Chamden Henzler-Lhasawa: Characteristics of Prophethood

Islam is the most important religion of the 21st century. Some choose to debate the instability within the house of Islam, however, there is no debate on the greatness of the Muslim Prophet. Mohammad was a man with unique characteristics–both political and religious. Arabia was ripe for a prophet in the years leading up to Mohammad’s birth and as a man descended from prophets himself, he fit the criteria. He was a great orator, capitalizing on the poetic Arabian society to gather follows. Before his rise to prophethood, Mohammad was a respected mediator and a trusted member of his community. While all of these characteristics were valuable for Mohammad’s influence, it was his piety, integrity, and simpleness, that Muslims across the globe have tried to replicate since. The cumulative power of these characteristics- and many others unnamed- allowed Mohammad to found one of the largest religions of modern history.

Even before his birth, the Prophet Mohammad had the genealogical characteristic of a great leader. The Prophet was born in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, to the Qusayy tribe. Within the Qusayy, Mohammad traced his lineage back to the founder of Mecca, the Prophet Ibrahim, and his son Ishmael who built the Ka’ba, the holiest structure in Islam. Furthermore, the Prophet was born in the auspicious year 570 CE, the year the Quraysh defeated the Abyssinian general Abraha and stopped him from destroying Mecca. Thus, even before Mohammad was born he had characteristics which made Muslim for generations after his death trust him with more ease and see him as the perfect monotheistic ruler of the Arabs.

In addition to Mohammad’s geographical and familial assets, his talent for oration allowed him to connect easily to many people. Before analyzing the Prophets skills as a speaker it’s important to give the context of the importance of words within the Arabian culture. In pre-Islamic Arabia, it is said: “tales exist of tribal warriors drawn up for battle who turned away in despair after a great poet put them to shame”. For many people of Mecca and Medina, it was the Prophet’s skills as an orator and the Quran’s poetic style that they convert to Islam from idol worship. The Prophet is known for being illiterate, however, had a great understanding of Arabian poetry. Although it is debated as to whether the Prophet wrote the Quran himself, his poetic influence in the text as well as the Hadith in undeniable.

Equally important as Mohammad’s oration skills, his role as a community mediator helped him gain the trust of many. The first recorded instance of Mohammad’s capacity as a mediator is seen in the rebuilding of the Ka’ba. Even before the rise of Islam the Ka’ba in Mecca was a place of worship, holding over 350 idols. Eventually, in the building process, they reached the point where the sacred black stone needed to be put back in place. The stone was dropped from heaven by god and used by Ibrahim in the original building of the Ka’ba, making it a great honor to put it back in place. The Quraysh leaders argued over who should have the right to put it back, eventually agreeing that the next male who entered the Ka’ba would decide. This happened to be Mohammad. He suggests that the stone should be placed on a cloak and that the leader of each clan should lift an end, raising the stone high enough for Mohammad himself to eventually put in place. This early example of Mohammad’s mediation skills explains Mohammad’s eventual success as a political leader. Furthermore, when Mohammad was forced to flee to Medina in 620 CE to avoid persecution in Mecca, his first job was as a mediator. His mediating skills in Medina helped to establish his place as leader and gain the trust of the Medians, eventually leading to their conversion to Islam, again showcasing his characteristic as a mediator aiding him as a political leader.

Mohammad’s genealogical history, his skills at oration and his mediation skills helped him political, however, it was his charity and piety which helped him as a religious leader. Charity or Zakat is an extremely important part of Islam, so much so that it is one of the five pillars. Zakat is so important to Islam because Mohammad had a strong belief in integrity and social justice which helped him as a religious leader. As an adolescent, Mohammad had a great sense of integrity, trustworthiness, forgiveness and was said to be the “best neighbor”. Additionally, throughout his life, Mohammad displayed a great sense of forgiveness. An example of this is when the Muslim armies took over Mecca. While many of Mohammad’s generals believed that they should punish the Meccans, Mohammad took pity on them saying that now was the time for compassion not revenge. Mohammad made the community an integral part of Muslim life. For early Muslims, their first duties were to establish a community. Thus the mosque became the community center, acting as the town hall, school, and place of prayer. By making zakat, forgiveness and community central to Islam the Prophet fostered loyalty among his congregation which helped him both politically and religiously.

While Mohammad’s emphasis on zakat was a large factor in his success as a religious leader, ultimately his sense of piety and simpleness proved to be the most influential trait in his success. In pre-Islamic Mecca, due to prosperous trading, Quraysh elite had become rich and began to lose some of their fundamental tribal values. Most importantly, they began to stop looking after older members of the tribe creating class divided between different clans.When Mohammad took over Mecca he brought back these values. One concrete example of this piety was Mohammad’s ascent to heaven. In Jerusalem Mohammad met all previous prophets and led them in prayer, he then was offered water, wine, and milk and choose milk, displaying his piety. Many historians can see that Mohammad piety and simpleness set the standard for all Muslims from then on from average Muslims to caliphs.

The Prophet Mohammad was a man of great characteristics. As a descendant of Ibrahim and Noah, he had prophetic blood which made him a suitable candidate to be chosen by god, his abilities as an orator, helped him convince his followers and as a mediator, he was able to adapt to political situations with ease and compromise. However, it was Mohammad’s sense of integrity and piety that proved to be his most important value as a religious. Ultimately The characteristics of Mohammad are central to the characteristics of Islam and understanding Mohammad’s rise of influence explains many of the fundamentals of the religion we know today. These characteristics helped him establish his dominance as a political and religious leader of his time and have set the precedent for how all Muslims should live since.