We know that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, possessed contrasting merits like courage and compassion. Could you please tell us more about these?
In the same way that God’s Messenger possessed seemingly contrasting attributes, he also had qualities that complemented one another.
These seemingly contrasting attributes should be approached and evaluated within the understanding of Sirat al-Mustaqim (the middle way, avoiding extremes) which is a very important principle in Islam.
For instance, God’s Messenger was first of all a paragon of bravery and courage. This was true to such a degree that Ali ibn Abi Talib, the valiant combatant who was known as the Unyielding Lion, described God’s Messenger in the respect as follows: “When we faced difficulties on the battleground, we sought shelter near God’s Messenger.” Likewise, as it would recur in Hunayn, when his community was shattered and almost paralyzed in Uhud, he motivated them and they were able to pursue the enemy. The situation was virtually a manifestation of the verse (Al Imran 3:27): You bring forth the living out the dead, and You bring the dead out of the living… From that shaken, broken, and fallen group of people, he brought out a fresh and vigorous army and by starting a close pursuit repulsed the enemy back to Mecca. This is an example of the Prophet’s heavenly bravery and is unique in its field.
While God’s Messenger was resting under a tree one day, an unbeliever named Ghowras took advantage of his being asleep and took the sword hanging from the tree. Then he asked sarcastically: “Who will save you from me now?” In response to this question, God’s Messenger did not show the least sign of panic and said “God!” in full confidence. The Messenger’s certainty in his faith, his submission to God, and his complete trust in Him shook Ghowras to such an extent that he dropped the sword he was holding. This time, God’s Messenger took the sword and asked: “Who will save you from me now?” The man was shaking like a leaf from fear. Meanwhile, the Companions who had heard the Prophet’s voice came running. The scene they saw doubled their faith and trust in God. Ghowras promised to trust in the Trustworthy Messenger after what he had witnessed, and returned to his tribe with feelings of admiration for the Prophet’s courage and bravery.
The famous philosopher and writer Bernard Shaw also appreciated the submission and fearlessness of God’s Messenger. According to Shaw, the Prophet’s many-faceted character had amazing virtues; he stated that it was not possible to completely understand this mysterious person; in particular, he said, a superior aspect of his character that was hard to comprehend was his trust and reliance in God.
On the other hand, this blessed person also possessed mercy, affection, and compassion of the loftiest degree. So much so, that if the Prophet saw a crying child he would sit and cry with them or he would share the grief and suffering of a mother deeply. A hadith reported by Abu Hurayra exemplifies his profound compassion: “I stand in prayer and wish to prolong it. However, I hear a child crying and shorten the prayer to lessen the mother’s anxiety.”
Another time, at the death of his son Ibrahim tears welled in the eyes of this great hero of compassion, who had faced so many troubles and overcome so much. The Prophet took his son on his lap one more time, embraced him, his sorrow apparent, as he was on the brink of tears. Some were surprised. He gave them this answer: “Eyes may shed tears and hearts may be broken, but we do not say anything except what God will be pleased with.” Indeed, he was the most merciful and compassionate of people.
Surely, so many different attributes in one person is a sign of balance and perfection; these are only apparent in God’s Messenger. Take his uncle Hamza for instance. This great person would defy lions, and when he was on the battlefield he would break the enemy lines and cause panic. He was extremely valiant, but you would not see him sit down and cry; for he was a matchless hero of courage.
Let us take the poet Hassan ibn Thabit, who was so kind and graceful; God’s Messenger regarded him as a poet whose tongue was as sharp as a sword. However, when he was on the battlefield, this great figure would only carry swords for combatants like Hamza and Khalid. He was a tender-hearted gentleman with deep feelings. Due to this aspect of his character, God’s Messenger prayed for him “O God, support him with the Spirit of Holiness (Gabriel).” These great figures had the ultimate degree of their characteristics, but only for certain qualities; God’s Messenger however, frightened lions when he displayed his legendary courage, and when he saw somebody aggrieved and weeping, he would share the feelings of that person and weep along with them. So, on the one hand his heart was very tender and compassionate, while on the other hand he had such a sound and unshakable will that, even if he witnessed the end of the world, he would probably say “O God, let me gaze at your manifestations as long as I can.”
God’s Messenger was altogether a benign person; however his enemies did not give him space to reveal his noble character for some time. His opponents constantly tried to maintain conflict with him in order to force him to respond within this harsh atmosphere. They were all misguided, because he had no intention of being harsh at all.
The Peace of Hudaybiya was a great blow dealt with mildness by God’s Messenger on unbelief. Later on, he always acted as a hero of mildness and attracted people who had a positive potential. Immediately after the conquest of Mecca, he once more demonstrated his humility and modesty when he was entering the sacred city; he bowed in humility, to the extent that his blessed forehead was nearly touching the saddle of his mount.
The second greatest blow after the Peace of Hudaybiya which he dealt to the unbelievers was during the conquest of Mecca. When the idolaters wondered how he was going to treat them, he asked them: “How do you expect me to treat you?” They replied to him with the words they had learned from his Companion Ali ibn Abu Talib: “You are a noble man, the son of a noble man.” The Prophet of Compassion set them all free and stated: “This day there will be no reproach on you.” Actually these words were a noble inheritance that Prophet Joseph had left to those who came after him; centuries before he had said the same words to his brothers who had betrayed him. A heritage of the prophets…a heritage of thought, wisdom, and mildness… And this time the mildness of God’s Messenger was reflected in his kindness to the unbelievers. Their obstinacy took a second blow with his noble behavior. It was such a mighty blow that-I think that not only Ikrima, but if his father, Abu Jahl, had been alive, even he would have done the same and submitted to God’s Messenger.