“Do not be complacent. Most people judge religions by their followers, not by their doctrines.”
‘You have in God’s Messenger an excellent example [uswa hasana]’ (33:21). ‘There is an excellent example [uswa hasana] for you in Abraham and those who followed him’ (60:4). Looking for role models is human nature. The nabi or wali could remain away from society in holy contemplation, but is called to remain among us so that we may see the beauty of what scripture and other written teaching can only describe. ‘Allah will not punish them while you are among them’ (8:33)
To accept the outward teachings of a messenger of God is not enough. One must be inwardly transformed as well. Love for the messenger is a subtle state that is only sufficiently transmitted through the living lineage of those who follow him in a state of full sacrifice and love. Reading about the messenger will inspire some degree of love, and some degree of inward understanding, but it is always open to being mixed with the turbulences of the ego. Beware the man who, with no access to the pure-hearted, attempts to interpret the Sunna on his own, or with a ‘reading group’!
The Muslim is called to submit to God by submitting to the Prophetic example. He has no other way. His emulation links him to the Man of Praise either through his own ego and mind, or through a line of sages. He has no other way. When the mediator is the ego, his Islam will show his Prophet to the world, and the world will see only that Muslim’s ego, rage, sloth, desire, or envy. That is the Prophet shown by the False Salafi, and he drives the world away from monotheism and God’s law.
But when the emulation is transmitted through a golden chain of pure hearts, the Prophetic harmony of majesty and beauty will be disclosed. Such a follower of the Sunna ‘has revived my way in his time.’ The surrender of his heart will open the Liber Asian to the hearts of the world.
(Source: Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, Contention No. 87, Pgs. 153-154)