One of the most significant personalities in religion, politics andculture in the history of humanity is Prophet Muhammad. Through hislife, he worked to spread monotheism and uprightness amongst his Arabcommunity, and later throughout the world. This was the reason thathe came up with ideology strong enough to influence the masses andcreate a whole new religion. Despite the fact that Muhammad wanted tocreate a new religion, he recognized that the Jews, Christians andhis very own Muslims celebrated the same supreme entity, God1.However, with some major differences in the beliefs and practicesamongst these religions, Muhammad aroused controversy and debatethroughout his life, and even after he had died. As the Muslimreligion grew strong in Arabia and began spreading to other parts ofthe world, people developed a perception about Muhammad and hisreligion. This perception has however changed over time, influencedby political, religious and popular opinion about his life anddeeds2.This paper looks at the life of Prophet Muhammad, his religious andpolitical ideology, how the mediaeval Christians viewed him and thechanging perception about him over time.
Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca, where he spent most of his life(Rao 127)3.His father died while he was still very young, and he had to livewith another family after this. He was totally orphaned by age 6 whenhis mother died, and he had to move to his grandfather’s place. Hewas closely related to his uncle, with whom he travelled to Syria tolearn about trade4. It was during his engagement in Syria that he met a Christian, whoprophesied to him that he would be a Prophet of God in his adultlife. After this, he continued his business as a trader, crossing theIndian Ocean and the Mediterranean. His fellow Merchants wereappeased by his truthful and obedient character, which also helpedhim meet his wife, a 40 year old widow.
Hisfirst work as an influential religious leader was when he advisedabout the movement and placement of a religious stone, known as theBlack Stone, in 605CE (Cragg 47)5.After this, he developed and practiced a habit of praying in solitudefor several days near Mecca. According to the Islamic faith, it wasduring one of these prayer sessions that Archangel Gabriel appearedto him, commanding him to recite verses, which were later, wrote inthe Quran6.He feared that narrating to his friends and family regarding theencounter would make them think that he had been possessed. Thesewere the events that led to the first verses that were written in theQuran, the foundation of Muslim faith.
Aftersome time, Muhammad began preaching to the public. Amongst the firstpeople to believe that he indeed was a Prophet was his wife. Atfirst, the general public reception of his sermons was unfriendly, asmost people ignored him and thought that he had gone mad7.His friends and some people who had fallen out of rank with theirtribes were among the first to take up Islam as their religion. Thosewho opposed him did so mainly because of his condemnation of idolworshipping (Mahmoud 181 Ali 16). He soon became a threat to localtribes as his followers increased in number, and his ideologyaccepted as the doctrine of the new religion, Islam. Many attemptswere made to convince Muhammad to give up his preaching, forinstance, merchants who wanted him to join their inner circle andgive up his religion. However, they did not succeed in convincinghim, and he went on to influence more followers.
According to Islam, there were well over a thousand prophets who weresent by God to serve mankind. The first of these Prophets was Adam,and the last, and most significant prophets of all, was ProphetMuhammad (Abudaih 4). This is because he is the Prophet who deliveredthem from darkness and saved their souls by teaching Islam, whoaccording to them is the only established religion that Godrecognizes. The Quran refers to Prophet Muhammad as the messenger ofAllah, who was sent by God to guide people into a successfulafterlife8.Muhammad’s ideas are the foundation of the belief system which ledto the emergence and growth of one of the world’s largestreligions.
Islam,since its conception, and according to the teachings of ProphetMuhammad, has been a monotheistic religion that believes that God isincomparable and that the purpose of existence is worshiping him(Paterson 2). All the verses in the Quran are believed by the Muslimsto have been revealed to Muhammad by God, by angel Gabriel.Additionally, other practices and ways of life were dictated by theprophet himself. There is no single person in the history of Islamthat has had such a big impact on the Islamic faith like Muhammad9.Today, there are well over 2 billion Muslims worldwide, representedon all continents. Islam is the largest religion in Arabia and thesecond largest in Africa. At the same time, it continues to spread ata steady rate in other continents, such as America and Europe.
Al-Azmeh asserts that the nature of prophethood requires that theperson be prominent in the society (60). This is so because they mustbe driven by the urge of dominance and must have sufficient wisdomand courage to push for agenda and fulfill their goals. Muhammad wasduring his life and after his death, a shaper of political opinion,which impacted millions of people. When Muhammad took refuge inMedina, he immediately got involved with Abdullah b. Ubayy, who wasthe Chief of the Khazrajites10.After a while, given the numbers he influenced, Muhammad becameequally influential on political issues. These were some of thehighlights of his life that made people regard him as a prophet and apolitician over time, and the reason why some perceived Islam as apolitics based religion that was out to promote anarchy. Even today,some scholars profile Muhammad as a mystic who received God’s touchon a mountaintop and a shrewd political and social reformer (Parveen6). However, the extent to which Prophet Muhammad is considered apolitician varies from person to person, and more significantly, fromthe Christian and Muslim points of view.
MedievalChristian Views of Prophet Muhammad
Perhaps the biggest changes in the perception of Prophet Muhammadcome from the Christian religion11.Muslims have over years maintained their perception of ProphetMuhammad, as last Prophet who was sent by God to guide them into asuccessful afterlife. During the turbulent religious periods of theearly middle ages, the Christians regarded Muhammad as a falseprophet. This worsened up to the late middle ages that the Christiansthought that Muhammad’s life and actions were all inspired by thedevil, the biggest enemy of Christian faith (Akbar 27 Paterson 2).This unfriendly perception of Prophet Muhammad was first documentedshortly after his death and the Muslims had begun spreading Islam andteaching people about the life and works of Muhammad.
Inthe Early Middle Ages, Christians though of Muhammad and histeachings as deceiving, and together with the Jews, often describedhim in bad light12.This is mainly so because most of the teachings in Islam contravenedtheir doctrines and systems of worship. For instance, the Christiansregarded Jesus as the Son of God, who was sent to earth to die forthe purpose of all mankind’s salvation. On the other hand, Islamtaught that Jesus was just one of the Prophets who were sent to passGod’s message to mankind, and Prophet Muhammad was a more superiorprophet than Jesus (Falola 253). After the Ninth Century, theChristian loathing of Muhammad drastically increased, as highlynegative biographies regarding him and his religion were written anddistributed. In fact, one of the most popular early publication s bythe Christians labeled Muhammad the “anti-Christ” and “devil”that was Prophesied from the early times13.
Inthe Middle High Ages, the Christians were still highly negative aboutMuhammad (Fitzpatrick and walker 600). During this period, the Quranwas translated into Latin so that the Christians could collectinformation about Muhammad and have facts about what they had heardabout him. However, the negative perception did not changenevertheless, as most biographies depicted him as an antichrist andenemy of the Christian faith. The mediaeval scholars unanimouslyagreed that Muhammad was inspired by Satan to create and spreadreligious fallacy, in the name of deliberating people through Islamicfaith. There were many attempts to assert that Muhammad was theantichrist, for instance the fabrication of the year of his death.Muhammad, according to the early Islamic teachings, had died in theyear 632, however, the early scholars maintained that he had died in666, a controversial number in Christian faith (Hughes 59). Over theyears of the middle Ages, Muhammad was perceived to be a falseprophet, and founder of an intolerant religion that supportedviolence.
Overtime, due to the quick rise and spread of Islam, Christian scholarsbegan to deal with Islam by studying more about the life and deeds ofMuhammad. The first attempts were to define who Muhammad was, thenature of his teachings and the position he held about the Christianfaith, doctrines and religion practices. Each of the scholars placedMuhammad and his teachings in the Christian context in order toevaluate him (Ali 23). These were amongst the first efforts thatresulted in Muhammad and Islam to be viewed as a heretical form ofChristianity. It was agreed that both religions shared the sameopinion about God, and that the major difference was in the divinityof Jesus Christ. This made the Christians to perceive Muhammad as aheretic and pseudo-prophet, further contesting the Islamic doctrine.
Itwas not until the 13th century that Muhammad’s imageamongst the Christians and Jews became less associated with evil14.One author described the people of the Middle East before Muhammad asbeing pagans, until he came to give them God’s message. However,Muhammad did not succeed in transforming their lives, as he becametoo proud to an extent that he angered God (Paterson 2). This stillholds that the scholars still held Muhammad’s image in bad light,and that he was not as spiritually clean as he claimed to have been.A number of other publications during this time depicted Muhammad ina less abusive manner however, his image was still largely taintedamongst the Christians. As a result of mounting interest in the deedsof the prophet, some Western scholars embarked on producingliterature that contained positive interpretation about Muhammad. Forinstance, Henry Stubb published a book that spoke about the life ofMuhammad and vindication of Islamic religion (Holt 51).Henry stubbMuhammad
This was amongst the first western publications that defended theprophet against harsh criticism, and laid the foundation for thefirst efforts for religious tolerance between Christianity and Islam.For instance, Stubb argued that the teachings of Muhammad wereconsistent with the laws of nature, just like the teachings of JesusChrist’s were. Instead of the satanic image that the earlyChristians had given Muhammad, Stubb said that his teachings werecentered on the idea of abolishing paganism, and instead of creatingan entirely new way of worshipping God, the conventional practiceshad to be upheld (Parveen 7). Additionally, Stubb pointed out thatunlike the early beliefs by the Christians that Muhammad was out toeliminate Christianity he never forced anyone to abandon theirfaith. In fact, it is pointed in Stub’s work that Muhammad hadwrote letters that ordered for the protection of the Christians andJews under the Islam territory. Stub’s work, and other relatedliterature from Western scholars, was among the first steps towardsthe positive perception of Prophet Muhammad amongst the Christians15.
Modernperception of Prophet Muhammad
In the modern day world, Christians, and other religions alike, haveworked in disseminating the negative views and misunderstandingsabout Prophet Muhammad. This effort has been driven by thetranslation of the Quran into English language, hence giving theChristians, Jews and other non-Muslims to have concrete facts abouthim (Holt 51). Within this framework of dissemination of negativityregarding Muhammad, the Studies of Petrus Venerablis aimed atproviding verified information that refuted the mediaeval literaturethat was largely negative about Muhammad. His compilation of storiesabout Prophet Muhammad and his deeds had the biggest influence inwiping out the negativity he had in the West. The 17th and18th century witnessed a rapid spread of works ofliterature regarding Muhammad and the Muslims (Kopka 117). Despitethe fact that these publications were revisions of early works thatfocused on negativity about Muhammad, they attracted attention ofmany people, who became interested in knowing more about Muhammad.With time, the Christians came to understand that one of the mainreasons that Muhammad was portrayed in bad light was that Islam wasregarded as a rival to Christian faith.
Anotherfactor that influenced the changing perception about Prophet Muhammadwas the emergence of orientalism. This emerged as a scientific fieldin the 19th century (Rafiabadi 135). During this period,transitional Muslim biographies of the Prophet and other importantIslamic literature by some of the religion’s influential figureswere translated into Western languages, mainly Latin and English.However, the orientalists still worked to maintain some elements ofbad picture about Muhammad and Islam, for instance, by asserting thatthe Hadiths were fabrications by individuals and groups whohad political interests at heart.
Generally,by the 20th century, Muhammad was being taken morepositively by non-Muslims, especially the Christians16.This is the reason that there are many Christians, and otherreligions’ believers, converting into Islam and accepting Muhammadas God’s last prophet to earth. Most significantly, the CatholicChurch has opened up and accepted Islam as a faith that worships thesame God as them, and there have been efforts by the Vatican tocreate relations with the Arabic world, more so on religious matters.
Prophet Muhammad’s perception over time has taken drastic turns,and many more people and communities continue to change theirperception about his life and deeds. During the early mediaeval ages,Muhammad was an enemy of the non-Islamic faiths, especially the Jewsand Christians. This is because his religion threatened the veryexistence of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as it spread quicklyover a short period. However, with efforts by modern scholars, whotranslated Muhammad’s works and the Quran, many people came tounderstand his deeds and accept him as a religious leader. Religioustolerance has played a key role in changing the way Muhammad has beenperceived over time, and his religion has dome to be appreciated bypeople worldwide.
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1 Muhammad Ali. The living thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad. eBookIt. com, 2011. 21
2 Over time, people have developed numerous perceptions regarding Muhammad
3 Apart from Rao’s explanation on Muhammad’s birth, one can find a description of his birth in almost all Muslim books
4 After eight years, Muhammad was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib, who was involved in the caravan trades. By his interactions with his uncle,, Muhammad travelled across Arabia.
5 Ali, Maulana Muhammad. The living thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad. 21
6 Allah, according to the Muslims, is the one who dictated every word of the Quran to Mohammed through angel Gabriel.
8 Muslims, as commanded by the Quran, are supposed to respect all God’s messengers and prophets as well as books revealed to them.
9 Saba Parveen. "The Mission of Prophet Muhammad." CLRI Reviews 1.1 (2014): 6
10 After interaction with Abdullah b. Ubayy, Muhammad was able to neutralize his enemies in Medinna, and assert his political power over them.
11 One cannot discuss how the perception on Muhammad has changed without discussing about Christians’ view on him
12 Saba Parveen. "The Mission of Prophet Muhammad." CLRI Reviews 1.1 (2014): 6
13 In mediaeval Christianity, Muhammad’s fate evoked that of the biblical queen Jezebel, adept of Baal and enemy of God, a devil in definition.
14 In the 13th century, Christians likened the works of Muhammad to those of Abraham, Isaac and other notable Christian personalities.
15 Henry Stubb researched into monotheistic religions, and substantially provided information that bridged the gap in knowledge between history, politics and reiligion.
16 Christians were compelled by facts to accept Muhammad as a prophet similar to the Old Testament prophets.