“What do you think of Muhammad?”
In response to this question I would like to sketch out two alternatives. The first is a response to a Christian asking the question, and the second is a response to a Muslim asking the question. As you ask the question, very likely you will recall the question that Jesus asked a group of Pharisees: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” (Matthew 22:42), and a similar question that Jesus had asked of the disciples when they were at Caesarea Philippi ““Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 cf. v15). The questions show that knowing one’s identity is very important.
A. Response to a Christian asking the question “What do you think of Muhammad?”
Historically the question has been answered along a spectrum with responses ranging from “the devil incarnate” to “a prophet like Old Testament prophets.” At one end we might say that Muhammad has been painted with black tar, and on the other hand he has been whitewashed. So what is the truth of the matter? Let us examine the responses under five categories.
1. Muhammad’s humanity.
As much as Islamic writings vacillate between making him a normal human with only normal human frailties and a sin-cleansed superhuman capable of even mediating for the eternal destination of Muslims, from a Biblical point of view he was a human dead in sin needing salvation. Any act of his, even slightly charitable, must be analyzed under the Biblical perspective that “anything not done in faith [that is in trust of the Triune God] is sin” (Romans 14:23). Muhammad’s response to the rejection of his prophethood by both Jews and Christians has been well documented as playing a large role in his vendetta against both of them when he gained power in Medina. Here his true colors became evident.
Read Appendix 1, item “Muhammad and others about himself” and ask what the Bible thinks about these descriptions.
2. Muhammad’s claim to prophethood.
At times even Christians refer to Muhammad as “The Prophet Muhammad.” This poses some serious issues. The use of the definite article “the” can imply that he is unique as a prophet. This assertion comes under serious scrutiny when Jesus is referred to as the “Lord of the prophets” ( Matthew 22: 45) and that He is the final revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-2). Thus the Bible asserts that only Jesus can have the title “The Prophet” and the Islamic assertion that Muhammad can be the “seal of the prophets” is nothing less than an attempt to usurp Jesus’ rightful place.
Even the Qur’an attests to the fact that in his day there were people with serious doubts as to the claims for the prophethood of Muhammad. Those detractors fell into two categories, namely the Jews who used the Old Testament criterion for prophethood and rejected it, and neighboring Arabs who saw the likes of a soothsayer or someone being influenced by what they called “familial friends” [we might call them familial spirits or demons] also known as ‘jinn’. Thus one must examine the claim to prophethood in the light of Biblical criterion, as well as to ask the questions about the descriptions of when inspiration came to Muhammad: are these Biblical indicators of prophethood? Are the manifestations of his inspiration angelic–i.e. good, neutral, or demonic–i.e. bad? [See Appendix 1 below. Also the book, The Truth About Islam by Zaka and Coleman has a very helpful section on this subject.]
3. Muhammad’s claim to apostleship.
In the Islamic creed it is confessed multiple times per day that Muhammad is “the apostle/messenger of Allah.” Again we have the problem with the definite article, as it implies that he is a one and only. Again we see that Jesus is the apostle [Arabic Bible reads ‘rasul’] and high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1). Jesus is the one sent by the Father (John 17:3; 20:21) and He uniquely both brings a message of salvation and is the message of salvation simultaneously.
4. Muhammad’s self-placement with respect to Abraham and Jesus.
These two figures take a prominent place in the Qur’an and other Islamic writings under the names Ibrahim and ‘Isa. As much as there are some similarities to the Biblical figures, closer examination shows that both were very much employed in the service of Muhammad’s validation of himself. First of all, the Islamic Ibrahim, even though he shares the title “friend of God” with the Biblical figure, he has a different function in Islam. Essentially he has been created to be the ideal ancestor of Muhammad. If Ibrahim rejected idolatry so did Muhammad, if Ibrahim had a test of his new religion, so did Muhammad, if Ibrahim was persecuted so was Muhammad. Thus the Islamic Ibrahim has been created to point forward to his more illustrious offspring, namely Muhammad. Incidentally, Muhammad used the figure of Moses in a similar fashion.
In a similar way the Islamic ‘Isa has been created to be the forerunner of Muhammad. He takes on the characteristics of what John the Baptist was for Jesus. A close reading of the Islamic texts verifies the veteran missionary Samuel Zwemer’s observation that Muhammad’s mission was to eclipse Jesus.
5. Muhammad’s life and example.
It is essential is to realize that the person of Muhammad is highly venerated in Islam. The Indian scholar Iqbal noted: “Love of the Prophet runs like blood in the veins of his community.” And “You can deny God, but you cannot deny the Prophet!’ Additionally there are no few accounts of the life of Muhammad. Some like that of Karen Armstrong border on whitewashing his life. Others like that of Robert Spencer have a more critical view. Other more recent works, actually are asking the question if a historical Muhammad actually did exist. [see recommended readings below]. How can one get an accurate portrayal?
A place to start might be by reading The Life of Muhammad which was originally written by Ibn Ishaq and then re-edited by Ibn Hisham. It is one of the earliest known biographies of the life of Muhammad and is available in English print by the translator Alfred Guillaume. It is noteworthy that the ex-Muslim scholar Ibn Warraq approvingly quotes Dr. Margoliouth from his article in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. 8, p.878) who has this to say about the portrait of Muhammad in Ishaq’s biography:
“The character attributed to Muhammad in the biography of Ibn Ishaq is exceedingly unfavorable. In order to gain his ends he recoils from no expedient, and he approves of similar unscrupulousness on the part of his adherents, when exercised in his interest. He profits to the utmost from the chivalry of the Meccans. but rarely requites it with the like. He organizes assassinations and wholesale massacres. His career as tyrant of Medina is that of a robber chief, whose political economy consists in securing and dividing plunder, the distribution of the latter being at times carried out on principles which fail to satisfy his followers’ ideas of justice. He is himself an unbridled libertine and encourages the same passion in his followers. For whatever he docs he is prepared to plead the express authorization of the deity. It is, however, impossible to find any doctrine which he is not prepared to abandon in order to secure a political end.” (p. 340)
Finally, the former professor at the Al-Azhar University, Mark Gabriel uses the above resource quite extensively in his book, Jesus and Muhammad.
If one reads the material on Muhammad with humanistic eyes one might reach the conclusion that he was a fine fellow with fine attributes. If one reads the material on Muhammad with Biblically informed eyes, one will come to the conclusion that he was very much a human and his attempts to usurp the position of Jesus are no less than treason. Recall that it was Jesus himself who said:
“Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many….” “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:4-5; 23-25)
For further reading:
(in chronological order)
1. Koelle, S. W. Mohammed and Mohammedanism Critically Considered. London: Rivingtons, 1889. Online at http://archive.org/details/mohammedmohammed00koel
2. Guillaume, Alfred. The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh with Introduction and Notes by A. Guillaume. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
3. Warraq, Ibn. The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000.
4. “The Truth About Muhammad” (Chapter 2) in Zaka, Anees, and Diane Coleman. The Truth About Islam: The Noble Qurʼanʼs Teachings in Light of the Holy Bible. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Pub, 2004.
5. Gabriel, Mark. Jesus and Muhammad: Profound Differences and Surprising Similarities. Charisma House, 2004
6. Spencer, Robert. The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2006.
7. Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad Prophet for Our Time. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins e-books, 2009.
8.. Spencer, Robert. Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2012.
1. Andy Bannister and Jay Smith, “Historical Jesus vs Historical Muhammed” http://www.bethinking.org/islam/intermediate/historical-jesus-vs-historical-muhammed.htm (Accessed 2013/05/04)
2. From the Answering Islam website: http://www.answering-islam.org/Muhammad/index.html
A. Reports in Islamic literature how Muhammad received his revelations
1. “Sometimes it comes as the ringing of a bell; this kind is the most painful. When it ceases, I retain what was said. Sometimes it is an angel who speaks to me as a man, and I retain what he says.”
2. In a different form of this tradition, Muhammad says, “Sometimes it approaches me in the form of a young man (al-fata) who hands it down to me”
3. The Apostle of God heard a sound like the humming of bees near his face; thereupon Surah 23: Iff was revealed to him.
4. The Apostle of God used to move his lips from pain as soon as the revelation began. After the revelation of Surah 75:16 however, he listened until Diibril had withdrawn; thereupon he recited what he had heard.
5. “… on the authority of(Abd Allah b. Umar: I asked the Prophet: ‘Do you perceive the revelation?’ He answered, ‘Yes, I hear sounds like metal being beaten [cf. no. 1 above]. Then I listen and often I think I will die (of pain).'”
Others who described his receiving of revelation said that he would have seizures, sweat intensely, have a contorted face, and Umar ibnu’l Khattab recounted that Muhammad shivered, his mouth foamed, and he roared like a camel. Once when riding a camel it was said that the inspiration was so heavy that the camel could not bear the weight. When under inspiration, Muhammad, according to one account “covers his head, his color grows red, he snores as someone asleep, or rattles like a young camel; after some time he recovers.” From the Encyclopedia of Islam, “Wahy”
B. Muhammad and others about himself
Ishaq:233 “Allah’s Apostle: the Lord of the Muslims, Leader of the Allah Fearing, Messenger of the Lord of the Worlds, the Peerless and Unequalled.”
Qur’an 4:65 “They can have no Faith, until they make you (Muhammad) judge in all disputes, and find in their souls no resistance against Your decisions, accepting them with complete submission.”
Bukhari V1B7N1331 “The Prophet said, ‘I have been given five things which were not given to any one else before me. 1. Allah made me victorious by awe by His terrorizing my enemies. 2. The earth has been made for me. 3. Booty has been made lawful for me yet it was not lawful for anyone else before me. 4. I have been given the right of intercession. 5. Every Prophet used to be sent to his nation only but I have been sent to all mankind.’”
Qur’an 33:21 “You have indeed a noble paradigm in the Apostle of Allah.” [A second translation reads:] “You have in (Muhammad) the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern of conduct for anyone to follow.” [A third reads:] “Verily in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example for him who looks unto Allah and the Last Day.” [A fourth reads:] “Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent prototype.” [A fifth says:] “You have indeed a noble paradigm [archetype, exemplar, standard, model, or pattern] to follow in Allah’s Apostle.”
Bukhari:V4B55N651-2 “I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, ‘I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus. All the prophets are paternal brothers—their mothers are different, but their religion is one. There has been no prophet between me and Jesus.’”
Bukhari:V6B61N504 “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Every Prophet was given miracles because of which people believed, but what I have been given is Divine Inspiration which Allah has revealed to me. So I hope that my followers will outnumber the followers of the other Prophets.’”
Bukhari:V9B92N384 “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Whoever obeys me will enter Paradise, and whoever disobeys me will not enter it.’”
Qur’an 49:1 “Believers, be not forward in the presence of Allah and His Messenger, and fear Allah. Raise not your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor speak loudly around him, as you speak to one another, lest your deeds become nullified unconsciously. Those that lower their voices in the presence of the Messenger have their hearts tested by Allah. Theirs will be an immense reward.”
Qur’an 33:36 “No Muslim has any choice after Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter.”
Qur’an 33:56 “Allah and His angels shower blessings on the Prophet. So believers, send your blessings on him, and salute him with all respect—a worthy salutation. Those who annoy Allah and His Messenger and speak evil things of them—Allah has cursed them and prepared a humiliating torment.”
Qur’an 33:57 “Those who speak negatively of Allah and His Apostle shall be cursed.”
Bukhari:V8B78N628 “The Prophet was holding Umar’s hand. ‘O Allah’s Apostle! You are dearer to me than everything except my own self.’ The Prophet said, ‘No, by Him in Whose Hand my soul is, you will not have faith till I am dearer to you than your own self.’ Then Umar said, ‘However, now, by Allah, you are dearer to me than my own self.’ The Prophet said, ‘Now, Umar, you are a believer.’”
Qur’an 94:4 “We have exalted your fame, raising high the esteem in which you are held.”
Ishaq:118 “‘Muhammad is trying to bewitch you.’ With that the Quraysh got up and left before the Messenger could speak. The following day they gathered again. This time the Apostle said, ‘Kinsmen, I know of no Arab who has come to his people with a nobler message than mine. I have brought you the best of this world and the next.’”
Qur’an 109:3 “To you you’re Way, and to me my way. You shall have your religion and I shall have mine.”
Qur’an 108:3 “For he who insults you (Muhammad) will be cut off.”
Qur’an 24:62 “Only those are believers in Allah and His Messenger who, when they are with him on a matter requiring collective action, do not depart until they have asked for his permission. Deem not the summons of the Messenger like the summons of one of you. Allah knows those who slip away, making excuses. Beware of rejecting the Messenger’s orders lest a grievous penalty be inflicted.”
Qur’an 67:1 “Blessed is He who holds the reins of Kingship.”
Qur’an 68:4 “You are an exalted character of tremendous morality. Soon you will see, and they will see, which of you is afflicted with madness.”
Qur’an 81:19 “Verily this is the Word (brought by) a most honorable Messenger imbued with power, the Lord of the Throne, Mighty, One to be obeyed.”
Qur’an 81:24 “Neither is he a concealer, withholding knowledge of the unseen. Nor is it (the Qur’an) the Word of an evil spirit accursed, the utterance of a devil, the curses of Satan.”
Ishaq:471 “We were steadfast trusting in Him. We have a Prophet by whom we will conquer all men.”
Bukhari:V4B52N203 “I heard Allah’s Apostle saying, ‘He who obeys me, obeys Allah, and he who disobeys me, disobeys Allah. He who obeys the chief, obeys me, and he who disobeys the chief, disobeys me.’”
Bukhari:V9B87N127 “The Prophet said, ‘I have been given the keys of eloquent speech and given victory with terror so the treasures of the earth were given to me.’”
Ishaq:391 “O people, this is Allah’s Apostle among you. Allah has honored and exalted you by him. So help him and strengthen him. Listen to his commands and obey them.”
Tabari VIII:182 “The people assembled in Mecca to swear allegiance to the Messenger in submission. He received from them the oath of allegiance to himself, to heed and obey.”
Muslim:C22B20N4604 “We pledged an oath to the Messenger of Allah that we would listen to and obey his orders.”
Tabari VI:24/Ishaq:53 “His authority among the Quraysh was like a religion which the people followed and which could not be infringed; they always acted in accordance with its laws. They recognized his superiority and nobility.”
Qur’an 4:114 “He who disobeys the Apostle after guidance has been revealed will burn in Hell.”
C. A Sufi writing about Muhammad:
From Zain Badr Arabi—”Discourses on Sufism” (1348-1350 AD) .
A hundred thousand graces, blessings, and perfect salutations be upon the soul of the leader of lovers and the foremost of all mystics, the Prophet Muhammad! The beautiful garment of the prophethood of the prophets appeared because of him, while the garment of sanctity fitted snugly on the bodies of the saints due to his righteousness. If he had not existed, who would have existed? There would have been no heaven or angel! If he had not come, who would have come? Neither Adam nor mankind! He was such a prophet that God had ordained for him an abode without roof in the very proximity of Himself, as well as a hundred
thousand miracles, and a hundred thousand signs of intimacy completely unknown to any angel, prophet, or saint. He pitched the tent of His glory in the desert of the existence of this world. He made the creatures of both worlds His servants. May an abundance of blessings and salutations descend upon his descendants, and upon his family and companions! Each of them was in front of that resplendent full moon, like a star diffusing his light and scattering it as each moved about. Blessings also upon those well versed in the Way and upon the men eloquent in explaining Truth who have taken possession of his inheritance!
D. A video on Muhammad to critique:
1. A task for critical analysis might be to examine the following video and ask if it has painted a realistic or idealistic view of Muhammad.
- Ask if using a mosque as backdrop for the video—knowing that it was on the site of a former church—helps the message or sends mixed messages with respect to oppression of Christians over the years.
- Ask if the video analyses faithfulness from a Biblical or humanistic standpoint..
- Ask if spirit worshipping [=animistic] practices still very much in evidence in Islam today–like dealing with the evil eye, shaving body hair at special times, sacrificing animals etc., agree with the presentation that Muhammad was able to rid idolatrous practices out of Islam and create a pure monotheism.
- Ask if the track record of Muhammad’s armies and those of Muslim armies with respect to the treatment of children and women is truthfully described.