The state of the world before the arrival of our beloved Prophet (saw) is known as Jahiliyah. Jahiliyah literally translates to ‘Ignorance’ in English, but also refers to Arabian society before Islam. Many evils existed during that time, such as tribal warfare, killing of female babies, the abuse and degradation of women, greed, racism, the abuse of the poor and orphans… It was a period of ignorance of monotheism and divine law.
Nowadays however, the word Jahiliyah is also often used when referring to modern society, for example in the work of Abu al-Ala Mawdudi, who viewed modernity as the “new jahiliyyah”.
Our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was sent to us by Allah (SWT) as so called Hidayah (the actual guiding of someone to the true path), showing His infinite mercy to all of mankind.
Alif. Lam. Ra. (This is) a Scripture which We have revealed unto you (Muhammad) that thereby you may bring forth mankind from darkness unto light, by the permission of their Lord, unto the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise. Surat Ibrahim 14:1
The Holy Qur’an was revealed in a period of twenty-three years, and when the last sermon was given in the field of Arafat, there were approximately 124 to 144 thousand Muslims present. There was no other period of time in the past two millenniums that one person has changed the lives and minds of so many people in such a short time! And the impact of our Prophet (SAW) still affects millions of lives every day… Can you imagine anyone in our modern times that has achieved this?
A professor of Islamic and Arabic Studies at Edinburgh University, who wrote a biography of the Prophet (SAW) called Muhammad in Mecca, Muhammad in Medina stated: “One thing baffles me. I cannot understand how one man, who has no formal education, could lead a community, who behaved like animals and transform them into men the world had never seen.”
At the time of Muhammad’s (SAW) birth in the 7th century, women in Arabia had few if any rights. Even the basic right of life was often denied to women: it was not uncommon for young girls to be buried alive when their family ran into financial problems. Part of Muhammad’s (SAW) legacy was to end infanticide and establish explicit rights for women.
Islam taught people that men and women are equal in front of their Lord and grants women divinely sanctioned inheritance, property, social and marriage rights, including the right to reject the terms of a proposal and to divorce. The current trend for American couples to draw up prenuptial agreements has always been acceptable under Islamic law. In fact, our Prophet’s (SAW) first ever wife, Khadija (RAA) , was a successful businesswoman, as many women fight to be today. Unfortunately, some Muslim communities currently deny women a lot of these rights, but this reflects culture rather than Islamic values.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself frequently counseled Muslim men to treat their wives and daughters well. “You have rights over your women,” he is reported to have said, “and your women have rights over you.” As the father of four daughters in a society that prized sons, he told other fathers that, if their daughters spoke well of them on the Day of Judgment, they would enter paradise.
Our Prophet (SAW) also frequently came under formal military attack during his time in Medina. Consequently, the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) teachings also covered the issue of just war:
“They will question you concerning the holy month, and fighting in it. Say: ‘Fighting in it is a heinous thing, but to bar people from God’s way, to disbelieve in Him and the Holy Mosque and to expel its people from it – that is more heinous in God’s sight; and persecution is more heinous than fighting.” The Holy Qur’an 2:217
This is also how the concept of Jihad came to existence: though jihad in the past might have involved some bloodshed, it has the broader meaning of striving for improvement, not only in terms of politics but also in terms of morality, spirituality, and intellect. There are many different Hadiths stating the militant aspect of jihad is relatively “minor” as opposed to the improvement of one’s self being the “greater” jihad.
Other revelations and rulings during this period emphasized the proper treatment of prisoners of war and civilians, the sanction against killing innocent civilians, and the respectful treatment of enemy corpses (in contrast to the custom of the time, which was mutilation).
These are just a few examples of the impact of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) . It would take thousands of pages to cover all the positive effects he had on society. Unfortunately, this has all gone almost unnoticed by Western society and is rarely ever mentioned in school history books. Just like the Qur’an predicted, the Muslim population around the world is growing, but lacks the unity it needs to change this.