Michael Hart: The Most Influential Person in History

muhammad-al-fatih

Above is a depiction of Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih and his army

“My choice of Muhammad [] to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.

Of humble origins Muhammad [] founded and promulgated one of the great world religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive.

The majority of persons in this book had the advantage of being born and raised in centres of civilization, highly cultured or politically pivotal nations. Muhammad [], however, was born in the year 570, in the city of Mecca, in southern Arabia, at the time a backward area of the world, far from the centres of trade, art and learning…

The Bedouin tribesman of Arabia had a reputation as fierce warriors. But their number was small; and plagued by disunity and internecine warfare, they had been no match for the larger armies of the kingdoms in the settled agricultural areas to the north. However, unified by Muhammad [] for the first time in history, and inspired by their fervent belief in the one true God, these small Arab armies now embarked upon one of the most astonishing series of conquests in human history. To the northeast of Arabia lay the Neo-Persian Empire of the Sassanids; to the northwest lay the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman Empire, centred in Constantinople [1]. Numerically the Arabs were no match for their opponents. On the field of battle, though, the inspired Arabs rapidly conquered all of Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine. By 642, Egypt had been wrested from the Byzantine Empire, while the Persian armies had been crushed at the key battles of Qadisiyya in 637, and Nehavend in 642.

But even these enormous conquests – which were made under the leadership of Muhammad’s [] close friends and immediate successors, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab – did not mark the end of the Arab advance. By 711, the Arab armies had swept completely across North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. There they turned north and, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, overwhelmed the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

For a while, it must have seemed that the Moslems would overwhelm all of Christian Europe. However, in 732, at the famous Battle of Tours, a Moslem army, which had advanced in to the centre of France, was at last defeated by the Franks. Nevertheless, in a scant century of fighting, these Bedouin tribesmen, inspired by the word of the Prophet [], had carved out an empire stretching from the borders of India to the Atlantic Ocean – the largest empire the world had yet seen.”

[Michael H. Hart, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, 1991, pp. 33-35]

[1] Constantinople was later conquered by Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih in 1453. In a hadith, the Prophet predicted:

“Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!”

Narrated from Bishr al-Khath’ami or al-Ghanawi by:
Ahmad, al-Musnad 14:331 #18859 [sahih chain according to Hamza al-Zayn] al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak 4:421-422 [sahih according to him and al-Dhahabi concurred] al-Tabarani, al-Mu`jam al-Kabir 2:38 #1216 [sahih chain according to al-Haythami 6:218-219] al-Bukhari, al-Tarikh al-Kabir 2:81 and al-Saghir 1:306 Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Isti`ab 8:170 [hasan chain according to him] al-Suyuti, al-Jami` al-Saghir [sahih according to him]

Imam al-Shatibi*: The Shari‘ah is Allah’s Best Blessing and Gift to Us

shatibi muwafaqat

“All praise is for Allah, who rescued us from the darkness of ignorance through the illumination of knowledge, and through it He granted us the discernment to avoid falling into erroneous deception. He laid down for us in the sharīa of Muhammad a lofty standard and a manifest guide. This was the best of His abundant blessings that He showered on us and the best of His venerable gifts that He bestowed on us.

We were, before the shining forth of this light, acting haphazardly with our reason pursuing our interests in an unbalanced way. This was due to reason’s weakness in bearing the burden of these interests as well as its involvement with the pressing demands of desire arising within the self, which oscillates equally between these two ends. Thus, we kept placing poison on our ailments in place of medicine, seeking recovery in vain, like a person clutching at water. We continued to float between these two ends in a sea of doubt and greed, groping in our ignorance for a guiding evidence in a jet-black night, desiring results from sterile comparisons, seeking the symptoms of health in an ailing body, and walking prostrate in the belief that we were on the right path. All this continued till such time that pure compulsion appeared in divine decrees themselves. Coerced hands were raised towards the One and Only Subduer and the expectations of those in need were redirected towards Him. When the tongues of circumstances expressed true affirmation and the rule of compulsion was established in the objects of deeds, we recognised the Beneficent Lord and His tremendous kindness, and He showed great kindness to us out of His all embracing favour, for we could not have found a solution without His help nor would we have been guided on our own to the right way. He deemed the excuse of our inability acceptable, creating a hope of forgiveness for our mistakes prior to the sending of Messengers. Allah, the Glorious, has said, “Nor would We visit with Our Wrath until We had sent a messenger (to give warning) [Qur’an 17:15].”

 

He then sent Prophets, peace be upon them, to different nations, each speaking to them in their own tongue, whether Arab or non-Arab, so as to elaborate for them the path of truth for nations in order that they may hold themselves back from the paths to hell.

He made our group, the last yet the foremost, exclusive through the last brick of the hierarchy of the Prophets and the concluding musk perfuming the message (misk al-khitām), Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah. He was an overflowing blessing, a widespread mercy, a far-reaching unlettered wisdom, and a pure Hashimite flower. He sent him to us as a witness, a giver of good news, a warner inviting to God with His permission, and a brilliant lamp. He revealed to him His clear Book in Arabic, a Book that distinguished between doubt and conviction, and which is not affected by falsehood either from the front or from behind. He (the Messenger) elaborated its text in unequivocal terms and expounded its complete message adequately. He (God) enhanced it with the perfume of praise for the Prophet and described him through a unique aroma for He deemed praise for all his morals and traits an attribute of the Qur’an. This way the Prophet (pbuh) became the elaboration of the Qur’an through his words, deeds, and abstentions. The day appeared bright for those with eyes, and guidance was distinguished from guile in the light of the sun without cloud and haze.”

*Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Musa bin Muhammad al-Lakhmi al-Shatibi (d. 790 H/1388 CE) was among the greatest scholars of al-Andalus. He studied with the renowned scholars of Granada and gained expertise in Qur’anic exegesis (tafsīr), Hadith, jurisprudence (fiqh), the principles of Islamic law (usūl al-fiqh) as well as Arabic language and grammar. He also wrote treatises on medicine and history.

[Imam al-Shatibi, Al-Muwafaqāt fī Usūl al-Sharī‘a, English translation The Reconciliation of the Fundamentals of Islamic Law, Professor Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Garnet Publishing, Reading, 2011, pp. xxvii to xxviii]

Hat tip for reference: Sidi Ayaz