Last week was Maulidur Rasul, the birthday anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him. It’s a very important annual event celebrated in various fashions all over the Muslim world, wherever you happen to be.
I happened to be in a rather hot and dusty region of that world, where a lot of the earlier history of Islam was written. But you won’t see pictures of me happy and smug as a puppy riding in luxurious private jets as an honoured guest of local sheikhs, like some other lucky Malaysians.
Or perhaps happy and smug as a kitten, which slightly outnumber puppies there. Dogs get to run around and procreate (and poop) everywhere without fear in this 99% Islamic country, something many Malaysian Muslims would find unsettling.
Our tour guide, a young Malay chap who studied and now resides there, regaled us with stories about this land and region. Being a respectful person, I listened and paid more attention, perhaps more so than my ostensibly more religious and devout travel mates.
An interesting story was about the descendants of the Prophet. They are all descended from him through his daughter Fatima, who married his cousin Ali, and are named Syed or Sayyid or other variations; there are literally tens of millions of them in the world.
There are complicated rules about naming the progeny of a Syed and a Sharifah (the female equivalent of a Syed) and those of a Syed and a non-Sharifah, a Sharifah and a non-Syed; and of course of hoi polloi such as you and I, non-Syeds and non-Sharifahs.
15 centuries later
I’m no expert on the Prophet’s line of descent, especially given there are better (or perhaps just louder) people on this matter. Neither do I want to raise the ire of the multitude who claim to be directly descended from the Prophet.
But a simple plot on a (very large) piece of paper would show that the bloodline of any single human from the time of the Prophet 15 centuries ago would encompass literally millions of people living today – a very conservative reckoning, given that many of the Prophet’s descendants were powerful people who had many wives and sired many children.
In theory that number would be vastly greater than the total number of humans alive today, or who ever lived. In actuality, however, given the geography, inter-marriages and other demographic factors, that number is smaller, but still humongously large.
I’d say, without a shadow of doubt, there are millions of us Muslims, and many non-Muslims too, who trace our lineage to the Prophet.
In my case, not being a Syed, any blood link to the Prophet in all likelihood would be from my mother’s side. For those who honour mothers, that has to count for something.
What’s my point? The reality is it is likely many of us can claim to be distantly related to the Prophet or to other historical figures (Genghis Khan, especially, comes to mind) and certainly to each other too. After all, the Abrahamic faiths believe we’re all descendants of the same couple from the Garden of Eden.
My tour guide made the point that the descendants of the Prophet (from the male line) deserve respect and special consideration – meaning we must give them a free pass regarding their behaviour and conduct, one that we don’t give to other people.
Going by the Quran
I see it differently. If you’re truly a descendant of the Prophet, shouldn’t you honour your bloodline by being whiter than white and being held to higher standards than the rest of us ordinary mortals, instead of enjoying a free pass?
If the Prophet had been asked whether those of his bloodline should always be given special privileges and extra respect for as long as humans exist, what would his answer be? I wouldn’t dare to speculate, but let us be guided by this verse from the Quran:
“Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you” (49:13)
It’s clear that in the eyes of God, what you make of yourself is of supreme importance, overriding everything else. And then there’s something in Islamic jurisprudence that prohibits the descendants of the Prophet from receiving charity, very likely meaning they shouldn’t be treated as special or revered purely because of their lineage.
Nobody in his right mind, whether descendants of the Prophet or not, wants to be beneficiaries of charity, as that implies something has gone wrong with their life. But neither should anybody claim to deserve respect for anything other than the content of their character and their faith and devotion to God.
A rather inconvenient truth perhaps, especially in a world that seems to prefer the superficial rather than what lies deep below the surface but it’s a truth we must confront, especially when we remember and honour the Prophet on his birthday anniversary.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.