The Conduct of the ‘Perfect Example’ – Introduction

The ‘Prophet’ Muhammad said, “I have been made victorious through terror” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 220)

Does that statement strike you as odd? If so, why?

Most westerners know very little about the life and deeds of Muhammad. This despite him being such a towering figure on the world historical stage. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that he is associated with a religious tradition that most westerners do not follow. Still, one would think that the reality that Islam has dominated the news over the past two decades would cause at least some people to dig deeper. Sadly this did not happen.

Ignorance about Muhammad is nothing short of dangerous. It allows people to simply think of him as a benign religious figure who, like many others, taught the Golden Rule while trying to reform society. While there are, of course, many things that Muslims admire about their prophet there are also some aspects of his life and teaching that those of us outside the fold of Islam will necessarily find deeply troubling.

The purpose of this series of articles is to look at the example of Muhammad and to analyze its relevance for the modern world. Why do this? Simply because the example of their prophet is of supreme importance for Muslim believers. As the Qur’an says: “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often” (Qur’an 33:21). His example, as portrayed in the hadiths and his Sira (biography) is, therefore, a matter of supreme importance to Muslims. By following in his footsteps, they believe that they give themselves the best possible chance to inherit eternal life.

So, if Muhammad consistently preached and lived toleration, then Muslims would be duty-bound to follow him in this example. On the other hand, if his example was one of aggression and belligerence towards unbelievers, then this would be the standard example that Muslims are required to follow. We, therefore, need to carefully examine his record in this regard.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear, according to the authoritative Islamic texts describing his life, that Muhammad spent a significant part of his prophetic ministry in engaging or promoting warfare for the sake of Allah. This may come as a surprise to those who expect religious leaders to be peaceful and ready to “turn the other cheek”. This was something that Muhammad clearly did not believe in. This series on Muhammad will explore this aspect of Muhammad’s conduct as presented in the Qur’an and hadiths (traditions). I am obviously not going to attempt to provide a full biography of Muhammad. Instead I will focus on those aspects of his legacy that are most relevant to current debates about the role of Islam in the modern world.

It should be noted that there are many questions to be asked about the reliability of the traditions concerning Muhammad (questions I explore in my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History‘). For the purposes of these articles I will, however, simply cite the authoritative traditions as they are accepted and followed by devout Muslims around the world.

As always, all quotations will be taken from impeccable Islamic sources and fully referenced.

In the next article the focus will be on Muhammad’s attitudes towards warfare for the sake of Allah.  

Much more about the link between Islamic teaching and violence in my book ‘Nothing to do with Islam – Investigating the West’s Most Dangerous Blind Spot

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