I’ve just finished reading Mohammad: A Prophet for our Time by Karen Armstrong. The first thing I should point out is that Armstrong is not a Muslim. With that being said, I can freely say that I enjoyed this book and wish all Muslims would read it. Her take on the Prophet is one that paints a picture of a man who lived his life, discovered a purpose, and then had to struggle to find balance between promoting his cause and dealing with the intricacies of Arabian politics in the 5th century.
For those who aren’t familiar, Mohammad was the founder of Islam. He was a well liked merchant from a family which had fallen from the highs of fortune but that still had much respect in the Arabian city of Mecca. When he was 42, he had risen to become a successful merchant and married a wealthy woman. Life was going pretty good for him. At this point, he took a trip to the mountains and started to hear the voice of God. Recite, it told him. And over the next 23 years he recited the Quran, the holy book of Islam and started the Muslim faith. Mohammad was a man, not a god, not an angel. The religion that he founded had as its goal to create a just and decent society for all people.
Not only does this book explain the struggle (jihad) of a man as he finds himself in the difficult position of creating a new faith, but it also details the struggles that occur within the tribal society around him as fundamental changes begin to take place. Without disrespect, Armstrong shows how Mohammad synthesized from the tribal religions of the Quarysh and Bedouin with the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Christianity to create a monotheistic religion containing elements of all of these. The human struggle as Mohammad is comforted by his wife that his messages from God are not delusions, the difficult decision to place himself before those who would certainly (and did) persecute him, his exile from his home, his attempts to create a society that contained equality of the sexes.
What I particularly loved about this book was the relevance that it has for our time. Muslims and all other faiths should read this book to discover what it is and was about Islam that still compels many to proclaim it as a true religion. At the same time, this book reminds us that no religion is necessarily false. We must honor those who believe and especially those who submit themselves to a life that acknowledges that there is more than just the things of this world, including our lives.
As for me, I of course have beliefs of my own. Here I will give just a touch on them. I am a Muslim, meaning I submit myself to God’s will and I know that there is more than just this life before us. However, that doesn’t mean that I take each word I am told as ‘gospel’. For instance, I don’t believe that Mohammad was lifted to heaven by God and introduced to Moses and Jesus and Abraham. However, I do believe that God (Allah if you will) allowed Mohammad to be the bearer of a message that has changed humanity. Just as Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Buddha, and others have done. So in this sense, I do believe that he met these men. While I submit myself to the will of God, I am not ‘a believer’. I am a knower.
The only thing you can really know though is that God is incomprehensible, awesome, everywhere, and far beyond our abilities to ‘get’. I know this and I know nothing else. Belief is pointless. Consider these passages from the Quran
By the morning hours, by the night when it is still.
Your lord has not abandoned you, and does not hate you.
What is after will be better, than what came before.
To you the lord will be giving, you will be content.
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 for help, do not turn him away.
And the grace of the lord, proclaim.
This is not a religion of intolerance or hatred. This is a religion of caring. A reminder that we have been given everything and that we should be grateful for it and share what we have with those who have less. Can you really eat a $500 meal while knowing there are orphans who are starving? There is more to this life
Look at the camel and how it is created, look at the sky and how it is raised, look at the mountains and how they are set, look at the earth and how it is spread.
Take a moment and look and like Mohammad before you, you will see that each molecule and atom is a part of the creator, a part of God, that this life is just an illusion and that it will disappear but actually never go away.
Consider the death of Mohammad, when Abu Bakr spoke these words:
“O People, if anyone worships Mohammad, Mohammad is dead. O People, if anyone worships God, God is alive, immortal.”
and then he spoke words from the revealed Quran of Mohammad.
“Mohammad is naught but a Messenger. Messengers have passed away before him.Why, if he should die or be slain will you turn upon your heels? If any man should turn about upon his heels he will not harm God in any way, and God will recompense the thankful.”
Mohammad. A man. A messenger. A prophet. Peace be upon him.