Thursday, 29 November 2012

Does Jesus see Muhammad as a true Prophet?

Muhammad begins with a message of right living and peace, but once he is thrust into the dilemma of his people being killed en masse, he and his community must decide wether or not fighting in self defense is the right thing to do.....
In his earliest revelation from God in a cave on Mount Hira’ outside of Mecca, God declares to him that his people are to no longer to worship Arabic polytheistic deities which have been used to support the death and destruction of many. Instead they are to worship the one and only true God, the just God of Abraham.[1]
 The leaders of the Arabic tribes in and around the surrounding area of Mecca saw this message as a social and economic threat to their way of life. Muhammad’s family and followers were persecuted and were forced to seek refuge under a Christian King in Ethiopia named Christian Negus who recognized them as fellow monotheists.[2]
Here we see a major historical distinction between Muhammad and Jesus. Jesus is initially allowed to preach his message, in the midst of a well-established Roman empire. The power shifting nature of Muhammad’s context forces him into persecution almost immediately. While Muhammad was in Mecca his converts were mostly from the poor and marginalized parts of society, although he does gather some wealthy and prominent individuals (similar to Christianity).[3]
Muhammad and his followers will eventually travel to Medina where he will establish a community of people committed to compassion for the weak of society, and integrating social habits that form new economic structures of redistributed wealth and property.[4] This move from Mecca to Medina not only has resonance with Jesus declaration in Matthew 13:57 that “only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor" but also with the Old Testament call of Jubilee and that of the early Christian community to “give to anyone who has need.”[5]
           It is at this point in Muhammad’s history that we see another historical distinction between himself and Jesus. Medina flourishes and grows to the point where it has now become a city-state and has acquired enough influence in the region to harm the economic and social influence of the Meccan oligarchy.
           The central tribes in Mecca or the Quraysh as they are commonly known, gather an army to crush the people of Medina, and while they do not actually take the city, they are generally seen as victorious in destroying Muhammad’s small army in what is called the “The Battle of Uhud.” The brutal nature of the age perhaps can be summarized with the known detail that the Meccan’s leader’s wife, Hind, “tore the liver from the body of Muhammad’s fallen uncle, and ate it raw.”[6]
            As the leader of Medina, Muhammad had to make large scale political and military decisions that would have implications for the lives of women, children, and all in his society.  Jesus on the other-hand could encourage his followers to live peacefully and to “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” without yet seeing a massacre of his people.[7]
            It is important to note at this point that scholars who favour the Quran’s ideological push for individual freedom and peace, will argue that Muhammad did not compel the Medina community to defend themselves, but found a communal consensus that they should stand together to defend themselves, not only for the sake of themselves, but for the sake of those who could not legitimately defend themselves (young children, pregnant mothers etc.)[8]
              This early Muslim perspective on the community is commonly known as the umma and is used to diminish the previous tribal kinship relationship of the people into a new community under Allah.  This is a perspective which I think also has deep resonance with the apostle Paul's declaration to the Galatians that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  The importance of consensus through individual will become so important to Islam that in the later development of Islamic jurisprudence it would become a foundational methodological lens through which to interpret the Quran, and is known in Arabic as ijma. 
        One could make a similar correlation to the decision making process of the early Christian community. Should early Jewish Christians force Gentile believers into Jewish covenant markers like circumcision? While those in favour of circumcision for Gentiles could strongly argue their position Biblically, it seems experiential consensus wins over as Acts 15:28-29 declares:
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.[9]
From the perspective of the umma the people of Medina were not rejecting the individual call of Sura 5:27-28 to be individual pacifists ("If you extend your hand to kill me, I am not extending my hand to kill you. For I fear GOD, Lord of the universe"), but were coming together to defend individual rights and freedoms as proscribed in the Quran.   
In 627 two years after the Battle of Uhud, Muhammad creates
enough allies in order strengthen his military position, and is
able to successfully defend his city against a Meccan army of
about 10,000 men. The Muslims in Medina dug moats and
ditches around the most vulnerable parts of the city in order to
defend themselves, and held back the Meccans for over a
month before they abandoned their siege, and headed back to
Mecca dejected. By 630 Muhammad had created enough
influence that he was able to peacefully takeover Mecca
through diplomacy, and was now able to enter his hometown
not as a pilgrim, but the leader of it.

[1]  (Knysh 2011) 30-33

[1]  (Knysh 2011) 21
[2]  (Knysh 2011) 22-23
[3]  (Mattson 2007) 53
[4]  (Knysh 2011) 21; (Swenson 2009)
[5]  Leviticus 25:10; Acts 2:43
[6]  (Knysh 2011) 29-30
[7]  Matthew 22:21
[8]  (Said and al-Khaiat 1996) 3
[9]  (Keesmaat 2004)
[10] (Knysh 2011) 30-33

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