The commemoration of the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) has come this year amid the holding of a sit-in by a religious party, the Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah, and after the resignation of the federal Law Minister over the issue. That sit-in does not conceal from the ordinary Muslim that the relevance of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to the ordinary Muslim is much wider than his finality, or even the reverence in which he is held.

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) has a very special significance to Muslims. He is a personal savior in the sense that even Jesus Christ is not for Christians. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) does not take on himself anyone’s sins, for all persons bear individual responsibility. However, his life provides the example of how to live. The Muslim follows that example, and reveres the person who provided it. The oath most frequently attributed to his friend, constant companion and successor, Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, “May my parents be sacrificed upon you”, indicates the depth of gratitude that is felt by all Muslims. Salvation is the most important achievement for any Muslim , the alternative being in hellfire for eternity, and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is the means by which this salvation is made possible.

Indeed, this salvation has been made easy by him (PBUH). The centerpiece is of course the Holy Quran, which is the word of the Almighty, and which has reached us through him (PBUH). His (PBUH) own words, silences, deeds and inactions have been transmitted by the same means, and constitute the Sunnah. Thus every aspect of his (PBUH) life provides the believer guidance on how to order his life so as to achieve salvation.

The reverence for his person is not just an accretion of this debt, but because of his Sunnah. The rejection of any prophet after him (PBUH) is also because of his (PBUH) words, in this case specific. It must be remembered that he (PBUH) was not just the Last Prophet to Mankind, but was also the end of a chain of prophethood that had extended from Abraham down. Indeed, the chain started with the Creation, for Adam was the first Prophet. After the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Mankind was without prophet, dependent on the Book revealed to the last one, and the life he (PBUH) led. As a result perhaps, the attention paid at the very beginning to his (PBUH) words and deeds was immense. One consequence is that he is perhaps the most carefully studied historical figure of all time. To take just one example, the amount of detail available about his (PBUH) childhood is immense even when compared to those of much later historical figures. This is not just mythography, but solid well-sourced material.

Because following his (PBUH) example is so important, any defence of his honour must be in accordance with principles that he has laid down. It is perhaps regrettable that those who are so exercised about his (PBUH) honour are not pressing for the following of his (PBUH) example. It should not escape notice that one of the clauses between the sitters-in’s leaders and the government was the former’s commitment not to issue any fatwa against the resigning Law Minister, Zahid Hamid. Zahid Hamid, even before resigning, made public a declaration that he was not an Ahmadi. That seemed comprehensive enough, but this writer does not possess the requisite competence to judge whether or not he was within the pale of Islam. It should be noted that a prior commitment to issue no fatwa cannot be made. A fatwa of innocence may be issued, but prior to the process, nothing can be said. What if the process leads to a fatwa being needed? Will the concerned scholar engage in a cover-up? Or have the leaders agreed not to engage in the process itself?

At one level, the sit-in was not something that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) engaged in. He (PBUH) did not shy away from politics or statesmanship, whether in his 13 years at Makkah, or his decade at the head of an expanding state in Madina. It was thought that political Islam was something restricted to Salafis or Deobandis, but it seems that the Faizabad sit-in, which led to the Law Minister’s resignation, was an exertion of Brelvi political strength. The move to obtain Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullh’s resignation centred around both a continuing of the sit-in in Lahore, as well as the placing for resignations by government MNAs and MPAs in the hands of Pir Hameeduddin Sialvi; both being demonstrations of Brelvi political strength.

At the same time, it should be noted that the portrayal of Brelvis as peaceable and apolitical among those favouring the West’s War on Terror, is disproved by this display of political strength. The attempts to show that the Prophet (PBUH) preached a message of non-violence have rebounded, with the Ahmadis now suspected of violating the Namoos-i-Risalat. It must be noted that Deobandis, Ahle Hadith and Shia find that they must follow suit, or stand accused of being sympathisers. It is perhaps ironic that Rana Sanaullah stands accused of being soft on Ahmedis, because he had also been accused of favouring the militants.

Another dimension is that the Brelvi assertion brings to the limelight political forces that would have normally been PML(N) supporters. It is no coincidence that such a large number of legislators willing to resign are to be found in the ranks of the PML(N). It must be remembered that these legislators may be personally inspired by loyalty to their pir, or their personal convictions, but the desires of their constituents will play a large part in their decision. It must also be remembered that these legislators had not entered politics because they had been selected by the pir, but they depend on his support for at least some of the votes that they need to be elected. The legislators belong to West Punjab, which contains entire districts where the PML(N) constantly wins seats. If his issue can be used to hive off votes from the PML(N), it might help. In the NA-120 by-election, though votes for the TLYR candidate did not give him a chance of winning, if his votes were delivered to the PTI candidate, she would have won.

Imran Khan’s recent deal with the JUI(S) would give him some Deobandi votes. It remains to be seen if he can draw in Brelvi votes, either or his own steam, or through an alliance. Devotion to the Prophet (PBUH) is forcefully enjoined on every Muslim , but it is still not clear that political behaviour is determined by this. Until it is, the Muslims’ devotion to the Holy Prophet (PBUH) will remain inchoate and unfulfilled. The problem is that Muslims have been brought a Message to be acted on, not merely to be nodded at. The Message is all that Muslims have to hold on to, in guiding themselves through the world. At this time, the Messenger (PBUH) is under attack, as well as his Message. However, defence does not lie in tilting at windmills, but at hearing and obeying. Instead of implementing his laws, the alternative of making ministers resign by sit-ins is convenient, if not necessarily correct.