The Concept of Prophethood in Islam
Introduction: According to Islamic teachings, the concept of prophethood is based on the idea of a relationship between humankind and God over the span of human history. According to monotheistic teachings, God did not merely send words as guidance for humankind, but sent human beings who lived everyday lives, who were part of their societies, and whom people grew to love deeply. It is said that Muhammad was the living Qur’an, as a he and other prophets in the monotheistic tradition were models for human behavior described in the scriptures.
Overview: This lesson addresses the concept of prophethood in Islam.
Students should be able to:
- list some of the qualities that made Muhammad successful and revered as a person.
- describe the roles Muhammad played in the community
- use the description and roles of Muhammad to develop a concept of prophethood in Islam.
- relate prophethood to the Qur’an as a primary source document .
- Organize students into groups and read, "Quotes on Prophethood in the Film." (Handout 4:1a) After reading the handout, have each group make a cluster diagram to organize the personal qualities and leadership or social roles of Muhammad that were mentioned in the film. (See Handout 4:1b for a cluster diagram of Prophethood in Islam)
- Then have students use their film notes to find an example from Muhammad’s life that demonstrates the personal quality or role that the film attributed to Muhammad.
- Have the class meet to evaluate and discuss the concept of prophethood based on their cluster diagrams.
- Students then use Handout 4:1c, "Verses on Prophethood in the Qur’an," to find the functions and qualities mentioned in the film in a primary source document. Students write the verse number next to the quality or function in their cluster diagram that exemplifies that quality or function.
- Discuss the spiritual and social values attached to the concept of prophethood in Islam, and compare it to other monotheistic traditions’ prophets and religious figures, as well as other examples of historical leaders.
EXTENSION: Students answer the following questions in discussion groups, and then present to the class:
- Which personal qualities and roles that Muhammad embodied could be emulated by any Muslim after his death? Which ones were unique to prophets and could not be emulated?
- How are desirable personal qualities projected through the social, spiritual, and political roles he played in the society of his time (i.e. judge--mercy; businessman--honesty; political leader – steadfastness; father and husband – protection)?
Handout 4:1a QUOTES ON THE CHARACTERISTICS OF PROPHETHOOD
Hamza Yusuf: The revelation does not come in a lump sum. It doesn’t come down from heaven--here is the book, now go out and teach it to the people, No. It is coming down slowly. It is coming down as events unfold. It’s explaining events but it is also coming down in a way that he can absorb it because the idea is that this thing is so tremendous, this thing is so immense, it is not something we can give you all at once. This is going to take time.
Karen Armstrong: Muhammad was always very insistent that he was not a divine figure. And he always warned his followers not to do with him what the Christians had done to Jesus, and put him on a pedestal and say that he was God or divine. He was not, he was an ordinary human being and the Muslims have taken that seriously. But what they do say is that Muhammad is the perfect man, that if you look at Muhammad you can see how a perfect act of surrender to the divine can be made. He used to say, "I never once experienced a revelation without feeling that my soul had been torn from my body."
Karen Armstrong: He would feel a great weight descend upon him. He would sweat profusely even on a cold day. Sometimes it would be like the reverberations of a bell and "that would be the hardest for me."
Michael Wolfe: He tells them to be good to each other and not to violate each other’s rights, for men and women to treat each other humanely, for brothers and sisters to treat each other well, for Muslims to treat each other as brothers and sisters. He calls an end to blood killing, to the vendetta, which has bled this culture terribly since he was born. At the end of Muhammad’s sermon he does not list his achievements. This man has unified a people, he has taught them monotheism, he has brought them to peace and yet he does not mark these as his accomplishments. Quite the opposite, he asks his community, "Have I fulfilled my mission to God and to you?" You can hear in his words the desire to hear a completed mission. This is a man of faith who is unsure of his effects. This is a very human moment in which he needs to know and he asks. And the people affirm that yes, three times they say, "Yes, you have fulfilled your mission."
M. Cherif Bassiouni: This was not a leader who was looking for his legacy in time. It wasn’t for any purpose other than to make sure that when he was going to face his Maker, he was going to be accountable and he would be in a position of saying, Allah, I did the best I could, and I hope I was successful in doing it. And that’s all we can do as human beings.
Hamza Yusuf: [Muhammad died on June 8, 632] Abu Bakr comes into this scene of pandemonium and he immediately stands up and says, "If you worshipped Muhammad, know that Muhammad is dead, but if you worship Allah, He is Alive and never dies." Suddenly the people come to their senses. Muhammad is a man and men are mortal, and this is his legacy. He did everything within his power to prevent himself from being worshipped because he recognized that, that was a danger inherent in religious tradition, that the object becomes the messenger and not the one sending the message.
Kevin James: Prophet Muhammad was a man, he’s flesh and blood, who brought one of the most eloquent revelations to mankind. He has set an example to mankind through his behavior, through his actions, a living example. This is a legacy he has left for Muslims.
M. Cherif Bassiouni: Muhammad’s legacy is obviously the seed that he planted. It is his righteousness, his honesty, his integrity, his model as a political leader, his model as an individual, a man who has made great accomplishments in his time and yet who didn’t let his ego get the best of him. He remains, I think, more than anything else, a great role model.
John O. Voll: Muhammad is the kind of person that combines political and military, and social, and religious, and intellectual dimensions of life in ways that are important for those of us in the 21st century who are struggling to put together complete lives ourselves.
Najah Bazy: If I were to have met Prophet Muhammad on the street I feel like I would know him and he would know all of us. The beauty of it is that we live our lives through his example. But, he’s not God. Our reverence is to God; our reference is to him. So, how I walk and how I speak, and how I carry myself, and how I treat my husband, and how I treat my mother and my father, and how I behave as a sister and a daughter and a nurse and a friend and a neighbor, that’s all Prophet Muhammad in action.
Handout 4:1b ROLES AND PERSONAL QUALITIES OF PROPHETHOOD
Handout 4:1c CONCEPT OF PROPHETHOOD IN THE QUR’AN
He has revealed to you (Muhammad) the Scripture with truth, confirming that which was revealed before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel. Qur’an, 3:3
And if they argue that with you (O Muhammad), say: "I have surrendered myself to Allah, and (so have) those who follow me." And say to those who have received the Scripture and those who read not: "Will you too surrender yourselves to Allah?" If they become Muslims they shall be rightly guided; if they turn away, then your duty is only to inform them. Allah is Seer of all His servants. Qur’an, 3:20
Muhammad is but a messenger; and messengers have passed away before him. Will you, when he dies or is slain, turn back on your heels (go back to your old religion)? He who turns back does not hurt Allah. And Allah will reward the thankful. Qur’an, 3:144
It was by the mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them (O Muhammad). Had you been stern and hard-hearted, they would have surely have dispersed from round about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them in the conduct of affairs (of the community); and when you are resolved, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those that trust (in Him). Qur’an, 3:159
Say (O Muhammad!): "We believe in Allah and that which is revealed to us and that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes; and that which was vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and to Him we have surrendered." Qur’an, 3:84
O Messenger! Make known that which has been revealed to you from your Lord, for if you do it not, you will not have conveyed His message. Allah will protect you from men (who mean mischief). Surely, Allah guides not the disbelieving people. Qur’an, 5:67
Such (stories) are some of the narratives of the Unseen which We have revealed unto you (O Muhammad). Before this neither you nor your people knew them. So have patience. For the end is for those who are righteous. Qur’an, 11:49
And nothing prevented mankind from believing when the guidance came unto them but that they said: "Has Allah sent a human as (His) messenger?" Say: "Had there been in the earth angels walking at peace, We would have sent down for them from heaven an angel as messenger." Qur’an, 17:95-96
Verily in the messenger of Allah you have a good example for him who hopes for Allah and the Last Day, and has remembered Allah much. Qur’an, 33: 21