By Malik Ibrahim
The Qur’an commands that Muslims are to obey, respect and love their Prophet Muhammad. Thus, Muslims revere their Prophet Muhammad highly. So highly, in fact, that they will not tolerate insults against him. They may excuse a slight towards Allah, but not against Muhammad. Some Muslim communities, both in North American and around the world, have even taken to celebrating his birth. These phenomena demonstrate that their devotion to Muhammad is core to their identity as Muslims.
This is the first of a two-part series where we will explore why this devotion runs so deep. We will take a look at seven separate interviews of Muslims and Muslim Background Believers (MBB). The Muslims were asked how they view their Prophet Muhammad. The MBBs were asked two questions, “How did you view the Prophet Muhammad as a Muslim?” and “How do you view him now as a follower of Christ?”. The results from these interviews are broken down into four different categories: secularist, traditionalist, ijtihadist/modernist and folk Muslim. Here in Part 1 we will unpack the answers from the first two categories and conclude with some commonalities and differences in their answers.
Secular Muslims are “the western educated ‘elite’ within Islamic society. They relegate religion to personal belief and some in this category believe that the religion of Islam is actually the problem.” Here an MBB from a secular Muslim background was interviewed. When asked the question concerning how he viewed Muhammad as a Muslim, he began his response by stating that he did not know much about him. He stated that he felt like his spiritual journey was always one to know God better, not one of his messengers. Once he began digging more into the life of the Prophet Muhammad he wanted to disassociate himself from him. One of the main discoveries that created this desire was when he found out that Muhammad allowed his followers to have four wives, but Muhammad himself could have three times that amount because as one Islamic scholar told him Muhammad was “three times the man.” Couple the above with the fact that this MBB described reading through the Qur’an as a Muslim as “black darkness” and you have a Muslim person who did not have much reverence for the person of Muhammad.
His response to the second question of how he views Muhammad now as a follower of Christ was surprising, especially given his secular upbringing and admitted lack of knowledge about Muhammad while still a Muslim. When asked this question his view of Muhammad was one of hostility for leading his family, countrymen and other Muslims into falsehood. He referred to the religion that Muhammad brought as coming from the devil and “a work-based enslavement that leaves people in darkness”. Even though he expressed this kind of hostility towards Muhammad and Islam, he referred to Muslims as his brothers, said he respected them and stated that if he did not love them then he would not love his family.
The second category of Muslim in our interviews could be referred to as traditionalists. These Muslims “believe that Islam was codified by the 12th century and that there can be no new developments in religion since that time. They look to the literature before the 12th century to find Islamic interpretations for the modern world.” A South Asian Muslim and a North African MBB who were interviewed fit this category.
The South Asian Muslim man submitted a one and half page paper for which he consulted other Muslims to answer the question of how he views his Prophet Muhammad. It is worth reproducing much of his response to demonstrate his devotion. He writes:
“Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the final Prophet and his life is full of countless examples that show his status as a role model for Muslim societies and individuals. His life is one that was dominated by a superior morality, good habits; noble and gentle feelings and superior skills, all of which are characteristics that help prevent people from getting entangled in a web of sin…. every sort of person can find truths in Prophet Muhammad’s life that constitute an example for them to follow… There is no disagreement among Muslims as to the fact that Prophet Muhammad constitutes the best example with his morality, actions, words and other features… It would not be correct to demote the Prophet’s status as role model to a limited number of fields. This status is related to all fields of life… Prophet Muhammad’s status as role model is important not only from the perspective of the individual, but also from the social perspective…. Prophet Muhammad’s status as role model and the validity of the Sunnah are not limited to his life or to a certain time period.”
To summarize the level of devotion to Muhammad being advocated here, he is the prophet to be imitated in all areas of life, in all societies and for all times.
The North African MBB grew up as a conservative Muslim and never questioned the prophethood of Muhammad. Similar to the South Asian Muslim, he pointed out that Muhammad had to be imitated in every area of life even down to sleeping on his right side facing Mecca just as the prophet was said to have slept. He commented that his entire identity as a Muslim was wrapped up with the Prophet Muhammad, thus any insult to Muhammad was a personal insult. In his own words, the reason that he would feel this kind of insult so keenly was “if you make me think that Muhammad is a false prophet then it means that I am stupid because I followed him.”
Highlighting the collective national sentiment in his country towards Muhammad this MBB pointed out that the constitution states that there are legal consequences for making negative statements about the Prophet. One example of a legal consequence would be jail time for someone who made a movie showing the Prophet Muhammad’s face because depictions of the prophet are considered to be insulting.
When asked how he viewed Muhammad now as a believer in Christ he said Muhammad was a false prophet among the false prophets that Jesus talked about in Matthew 24:24. However, his personal feelings towards Muhammad were ones of empathy wishing that Muhammad would have put his trust in Christ before his death. The reason that this MBB does not hate Muhammad, he said, is that he does not hate Muslims. He wants Muslims to see the truth of salvation in Christ just as he had wished for Muhammad himself.
An interesting similarity that emerged from these interviews came from the two MBBs. Even though they both had different responses to Muhammad, they shared a love for Muslims who still follow him. While they might regard Muhammad as a false prophet, or even with hostility, they still have compassion for Muslims and want them to know Christ.
A stark contrast was seen between the secularist and the traditionalist responses. The MBB representing the secular Muslims expressed disappointment and hostility towards Muhammad, whereas the traditionalists felt that he was the ultimate example to be imitated. This is where we can see the clash in some Muslim societies where secular Muslims believe that Islam is the problem and the traditionalists hold it as the solution to the issues of the modern world.
As Christians, we can look to the examples of our MBB brothers who are moved with compassion for Muslims in need of Christ, despite their negative assessment of Muhammad.
The conflict between the secularists and the traditionalists reminds us of the many struggles between different Muslim groups. They are looking for answers to the political and social problems that plague their communities. While we cannot possibly begin to solve these issues, we can walk with them in these struggles and introduce them to Christ, who can free them from their greatest problem, bondage to sin (Rom 6:1-11).
 Malik Ibrahim, What Does the Qur’an Tell Us About Muhammad? – Part 2 http://commanetwork.com/dig_deeper/quran-tell-us-muhammad-part-2/
 Sulayman Nyang, Mawlid an-Nabi: Celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) Birthday http://www.islamicsupremecouncil.org/understanding-islam/spirituality/1–mawlid-an-nabi-celebration-of-prophet-muhammads-s-birthday.html (accessed April 20, 2018)
 Taken from Types of Muslims in the Modern World: The many voices of Islam http://commanetwork.com/types-of-muslims-in-the-modern-world-the-many-voices-of-islam/ (accessed April 20, 2018)