HOW FAR CAN WE GO IN GLORIFYING THE PROPHET
All praises are fit for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) if they do not raise him beyond the level of a man and a creature of God. We can, for example, declare him to be the greatest of all the prophets and messengers of God and the crown of all creation. That this praise is applicable to the Prophet is shown by the way the Holy Qur'an presents him as a messenger and mercy of God to all mankind and for all times to come, in contrast to other prophets and messengers whose missions were limited to particular periods and regions. It is also clear from the Islamic belief that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) completed and perfected the work of earlier prophets who brought partial revelations. Hadith also supports the position that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the greatest of all Prophets (and therefore the crown of all creation, since man is God's best creation and the prophets are the best of men, so that the best of the prophets is the best of God's creation). Thus in almost all books of hadith we find the tradition that when during mi'raj the Prophet was taken from the mosque in Makkah to the mosque in Jerusalem he met all the earlier prophets and led them in prayer as their imam. Also, in Sahih Muslim, one chapter in entitled: "The Superiority of the Prophet over all creation" and contains the following hadith:
Abu Hurayra reported the Prophet as saying: "I will be the leader of all the children of Adam on the day of judgment. My grave will be the first to open. I will be the first to intercede and my intercession will be accepted first."
Some Muslims hesitate to declare the Prophet as the greatest of all the Prophets because the Qur'an says:
"(The believers) make no distinction between any of His messengers." (2:285)
But the Holy Qur'an also says:
"Some of these messengers have We favoured more than others..." (2:253)
If we do not concentrate on the first verse in disregard of the other, then it becomes clear that the Holy Qur'an is making a distinction between the nature of the prophets and their stature. The first verse is telling us that in nature there is no distinction between the various prophets: they were all sent by the same true God, they were all serving one and the same plan of God and they were all human beings and part of a single brotherhood of righteous servants of God. The second verse is telling us that in stature or rank some prophets were superior to others.
Let the Muslims therefore have not the slightest hesitation in declaring the Prophet Muhammad to be the greatest of all prophets and thus the noblest of men and the crown and pride of the whole of God's creation.
Some Muslims try to dampen love and admiration for the Prophet in other Muslims and in themselves on two other grounds. First, they fear that "too much" expression of love and admiration for the Prophet can lead to his deification and therefore to shirk. Second, they fear that expressing love and admiration for the Prophet somehow means ignoring his message and commandments of God.
The second fear is without any basis. For one thing expressing love and admiration for the Prophet is itself a commandment of God, as God says:
"Love, glorify and bless him and salute him with all due respect."
For another, love and admiration for the Prophet and their expression cannot by themselves lead to disobedience. Indeed, as we have seen earlier, they are necessary for iman, which in turn is necessary for true obedience.
The first fear does have some basis. In fact, the Prophet himself cautioned us against following the footsteps of the adherents of other religions who exaggerated in praise of their prophets, raising them to the level of God and thus falling into shirk, the most deadly sin of all. But it would be a mistake to fight shirk by putting cold water on the fire of our love and admiration for the Prophet. For that would be like destroying shirk by destroying iman, which is clearly a very unwise strategy.
On 'id milad an-nabi (birthdate of the Prophet) and other occasions let us therefore wholeheartedly and generously and without any bukhl (misery, what miser people do) express all the love and admiration for the Prophet that can be expressed for someone other than God.