jesus had many special virtues and characteristics that Allah (Glorified and Sublime be He) endowed him with.
Rasulallah [Prophet Muhammadﷺ] was also endowed with very special, beautiful gifts. Some of these were similar to Sayidduna Isa (peace be upon him), while others were different or greater. However, never shall that mean, or be allowed to mean that Muhammad is God, that he is to be instead of God, or like God, or equal to God, or that anything that he does is independent from Allah (Glorified and Sublime be He) and on his own account without Allah’s permission. Never.
That’s the way to understand it and to find a balance. That’s why Muslim scholars and poets would say describe him in any way we desire with beautiful and grand characteristics, but don’t say as some said about Jesus (peace be upon him). No. So that’s easy to realize. He has spiritual, moral, and intellectual characteristics that are far beyond what most of us have. We know that in our own worldly experience. Just compare yourself to a Nobel Prize winner in physics or in mathematics. Compare your knowledge to him or her, and you are going to appear like a dwarf. Some people, even, who are too limited in their scope of spirituality and intelligence see someone with tremendous rational, intellectual, and scientific powers, and they say, “Wow, this is God!” Astaghfirullah.
As our scholars have said, no matter how much God gives to anyone, it is by His permission, and it is only a creation of Allah. Only that. That is why we say Muhammad is but a man, in this sense. Yes he is “but a man”, in other words, a human being. But again, “but a man” meaning physically, made of flesh, bones, blood, and who has a soul. Yes, he is “but a man.” But the reality of that man, the haqiqa of that man, and the spiritual reality of that man is like, as I said, a pearl amongst the stones. And that’s what he was ﷺ.
“And Muhammad is but a rasul (messenger), before whom many messengers have passed”(Surah Al-Imran 3:144). That’s what Allah says. But what does a Rasul signify?
And he is khatim-ul-anbiyaa, the seal of the Messengers. That’s very special. Like you’re a man, I’m a man, she's a woman, but we’re all the same, in the sense of our humanity. But if we compare me and you to someone whose knowledge is thousands of times more than mine and yours, are we going to say “I’m just like him?” Of course not, in that sense. It depends at what level we are making the comparison. Is it at the physical material level, the intellectual level, or at the spiritual level? Then, there are the differences. Allah says to us, you are all equal, but he also says, “Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the one with the most taqwa” (Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:13).
All of you as human beings are equal but Allah says in the sight of Allah the most honored and best of you, are those with more taqwa [awareness of God, God-consciousness]. And Rasulallah ﷺ is the most beautiful expression of taqwa of Allah (Glorified and Sublime be He). From that standpoint, he is not like any one of us and no one of us is like himﷺ. He is a gift from God to us, to help us know God. And again Allah imbued him with special beautiful characteristics, so that we know what God can do. And from knowing what God can do, we have a better idea of who or what God is. So when He creates in front of us this being [the Prophet] whose characteristics and values are so special, then we know what God can do. And what God is in terms of beauty and majesty, (Glorified and Exalted is He). And Allah knows better.
Question: Can the Prophet be overpraised? Some celebrate his birthday and others do other practices remembering and praising the Prophet. What is the moderate way?
Celebrating his birthﷺ is matter of difference between the ulama [scholars]. Some will say it is not Sunnah [the practice of the Prophet], some will say it is bidah [a reprehensible innovation in religion], and some will say it is a very beautiful thing to do. Looking at the Qur’anic, hadith-based, textual, historical, psychological and spiritual evidence the ulama use, I have come to the conclusion that celebrating the birth of Rasulallahﷺ is something very beautiful to do. It is an expression of our happiness that God brought him to this world, to take us from darkness to light, to show us the way to him (Glorified and Exalted is He), and we are thankful to Allah (Glorified and Sublime be He) for this gift. And there is no text that says not to do that. There is no text that says it is haram [forbidden] to do that. All praise be to Allah, the scholars have their ways of analysis, and the most prevalent of analyses amongst the scholars, and the one to which I subscribe, is that it is khayr [good] and beautiful to do. All praise is to Allah. It’s a show of happiness that he was brought to this world, in addition to how much it can help many of us reconnect with Rasulallahﷺ.
Having said that, as the ulama have mentioned, perhaps we read the Qur’an and remember him through the Qur’an, for he is the recipient of the Qur’an. We ponder those meanings. We read some of the biography of the Messenger, and ponder on some of that. And we read even some poems that celebrate his beauty, his characteristics, his life, and ponder that. We implore Allah that He makes us of those who live their lives in pursuit of that Prophetic beauty. And we implore Allah by the love and the status that He granted to Rasulallahﷺ to answer our pleas and our prayers— that is all khayr. As long as we do not do anything there that is haram, makruh [detested] or improper as some unfortunately who are ignorant or for some emotional reason sometimes do that which is improper and sometimes even forbidden. We should not do that.
If that happened, celebrating his birthday is not wrong because of itself, but because of what some people do. That is what is wrong. It’s not wrong to be happy that the Messenger was brought to this world. That is never wrong. And simply to be very brief, I say these things, but there are much more details, textual and analytical, that the ulama use to give this answer. May Allah instill in our hearts his loveﷺ.
One of the most instrumental means to develop his mahabba [love], first of all, is to ask Allah for mahabba. Mahabba is a gift that Allah throws into the heart of someone. And this love is not intellectual or academic, it is emotional and experiential. If you have that type of love for Allah, or love for the Messenger, which has signs and evidence, know that is a gift from Allah to you. Be thankful to Him. Pray and implore Allah to give you and us that special mahabba for the Messenger. Never stop, and do that every day. Never give up.
Second, dhikr [remembrance and invocation] of Allah generates mahabba for the Messengerﷺ. Why? Because frequent and abundant dhikr of Allah (Glorified and Sublime be He), as God and His Messenger teach us, cleanses the heart. When the hearts are cleansed from impurity, misconceptions, arrogance, delusion, ostentation, worldliness, selfishness, and all of that, they become able to see. What does the qalb [heart] see? The spiritual eye of the qalb sees meanings. The eyes of the head see physical objects, and if your eye is clouded, you won’t see the physical objects the way they really are. When the heart is cleansed through dhikr of Allah, it can see in the spiritual realm and the moral realm. And then it can see—again see is just a word—of whom? Of Rasulallahﷺ. And when we see that transcendent beauty (not the physical, because he is not with you physically to see) then naturally you will love him. By God, it is true.
I don’t want to say more than this in this brief time, but it is true. There are many who have experienced this, when through years of dhikr of Allah, when they are ready for it, this is exactly what they experience. Suddenly their heart is so enamored with the Messengerﷺ. In an instant, they are given that gift, which they only had a glimpse of before. And their hearts are overwhelmed with a mahabba for Rasulallah ﷺ and in that instant they just want to go out of this world and be with him.
Do a lot of dhikr of Allah (Glorified and Sublime be He) and never desist, and make a lot of dua for Allah to give us that mahabba for Rasulallah, the mahabba that He (Glorified and Exalted be He) loves that we have for His Messenger. And the excess in that is to consider him anything close to God (I seek refuge in God and may God protect us). He is not and he never claimed to be, and those of us who say that don’t know God. Sometimes when we see supernatural things at the hand of somebody, we say, “O that’s God." [Laughs]. You do not know God. It’s just a gift of God to someone. It’s a creation of God at the hands of someone. Whatever status anyone reaches or whatever status you, in the future reach, intellectually or spiritually, all of that is a gift from Allah to you. It is an act of creation of Allah in you, for which now you have to be even more grateful than ever before to Him.
From Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui’s lecture from “The Prophet’s Grace” in October 2013, transcribed by M Saleem.