By Malik Ibrahim
In this week on Digging Deeper we complete our discussion of what the Qur’an tells us about Muhammad. In this final section we will explore Muhammad’s devotion to Islamic rituals; his claim of being in the line of holy prophets; his claim to be unlettered; and his own need to obey God, as outlined at the end of Part 2.
Muhammad’s Devotion to Islamic Rituals
Ten verses from our study highlighted Muhammad’s own devotion to Islamic rituals. This devotion is emphasized in two Meccan Surahs. The first is found in Surah 73:1-8, where Muhammad is enjoined to pray at night and to “recite the Qur’an in slow, measured rhythmic tones.” Surah 27:91&92 is a second instance describing Muhammad’s practice of religion. In these verses Muhammad is commanded “to serve the Lord of this city,” to “bow in Islam,” and again to rehearse the Qur’an. It is interesting to note that none of these verses mention the number of times per day that Muhammad should pray, nor the correct body postures or the direction he is to face when praying. In short, these verses say very little concerning how Muhammad actually practiced Islam.
Muhammad Purported to be in the line of the prophets
A central tenet of Islam is that Muhammad stands in the line of biblical prophets; our survey found this stated in six verses. Surahs 7:157&158 and 46:9&10 from the Meccan period are examples of this claim. According to Surah 7:157&158, this can be proved from the Torah and the Gospels themselves. Surah 46:9&10 shows that Muhammad believed he was not bringing any new doctrine and that this could be attested by Jews who would accept his message. In the late Medinan period Muhammad taught that even Jesus prophesied that Muhammad was a messenger who would come after him (Surah 61:6). Another Medinan Surah, 33:40, states that Muhammad is “the Seal of the Prophets.” The modern commentator, Yusuf Ali, writes of this verse, “When a document is sealed, it is complete, and there can be no further addition. The holy Prophet Muhammad closed the long line of Apostles. God’s teaching is and will always be continuous, but there has been and will be no Prophet after Muhammad” (The Holy Qur’an trans. Yusuf Ali pg. 1119 fn. 3731).
These verses clearly teach that Muhammad believed himself to be in the line of the prophets, however the fact the he considered himself to be the “Seal of the Prophet” appears to be a later development in the Medinan period.
Muhammad was Unlettered
A popular Muslim claim is that the Qur’an is miraculous because it was recited by a man who was “unlettered” or illiterate, thus he himself could have no understanding of how to arrange language so beautifully in written form. Our study found three verses from the Meccan period (7:157&158 and 29:48) where Muhammad is referred to as “unlettered.” There is some nuisance among Muslim commentators as to what the term “unlettered” entails. Ibn Kathir in his commentary writes that Muhammad could not read or write, emphasizing Muhammad’s illiteracy (Tafsir Ibn Kathir Vol. 4 pg. 178). Yusuf Ali in his footnote places his focus on Muhammad not being “versed in human learning” in his comments on verses 7:157&158, although Ali admits that Muhammad was unable to write in his notes on Surah 29:48 (The Holy Qur’an trans. Yusuf Ali pg. 388 fn. 1132 and pg. 1043 fn. 3478). Both seem to agree that this unlettered quality of Muhammad was important because it meant that he was not influenced by human philosophies when reciting the Qur’an.
For a further treatment on the question “Was Muhammad Illiterate?” see this article: http://www.radicaltruth.net/index.php/learn/muhammad/32-was-muhammad-illiterate.
Muhammad Obeyed God
Muslims believe that Muhammad was the perfect example of a life submitted to God. One verse from the Meccan period, Surah 10:15, tells us that Muhammad himself had to obey what he believed God commanded him to teach. In this Surah some of Muhammad’s detractors urged him to alter his message. Muhammad responded that he could not do so because then he would face the wrath of Allah on judgment day. A major theme in the Qur’an is the fear of judgment. These verses show us that even Muhammad was not exempt from God’s wrath should he fail to obey.
Reflecting on all three parts of our study we find that while many details of Muhammad’s image as a prophet are given in the Qur’an, the historical detail about his actual life is almost non-existent. This leaves Muslims in somewhat of a quandary. As stated above, for Muslims, Muhammad is the example of the perfectly submitted life to God. This means that Muhammad is the impeccable model for Muslims to imitate. However, learning how to imitate Muhammad cannot be done through a study of the Qur’an alone. In order to discover the real life history of Muhammad, Muslims must make a careful study of the Sira (the prophet’s biography) and Hadith (traditions of Islam). This means that the Qur’an itself is not sufficient for instructing Muslims on how to live a life pleasing to Allah; Islamic tradition is also needed.
Furthermore, some of the Qur’anic material studied above details Muhammad’s moral failings, such as his treatment of non-Muslims and women. As a Christian whose standard for a God-honoring life is Jesus Christ, it is difficult to see how imitating these practices can result in a life that brings honor to God.
Finally, as Christians we have a doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture or, in other words, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments alone as the source for the formation of all Christian doctrines and the basis for every issue of Christian living. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Let us, as those who dearly love Muslims, hold up God’s all sufficient word to them, so that they might truly know “how to live in order to please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1).