Alejandra Diaz: Understanding the Qur’an through the Prophet Muhammad

The life and character of Prophet Muhammad are important to understanding the Qur’an because of the nature of its revelation. The messages and ideas revealed to the prophet by God have been filtered through prophet Muhammad’s worldview. It is for this reason that in tradition, one recites from the Qur’an in Arabic, the language in which it was presented to the prophet.[i] Similarly other aspects of the prophet’s worldview have influenced aspects of the Qur’an. Therefore, one must look not only at the culture, history and society of the prophet’s time, but also experiences from his personal life and the virtues of his character to better understand the Qur’an.

The Prophet’s life and character provided an important view from which to understand the Qur’an. Various sections of the Qur’an reflect or refer to different experiences and aspects of his life. The Prophet was born in the year 570 CE. His father died before his birth and his mother died early on in his life, leaving him an orphan. After his parents’ death he suffered from the death of his next guardian, his grandfather, before going into the care of his uncle.[ii] This instability of his childhood would have had great impact on the prophet because he lived at a time in which family ties were very important. Tribe or clan loyalty played a large role in the prophet’s contemporary Arabian culture in which extensive networks of kinship provided one with support and community.[iii]  The importance of these connection helps one understand the various sections of the Qur’an that allude to the suffering and hardships prophet Muhammad faced to establish himself in society as an orphan, who lacked many of these important ties.

In Sura 93 (The Forenoon), the prophet is remined not only about the struggles he had suffered but also the help he received. God sheltered him and aided him in his time of need and therefore tells him to help others such as he once did for him.[iv] This section is compelling and essential to understanding the message of the Qur’an because readers can use the prophet’s life to understand their own. Through the pain of the prophet, they can understand and perhaps have sympathy for the suffering of others. Readers can also use the prophet as a model, drawing parallels between moments of happiness and suffering in prophet Muhammad’s life and their own to better understand the meaning of God’s words and God’s relationship to humanity.

This parallel between the prophet and readers is important because we are meant to see the Prophet as a role model, following his example.[v] As a result one must take careful consideration of the Prophet’s virtues and role as a peacemaker in society not only to better understand God’s message but also to guide our own actions. One of the many instances in which the Prophet has demonstrated his peacemaking and leadership skills was during the event of moving the black stone back into the Ka’ba. Because of the black stone’s sacred importance, as an object used by Abraham, to finish the construction of the Ka’ba, it would have been an honor to place it in the Ka’ba. Therefore, when it was time to place the stone in the Ka’ba, all the tribe leaders wished to have that honor. The prophet avoided a fight between the leaders by giving them all the opportunity to place the stone together by placing the black stone on a cloth held by all the tribal leaders. Thus, allowing them to share the honor of placing the black stone back inside.  This story is not only important to understanding the prophet as a peace maker, but in reminding one that the Qur’an has been influenced by the prophet dedication to peace. Peace done not only through diffusing arguments and tense situation such as with the black stone, but also by creating a social balance. It is important to remember that during the prophet’s time the wealth and trade flowing through Mecca had caused social stratification, causing many to live in need.[vi] Thus God’s message of aiding those less fortunate in Sura 93, when filtered through the context of the prophet’s life, speak also to a larger concern of creating peace and equality among humans.

The Prophet’s life and virtues are key to understanding the messages of the Qur’an.They provide information which can allow one better draw parallels between our life and his. Thus, granting one a more complex understanding of how the Qur’an speaks of relationships and peace with God and others.

[i] M. Jafar Mahallati, Lecture (course on Introduction to The Qur’an, Oberlin College, Oberlin, February 8, 2018)

[ii][ii] M. Jafar Mahallati, Lecture (course on Introduction to The Qur’an, Oberlin College, Oberlin, February 13, 2018)

[iii] Paul Wheatley, The Places Where Men Pray Together: Cities in Islamic Lands, Seventh to Tenth Centuries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 10.

[iv] Michael Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, 2nd Edition. (Ashland, white Cloud Press, 2007), 91.

[v] M. Jafar Mahallati, Lecture (course on Introduction to The Qur’an, Oberlin College, Oberlin, February 15, 2018)

[vi] M. Jafar Mahallati, Lecture (course on Introduction to The Qur’an, Oberlin College, Oberlin, February 8, 2018)