One and a half billion Muslims in the world today look to the prophet Muhammad as a life example and truest practitioner of Islam. Islam is currently the second largest religion in the world making Muhammad one of the most significant and influential figures in history. Indeed, the inception, growth, and current state of the Muslim religion cannot be understood without looking into his life and teachings. A prophet springing from the Arabian Peninsula, Muhammad was a man characterized by violence and a quest for political and military power as evidenced in the earliest written Islamic sources. The sunna(1) and teachings of Muhammad found in two of these earliest sources, the Qur’an and the Sirat Rasul Allah(2) by Ibn Ishaq, present a disturbing picture of a man whom many revere as God’s final prophet to mankind. This paper will look at the teachings of the Qur’an, the Islamic theological doctrine of the law of abrogation, and the life example of Muhammad himself.
THE PROBLEM OF HISTORICITY
There is a problem that modern day scholars are facing in attempting to study the life and teachings of Muhammad. They find themselves forced to depend entirely on Muslim sources and tradition for most, if not all, of their information. There are simply no sources outside of Islam with which to corroborate the early Islamic history which Muslims assume to be true. But the problem gets worse. The Islamic sources we do have are written anywhere from 150 to 300 years after the events which they describe.(3) In other words, we have no primary sources to go to in researching the life and teachings of Muhammad but only secondary sources which rely on other material no longer in existence. Therefore in looking at the Qur’an and the Sirat Rasul Allah it is not to be assumed that these sources are factually accurate and dogmatically correct in all respects. But this is not the issue or even what is most important in this particular discussion. What is important is the fact that these sources have shaped the minds and lives of billions of Muslims who have looked to them as guides and examples to be followed. Ultimately this is what matters more than the authenticity of the sources.(4) We look to their sources to find out about their prophet to see if he really was a man who can be called the final and greatest spokesman of God. It is appropriate than to begin with the Qur’an.
WHAT IS THE QUR'AN?
The Qur’an is acclaimed by Muslims to be the most important and authoritative revelation from Allah. It is God’s final revelation to mankind and held to be an exact word-for-word copy of eternal tablets existing in heaven. The word Qur’an, which means “to recite,” places Allah as the central figure of the book and consistently emphasizes His uniqueness and oneness. According to Muslim tradition, Muhammad was called to be a prophet of Allah at the age of forty in the year 610 A.D. During his twenty-two-year prophetic career he received numerous revelations from Allah via the angel Gabriel which were eventually compiled into the 114 suras (chapters) of the Qur’an. Muhammad spent the first twelve years of his prophetic life, from 610 to 622 A.D., in the city of Mecca and the last ten years, from 622 to 632 A.D., in the city of Medina. This is highly relevant to our discussion because the life of Muhammad, and therefore the religion of Islam, is really a tale of two cities: Mecca and Medina. Mecca was a time of peace in the life of Muhammad while his time in Medina was largely filled with war and violence. The contrast between these two periods in Muhammad’s life can be seen in the revelations he received and the example he set.
(1) The life example of Muhammad which is then emulated by Muslims.
(2) The earliest biography of Muhammad as found in written form.
(3) Lingel (comp), Christian Apologetics to Islam Course Pack (La Mirada, 2008).
(4) Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet (Boston, MA: Regina Orthodox Press, 2002), 12.