Muhammad: Misinterpretations About the Prophet as a Shepherd

The Dawn: Some Misinterpretations About the Prophet's Experience as a Shepherd

It is, however, significant that the Western biographers of the Prophet, while writing his life-story, have greatly stressed the mental experiences of the Prophet as a shepherd. They want to give the impression that what the Prophet called revelation was nothing but the early reminiscences of his pastoral life. "Thus, we may presume," says William Muir, "was cherished a deep and earnest faith in the Deity as an ever-present, all-directing Agent; a faith which in after days the Prophet was wont to enforce from the memories, no doubt, of these early days by eloquent and heart-stirring appeals to the sublime operations of Nature and the beneficent adaptations of an ever-present Providence." (1)

This view is absolutely erroneous. The direct contact with nature no doubt provided the Holy Prophet with an opportunity to "see into the life of things" and perceive in its mirror, the presence of a Master Mind. But it is wrong to say that the experiences gathered during this period were later transfigured into revelation. The reflections over the phenomenal world and the world within man's self brighten our intellect and chasten our emotions, delight our senses and raise and sooth our spirits, and thus enable us to appreciate fully the words of Allah; but these cannot serve as substitutes for revelation. These may be regarded, at best, as mental and emotional training in order to prepare a person to receive "the visions of Him Who reigns".

The vision of the physical phenomena may lead us to the right conclusions about the universe and its Creator, but that is not enough. We want to be acquainted with the spiritual principle working at the heart of things, and this we can get neither by means of deductive reasoning, nor is the subject such as to lead itself to direct observation. The only means left is revelation. Matter and energy do not exhaust the contents of the universe. There is 'something' beyond them. This 'something', which is most important, perhaps even indispensable, for human life, is neither physical phenomenon nor mere transformation of energy, its ceaseless kaleidoscopic change, but the disclosure of spiritual substance and an Infinite Reality under the flux and reflux of phenomena. No man, not even the Prophet, can obtain, by means of his own intellectual perception, the complete view of this Infinite Reality. The Holy Qur'an informs Muhammad of this important limitation:

This is of the tidings of the Unseen which We inspire in thee. Thou thyself knowest it not, nor did thy folk (know it) before this. (11:49)

The Qur'an further states that it is the responsibility of the Creator to illuminate the right path by revealing His message to His Prophets.

It should also be borne in mind that the period of tending flocks of sheep forms the training ground for the guidance of mankind. The shepherd is always on the alert with regard to his flock and takes full care of the animals so that these may not go astray or fall victims to the beasts of prey. So also is the case with a Prophet. He is the shepherd of humanity; always thinking of their welfare and always trying to lead them along the straight path to their well-being. It is from this experience as a shepherd that there sprang up love for man and passion to alleviate the sufferings of mankind steeped in ignorance. Such was the anxiety of the Holy Prophet to bring people to the path of Allah that it began to have a telling effect on his health and he was warned by the Lord in the following words:

It may be that thou tormentest thyself, (O Muhammad) because they believe not. (26:3)


1. William Muir: The Life of Muhammad (London, 1894), p. 18.