1. He was gentle and kind-hearted. He always inclined to be gracious and to overlook the faults of others.
Qur’an testifies his gentleness, “By the grace of Allah, you are gentle towards the people; if you had been stern and ill tempered, they would have dispersed from round about you” (3:159). The prophet (pbuh) said about himself “Allah has sent me as an apostle so that I may demonstrate perfection of character, refinement of manners and loftiness of deportment.” (Malik, Mawatta; Ahmed, Musnad; Mishkat)
By nature, he was gentle and kind hearted, always inclined to be gracious and to overlook the faults of others. Politeness and courtesy, compassion and tenderness, simplicity and humility, sympathy and sincerity were some of the keynotes of his character. In the cause of truth and justice he could be resolute and prompt but more often than not, his acuteness was tempered with generosity. He had charming manners, which won him the affection of his followers and secured their devotion. Though virtual head of Arabia and an apostle of God, he never assumed an air of superiority. Not that he had to conceal any such vein by practice and pretence. He used to say, “I am a Prophet of God but I do not know what will be my end.” (Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari, Chapter “Al-Janaiz”)
In one of his sermons, he warned Muslims to be alert and ready for the day of, he said, “O people of Quraish be prepared for the hereafter, I cannot save you from the punishment of Allah; O Bani Abd Manaf, I cannot save you from Allah; O Abbas, son of Abdul Mutalib, I cannot protect you either; O Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, even you I cannot save.” (Sahahin)
He used to pray, “O Allah! I am but a man. If I hurt any one in any manner, then forgive me and do not punish me.” (Ahmed, Musnad, Vol. 6 pg. 103)
He always received people with courtesy and showed respect to older people and stated: “To honour an old man is to show respect to Allah.”
He was always the first to greet another and would not withdraw his hand from a handshake till the other man withdrew his. If one wanted to say something in his ears, he would not turn away till one had finished (Abu Dawud, Tirmizi).
He did not like people to get up for him and used to say, “Let him, who likes people to stand up in his honour, he should seek a place in hell.” (Abu Dawud, Kitabul Adab, Muhammadi Press, Delhi). He would himself, however, stand up when any dignitary came to him. He had stood up to receive his foster mother, when he saw her years later, and had spread his own sheet to welcome her. His foster brother was given similar treatment.
He avoided sitting at a prominent place in a gathering, so much so that people coming in had difficulty in spotting him and had to ask who was the Prophet (pbuh). Quite frequently uncouth bedouins confronted him in their usual gruff and impolite manner but he never took offence. (Abu Dawud Kitabul Atama).
He used to visit the poorest of ailing persons and exhorted all Muslims to do likewise (Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari, Chapter “Attendance on ailing persons”). He would sit with the humblest of persons saying that righteousness alone was the only criterion of one’s superiority over another. He invariably invited people, students, servants or the poorest believers, to partake with him of his scanty meals (Tirmizi, Sunan Tirmizi).
Whenever he visited a person he would first greet him and then take his permission to enter the house. He advised the people to follow this etiquette and not to get annoyed if anyone declined to give permission, for it was quite likely the person concerned was busy otherwise and did not mean any disrespect (Ibid).
There was no type of household work too low or too undignified for him. Aiysha (ra) has stated, “He always joined in household work and would at times mend his clothes, repair his shoes and sweep the floor. He would milk, tether, and feed his animals and do the household shopping.” (Qazi Iyaz: Shifa; Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari, Chapter: Kitabul Adab)
He would not hesitate to do the menial work of others, particularly of orphans and widows (Nasi, Darmi). Once when there was no male member in the house of the companion Kab Bin Arat who had gone to the battlefield, he used to go to his house daily and milk his cattle for the inhabitants (Ibn Saad Vol. 6, p 213).
2. He had absolute trust in God
Muhammad (pbuh) preached to the people to trust in God. His whole life was a sublime example of the precept. In the loneliness of Makkah, in the midst of persecution and danger, in adversity and tribulations, and in the thick of enemies in the battles of Uhud and Hunain, complete faith and trust in God appears as the dominant feature in his life. However great the danger that confronted him, he never lost hope and never allowed himself to be unduly agitated. His uncle Abu Talib knew the feelings of the Quraish when the Prophet (pbuh) started his mission. He also knew the lengths to which the Quraish could go, and requested the Prophet (pbuh) to abandon his mission, but the Prophet calmly replied, “Dear uncle, do not go by my loneliness. Truth will not go unsupported for long. The whole of Arabia and beyond will one day espouse its cause.” (Ibn Hisham, Sirat-ur-Rasul.)
When the attitude of the Quraish became more threatening, Abu Talib again begged his nephew to renounce his mission but the Prophet’s (pbuh) replied, “O my uncle, if they placed the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, to force me to renounce my work, verily I would not desist therefrom until God made manifest His cause, or I perished in the attempt.” (Ibid)
At a time when there were handful believers, a dejected and oppressed disciple was comforted with the words: “By God, the day is near when this faith will reach its pinnacle and none will have to fear anyone except God.” (Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari)
Just before his migration to Medinah, and even though the enemies had surrounded his house with the intention of killing him, he left the house reciting the Quranic verse: “We have set a barricade before them and a barricade behind them and (thus) have covered them so that they see not” (Qur’an 36:9).
Abu Bakr was frightened when pursuers came close to the cavern in which he and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were hiding during their flight, but the Prophet (pbuh) heartened him, “Grieve not. God is with us.”
A guard was kept at the Prophet’s house in Madinah because of the danger that surrounded him but he had it withdrawn when the Quranic verse was revealed: “God will protect you from the people” (Qur’an 5:67). A man was caught waiting in ambush to assault the Prophet (pbuh) but he was directed to be released with the words, “Even if this man wanted to kill me, he could not.” (Ahmed, Musnad, Vol.3 pg. 471). On a visit to Khaibar, a Jewess had put poison in the Prophet’s (pbuh) food. He spat it out after taking a morsel but a disciple who had his fill died the next day. The Jewess was brought before the prophet (pbuh) who questioned her: “Why did you do this?” “To kill you,” was her defiant reply. She was told, “God would not have allowed you to do it.” (Muslim, Sahih Muslim.)
3. He was famous for his trustfulness and trustworthiness. His was nicknamed ‘the trustworthy’ before his prophethood.
The Prophet Muhammad was known as a truthful person so much so that even after he proclaimed his prophethood, his enemies could not accuse him of lying. This can be clearly seen by the testimony of the leader of opposition, Abu Sufyan.
In the sixth year after migration to Medina, the Prophet started to send letters to the rulers of neighbouring countries. When the letter that was sent to the emperor of Byzantium reached him is Syria, Abu Sufyan was in the Damascus on a trade trip. The emperor summoned Abu Sufyan and the following conversation took place between them.
‘Who follows him the most, the rich or the poor?’
‘The poor do.’
‘Has anyone renounced the religion after conversion?’
‘So far, nobody has.’
‘Do his followers increase or decrease?’
‘They are increasing day by day.’
‘Have you ever heard him tell a lie?’
The testimony of Abu Sufyan, who was the most bitter enemy of Islam at the time, made emperor acknowledge Muhammad’s position saying, ‘It is inconceivable for one who has never told a lie during his whole life, to invent lies against God!’ (Bukhari, Bad’u l-Wahy, 7)
One of his companions remembered an interaction with the Prophet before his prophethood.
‘Prior to his prophethood, we made an appointment to meet somewhere. It was however three days after the appointed time that I remembered it. When I rushed to the appointment place, I found him waiting for me. He was neither angry nor offended. His reaction was only to say, ‘O young man, you have given me some trouble. I have been waiting for you here for three days.’ (Abu Dawud, Adab, 82)
His nickname before his prophethood was Al-Ameen, meaning ‘the trustworthy’. During the hard years of persecution and oppression in Mecca, The leaders of hard opposition of Islam decided to murder him to solve the issue. They have collected a large sum of money as reward for the assassin. However, they could not trust each other for the money and gave it to the trust of Muhammad, the very person whom they were going to murder. This incident shows the high level of trust that even his enemies had with him.
He was not only trustworthy towards people, but even warned people against deceiving animals. Once, annoyed at seeing one of his companion’s call his horse using deception, he said ‘You should give up deceiving animals. You should be trustworthy even in your treatment of them!’ (Bukhari, Iman, 24; Muslim, Iman, 107)
4. As a leader, he showed justice to all believers and non-believers alike.
The Prophet (pbuh) asked people to be just and kind. As the supreme judge and arbiter, as the leader of men, as a reformer and apostle, he always had to deal with men and their affairs. He had often to deal with mutually opposed and warring tribes when showing justice to one carried the danger of antagonising the other, and yet he never deviated from the path of justice. In administering justice, he made no distinction between believers and non-believers, friends and foes, high and low. From numerous instances reported in authentic traditions, a few are given below.
Sakhar, a chief of a tribe, had helped Muhammad (pbuh) greatly in the siege of Taif, for which he was naturally obliged to him. Soon after, two charges were brought against Sakhar: one by Mughira of illegal confinement of his (Mughira’s) aunt and the other by Banu Salim of forcible occupation of his spring by Sakhar. In both cases, he decided against Sakhar and made him undo the wrong. (Abu Dawud, Sunan Dawud, pg.80)
Abdullah Bin Sahal, a companion, was deputed to collect rent from Jews of Khaibar. His cousin Mahisa accompanied him but, on reaching Khaibar, they had separated. Abdullah was waylaid and done to death. Mahisa reported this tragedy to the Prophet (pbuh) but as there were no eyewitnesses to identify the guilty, he did not say anything to the Jews and paid the compensation out of the state revenues (Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari Nasai).
A woman of the Makhzoom family with good connections was found guilty of theft. For the prestige of the Quraish, some prominent people including Asama Bin Zaid interceded to save her from punishment. The Prophet (pbuh) refused to condone the crime and expressed displeasure saying, “Many a community ruined itself in the past as they only punished the poor and ignored the offences of the exalted.” (Bukhari, Sahh Bukhari, Chapter “Alhadood”). He continued to say that even if her family members committed any crime, he would not hesitate to apply the law unto them.
The Jews, in spite of their hostility to the Prophet (pbuh), were so impressed by his impartiality and sense of justice that they used to bring their cases to him, and he decided them according to Jewish law. (Abu Dawud, Sunan Dawud)
Once, in the hustle of a crowd, he accidentally pushed a men with a stick causing a slight abrasion. He was so sorry about this that he told the man that he could have his revenge, but the man said, “O messenger of God, I forgive you.” (Abu Dawud, Kitablu Diyat).
In his fatal illness, the Prophet (pbuh) proclaimed in a concourse assembled at his house that if he owed anything to anyone the person concerned could claim it; if he had ever hurt anyone’s person, honour or property, he could have his price while he was yet in this world. A hush fell on the crowd. One man came forward to claim a few dirhams, which were paid at once. (Ibn Hisham, Sirat-ur-Rasul)
5. He preached and demonstrated sincere equality among people of any background
Muhammad (pbuh) asked people to shun notions of racial, family or any other form of superiority based on mundane things and said that righteousness alone was the criterion of one’s superiority over another. It has already been shown how he mixed with everyone on equal terms, how he ate with servants and the poorest, how he refused all privileges and worked like any ordinary labourer contrary to the practice of leaders in his time then and even today.
Once the Prophet (pbuh) visited Saad Bin Abadah. While returning Saad sent his son Quais with him. The Prophet (pbuh) asked Quais to mount his camel with him. Quais hesitated out of respect but the Prophet (pbuh) insisted: “Either mount the camel or go back.” Quais decided to go back. (Abu Dawud, Kitabul Adab)
On another occasion, he was travelling on his camel over hilly terrain with a disciple, Uqba Bin Aamir. After going some distance, he asked Uqba to ride the camel, but Uqba thought this would be showing disrespect to the Prophet (pbuh). But the Prophet (pbuh) insisted and he had to comply. The Prophet (pbuh) himself walked on foot, as he did not want to put too much load on the animal. (Nasai pg. 803)
During a halt on a journey, the companions apportioned work among themselves for preparing food. The Prophet (pbuh) took upon himself the task of collecting firewood. His companions pleaded that they would do it and that he need not take the trouble, but he replied, “It is true, but I do not like to attribute any distinction to myself. God does not like the man who considers himself superior to his companions.” (Zarqani, Vol 4 pg. 306)
6. He was kind to animals. He was the first to mention and apply animal rights.
The Prophet (pbuh) not only preached to the people to show kindness to each other but also to all living souls. He forbade the practice of cutting tails and manes of horses, of branding animals at any soft spot, and of keeping horses saddled unnecessarily (Muslim, Sahih Muslim). If he saw any animal over-loaded or ill-fed he would pull up the owner and say, “Fear God in your treatment of animals.” (Abu Dawud, Kitab Jihad).
A companion came to him with the young ones of a bird in his sheet and said that the mother bird had hovered over them all along. He was directed to replace her offspring in the same bush (Mishkat, Abu Dawud).
During a journey, somebody picked up some bird’s eggs. The bird’s painful note and fluttering attracted the attention of the Prophet (pbuh), who asked the man to replace the eggs (Bukhari, Sahih Bukhari).
As his army marched towards Makkah to conquer it, they passed a female dog with puppies. The Prophet (pbuh) not only gave orders that they should not be disturbed, but posted a man to see that this was done.
He stated, “Verily, there is heavenly reward for every act of kindness done to a living animal.”