Sall-Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam
They were circumambulating the Ka'ba, when Ka'ab bin Ujrah asked Abdul Rahman ibn Abi
Lailah: "Shall I not give you a precious gift?" A gift in the middle of that act
of intense devotion? Abdul Rahman was a prominent tabayi, i.e. from the generation that
came after the generation of the companions. Ka'ab, may Allah be pleased with him, was one
of the 1400 Companions who were part of the Covenant of al Ridwan, a covenant to live or
fall together to avenge the blood of Uthman bin Affan, Radi-Allahu anhu, who had been
feared to have been murdered by the Quraish. To know this background is to get a clue to
the special gift.
While Muslims were stationed at Hudaybiyah, where the covenant took place, many
delegations of Quraish had visited them. Among them was Urwah ibn Mas'ud al Thaqafi. It
was he who reported the extra-ordinary relationship of the companions with the Prophet,
Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam : "I have seen Caesar
and Chosroes in their pomp, but never have I seen a man honored as Muhammad is honored by
The gift that Ka'ab gave to ibn Abi Lailah was the hadith that gives us the salawat
(benediction) that we use in regular prayers. The companions asked the proper way of
sending the blessings, when the verse requiring them to do so was revealed.
"Lo Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. O ye who
believe! Ask blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation." [Al-Ahzab,
Then the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam , taught them the exact
words, as they themselves were revealed to him by Allah.
A prophet of God is a unique person. He acts as the link between the people and their
Creator. He is a human being, yet he speaks for God. The most difficult task for followers
of a prophet has always been that of dealing with the prophet as a prophet. It is so easy
to go to extremes. Make him divine, God-incarnate, Son of God. Or make him just another
man, attributing all human weaknesses and sins to him. Religious literature of major
religions in the world is testimony to these tendencies. It is a story of abject human
failure in this matter.
One must contrast that with the beautiful and delicate balance presented by Islam. Here
the Prophet is the perfect human being, but he is not Divine. He speaks for God but he is
not God. He is the object of our gratitude, ardent love and devotion, unswerving
allegiance, and deference. But he is not the object of our worship. We ask Allah to send
His blessings on him which at once makes two very important statements. First, he needs
Allah's blessings. Second, we cannot bless him, only Allah can. It is not possible for
those who always invoke Allah's blessings for the Prophet, to degrade him to the level of
other human beings, or to elevate him to the level of divinity. The benediction,
Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam , is a magic formula that
fights both tendencies equally effectively. It also strikes at the roots of shirk, the
tendency to associate partners with Allah. For we have met the perfect human being, the
example to follow. And we found him to be a servant of Allah. Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam
For centuries Muslims lovingly added the benediction, whenever they mentioned the name
of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam . The hadith literature is
a good example of this labor of love. For here the name of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi
wa sallam , is mentioned repeatedly. Yet the muhadithun never tired of
writing the benediction. That was at a time when every book was written by hand, and all
its copies were also made by hand. It was never considered a burden or an unnecessary
interruption. A brief recent statement from a professor of hadith at one Islamic religious
school captures the spirit. "The merits of studying hadith are innumerable and those
interested can read Ibn Abdul Bar's book on the subject," he said. "But it is
sufficient to note that through this study we get plenty of opportunities for saying the
benediction, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam ."
And so for centuries this practice has continued unabated throughout the Muslim world.
Also, realizing the importance of a "worthy benediction" Muslims always used the
Arabic expression in other languages, be they Urdu, Farsi, Bangla, or others. For the
first time in history, we find a break from this practice, and this spirit, when reviewing
the Islamic literature in English.
Initially some one substituted "peace be upon him" for "Sall-Allahu
alayhi wa sallam ." But it is not even a proper translation. Then some
one thought of abbreviating it to pbuh. It, of course, did not improve the translation or
the readability. Others came up with innovations of their own. One Islamic text book in
English notes in the beginning: "After using the name of the Prophet Muhammad,
Muslims should write or say the honorific phrase, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam ...Due
to limited space this honorific phrase has been omitted.. but should be inserted when
reading the book." Another book goes a little further by acknowledging the "long
established and cherished tradition", but then announces bluntly: "To avoid
interrupting the flow of ideas, especially for non-Muslim readers, I have not followed the
customary practice." A majority of recent Islamic books published in the U.S. and
U.K. by reputable Muslim organizations, though, do not feel the need for any excuse or
explanation, whatsoever. They simply mention the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam ,
as they would any ordinary person.
It is time we moved beyond our hesitations, confusions, or inferiority complexes. This
is the Ummah of the Last Prophet. In every language of the world, our Prophet is Muhammad,
Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam .