By Malik Ibrahim
Several years ago, I was having dinner with a young Muslim friend from a secular background. He had been attending a local church and was wrestling with leaving his Muslim heritage behind and following Christ. In the course of our conversation he brought up the person of Muhammad and how he still believed him to be a great prophet. I felt like we were at the point in our relationship where I could address the person of Muhammad honestly. To my surprise, this Muslim man got angry when I began challenging his idealized picture of Muhammad. In my experience just about every Muslim holds to a similar view, which is why criticizing Muhammad usually results in one of two things – an end to the conversation or an argument.
In May and June, I wrote the first two parts of this series in which I interviewed different types of Muslims on their views of the prophet of Islam. Here in Part 3 we’ll look at where Muslims derive this exalted view of Muhammad from the original Islamic sources and reflect on how to engage these depictions in ministry to Muslims.
Muhammad’s Character in the Qur’an
The Qur’anic portrait of Muhammad paints him as possessing an “exalted standard of character” (Surah 68:4). It also alleges that Muhammad displayed patience from God (Surah 16:127), dealt gently with believers (Surah 3:159) and was kind and merciful to them (Surah 9:128).
As stated above, a direct denial of this presentation may result in shutting down the conversation with your Muslim friend. Yet, this picture of Muhammad also provides an open door for us to talk about the moral perfections of our Savior. We can take this opportunity to point them to passages like Hebrews 5:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” At this point we could even offer to take a look at Matthew 4:1-11 with our friend and show how Christ overcame the temptations of Satan, a question which weighs on the mind of every Muslim.
Birth and Childhood Narratives
Stories recounted by Muhammad’s earliest biographer, , employ embellished narratives  whose purpose is to elevate Muhammad to an exalted place, making him worthy of adoration and devotion. Sahaja Carimokam highlights this fact: “The early life of Muhammad in the biographical literature is a product of a thoroughly polemic tradition. Its purpose is to demonstrate that Muhammad is the last Prophet, and that Islam is the final revelation.”
These stories begin with Muhammad’s conception and birth. When Amina, Muhammad’s mother, is pregnant with him, a light emanates from her body that allows her to see as far away as “the castles of Bushra in Syria.” Upon Muhammad’s birth, a star is alleged to have appeared which was seen by a Jewish man in Yathrib.   These stories create the idea that Muhammad was a special child on whom God had bestowed his favor and blessing.
As if to stress the purity of Muhammad as a boy, Ibn Ishaq relates a story where two angels visit him, open his insides, cleanse them and extract a black drop. Muhammad would allegedly endure another cleansing by angels shortly after his call to prophethood, which is very similar to the cleansing he underwent as a boy. The point of these cleansing narratives seems to be that Muhammad had been cleansed by God for his special mission of communicating the Qur’an.
Setting aside the fantastical nature of these stories, I remember teaching the story of the Visit of the Magi in Matthew 2:1-11 to some Iraqi Muslims who had visited our home for a Christmas dinner. They seemed to really resonate with the fact that these wise men likely came from their country. It was also a great passage to highlight how these kings came from the east to offer gifts and worship the Christ child, showing that the Lord Jesus himself is the king of all nations.
Continuing with the events of Jesus’ childhood found in the Gospels, one could look at the flight and return from Egypt. In our day, many Muslims are fleeing their home countries as refugees due to tyranny and persecution. Matthew 2:13-23 recounts Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt as refugees.
Muhammad in Medina
Ibn Ishaq continues to recount during Muhammad’s time in Medina. The Battle of the Trench is one such story. While digging the trench around Medina to protect from an invading Meccan army, Muhammad uses water to pulverize a boulder that was holding up the work on the trench. He then multiplies mutton, bread and dates to feed the others digging the trench; and lighting shoots out of his pick axe while digging. This last miracle was apparently a symbol that Muhammad would conquer the world.
It is easy enough to see where miracles performed by the Lord Jesus can be taught in contrast to these stories about Muhammad. The narratives of Jesus feeding the crowds (Matt. 15:29-39; Mark 8:1:13; Luke 9:1-17; John 6:1-24) and his nature miracles, such as the calming of the storm (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 5:35-41; Luke 8:22-25), can be employed to show the supernatural power that the Lord Jesus exercised while on earth and that he is the true anointed one sent by the Father.
The cumulative effect of these stories in the Qur’an and the Muslim biographical literature is to paint Muhammad as someone who is worthy of imitation and devotion. This explains my Muslim friend’s hostile reaction that I shared at the beginning. Muslims believe these stories are precious and see them as the reason Muhammad is the best example of a life perfectly submitted to God. While we need to be careful in how we speak about Muhammad, we also have the opportunity in these interactions to present the climax of Christ’s work, death, burial and resurrection from the dead. Through these we cannot only demonstrate how he conquered sin, death and Satan, but also how he is the one who is truly worthy of our worship and devotion (1 Cor. 15:1-6, 17-20; Col. 2:15; Rev. 5:5-10).
 “As one would expect of a book which was written in the eighth century about a great religious reformer, miracles are accepted as a matter of course. It does not matter if a person’s alleged power to work miracles makes his early sufferings and failures unintelligible, nor does it matter if the person concerned expressly disclaimed all such powers apart from the recitation of the Quran itself. The Near East has produced an enormous number of books on the miracles of saints and holy men and it would be strange indeed if Islam had not followed in the footsteps of its predecessors in glorifying the achievements of its great leader at the expense of his human greatness.” (Guillaume 1955, xxiii).
 Sahaja Carimokam, Muhammad and the People of the Book. (Xlibris Corporation 2010) p. 26.
 Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah. (Oxford, Pakistan 2004) p. 69.
 The distance between Mecca and Syria is over 800 miles. https://www.distancecalculator.net/from-damascus-to-mecca
 Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah. (Oxford, Pakistan 2004) p. 70.
 The abundance of witnesses separates the testimony of Islamic History from that of the New Testament. Only Amina sees the light emanating from her when pregnant with Muhammad, and the only person to see the star was the Jewish man from Yathrib. Also, the testimony of the star of Muhammad is related third hand (i.e., from Zurara al-Ansari to Hassan b. Thabit to Ibn Ishaq). Whereas the star at Christ’s birth is seen by a host of wise men (Matt 2:1-2, 9-10) and the story is related by Matthew who knew both Jesus and his mother Mary.
 Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah. (Oxford, Pakistan 2004) pp. 71-72.
 Ibid. p. 67.
 Ibid. pp. 451-452.