By Malik Ibrahim
In Part 1 of this series we discussed how secularist and traditionalist Muslims view Muhammad. Here in Part 2 we will focus our attention on the categories of Ijtihadist/Modernist and Folk Muslim.
Ijtihadist/modernists can be defined as Muslims who “favor re-opening the door of creative and innovative interpretation of Islam in order to find a place in the modern world. They want a version of Islam that will have positive impacts on the world around it.” Two Muslims who are a part of the Gulen Movement were interviewed for this section. The leader of this movement, Fethullah Gulen, has argued for the re-opening of ijtihad or independent reasoning among Muslims worldwide.
The first interview with a Muslim man for this section was done in person. He began the conversation by commenting that he was taught to love and respect the Prophet Muhammad immensely. Muhammad is the prophet that stands above all other prophets and has a special place in the hearts of these Muslims. Whenever the name of Muhammad is said it must be followed by the phrase “peace be upon him.” When Gulen hears the Prophet’s name mentioned, he immediately moves himself into a respectful posture; for example, if he is sitting when Muhammad’s name is said, he stands.
This Muslim man went on to explain that after a Muslim prays, they pray that good deeds will be passed on to their ancestors, even those who have died. The first name mentioned in these prayers is Muhammad.
As has been stated above in other interviews, the Prophet Muhammad is considered to be the perfect example of a human being. The traditions of Muhammad as recorded in the Sunnah are to be imitated. This includes actions such as sleeping on your right side facing Mecca, drinking water in three sips while sitting, and pronouncing Bismillah before eating or drinking just as the Prophet did. Any of these imitations are said to gain a Muslim special merit with God.
Also, many relics such as beard hairs and clothing from the Prophet Muhammad’s life are on display in a museum in this Muslim’s country. These clothes are kept in golden boxes to show reverence for Muhammad. When they are displayed, Muslim people touch them and kiss them because, as this Muslim man said, the Prophet Muhammad is like a beloved relative.
The second Muslim man in this category of ijtihadist/modernist responded to the question of how he views Muhammad in a brief e-mail. He reiterated that the Prophet Muhammad was the best human. He also wrote that Muhammad “is everything for me because I learned everything from him. I learned love, respect and everything like this….”
The fourth and final category of Muslims to be discussed could be rightly called Folk Muslims. “These Muslims mix their practice of religion with animism and magic. They believe the world to be populated by angels, jinn, and demons. Over 80% of the Muslims in the world fall into this category.” Two MBBs from Folk Islamic backgrounds were interviewed for this section.
An MBB woman from South Asia responded via e-mail to the question of how she viewed Muhammad as a Muslim. She wrote that growing up, Muhammad did not figure prominently in her religious routines. She regarded him as a prophet who had written the Qur’an and lived a holier life than most, but that Allah was her primary focus.
She would regularly visit shrines of Muslim prophets and saints with her family in her growing up years. At these shrines she witnessed people kissing them and praying. However, her mother always directed her to pray to Allah and not to the saints of the shrine they were visiting.
Responding to the question of how she views Muhammad now as a follower of Christ, this MBB wrote that she realizes Muhammad was a sinner in need of Christ’s forgiveness. She ended her e-mail with this sentence “I know that without Christ, Muhammad is as lost as any other human without Christ.”
The second person interviewed for the category of Folk Muslim was an MBB from West Africa. In his culture it is very common for people to mix animistic practices with their Islamic faith.
In his former life as a Muslim, this MBB thought of Muhammad as a Prophet for everyone. Although he would have reacted emotionally to any perceived insult to Muhammad and would have defended his reputation, he did not sense a familial connection to the Prophet Muhammad when he was a Muslim.
Now as a follower of Christ he regards Muhammad as a false prophet. However, he said that he feels love towards Muhammad and wished that he had accepted Christ. He views Muhammad as a misguided man who was seeking God. He believes that others convinced Muhammad that he was a prophet for the Arabs.
In summing up the interviews from both parts in our series some significant similarities and differences emerge. A key word that materialized, especially among the traditionalists and ijtihadist/modernists regarding their view of the Prophet Muhammad, was “imitation.” Both of these groups of Muslims agreed that Muhammad’s life was the perfect example of a fully-submitted life to God for all human beings in every society and for all times to imitate. They also keenly felt that the Prophet Muhammad is a part of their personal identity, thus an insult to Muhammad is an insult to them.
An important difference among the traditionalists and ijtihadist/modernists was seen in their use of terms of affection for their prophet. The ijtihadist/modernists often and openly used the word love when referring to Muhammad, and even ascribed familial terms to him such as a beloved relative like a father. While high reverence for the Prophet Muhammad was evident among the conservative Muslims, words of affection were never used.
Another notable difference appeared in the secularist and folk categories. People interviewed for these categories stated that Muhammad was not the focus of their religious life as a Muslim. Their focus was on going to God directly.
Regarding the MBBs who were interviewed, all four of them agreed that Muhammad can be labeled as a false prophet. However, it was interesting to see that three out of the four saw him as a sinner in need of the forgiveness that Christ alone offers. Two of them even expressed empathy for Muhammad, wishing that he had believed on Christ before he died.
The above interviews also demonstrated some similarities to Christian devotion to Christ. Again, for many of the Muslims featured above, it was stated that Muhammad was everything to them and that he was to be imitated in every way. This almost seems akin to how we as Christians view Jesus as the Lord and Master of our lives (Rom. 10:9). Yet, a major difference is seen in how we imitate and emulate Jesus. Our imitation is not concerned with the minute details of Jesus’ life, rather the primary focus of our imitation of Christ is on the transformation of our hearts and character to be like his (Mark 12:30; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:5). Also, the Christian’s imitation of Christ is not done to merit God’s favor but flows from the hearts of the grateful children of the living God so that we might also display his glory and goodness to a watching world (John 13:34-35, 17:20-21; Rom. 8:15-17).
One of the key reasons that is often cited as to why Muslims trust Jesus is that they witness the life of a Christian. As we reach out to our Muslim neighbors, may they be attracted to our imitation of Christ, so that they too might believe on him and “become children of God” (John 1:12).
 Taken from Types of Muslims in the Modern World: The many voices of Islam https://commanetwork.com/types-of-muslims-in-the-modern-world-the-many-voices-of-islam/ (accessed April 30, 2018)
 Mike Urton, “Touching the Heart of Gulen: Gospel Pathways for Reaching the Movement” Missio Nexus https://missionexus.org/touching-the-heart-of-gulen-gospel-pathways-for-reaching-the-movement/ (accessed April 30, 2018)
 Understanding why Muslims turn to Jesus can help you share the gospel http://onq.qplace.com/2016/12/how-understanding-why-muslims-turn-to-jesus-can-help-any-believer-share-the-gospel/#.Wuo3r4gvzD4 (accessed May 2, 2018)