A discussion on Islam is incomplete without the mention of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He is the one who is credited with the origins of the religion. The many principles of Islam as a religion take bearing from the teachings advanced by the Prophet, peace be upon Him. The life and times of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, are viewed differently by scholars.
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The different perspectives on this Prophet depend on the personal, professional, academic, and spiritual orientation of the scholar in question. There are those who view Him as the greatest man who ever walked the earth, while others regard Him as a mere mortal, albeit with some unique traits. The life and times of the Prophet have brought together a large number of followers and other interested parties.
The current paper is written against the backdrop of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, and His portrayal in the book by Washington Irving. The book referred to here is Mohammed and His Successors. In this paper, the author affirms that, indeed, Irving portrays the Prophet in a positive light.
Consequently, the paper takes account of the author’s description of, among others, the Prophet’s life, some of His teachings, and the travels He made during His time. Each of the elements discussed are an impression of Irving’s positive portrayal of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him. Irving is one of the pro-Islam scholars in contemporary academic world.
Washington Irving’s Positive Portrayal of Prophet Mohammed, Peace be Upon Him
Many religious and historical scholars have dedicated their life and academic career to the study of this Prophet. To this end, a number of books and articles have been written on this Prophet. There exist texts and publications that explain the different stages of the Holy Prophet’s, peace be upon him, life.
Several aspects of Prophet Muhammad’s life, peace be upon him, have attracted the attention of the scholars. One such aspect of this Prophet is His succession (Irving 1).
In the preface of their book, Irving (1) suggests that Islamic scholars tend to appear apologetic when they are depicting the life and times of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. They seem to sympathise with the Prophet, something that is reflected in the tone of their texts.
The author (Irving) argues that such a portrayal is tantamount to character assassination with regards to the reputation of the Prophet. Such scholars add nothing new to the information that already exists about the Prophet. Most of Irving’s opinions are driven by the interactions they had with people, especially Islamic scholars, while residing in Spain.
In writing the book, Irving (1) relies on the information they obtained while residing in Spain. In addition, the author relies on translations of a number of resources from Abulfeda. Abulfeda, according to Irving, is one of the most famous Arabian historians. The historian helps Irving to shed light on Prophet Muhammad’s, peace be upon him, life and times.
The book by Irving is a portrayal of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as He is regarded in the entire spectrum of the Arab nation. The book also depicts the family life and His interactions with other people in the region (Irving 1).
In addition, the book takes a look at the Prophet’s birth and parentage, as well as some of the traditions associated with the region in which He grew up. In essence, the Mohammedan faith (a synonym for Islam) is outlined in the book. Generally, the book acts as an autobiography of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him.
The Parentage of Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him
Goodrich (3) provides a brief historical background on Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him. According to Goodrich (3), the Prophet was born an Arab in the region that is currently known as the Middle East.
In the second chapter of his book, Irving (67) affirms that the Holy Prophet is indeed the founder of Islam, the second most popular religion in the world. The book is not prejudicial in any way when describing the Prophet’s birth and life in general. Irving (67) points out the exact date of the Prophet’s birth, an indication that He was not an illegitimate child.
His place of birth is Mecca, as suggested by Andrae (43). The same assertion is made by Irving in his text. In the process of describing the Prophet’s parentage, the author goes further to point out His exact lineage. Irving (67) suggests that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, came from the tribe of Koresh.
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The author speaks highly of the tribe, perhaps because of its close link with the Prophet. For example, Irving suggests that members of the tribe are valiant and illustrious. The environment of Koresh is painted as hostile in most historical books based on the region.
Nonetheless, Irving (67) points out that the Prophet’s people had a strong will, something that made them overcome the harsh environment in the region. The same is extended to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
In the opinion of Goodrich (3), Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, demonstrated a high intellectual capacity at an early stage of His life. Similar sentiments are shared by Irving (68). Irving points out that after his birth, all indications were that the Prophet was destined for greatness in life.
An illustration of the young Prophet’s wit is recorded in the conversation He had with a monk at Basra. Goodrich (3) points out that the monk was awed by the young Muhammad, peace be upon him. The monk was so impressed to the point of singing His praises to his father.
The Industrious Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon Him
Irving (176) creates a picture of an individual who is not only determined, but also a committed hard worker. To this end, the author documents how the young Prophet proved to be of economic importance to His father at a tender age. He is depicted as engaging in a number of activities.
Some the activities include playing a role as a merchant. Irving (178) illustrates one particular trade expedition that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was engaged in, albeit as an assistant to His uncle.
The distance to be covered from their homeland to the final destination was a long one. The two merchants were going to Yemen (Sultan 98). In this particular trade expedition, Irving (176) points out that the young Prophet was there to offer security.
Irving (177) makes it known that the Prophet was quite talented and skilled in trade. Apart from the skills in trade, Irving (177) suggests that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, was well trained in combat. The picture painted by the author is that of an individual who would train consistently in preparation for battle. Such an observation is not surprising considering the situation of the region at the time.
At that time, there were so many battles in the region. Sultan (98) suggests that any pilgrimage or trade expedition needed men trained in combat. The reason is that such expeditions involved venturing into regions occupied by hostile people.
Irving (176) is quick to point out that owing to His fame and reputation as a hard working young man, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, doubled up as a merchant and as a trader. To this end, the young Muhammad travelled far and wide as a result of His hard work. The trade caravans took Him far from home. There were no planes at the time. As such, merchants relied on camels as the major means of transport.
Camels were used by Arabs to travel within the region and to far places (Sultan, 4). The young Prophet was able to travel to far off areas like Yemen and Syria. Such ability is an illustration that the Prophet was not lazy. On the contrary, He was a hardworking individual who was always committed to His cause.
The illustration of a hard working individual, as done by Irving (176), is a positive portrayal of Prophet Muhammad’s, peace be upon him, character. Clearly, for someone who would later start a religion and have a massive following, hard work was not an option.
In this light, the author (Irving) uses the Prophet’s childhood to paint a picture of a tenacious young man who did what was necessary to excel in whatever He did. Bravery is closely associated with hard work. The fact is made clear when Irving illustrates the Prophet’s active combat life.
Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon Him: A Reformist
Most of the religious reforms that occurred in Mecca and the surrounding towns are associated with Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (Andrae 31). Consequently, Irving (213) takes the opportunity to explain this religious reform and the trigger factors that led to the same.
According to Hazleton (12), Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, took a lady by the name of Khadija as His wife. Irving (213) argues that the marriage enhanced the prophet’s stature in the society. The marriage made Him part and parcel of the aristocratic class of the time.
In this regard, the author elevates the Prophet to a position of authority in His society. In the opinion of Irving (213), wealthy men like Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, were influential in the community. However, the prophet’s case was exceptional. The reason is that the Prophet, as depicted by Irving (213), was of sound moral standing. Irving (213) suggests that His moral standing was a gift from Allah.
The gift was necessary to enable Him pursue honesty and shun evil. At this juncture, Irving introduces a name that was associated with the Prophet’s character. The name is Al Amin. According to Irving (213), the name means ‘the honest one’.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, was poised to bring about religious change to His people. As a result of this, a superior moral standing was expected of Him (Hazleton 56). He had to be different from other people around Him, people who were so weak to fight off evil. Consequently, Irving (213) paints Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as a morally upright individual.
The author depicts Him as a man who is gifted by Allah to accomplish the said task of religious reform. Due to His moral uprightness, the Prophet acted as an arbiter with regards to disputing parties in His locality. He was respected and revered by all the people in the society.
The author makes use of an anecdote to illustrate the moral uprightness of the Prophet (Irving 214). The story involves a ‘Kaaba’, who was apparently injured in the process of replacing the sacred black stone. In the process of this replacement, there arose a dispute between the tribesmen with regards to the person who was supposed to carry out the all important task (Irving 214).
The tribesmen agreed among themselves that whoever enters the venue via the al Haram gate would be the one to resolve the dispute. The story goes on to give an account of how Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, ended up being the one to walk in through the said gate.
As expected, the Prophet listened to the dispute and went ahead to offer His counsel on the matter (Irving 214). He requested the tribesmen to spread a cloth on the ground. The stone was to be placed on this piece of cloth. Consequently, each of the tribesmen would hold one edge of the cloth.
The aim was to ensure that each of the tribesmen lifted the stone at the same time and placed it at the required place (Irving 214). Andrae (70) suggests that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, fixed His hands at the place where the stone was to be relocated to.
Irving (214) depicts the prophet as a successful husband and father. He was able to strike a balance between His family life and His spiritual life. His success at the family front is made evident by the fact that His wife gave birth to five children. The two were blessed with four daughters and a son, who was called Kasim. His son was part of the reason why the Prophet was referred to as Abu Kasim (Irving 214).
Unfortunately, the son died while he was still an infant. Even in marriage, the prophet continued in His activities as a merchant, traversing the entire Arab nation. The travels he made allowed Him to interact with the locals. It is these interactions that helped Him to see the shortcomings of the religion at the time (Irving 214).
One of the most important aspects of the day’s religion that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, wanted to change was the issue of idol worship (Irving 214). Adherents of this faith believe that there is no other God except Allah (“A Brief Biography of Prophet Muhammad” par. 2). To this end, Irving (214) portrays the Prophet as loyal to Allah by His outright opposition to idolatry.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, knows that there is only one religion that should be followed. That religion is the one given by God to Adam during creation. The religion only allows for the worship of one true God.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was not content with the violation of the religion given to Adam. The violation appears to be one of the reasons why He embarked on reforming His people. Irving (214) makes reference to personalities like Moses, Noah, Abraham, and Jesus. Irving describes these characters as messengers of God. T
hey were sent to remind mankind to remain true to the very religion He (God) bestowed upon Adam in the Garden of Eden. Irving indicates that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, is not hostile towards Jesus or any of the other messengers. The Prophet sought to get answers from Allah on how to reform the religion. In the process, He engaged in praying and fasting. That is how Ramadhan became part of Islam.
Teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon Him
Madelung (14) is of the opinion that the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, are part of the reforms He sought for as He embarked on His spiritual journey. Irving (217) uses the book Muhammad and His Successors to illustrate that the Prophet’s teachings are a sign of reforms.
The author looks at the teachings from the perspective that Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was not a radical sect leader. Rather, the Prophet was using His teachings to reform the one and true religion of Allah, the one given to Adam during creation (Irving 214).
Irving (217) gives an account of how Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, developed a new kind of faith. Terming it as the ‘Mohammedan Faith’, the author creates a picture of an individual who determined to change the wrongs in the religion He had known all His life.
However, just like any revolutionary idea, Irving (217) points to the scepticism that people expressed towards the Prophet’s teachings. At the time, people wanted to see miracles. The attitude made the Prophet restrict His activities to His residence.
The spread of this new faith is what led to the formation of Islam as is known today (Irving 217). However, the Prophet faced many challenges to the extent that it took Him 3 years to have only 40 converts.
By illustrating the difficult environment within which the prophet was operating, Irving is trying to show how Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, was tenacious and committed to His cause. The Prophet and His followers practiced their religion in secrecy. However, the secrecy notwithstanding, the public was still outraged (Irving 217).
The martyrdom associated with Islam is believed to have started as a result of this outrage. Irving (217) suggests that people were against this new faith. Consequently, when the new converts were discovered in the caves of Mecca and other secret places, a scuffle ensued, resulting in bloodshed.
The individuals are considered as the initial adherents who died for the cause of Islam. In describing their death, Irving (217) paints a positive picture of the cause. Irving describes the cause as an undertaking meant to reform the religion given to Adam during creation.
The Revert Muslim Association (par. 1) provides a glowing tribute to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him. According to the association, “as a statesman, Muhammad (peace be upon Him) ranks among the greatest in the world.
He was endowed with amazing perspicacity, vision and political genius” (The Revert Muslim Association par. 1). The association appears to support Irving, claiming that the Prophet made a number of significant decisions with regards to Islam. The decisions affected not only Muslims, but other people in the world (Felluga par. 5).
Irving (217) makes use of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon, to paint the image of an individual who was keen on uniting all people in the world.
It is noted that the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, were not restricted to a particular group of people. Rather, they were meant to unite man and Allah (Andrae 160). Irving (217) portrays Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, as an agent of peace and unity. His intention was to reconcile man with Allah.
The arguments made in this paper affirm that Irving portrays Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, in a positive light. In their book Mohammed and His Successors, Irving agrees with other scholars who have written extensively about the Holy Prophet. The scholars agree that the Prophet intended to unite man and God.
Irving uses the Prophet’s personal attributes like hard work and tenacity to portray the image of a man whose calling by Allah was evident from a very tender age. Irving portrays the image of a very influential and charismatic person.
According to Irving, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him, was a man who knew how to use His position in society to improve the welfare of mankind. The illustration made in the book is that of a man dedicated to His calling.
A Brief Biography of Prophet Muhammad 2008. Web.
Andrae, Tom. Mohammed: The Man and His Faith, New York: Dover Publications, 2012. Print.
Felluga, Dino. Guide to Literary and Critical Theory, New York: Purdue University, 2003. Print.
Goodrich, Samuel. The Story of Mohammed, New York: A.J. Cornell Publications, 2011. Print.
Hazleton, Lesley. After the Prophet: Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam, Harpswell: Anchor, 2010. Print.
Irving, Washington. Mohammed and His Successors, New York: Evergreen Review, 2009. Print.
Madelung, Wilfred. The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Calipate, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.
Sultan, Aneela. Succession of the Prophet, London: Aneela, 2007. Print.
The Revert Muslim Association. n.d. Muhammad Mustapha and His Succession. n.d. Web.