Dr. Tariq Ramadan: In the Footsteps of the Prophet (Book Review)

I read once that most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we are reading it at the right moment for us. This couldn’t be more true as I was approached to write a review of the book ‘In The Footsteps of the Prophet’ by Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan. While I admit I had not read it, I began my mission to devour the book and read it this time as a critic.

As a youngster I was taught that reading is actually a skill (in the same way that writing is a skill). It is an activity. Therefore, it is never passive. To read skillfully means to read not for information and amusement but for understanding. For me reading the book ‘In the Footsteps of the Prophet’ was a close shot to doing exactly that; to make me understand the beauty of the journey travelled by our beloved Muhammad.

Timing for me was key particularly during these challenging times with all its confrontations. On a general level the current turmoil in the Arab/Islamic world has had its toll emotionally and mentally and on a personal level, well, that is another story. With passage of time one begins to question the why behind everything and I felt this book was sent to remind me of the real journey we as Muslims are destined to make and the reason behind it. The holy Quran reads in Chapter 89 (Al-Fajr/The Dawn):{Oh, I wish I had sent ahead (some good) for my life}

Ramadan’s book which outlines the aspects of the journey for me as a native English speaker is almost a total opposite to an Arabic more historical prophet biography or (Seerah book ) which is sometimes heavy on the sources which, with all due respect, sometimes tediously focus on the who heard who say what.

While some books give a more inclusive view of all the versions of events, this one puts them in a crisp , neat and easy to remember story line which I quite liked.  It highlights certain events in the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that illustrates his character, beliefs and ethics.

This biography as mentioned earlier is timely, reminding both Muslims and non-Muslims alike of the forbearance, peacefulness and gentleness of our great leader.

‘In the Footsteps of the Prophet’ allows us to adopt the true meaning of ultimate happiness and inner-peace. We are taken on a journey witnessing how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the Companions went through so many hardships.

They faced hunger, torture, loss, death and so much more, yet their faith was the only thing which allowed their hearts to experience immense joy and tranquility.

While parallels should not be made this is similar to difficulties some are living nowadays. This is illustrated in the first Chapter which states:

Profound ‘active acceptance’ of God’s will: to question with one’s mind, to understand with one’s intelligence, and to submit with one’s heart

The book in all its simplicity teaches us how the prophet and his Companions  stood strong together against all the struggles they faced because they knew all the wealth, the fame and all the desires related to this world  were temporary. They always remembered the fact that they didn’t own anything, not even themselves.

Ramadan explains that our role models strived to please God acknowledging that only through this will we be the ultimate winners in this life and the next.

Reflecting on excerpts I enjoyed, I think for non-Muslims this is a very good, clear book; it is a great introduction to readers not so familiar with the Prophet’s life.

Some may argue that the author highlighted only a few certain events in his life which illustrate his character, beliefs and ethic. Nevertheless, we are reminded that we can learn from every feature of the Prophet’s life including the seemingly ordinary aspects, like the way he treated his spouses. Halfway into the book we see that the prophet conversed with his wife and expressed his love and tenderness.

The book underscores the significance of the Prophet’s example for some of today’s most controversial issues such as treatment of women and the poor.

It includes lessons from the life of Muhammad that are highly relevant to us all, even today, and that we should all do our best to incorporate into our lives. The book ‘In the footsteps of the Prophet’ has only served to increase my love, appreciation, and awe of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) further.  In a way, the book came alive for me and I actually felt like I was walking with the Prophet during his journey.

I am not sure if it is hormones, age or surrounding circumstances but by the end of the book waterworks was full speed ahead and I was crying at the death of our beloved Prophet.

In conclusion, I was taught that we must, in this life, have patience. Things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind. Calm acceptance is simply the way the prophet chose to live even though his life was often eventful, gripping, and highly charged.

By reading this book as a critic I have come to acknowledge that the sun will rise and set regardless, and that what we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us. By reading this book I have learnt to journey wisely.