Thus, using these four words of La Ilaha Illa Allah – No God but God! – and using the noble and glorious Qur’an as his sourcebook and roadmap, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, changed the world. And he did so completely and forever. And he did so within a miraculously short period of 23 years.
And he accomplished this seemingly impossible task of shaping a brand new world out of the chaos and confusion that had reigned the earth till his time using an equally impossible-sounding method: the method of limitless love, mercy, kindness, compassion, service, generosity, giving, caring and forgiving.
He was the softest spoken of people; the gentlest of all in his dealings with others; and the most truthful, honest and trustworthy person in the entire society. He never insulted anyone; he never abused anyone; he never refused anyone anything; he never rebuked or reprimanded anyone; he never took anyone to task for any wrong they may have done; and he never retaliated for any personal slight or insult or injury.
Single-handedly, he made the message of La Ilaha Illa Allah! a living personal, social, economic, political and cultural reality in society, in no more than 23 years. And he did so using the method of patience and perseverance, of sustained reasoning and rational discourse, of gentle persuasion and soft expression – of what the Qur’an calls “saying that which is better” – always taking a discursive high road.
Thus, he gave us not only the message of La Ilaha Illa Allah! but also a method to go along with it – the method of La Ilaha Illa Allah! – a method whose beginning and end is peace; a method that is based on compassion and respect for all; and a method that is centered on the noblest of techniques and sweetest of approaches.
Much of the history of the world ever since has been the story of the unfolding of the blessings of La Ilaha Illa Allah! in different facets of human life in different parts, cultures and civilizations of the world. Ever since, the world has moved, inch by painful inch, closer to the ideals of universal human liberty, equality and service to humanity as a central component of service to God.
The tidal wave of human, social, moral, political, legal, economic, scientific and “religious” transformation that he unleashed upon the tribes and deserts of Arabia in the 6th century, swept through the entire world and, after nearly fourteen centuries, it is as powerful and dynamic today as it was when it began.
With the power of La Ilaha Illa Allah, Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, abolished female infanticide; liberated women; and introduced women’s education and widow remarriage. With it as the core of his mission, he restored respect for parents in society.
He earmarked a portion of everyone’s wealth as a right due to the poor, the needy, the relatives and the wayfarer. He made caring and kind treatment of one’s parents, relatives, neighbors and all human beings and animals a central part of faith. No system of thought or belief was at that time grounded so firmly and deeply in such a comprehensive program of social services and community relations.
Nor is there one today that can be said to be integral to the foundations and structure of the original faith or philosophy, not just in summary ideas and precepts but also in a network of detailed methods and practices. The humanitarian, the social, the charitable, the service and the community, the citizenship component and program of his Deen – the message the Prophet, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, preached and the way he showed – were not the brainchild or handiwork of his followers and admirers on a later date, but a fundamental part of the message that he delivered to the world personally during his own lifetime.
Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, using the message and the method of La Ilaha Illa Allah!, proclaimed lying, cheating, backbiting, defamation and breaking promises cardinal sins, even as he made peace – Salam – a key component of Muslim life and culture and declared a genuine and warm smile to be the barest minimum requirement of a believer’s faith in God.
The model of human life he offered the world as part of the message and method of La Ilaha Illa Allah! was bounded on either side – both at the beginning and at the end – with this profound, matchless and all-encompassing concept of Salam, what you and I so loosely call peace, but which in reality is a repository of every conceivable good and goodness both in this as well as the next world. Every social encounter – every one of life’s human episodes – he said, must begin with Salam: by greeting people, those you know as well as those you don’t know, with the message of Salam.
Nor should you, he taught, neglect to so greet your own self, even when you are alone, when, for example, you are entering your own house – or any other place – all by yourself. He wanted people to invoke the blessings of Salam on themselves as much as they did on all the others they met. And then Salam also is what comes when life ends – that is the cry that will ring out of the lips of those whom God Almighty will bless by awarding them entry into paradise. Wa Da’wahum Feeha Salam, says the Qur’an, which in paraphrase means their claim and assertion in paradise would be Salam.
That is what the four words of La Ilaha Illa Allah! do to human life and society: they pack it with peace and Salam – with every conceivable goodness, in every conceivable way. That is why and how Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam, used these four words, even as Moses and Jesus, Alaihimassalam, had done before him, to turn human equality into an axiom and into a household word. He set slaves free and made them equal with their masters in human rank and in everyday treatment. And he made humane and respectful treatment of slaves a basic requirement of faith. He said: Feed them of what you eat; clothe them of what you wear; help them in difficult tasks; and treat them kindly.