Alex Broekhuijse: The Prophet: A Figure Constructed by his Past

When one examines the origin of the muslim faith, one would be remiss to ignore the role of the character of prophet Muhammad in the original construction of the Muslim faith. The prophet possessed countless attributes that ultimately led to his ability to rally and unite Arabia under one faith. Primarily it was his humanitarianism and care for social justice that helped inspire his followers into prioritizing the good of others above all else. Secondly it was his ability to connect the political and the spiritual that allowed him to approach decisions from a broad perspective. Throughout his life Muhammad was referred to as clever and intelligent, and it is likely that this is thanks to his ability to consider the world both spiritual and politically. When examining these two traits in the context of the life of the prophet, one finds that it was likely his upbringing as an orphan and his experiences when he was young that made him into the man he was. Ultimately it was the combination of humanitarianism and ability to make decisions both politically and spiritually, contested by his own upbringing, that allowed Muhammad to grow Islam and fulfill his divine mission in the manner that he did.

It is most important that before one examines the characteristics that make the prophet into the leader that he was, one must first examine his past and the events that context his characteristics. Primarily the prophet was an orphan. Living without his parents for many years helped Muhammad see what it is like for others to suffer, which informed his own passion for social justice. Farid Esseck contextualizes Muhammads early loss into the development of his personality through the following quote, “The youthful Muhammad, already an orphan, and now more than ever conscious of the memories of his dead father because of his visit to Yahtrib, must have been almost crushed by the loss of his mother. The child became more and more withdrawn and sad, and of a mild and sensitive disposition.”1 It is especially important to highlight the word sensitive here, as it is this sensitivity that made Muhammad into the leader that he was able to be. It is this sensitivity and compassion that impacted Muhammad’s perspective on the world, and undoubtedly lead to his passion for social justice and instinctive ability to make the correct call.

The primary attribute that led to Muhammad’s success as both a leader and a prophet was his commitment to humanitarianism and the concept that every person must be treated well. One of the forest concept in both the Quran and Islam as a religion is the concept of compassion. Similar to other Abrahamic religions,  the concept of all humanity being a community in which every man and woman is treated fairly is heavily evidenced in Islam. Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, mandates that every follower of Islam must give away five percent of their net annually.2 In her text Islam: A Short History Karen Armstrong describes the role of humanitarianism in Islam as “Social justice was, therefore, the crucial virtue of Islam. Muslims were commanded as their first duty to build a community characterized by practical compassions, in which there was a fair distribution of wealth.”3  A push for humanitarianism motivates both followers and citizens to care for their neighbors and fellow man, and it is likely that this push for humanitarianism is one of the reasons why Muhammad was able to grow Islam and territory at the speed he did. Muhammad, having once been an orphan, understands and connects to the struggle of those who are less fortunate, and it is this personal experience that allowed for Muhammad to bring his people together under mutual compassion. In pre-Muslim Arabia, social justice had little to no importance, with tribal warfare being common, and it is likely that Muhammad’s own personal relationship and love for social justice that moved so many to his cause and faith.

Secondly, Muhammad’s cleverness and his ability to approach a problem from both a spiritual and a political perspective benefitted the prophet considerably in his ability to grow both a nation and a religion simultaneously. As Muhammad collected followers he also began to develop a community. As communities grow larger and larger, the weight of the leader’s decisions grow larger simultaneously. Because of the unique origin of his community, it is essential for Muhammad to approach each of his decisions as a leader from the perspective of both a spiritual and political figurehead. This strategy is not unknown to Muhammad, as for a majority of his life the prophet Muhammad had been know to be trusted when it came to making difficult decisions. Referred to as “al-Amin”, or the trustworthy and faithful, Muhammad had over the course of his life consistently been able to make the correct decision when put under pressure.4  This trait is likely what led to Muhammad’s own ability to lead his nation and religion in the way that he was, because he was consistently able to make both the trustworthy and balanced decision.

An inherent motivator behind each human beings decisions is our past and our experiences. Specifically examining the prophet Muhammad’s life and experience it is clear that his childhood directly influenced and fueled the decisions he made as a prophet and a leader. Living as an orphan highlight the necessity for mutual goodness, and the sensitivity he gained allowed him to gain a far greater perspective in his decision making. Muhammad was known as the trustworthy, and the care, sympathy, and compassion that he showed through his life as a prophet and a man proves that he was worthy of that name.

  1. Esack, Farid. The Qur’an: A User’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld, 2002. Print, 36.

  2.  In Class Notes
  3. Armstrong, Karen. Islam: A Short History. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Print, 8.
  4. In Class Notes