According to the Quran, Prophet Muhammad SAW was the most excellent example for all of humanity. Historians distinguish him to be one of the most successful personalities in history.
In 1946 Reverend R Bosworth-Smith in "Mohammed & Mohammedanism." wrote about the Prophet SAW:
"Head of the state as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but, he was pope without the pope's claims, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue. If ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by a right divine It was Mohammad, for he had all the power without instruments and without its support. He cared not for dressing of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life."
In 1978 Michael Hart in his book “The 100 Most Influential Persons In History", selected Prophet Muhammad SAW as the most influential person in history and had this to say about his choice:
"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 secular and religious level... It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence which I feel entitles Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history."
The Prophet's words and actions show us the way to achieve success, not just in this world but in the hereafter as well.
In short, the Prophet of Islam was a positive thinker in the full sense of the word. All his activities were result-oriented. He refrained from all negative elements of behavior that are counter-productive to achievement such as hate, envy, arrogance, greed, etc.
All the actions of the Prophet SAW were solely based on a pure intention to please God.
By studying the life of the Prophet SAW we can identify some of the principles of success.
1- Take the easier path. This principle is well explained in a saying of Aishah RA. She said:
Whenever the Prophet had to choose between two options, he always opted for the easier choice. [Bukhari]
To choose the easiest option means that you should evaluate your options and choose the most feasible. One who begins from this starting point will surely reach his goal.
2 - See advantage in disadvantage. In the early days of Makkah, there were many problems and difficulties. At that time, a guiding verse in the Quran was revealed. It said:
With every hardship there is ease, with every hardship there is ease. (94:5-6).
This means that if there are some problems, there are also opportunities at the same time. The way to success is to overcome the problems and avail the opportunities.
3 - Change the place of action. This principle is derived from the Hijrah. The Hijrah was not just a migration from Makkah to Medinah; it was a journey to find a more suitable place to put Islam into action.
Physical migration and perseverance is an important element in establishing Justice and Peace. This also planted the roots of intellectual migration from the subjugated minds to an awakened spirit.
4 - Make a friend out of an enemy. The Prophet of Islam was repeatedly subjected to practices of antagonism by the unbelievers. At that time, the Qur'an enjoined upon him the return of good for evil. And then, as the Quran added:
You will see your direst enemy has become your closest friend. (41:34)
It means that a good deed in return of a bad deed has a conquering effect over your enemies. And the life of the Prophet is a historical proof of this principle.
The greatest example of amnesty was shown by the Prophet after the blood-less conquest of Makkah. All enemies of Islam were granted pardon including Hindun, the wife of Abu Suffian who had disemboweled the martyred body of Hamzah, the Prophet's uncle. In spite of her detestable mutilation of Hamzah's body, the Prophet forgave her.
5 - Education is central to success. After the battle of Badar, about 70 of the unbelievers were taken as prisoners of war. They were educated people. The Prophet SAW announced that if any one of them would teach ten Muslim children how to read and write he would be freed. This was the first school in the history of Islam in which all of the students were Muslims, and all of the teachers were from the enemy rank.
6 - Don't be a dichotomous thinker. In the famous battle of Mutah, Khalid Ibn Walid decided to withdraw Muslim forces from the battlefield because he discovered that they were disproportionately outnumbered by the enemy. When they reached Madinah, some of the Muslims received them by the word 'O deserters!' The Prophet said: 'No, they are men of advancement'.
Those Madinan people were thinking dichotomously, either fighting or retreating. The Prophet said that there is also a third option, and that is to avoid war and find time to strengthen you. Now history tells us that the Muslims, after three years of preparation, advanced again towards the Roman border and this time they won a resounding victory.
7 - Do not engage in unnecessary confrontation. This principle is derived from the treaty of Hudaibiyah. At that time, the unbelievers were determined to engage Muslims in fighting, because they were in an advantageous position. But the Prophet SAW, by accepting their conditions unilaterally, entered into a pact. It was a ten-year peace treaty. Until then, the meeting ground between Muslims and non-Muslims had been on the battlefield. Now the area of conflict became that of ideological debate. Within two years, Islam emerged as victorious because of the simple reason of its ideological superiority.
8 - Gradualism instead of radicalism. This principle is well-established by a Hadith quoted in Bukhari. Aishah RA says that the first verses of the Qur'an were related mostly to Heaven and Hell. After some time when faith had taken hold in people’s hearts, God revealed specific commands to desist from unjust and self-deprecating social practices that were prevalent in the Arabian dark ages. This is a clear proof that for social changes, Islam advocates the evolutionary method, rather than the revolutionary method.
9 - Be pragmatic in controversial matters. During the writing of the Hudaibiyah treaty, the Prophet dictated these words: 'This is from Muhammad, the Messenger of God.' The Quraishan delegate raised objections over these words. The Prophet SAW promptly ordered the words to be changed to 'Muhammad, son of Abdullah'. This simple change placated the Quraishan delegate.
These are just some of the principles by which the Prophet of Islam conducted his life. His achievements have been recognized by historians as the supreme success. We would be wise to live by following his example.
You have indeed in the Messenger of God a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in God and the Final Day. (Quran 33:21)
Adapted from the "Principles of Success in the Light of Sirah" by Wahiduddin Khan, Renaissance Islamic Journal