Prophet Muhammad, Lover of God

Clio Schwartz

RELG 272

Professor Mahallati

02/14/2018

Prophet Muhammad, Lover of God

According to the Qur’an, which is considered in Islam to be the direct word of God, there have been several prophets. Muhammad is identified as the last prophet, however, and this distinguishes him from the others. When Muhammad is chosen to prophesy God’s word, he is surprised. It is this humility, among other traits, that characterizes the prophet both within the Qur’an and in the history of his life. Not only is Muhammad humble, but he has also been purified by the angels of God. He is in many ways primed to be transformed by the word of God, and to perform the role of an example to the new followers of Islam.

Muhammad is orphaned at a young age. This is illuminated in the ninety-third sura, “The Morning Hours” (Sura 93: 7-13)[1]:

“Did he not find you orphaned

and give you shelter

Find you lost

and guide you

Find you in hunger

and provide for you

 

As for the orphan—

do not oppress him

And one who asks—

do not turn him away”

 

Orphans are mentioned multiple times throughout the Qur’an, with an emphasis on caring and providing for them. Muhammad’s status as an orphan symbolizes several things, one of which is his capacity to empathize with those in unfortunate situations or destitution. This makes him an ideal messenger, as he is both relatable to those in strife and capable of striking an emotional chord in the hearts of those more fortunate. Another way in which the fact that Muhammad is an orphan characterizes his ability to prophesy effectively is that he is not rebelling against the religious traditions of his family and antecedents. Rather, he is primed to be shown the word of God. However, this is simultaneously a disadvantage; Michael Sells argues that “in a tribal society based on family and clan protection, the loss of his father and grandfather [leaves] Muhammad vulnerable to enemies in Mecca, particularly when he [begins] reciting the Qur’anic messages…”[2] Sells elaborates by adding that some scholars see the ninety-third sura as a consolation to Muhammad for the persecution he faces in the early years of Islam. It would seem not only a consolation, but also a message that evokes empathy for Muhammad in the hearts of the followers of Islam. Muhammad is thus characterized as someone who has persevered through struggle, with unwavering faith in the one true God.

The purification of Muhammad’s heart prior to the revelation is interpreted differently. Some believe the opening of the prophet’s chest to be literal, while others interpret it as a spiritual opening rather than a physical opening. (Sura 94: 1-4)[3]:

Did we not lay open your heart

and relieve you of the burden

that was breaking your back

Did we not honor your name

 

In the literal interpretation, the angel Gabriel opens Muhammad’s chest and takes out his heart. Gabriel then purifies it and replaces it. This process is comparable to that of a shaman’s initiation.[4] Even in the purely spiritual interpretation of the opening of the prophet’s chest, this sura describes the preparation of Muhammad to receive revelation. Muhammad is henceforth characterized as pure and is therefore able to perform prophetic duties morally. Despite being characterized as pure, however, Muhammad is also inconsistent. Fazlur Rahman argues that it is “neither strange nor out of tune nor blameworthy for a prophet that he is not always consistent as a human [sic].”[5] Nonetheless, the inconsistencies of Muhammad’s word do not amount to a moral ineptitude. Rahman elaborates, “Prophets are humans who must constantly struggle inwardly, but in this inward struggle truth and righteousness prevail.”[6] The prophet serves as an example for others. Studying Muhammad as a role model is an integral part of the theology of Islam.[7] Therefore, Muhammad’s struggle inspires the followers of Islam to persevere through their own hardships and to remain pious.

Muhammad is further characterized as merciful and kind, two traits that allow him to serve as prophet.[8] This is illustrated in the twenty-first sura, which reads, “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” (Sura 21: 107).[9] The prophet is in this sense an offering to humanity, that they might follow him and ascend to heaven. Muhammad’s kindness and mercy allow humanity to be in relation with God, to foster closeness between them and guide them to the right.[10] He echoes the virtues of God as proclaimed time and time again in each sura, “… God the Compassionate and Merciful.”[11] To see these virtues reflected in the prophet, a human being, is a method that allows followers of Islam to better understand the character of God himself. Muhammad can provide guidance and serve the followers of Islam as well as serving God. Muhammad’s compassion for his fellow humans is demonstrated when he advocates to God to lessen the number of prayers from fifty a day to five.[12] While he is reverent and defers to the omniscience and omnipotence of God, he also understands the limitations and desires of humans and is thus able to bridge the divide between heaven and earth, to an extent.

The question of why Muhammad was chosen as the prophet does not immediately have a clear answer. He is, of course, believed in Islam to be the last prophet: the one whose revelation is final and unchanged.[13] However, there is not one trait in particular that defines Muhammad as superior to other humans; rather, his entire character exemplifies the epitome of someone who is working with determination to overcome his natural state of human entropy and disillusionment with ultimate devotion to his God. He perseveres despite hardship, and God rewards him. The prophet Muhammad is the complete personification of the virtues that the Qur’an defines as the goal for every good Muslim, and thus he is an extremely effective messenger of God’s word to the followers of Islam.

I affirm that I have adhered to the Honor Code in the completion of this assignment.

 

Endnotes

[1] Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qurʼan. Ashland, Or.: White Cloud Press, 1999. 90.

[2] Ibid. 91.

[3] Ibid. 92.

[4] Ibid. 93.

[5] Rahman, Fazlur. Major themes of the Qurān. Minneapolis, Mn.: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980. 89.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Mahallati, M. Jafar. “Introduction to the Qur’an: Prophethood .” Lecture, Oberlin, Ohio, February 15, 2018.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Al-Qur’an al-Kareem – القرآن الكريم.” Surah Al-Anbya [21:107]. Accessed February 15, 2018. https://quran.com/21/107.

[10] Mahallati. “Introduction to the Qur’an: Prophethood .”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

 

 

 

Bibliography

“Al-Qur’an al-Kareem – القرآن الكريم.” Surah Al-Anbya [21:107]. Accessed February 15, 2018. https://quran.com/21/107.

Mahallati, M. Jafar. “Introduction to the Qur’an: Prophethood .” Lecture, Oberlin, Ohio, February 15, 2018.

Rahman, Fazlur. Major themes of the Qurān. Minneapolis, Mn.: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980. 89.

Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qurʼan. Ashland, Or.: White Cloud Press, 1999. 90.