Armstrong’s Muhammad – A Prophet for Our Time
by Hank Hasse
I just finished Armstrong’s Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time. I found it interesting, except for her use of Arabic, which after the first use and definition, one had to constantly check for meaning in the glossary. If her historic resources were accurate, the Prophet’s hope for Arabs was a “transformation of human affairs, non-retaliation or unconditional” forgiveness as a surprising gift that inspired gratitude. He did not always practice that transformation himself, and made the distinction between defensive protection of self and of widows, children, and the oppressed from those who showed no disregard for them, compared with those who did recognize those needs but were generally aggressive none-the-less. The latter group was usually taken by surprise by his graciousness and it usually led to their surrender to Muhammad’s revelations which he claimed were from Allah.
Those visions/revelations soon became the Koran.
Muhammad was constantly threatened by nomadic tribes and clans who lived by raiding from other tribes and clans, both trying to exist in a desolate land. Food, water, and livestock were always at a premium. Jewish nomads were known as “people of the book.” Other than that it was difficult to tell them apart from Arabs.
Muhamud lived in Mecca, the location of the cubical Kabah said to have been built by Ishmael and Abraham as a place to gather and worship Allah, the Provider. A black meteorite was placed into the granite eastern wall as a reminder of Allah’s presence among them. The Kabah was close to the well of spring waters that saved the lives of Hagar and Ishmael, both whom were later buried next to the Kabah. Mecca became the center of trade in Arabia and the merchants soon grew rich over it. Tribes that had produced crops around their oases to the south came to sell their goods. Merchants sold to nomadic tribes who were not farmers, and there were lots of them who also brought their stone idols with them and placed them around the Kabah. Muhammad’s message of Allah’s generosity and his challenge regarding the many useless idols that provided nothing became a threat to the merchant’s business. Soon, he had to make Medina his new home. From there, in order to survive, he led raids on caravans headed for Mecca. Imagine how the Merchant clans at Mecca felt about that! Their motto was retaliation…
The rest of the book tells of Muhammad’s life, escapes from assassinations, marriages, attempts to visit the Kabah at Mecca, slowly but surely winning Arabs over to the peace of Islam, and his continued revelations. It gave me a new understanding of Muhammed’s hope for the Arabs, certainly not all that different from Jesus’ personal mission.
Unfortunately, those missions became misinterpreted by their followers who soon returned to aggression and retaliation as a way of life while claiming their religion to be the only right way to God. In the West, the 9/11/2001 attacks became reason enough for radical Christians to spread fear and lies concerning Muhammad’s dream for Muslims and what the Islam (surrender) to Allah really means. Muslims have their radicals too, better known today as terrorists.
A “new type of human existence” is still needed today. “Love your enemies because God does” is easier said than done. Compassion and caring about each other seems to be the key. It encourages gratitude for a Presence that also provides for all.