“A Man Who Stands For Nothing Will Fall For Anything” 
Boris Johnson’s recent appointment as prime minister is another reflection of the dire state of affairs across societies that have previously prided themselves on visionary leadership and competence. Johnson, similar to his US counterpart Donald Trump, apparently lacks both these characteristics. In fact, there appears to be a dearth of competent, conscientious and empathetic leadership across many societies today. It is for this reason ancient stories of inspirational leaders are not only retold but their examples reenacted or followed by those aspiring to higher moral standards. One such leader who continues to inspire more than a billion adherents was Prophet Muhammed, who the Muslims’ holy Book, The Quran attests:
“And indeed, you are of a great moral character.”
It also states to mankind:
“You have for you in the Messenger [Muhammed] a perfect example for whoever desires Allah and the Hereafter.” 
Muslims are aware of the acclaimed status of the final Prophet, Muhammad, who was and remains an exemplar for them as well as non-adherents to Islam. To examine his impact upon promoting a message of tolerance – thereby countering orientalist assertions and propaganda to denigrate him to little more than a warmonger (among other defamatory claims) – we need not look beyond Quranic descriptions and his life story (Seerah). However, in order to comprehend the extent of this impact beyond Muslim perceptions, which are invariably socio-religiously biased, it is necessary to examine some non-Muslim perspectives.
Non-Muslim accounts regarding his impact and influence date back to the medieval period and – despite efforts to conceal them – positive epithets have survived. During England’s Renaissance, Prophet Muhammed was considered by some a republican and revolutionary; during the era of Enlightenment, he was considered a reformer and legislator. Still, others considered him a lawgiver and statesman.
“On October 2, 1808, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Napoleon Bonaparte met in Erfurt. The two men discussed politics and chatted about literature. When Napoleon learned that Goethe had translated Voltaire’s play Mahomet, ou le fanatisme into German, he declared that it was not a good play, that it painted an unworthy portrait of a world conqueror, a great man who had changed the course of history.”
Perhaps, among the most acknowledged accolades to date from non-Muslims is the statement of George Bernard Shaw, Irish philosopher and playwright (1850-1956):
“I do respect the religion of Muhammad for its vivid nature and because it is the only religion that can meet the needs of an ever changing life at all ages. I studied the life of this great man and would rather call him the ‘Saviour of Mankind’ without any grudge towards Jesus Christ. If Muhammed had reigned this modern world alone, he would have succeeded in solving all the world problems in such a way that it would be a cause of happiness and peace which the world stands in much need of. I foretell that this religion of Muhammad will be well received in Europe in future. It has already started receiving acceptance in today’s Europe.”
Reasons for such accolades
One of the Prophet’s wives, Aisha, described his character and behaviour as synonymous with the Quran i.e. he was a ‘walking Quran’ due to his embodiment of the divine revelation he received and enacted.
Tolerance in theory and practice.
“The Islamic perspective is historically unprecedented in its integration, coordination and comprehensiveness that addresses all aspects of both the individual and society…”
“The most important characteristic that sets Islam apart from other religions is the acceptance of the human as he is. Islam does not try to force him to do anything that is unnatural to him, [unlike] perfectionist theories [which] do. At the same time, it tries to refine his nature to the greatest extent possible, without repressing any of his natural tendencies.”
- Prophet Muhammed’s tolerance (and patience) with others was such that divine revelation was occasionally revealed in order to address his companions:
“O you have believed, do not put yourselves before Allah and His Messenger but fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
“O you have believed, do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet or be loud to him in speech like the loudness of some of you to others, lest your deeds become worthless while you perceive not.”
- Tolerance facilitates peace. During the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah a few Companions considered some of the conditions stipulated by the Quraysh unacceptable and in conflict with the Muslims’ growing influence; however, Prophet Muhammed accepted them.
- His tolerance was such that he refrained from exacting revenge upon his opponents, instead displaying kindness and justice toward them. The exemplary treatment witnessed with of prisoners of war following the Battle of Badr – as well as his defeated enemies after the conquest of Mecca – attest to this.
The Constitution governing Muslim relationships with non-Muslims.
This fundamental aspect of Islam – as it relates to interaction and engagement with non-Muslims – underscores the comprehensiveness of the faith and its code of conduct. A return to the principles governing political, social and cultural interaction will facilitate a return to religious prosperity on various levels. In fact, ignorance of the ethics governing such engagement and interaction has resulted in two extremes emerging and pitting against each other – violent and liberal – both at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Muslims are addressed accordingly in Chapter al-Mutahinah: 8:
“Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who did not fight against you on account of your religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who act justly.”
This justice is extended and institutionalised when non-Muslims reside within a legitimate Muslim state/caliphate by way of protection from external and internal aggression. Prophet Muhammed emphasised that:
“Whoever harms anyone who is under a covenant of protection or does not give him his full rights, or burdens him with more than he can bear or has taken something from him against his will, I will bring charges against him on the Day of Judgment.”
Freedom of Religion
The degree of tolerance, understanding and facilitation afforded to other faiths and practices is such that the Quran stipulates there is no compulsion in religion.Transparency with justice is enjoined upon Muslims at every level of society in that they are adjured to:
“…Stand consistently firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents or relatives.” 
Also, yet again, Muslims are enjoined to eschew animosity to ensure justice is paramount at all times:
“O you who have believed, stand persistently firm for Allah as witnesses in justice and do not let your hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just as that is nearer to righteousness…” 
The Farewell Sermon
As Muslims observe the holy month of Dhul Hijjah this August, pilgrims from around the world converge on Mecca in readiness to perfom Hajj. It is apt that Prophet Muhammed’s Farewell Sermon is addressed as it provides emphatic evidence encapsulating his mission and message of peace. The sermon contains exemplary exhortations of tolerance at various levels – family, community, societal, business etc:
“O people, lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year, I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.
O people, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that He will indeed reckon your deeds…
O people, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you…
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Remember, one day you will appear before Allah and answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
O people, no prophet or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray.
All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness, O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people”.
Suffice it to reiterate that the exemplary characteristics witnessed in Prophet Muhammed’s practice and nation building continue to positively impact adherents and non-adherents to the faith today. Revisiting commentaries from the latter, we observe French historian, Lamartine discern in 1854:
“If greatness of purpose, smallness of means, and astounding results are three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history with Muhammad? The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded – if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislations, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in one third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved altars, the gods, the religions the ideas, beliefs and souls…”
“…Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior and conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images, the founder of 20 terrestrial empires and one spiritual empire; that is Muhammad. As regards all standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may all ask, is there any man greater than he?”
Additionally, Mahatma Ghandi’s accolade attests to Prophet Muhammed’s forbearance and exemplary resolve:
“I wanted to know the best of one who holds today the undisputed sway over millions of mankind…I became more than convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God, and his own mission…”
In his book, (published in 1978, p.33) Michael Hart rated the 100 most influential persons in history and made the following observation:
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.”
Prophet Muhammad’s nomination as the leading figure in history according to this rating again, comes as no surprise to the Muslim world. At a time of divisive and polarising issues that serve to stoke fear, animosity and violence, Islam provides a divine reminder that we would all do well to reflect upon:
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous (God fearing) of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Aware.” 
This week, millions of Muslims will celebrate the above verse, culminating in various nationalities, ethnicities, affluent and poor, young and old gathering on Mount Arafat and in Mecca in solidarity upon a single foundation of monotheism – a spectacle that remains unrivalled in the world today. The hallmarks and legacy of Prophet Muhammed’s leadership are evident; we are in dire need of contemporary examples that can emulate at least some of his practices today.
Holy Quran, Chapter, The Pen (al-Qalam) verse 4
Holy Quran, Chapter, The Confederates (Ahzab) verse 21
Tolan, J: ‘Faces of Muhammad: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today’
Qurayshi, U: ’Islamic Tolerance,’ p.20
Holy Quran, chapter 49 – Hujurat, verses 1 & 2
Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma’ad…vol. 3 p.85 cited in Islamic Tolerance, p.115
The Holy Quran, Chapter al-Baqarah, verse 256
Ibid, Chapter An-Nisa, verse 135
Ibid, Chapter al-Maidah, verse 8
Holy Quran, Chapter Hujurat, verse 13