To ourselves, to anyone who has a distorted image about the Prophet’s marriage to Lady Aishah or doesn’t know about it: have you heard about the greatest love story ever?
The Prophet’s marriage with lady Aishah has always been a subject of attack and criticism against Islam. Knowing about the unprecedented kindness and love of the prophet to his wife and learning from the legacy of his married love is the very way both to answer any questions about the issue and confidently refute any misconception about the amazing love story, and to implement it in our personal lives.
Drawing on the misconception regarding Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Lady Aishah, Sheikh Yusuf Estes elaborates on the unique love story of our beloved Prophet with lady Aishah.
He leans on true images from the prophet’s marital life with Aishah, the Mother of the Faithful, and the pure married love they shared.
How could we answer insulting questions about our religion and beloved Prophet (peace be upon him)? How could we reasonably face up to such distorted facts, embarrassing questions and mistaken beliefs?
In Islam we have the truth and we have the proof. From this reality you build on your own knowledge about your religion, answer any questions and refute any misconception about the true religion of God, as well as learn from the life of our guidance, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) started to preach the message of Islam to the people of Mecca, he faced many challenges. He and his few followers were put to persecution and severe physical and psychological torture. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad had to leave Mecca and migrate to Medina.
In Median, Prophet Muhammad established a new Muslim community which lived with the Jews of Medina.
Soon, Prophet Muhammad started to send message to the rulers, emperors and kings of the neighboring countries.
Prophet Muhammad wrote to Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor and invited him to Islam and sent him his letter with Dihya Al-Kalbi whom Prophet Muhammad ordered to hand it over to the Governor of Busra who would forward it to Caesar.
Caesar, as a sign of gratitude to Allah, had walked from Hims to Ilya’ (i.e. Jerusalem) when Allah had granted Him victory over the Persian forces. So, when the letter of Prophet Muhammad reached Caesar, he said after reading it, ‘Seek for me any one of his people! (Arabs of Quraish tribe) if present here, in order to ask him about Prophet Muhammad.
At that time Abu Sufyan, Sakhr bin Harb, was in Sham (Syria) with some men frown Quraish who had come (to Sham) as merchants during the truce that had been concluded between Prophet Muhammad and the infidels of Quraish.
Abu Sufyan said, Caesar’s messenger found us somewhere in Sham so he took me and my companions to Ilya and we were admitted into Ceasar’s court to find him sitting in his royal court wearing a crown and surrounded by the senior dignitaries of the Byzantine.
The following dialogue took place between Abu Sufyan and Hercalius was retold by Sufyan in authentic books of hadith.
Let’s read the dialogue carefully to see the nature of the questions asked by Heraclius and the answers given by Abu Sufayn who, though not Muslim, told the truth.
Abu Sufyan said:
He said to his translator. ‘Ask them who amongst them is a close relation to the man who claims to be a prophet.”
Abu Sufyan added, “I replied, ‘I am the nearest relative to him.’
He asked, ‘What degree of relationship do you have with him?’
I replied, ‘He is my cousin,’ and there was none of Bani Abd Manaf in the caravan except myself.
Caesar said, ‘Let him come nearer.’
He then ordered that my companions stand behind me near my shoulder and said to his translator, ‘Tell his companions that I am going to ask this man about the man who claims to be a prophet. If he tells a lie, they should contradict him immediately.”
Abu Sufyan added, “By Allah! Had it not been shameful that my companions label me a liar, I would not have spoken the truth about him when he asked me. But I considered it shameful to be called a liar by my companions. So, I told the truth.
He then said to his translator, ‘Ask him what kind of family does he belong to.’
I replied, ‘He belongs to a noble family amongst us.’
He said, ‘Has anybody else amongst you ever claimed the same before him?
I replied, ‘No.’
He said, ‘Had you ever blamed him for telling lies before he claimed what he claimed?’
I replied, ‘No.’
He said, ‘Was anybody amongst his ancestors a king?’
I replied, ‘No.’
He said, “Do the noble or the poor follow him?’
I replied, ‘It is the poor who follow him.’
He said, ‘Are they increasing or decreasing (day by day)?’
I replied,‘ They are increasing.’
He said, ‘Does anybody amongst those who embrace his (the Prophet’s) Religion become displeased and then discard his Religion?’.
I replied, ‘No.’
He said, ‘Does he break his promises?
I replied, ‘No, but we are now at truce with him and we are afraid that he may betray us.”
Abu Sufyan added, “Other than the last sentence, I could not say anything against him.
Caesar then asked, ‘Have you ever had a war with him?’
I replied, ‘Yes.’
He said, ‘What was the outcome of your battles with him?’
I replied, ‘The result was unstable; sometimes he was victorious and sometimes we.’
He said, ‘What does he order you to do?’
I said, ‘He tells us to worship Allah alone, and not to worship others along with Him, and to leave all that our fore-fathers used to worship. He orders us to pray, give in charity, be chaste, keep promises and return what is entrusted to us.’
When I had said that, Caesar said to his translator, ‘Say to him: I ask you about his lineage and your reply was that he belonged to a noble family. In fact, all the apostles came from the noblest lineage of their nations.
Then I questioned you whether anybody else amongst you had claimed such a thing, and your reply was in the negative. If the answer had been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man was following a claim that had been said before him.
When I asked you whether he was ever blamed for telling lies, your reply was in the negative, so I took it for granted that a person who did not tell a lie about (others) the people could never tell a lie about Allah.
Then I asked you whether any of his ancestors was a king. Your reply was in the negative, and if it had been in the affirmative, I would have thought that this man wanted to take back his ancestral kingdom.
When I asked you whether the rich or the poor people followed him, you replied that it was the poor who followed him. In fact, such are the followers of the apostles.
Then I asked you whether his followers were increasing or decreasing. You replied that they were increasing. In fact, this is the result of true faith till it is complete (in all respects).
I asked you whether there was anybody who, after embracing his religion, became displeased and discarded his religion; your reply was in the negative. In fact, this is the sign of true faith, for when its cheerfulness enters and mixes in the hearts completely, nobody will be displeased with it.
I asked you whether he had ever broken his promise. You replied in the negative. And such are the apostles; they never break their promises.
When I asked you whether you fought with him and he fought with you, you replied that he did, and that sometimes he was victorious and sometimes you. Indeed, such are the apostles; they are put to trials and the final victory is always theirs.
Then I asked you what he ordered you. You replied that he ordered you to worship Allah alone and not to worship others along with Him, to leave all that your fore-fathers used to worship, to offer prayers, to speak the truth, to be chaste, to keep promises, and to return what is entrusted to you. These are really the qualities of a prophet who, I knew (from the previous Scriptures) would appear, but I did not know that he would be from amongst you. If what you say should be true, he will very soon occupy the earth under my feet, and if I knew that I would reach him definitely, I would go immediately to meet Him; and were I with him, then I would certainly wash his feet.’ ”
Prophet Muhammad’s Letter to Heraclius
Abu Sufyan added, “Caesar then asked for the letter of Prophet Muhammad and it was read. Its contents were:
“In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful (This letter is) from Muhammad, the slave of Allah, and His Apostle, to Heraclius, the Ruler of the Byzantine. Peace be upon the followers of guidance. Now then, I invite you to Islam (i.e. surrender to Allah), embrace Islam and you will be safe; embrace Islam and Allah will bestow on you a double reward. But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants (i.e. your nation). O people of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to you and us and you, that we worship. None but Allah, and that we associate nothing in worship with Him; and that none of us shall take others as Lords besides Allah. Then if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are (they who have surrendered (unto Him.) (Aal Imran 3:64)
Abu Sufyan added, “When Heraclius had finished his speech, there was a great hue and cry caused by the Byzantine Royalties surrounding him, and there was so much noise that I did not understand what they said. So, we were turned out of the court. When I went out with my companions and we were alone, I said to them, ‘Verily, Ibn Abi Kabsha’s (i.e. the Prophet’s) affair has gained power. This is the King of Bani Al-Asfar fearing him.”
Abu Sufyan added, “By Allah, I remained low and was sure that his religion would be victorious till Allah converted me to Islam.”
The sub narrator adds:
“Ibn An-Natur was the Governor of llya’ (Jerusalem) and Heraclius was the head of the Christians of Sham. Ibn An-Natur narrates that once while Heraclius was visiting ilya’ (Jerusalem), he got up in the morning with a sad mood. Some of his priests asked him why he was in that mood? Heraclius was a foreteller and an astrologer. He replied, ‘At night when I looked at the stars, I saw that the leader of those who practice circumcision had appeared (become the conqueror). Who are they who practice circumcision?’ The people replied, ‘Except the Jews nobody practices circumcision, so you should not be afraid of them (Jews).
‘Just Issue orders to kill every Jew present in the country.’
While they were discussing it, a messenger sent by the king of Ghassan to convey the news of Prophet Muhammad to Heraclius was brought in. Having heard the news, he (Heraclius) ordered the people to go and see whether the messenger of Ghassan was circumcised. The people, after seeing him, told Heraclius that he was circumcised. Heraclius then asked him about the Arabs. The messenger replied, ‘Arabs also practice circumcision.’
(After hearing that) Heraclius remarked that sovereignty of the Arabs had appeared. Heraclius then wrote a letter to his friend in Rome who was as good as Heraclius in knowledge. Heraclius then left for Homs. (a town in Syrian and stayed there till he received the reply of his letter from his friend who agreed with him in his opinion about the emergence of the Prophet and the fact that he was a Prophet. On that Heraclius invited all the heads of the Byzantines to assemble in his palace at Homs. When they assembled, he ordered that all the doors of his palace be closed. Then he came out and said, ‘O Byzantines! If success is your desire and if you seek right guidance and want your empire to remain then give a pledge of allegiance to this Prophet (i.e. embrace Islam).’
(On hearing the views of Heraclius) the people ran towards the gates of the palace like onagers but found the doors closed. Heraclius realized their hatred towards Islam and when he lost the hope of their embracing Islam, he ordered that they should be brought back in audience.
(When they returned) he said, ‘What already said was just to test the strength of your conviction and I have seen it.’ The people prostrated before him and became pleased with him, and this was the end of Heraclius’s story (in connection with his faith). (Al-Bukhari)
Lessons to Learn
From this story, we can conclude the following:
Abu Sufyan acknowledged the truth of the message of Islam and Prophet Muhammad. When the light of guidance reached his heart, he became Muslim and one of the biggest supporters of Islam.
Abu Sufyan never told any lies about Islam and Prophet Muhammad as according to the traditions of the Arabs, it was shameful to tell lies.
Abu Sufyan summarized the message of Islam in these words: “To worship Allah alone, and not to worship others along with Him, and to leave all that fore-fathers used to worship. To pray, give in charity, be chaste, keep promises and return what is entrusted to us.’
On the other hand, Heraclius confirmed all what Abu Sufyan told about Prophet Muhammad and made it clear that:
All the apostles came from the noblest lineage of their nations.
A person who did not tell a lie about (others) the people could never tell a lie about Allah.
such are the followers of the apostles.
This is the sign of true faith, for when its cheerfulness enters and mixes in the hearts completely, nobody will be displeased with it.
Such are the apostles; they never break their promises.
Indeed, such are the apostles; they are put to trials and the final victory is always theirs.
These are really the qualities of a prophet who, I knew (from the previous Scriptures) would appear, but I did not know that he would be from amongst you.
If what you say should be true, he will very soon occupy the earth under my feet, and if I knew that I would reach him definitely, I would go immediately to meet Him; and were I with him, then I would certainly wash his feet.’
When it comes to how Prophet Muhammad treated his wives, we have to look first into his views about women in general and how they should be treated.
In many occasions, Prophet Muhammad urges Muslims to deal kindly and gently with women based on the Divine Commandment which reads: And live with them in kindness. (An-Nisaa 4:19)
Prophet Muhammad said: Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (trouble) his neighbor. And I advise you to take care of the women, for they are created from a rib and the most crooked portion of the rib is its upper part; if you try to straighten it, it will break, and if you leave it, it will remain crooked, so I urge you to take care of the women. (Al-Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad said: “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives.” (Ibn Majah)
He also said: The believers who show the most perfect Faith are those who have the best behavior, and the best of you are those who are the best to their wives.” (At-Tirmidhi)
Here are some tips on how to treat your wife the Prophet’s way.
1- Treat your wife justly
Prophet Muhammad treated his wives justly without any discrimination in terms of food, drinks, and spending. As for emotions, he is like any human beings. He might feel inclined to one wife more than the other.
The best example to demonstrate this justice is that he used to take one of his wives with him in his travels.
2- Never insult your wife
Prophet Muhammad never hurt or hit any of his wives. His wife, Lady Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, said: The Messenger of Allah never hit anything with his hand neither a servant nor a woman but of course, he did fight in the Cause of Allah. He never took revenge upon anyone for the wrong done to him, but of course, he exacted retribution for the sake of Allah in case the Injunctions of Allah about unlawful acts were violated. (Muslim)
3- Fear God
Prophet Muhammad observed God’s consciousness when he dealt with is wives. He said:
“Fear Allah concerning women! Verily you have taken them on the security of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah.” (At-Tirmidhi)
4- Maintain you wife’s rights
Muawiyah asked: Messenger of Allah! what is the right of the wife of one of us over him? He replied: That you should give her food when you eat, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not strike her on the face, do not revile her or separate yourself from her except in the house. (Abu Dawud)
5- Take bath together
To confirm his close relation with his wives, Prophet Muhammad used to take bath with his wife from one vessel. (Al-Bukhari)
6- Be cheerful with your wife
Aishah said: I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girlfriends also used to play with me. When Allah’s Messenger used to enter (my dwelling place), they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (Al-Bukhari)
7- Always praise your wife
Prophet Muhammad used to praise his wives and acknowledge their good manners. He said: “The superiority of ‘ishah to other women is like the superiority of Tharid to other kinds of food.” (Al-Bukhari)
8- Be patient with your wife
Prophet Muhammad never blamed any of his wives. While the Prophet was in the house of one of his wives, one of the mothers of the believers sent a meal in a dish. The wife at whose house the Prophet was, struck the hand of the servant, causing the dish to fall and break. The Prophet gathered the broken pieces of the dish and then started collecting on them the food which had been in the dish and said, “Your mother (my wife) felt jealous.” Then he detained the servant till a (sound) dish was brought from the wife at whose house he was. He gave the sound dish to the wife whose dish had been broken and kept the broken one at the house where it had been broken. (Al-Bukhari)
When Abu Bakr asked the permission of the Prophet to come in, he heard Aishah speaking in a loud voice. So, when he entered, he caught hold of her in order to slap her, and said: Do I see you raising your voice to the Messenger of Allah? The Prophet began to prevent him and Abu Bakr went out angry. The Prophet said when Abu Bakr went out: You see I rescued you from the man.
Abu Bakr waited for some days, then asked permission of the Messenger of Allah to enter, and found that they had made peace with each other. He said to them: Bring me into your peace as you brought me into your war.
The Prophet said: We have done so: we have done so. (Abu Dawud)
9- Have fun with your wife
Aishah, while she was on a journey along with the Messenger of Allah, said: I had a race with him (the Prophet) and I outstripped him on my feet. When I became fleshy, (again) I had a race with him (the Prophet) and he outstripped me. He said: This is for that outstripping. (Abu Dawud)
10- Call your wife with the name she likes
Prophet Muhammad used to call Lady Aishah with the name Aish. She reported that Allah’s Messenger said, “O Aish! This is Gabriel sending his greetings to you.” I said, “Peace, and Allah’s Mercy be on him.” `Aisha added: The Prophet used to see things which we used not to see.
11- Help your wife with the housework
Many wives complain that their husbands do not help them with the housework. But the Prophet used to help his wives with the housework.
Hisham said, “I asked Aishah, ‘What did the Prophet do in his house?’ She replied, ‘He did what one of you would do in his house. He mended sandals and patched garments and sewed.” (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
12- Learn Proper Etiquette
Prophet Muhammad used to sit beside his camel letting his knees for his wife, Safiyyah, to put her feet on so as to mount the camel. (Al-Bukhari)
13- Be kind even when you are angry
Aishah reported that Allah’s Messenger said to her, “I know when you are pleased with me or angry with me.” I said, “Whence do you know that?” He said, “When you are pleased with me, you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Muhammad,’ but when you are angry with me, then you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Abraham.’ ” Thereupon I said, “Yes (you are right), but by Allah, O Allah’s Messenger, I leave nothing but your name.” (Al-Bukhari)
14- Pray next to your wife
Aishah said: “I used to sleep in front of the Messenger of Allah and my feet were in the direction of his Qiblah. When he prostrated he nudged me and I drew up my feet, then when he stood up I stretched them out again. And there were no lamps in the houses at the time.” (An-Nasai)
Maimunah bint Al-Harith reported: My bed was beside the praying place of the Prophet and sometimes his garment fell on me while I used to lie in my bed. (A-Bukhari)
Prophet Muhammad always acted in a way that prevented the spreading of diseases.
Many centuries ago, even before the discovery of what today is called ‘Preventive Medicine,’ the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave us, through his sayings and actions, guidance that ensures clean, happy life, as well as protection from diseases and pandemics such as Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Whoever wakes up from their sleep should wash their hands before putting them in the water for ablution, because nobody knows where their hands have been, during sleep.
Prophet Muhammad always acted in a way that prevented the spreading of diseases.
For example, whenever he sneezed, he always covered his mouth, with his hand or his cloths, and lowered his head and voice.
Prophet Muhammad guided us to have quarantines should an epidemic breaks out.
Prophet Muhammad said,
If you hear of an outbreak of plague in a land, do not enter it; but if the plague breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.
He also said:
One who’s sick should not be put with one who’s healthy.
He also ordered Muslims to stay away from a person with infectious diseases as much as they would from a lion.
Cleanliness, and procedures that are now being widely recommended for minimizing infections are big part of Islamic life style, For example, Prophet Muhammad guided Muslims to keep their nails trimmed and specific body hair, shaven, and cleaning the mouth and nostrils with water. It’s called the “practices of pure nature”
Muslims wash their hands thoroughly when making ablution before the five daily prayers, before and after eating, after using the bathroom, and at other times.
Prophet Muhammad guided us to cover up the food and drinkable water, to clean ones teeth, to never throw trash or pollutants in running water, to go to the bathroom only at places that were meant for that purpose, and making sure that your body and clothes are clean afterwards is one way of securing your way into heaven.
Prophet Muhammad also said,
“Cleanliness is half of faith.”
Although Islam puts a lot of emphasis on prayer and connection with God, to go through hard times, prophet Muhammad acknowledged that it’s not practical to rely solely on “prayer”… and encouraged Muslims to seek medication saying, “Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease: old age”
A Muslim is also permitted to temporarily suspend performing Islamic duties that might compromise their health, like, fasting, praying, or any others.
Taking care of individual and societal health, while integral, is only a small part of a perfect system that covers every aspect of life including politics, finance, family and relationship, work and education etc., all stitched in harmony to ensure that happiness that the Creator intended through his final message to all humans.
The teachings of Prophet Muhammad encouraged all people to strive towards anti-racism.
Bilal ibn Rabah was born into slavery, a condition that was compounded after he became one of the first believers to follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
Bilal’s father was an Arab slave and his mother was a former princess of modern day Ethiopia, who was also enslaved.
Bilal was ruled by a master, who punished him for his conversion to Islam. He dragged Bilal around Makkah, encouraging people to mock him. He even tried to force him to renounce his faith by placing a large rock on his chest and pinning him on the ground.
But far from renouncing his faith, Bilal showed a defiance and strength in the face of persecution and violence.
Bilal – A Slave to Become a Master
Impressed by Bilal’s steadfastness to the Islamic faith, Prophet Muhammad sent one of his closest friends, Abu Bakr, to pay for Bilal’s freedom.
Once freed, Bilal rose to prominence in the early Muslim community. Prophet Muhammad appointed him to serve the mosque by using his melodious voice to call the believers to prayer.
Bilal was a black man, and, for some, his blackness made him unfit for such an honor.
On one occasion, a companion of the Prophet, a man named Abu Dhaقr, disparagingly said to Bilal,
“You, son of a black woman.”
This drew a swift rebuke from Prophet Muhammad.
Are you taunting him about his black mother? There is still some influence of ignorance in you.
The ignorance the Prophet Muhammad identified was rooted in the misguided view that a person’s race reflects his or her moral character or social status.
In fact, the Prophet Muhammad’s message of racial equality stood in stark contrast to the prevalent racial animosities of 7th century Arabia.
Scholars refer to the period prior to the advent of Islam as Jahiliyyah, a time of ignorance, which included racism.
The First Anti-Racist in History
Arguably, Prophet Muhammad was the first person in human history to declare, in no uncertain terms, that no person is above another by virtue of race or ethnicity.
This declaration is crystallized in one of the Prophet’s notable speeches: His Last Sermon, as it is known, which was delivered on Mount Arafat in 632 A.D.
In that sermon, the Prophet Muhammad unequivocally condemned racism when he said:
All mankind is descended from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab. And a non-Arab has no superiority over an Arab. A white person has no superiority over a black person, nor a black person has any superiority over a white person, except by piety and good action.
Every since then, Prophet Muhammad’s teachings on racial equality have inspired human beings to strive for racial equality and justice for all.
Consider the life of el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, more commonly known as Malcolm X, the black, Muslim civil rights leader who battled racism in the 1950s and 1960s.
After performing the Hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage, to the city of Makkah, Malcolm wrote his famous letter from Makkah in which he said:
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue eyed blondes, to black skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white.
He added that he had never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.
The Hajj, for Malcolm, represented a shift away from racism and towards racial equality.
Between Arrogance and Ignorance
The teachings of Prophet Muhammad encouraged all people to strive towards anti-racism, which is quite different than simply non-racism.
While non-racists do not openly express prejudiced views, they also do not work to dismantle racism in any given society.
The Prophet of Islam actively challenged and dismantled the covert, the overt, and the systematic racism around him. He identified racism as a symptom and identified its root cause as arrogance in the human heart.
Inspired by Muhammad’s Teachings
As our world becomes more and more diverse and interconnected, it is imperative that we strive to follow the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
I am not a Muslim myself, but I have to say that I am deeply inspired by the anti-racism of Prophet Muhammad, because he showed that a person is distinguished over another not by race, but, rather, by the quality of one’s character and conduct.
I am Craig Considine for the Emir Stein Center.
This video was produced in collaboration with Alliance of Virtue.
Dr. Craig Considine (Irish: Carrig MacConsáidín) is a Catholic American and native of Massachusetts. As a sociologist, he focuses on religion, Islam, Christianity, interfaith, race and ethnicity, identity as well as comparative research and ethnography.
When we examine the many works of the orientalists on the life of Prophet Muhammad we can see that they claim that neither Islam nor the Qur’an has any originality.
From the 12th century on, works by non-Muslims about the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began to appear alongside the works of Muslim scholars and researchers.
Since the 19th century, with the help of the orientalists, a wide literature in this field has appeared, and in line with the different methods and techniques in social sciences, a methodology has been developed as well as a point of view about Prophet Muhammad that is usually based on secular logic.
The views of the orientalists on Prophet Muhammad actually constitute the base point in general for their opinions and claims about Islam and particularly about the Glorious Quran and the Sunnah (practices of the Prophet).
It is extremely important that we understand their views and opinions about Prophet Muhammad and their perception of Islam. In other words, it is important to understand how they understand Prophet Muhammad: was he a spiritual leader, a social improver and a reformist, an intelligent observer who watched and personalized the customs, practices and traditions of the places he visited that did not exist in his own society, or was he a person who acted reflexively with sociological and psychological motives that evolved within himself?
When the studies conducted by the orientalists on the Prophet are examined, we see, in addition to these attitudes, portrayals and opinions in which some vicious remarks are included. As a matter of fact, according to such opinions, the Glorious Quran is a book written by Prophet Muhammad and consequently Islam is a religion that was established by the Prophet.
It is clear that such a point of view is an outright denial of the fact that Islam is a religion based on revelations and that the Prophet was a Prophet guided by revelations.
Events in the 20th century, particularly with the effects of political developments, have caused Islam to become an important phenomenon in the West. In line with this issue, Westerners began to search for the foundation, basis and establishment of this phenomenon called Islam with a literal method.
The publication of “Mohammed and the Rise of the Islam” by D. S. Margoliouth paved the way for works written by orientalists on Prophet Muhammad and his Prophethood, and the number of works on this issue have increased greatly since that time.
It can be observed that orientalists who researched Prophet Muhammad from different aspects generally evaluated him via two different approaches. The first group of orientalists studies the Prophet from a reductionist point of view and as a result they ignore the religious identity of Prophet Muhammad, rather showing him to be nothing more than a social reformist. It is obvious that this understanding is a denial of the Prophethood and the revelations, and thus leads to the conclusion that the Glorious Qur’an is a book written by a human being. The second approach represents a phenomenological point of view. According to this, the religious identity of Prophet Muhammad is recognized and examined from an Islamic point of view. Unfortunately, the researchers’ preconceived notions in both approaches affect their objectivity and this is reflected in their methods.
When we examine the many works of the orientalists on the life of Prophet Muhammad we can see that they claim that neither Islam nor the Qur’an has any originality and that the Qur’an is a book which was written by Prophet Muhammad. The typical example of this understanding shows itself in the claims of R. Bell, who studied the foundations of Islam in Christianity in his book “The Origins of Islam in Its Christian Environment”. As a matter of fact, orientalists usually try to find an answer as to how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) created the Glorious Qur’an and accordingly Islam, and while doing so, they set forth their views and opinions on this issue. Accordingly, there are orientalists who assert that the Prophet’s own genius played a great role in the formation of the Glorious Qur’an and Islam. However, some orientalists state that this formation had political and psychological causes. This approach puts forward the assertion that Prophet Muhammad lived among the society not with a religious identity but as a social reformer and formed his religious identity through experiences he gained later on.
According to this approach, which is generally explained with the term cultural-reductionism, conclusions are drawn by considering the Prophet within the context of the socio-cultural environment of the Arabian Peninsula and Mecca at that period.
Other than the theories and claims related to the religious identity of the Prophet and the formation of the Qur’an and Islam, a different claim is introduced by the orientalist W. M. Watt. The basic characteristic of the theory developed by Watt is that he does not deny the religious identity of the Prophet and he accepts Prophet Muhammad’s religious sincerity. As a matter of fact, Watt considers the Prophet not as a figure that displays religious reactions after being affected by external religious-cultural factors, but as someone who actually showed a religious reaction to a social environment.
However, it is very difficult to say that the view of Watt on this issue is consistent. He tries to identify the sincerity of the Prophet and the basis of the information he acquired from the sources and lists three probabilities. According to this, the Prophet either combined the information he acquired from human sources with ones conveyed to him through revelations and eventually might have evaluated all of this information as revelations, or he acquired his information through various supernatural ways which constitute a telepathic aspect, or finally the term “nuhyi = we reveal” should be understood to mean “we inspire”. According to this last possibility, it is clearly stated that Prophet Muhammad received the divine messages not through revelation, but through inspiration, which brings us back to the external religious-cultural intervention theory. This is actually in line with Watt’s general view related to the Islamic revelation.
As can be understood, Watt is not open-minded on this issue and what separates him from the other orientalists is that he does not completely associate the religious function of the Prophet with other religions and cultures but rather considers his function on the revelation level. However, he never ignores the external religious-cultural effects on the personality, thought structure or religious messages of Prophet Muhammad.
Despite the general negative approaches towards the orientalists and their studies in the Islamic world, Watt’s studies, which manage to penetrate deeply into such issues while maintaining respect towards Islam and Prophet Muhammad, gained praise from the scholars and researchers concerned. In the introduction of Watt’s work Islam and Christianity Today, Ahmed Zeki Yemani placed Watt on a different level than the other authors writing about Islam in the English language: “Professor Watt did many things to save the Western mentality from the animosity and prejudices of the authors of the Middle Ages against Islam, which for a long time influenced the Western world. Despite the phenomenological difficulties resulting from his compromising attitude on issues that are hard to compromise, Watt prevented himself from acting with insular prejudices and succeeded in reaching the zenith of open mindedness.”
Actually, in the introduction of his book Muhammad at Mecca Watt addresses Muslim readers and states that he has said nothing that will require the denial of their faith nor is there a need for a wide gap to exist between the Islamic faith principles of Muslims and the Western studies, and finally, that to date the views of western researchers have been unacceptable to Islam. He further adds that these researchers have acted in such a way not because they actually believe in the research principles they have established, therefore the conclusions at which they have arrived need to be reconsidered. However, immediately after this, he writes that the doctrine of Islamic faith should be held subject to a re-formulation; it is this last that gives us a clue to Watt’s attitude towards Islam and Muslims, which although objective, is perhaps influenced by political statements.
Watt states that the Prophets of the Bible are mentioned in the Qur’an, however he adds that this is not an indication that the Qur’an or Prophet Muhammad were under the influence of Judaism-Christianity, and expresses that the introduction of these Prophets is completely different in the Qur’an. He also reports that in the Qur’an there are many references to other issues that are related in the Bible and the Jewish-Christian culture; however, he states that this could lead us to an incorrect conclusion if we were to claim that the Qur’an in fact introduced Judaism.
Watt expresses that the elements that are existent in the Qur’an that belong to the Jewish-Christian culture overlap with the information found in canonical or apocryphal books. As a result, for him Prophet Muhammad learned this information and these parables from his society and without having subjected them to criticism, adapting them to the Qur’an.
Note: This article is a summary of Ozcan Hidir, “Bati`da Hz. Muhammed`in Imaji”, Diyânet Ilmî Dergi Peygamberimiz Hz. Muhammed (özel sayi), 2000, s. 297-306.
Source: Taken with modifications from Lastprophet.info