Published September 14, 2012
An overview about the Prophet Muhammad:
Who is the Prophet Muhammad?
Muslims believe that God revealed the Quran to Muhammad starting in the early 6th century through the Angel Gabriel. Muhammad is not only considered part of a long line of major prophets, including Moses and Jesus, but Muhammad is also considered the last prophet.
Muhammad was married to Khadija, a wealthy woman who inherited her family business and was 15 years older than him. She is considered the first follower of Islam after the prophet. The prophet did not marry again until after her death. Among the women he married after are Aisha, who is revered for transmitting to his followers after his death his way of life and habits, and Maria, a Coptic Christian who converted. The revelation of the Quran began in what is celebrated by Muslims around the world as the month of Ramadan. Muslims believe the Quran is a continuation of the core values of the Torah and Bible.
What is the Prophet Muhammad's role in Islam?
Muslims consider Muhammad both a spiritual and very human figure who is a model of how they should behave in all aspects of life. The Muslim declaration of faith, or shahada, is: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." This declaration is recited often during the five daily prayers as a way of glorifying God and sending blessings to Muhammad, as well as cementing one's faith in the declaration. Muslims do not worship Muhammad but honor him by trying to emulate his ideals.
Why are depictions of the prophet seen as heretical by most Muslims?
Among Sunni Muslims in particular, depictions of any prophets, whether it be Muhammad or Jesus or Moses, are shunned to avoid worship of a person or figure rather than God. God is the absolute in Islam and shares no partner and has no associates. Throughout history, there have been some depictions of the prophet in Islamic art, and it is common to find his name in the form of calligraphy. His name as God's messenger and as part of the Islamic declaration, shahada, is drawn in Arabic and hung in homes and mosques. Shia Muslims are less opposed to depictions and images of Islamic leaders, but drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, positive or not, continue to draw ire by Muslims around the world.
In what ways does the prophet's life impact Muslims today?
In mosque sermons, Muslim homes, Islamic studies and literature on the religion, the prophet's way of life and his words are studied and repeated as examples to live by. While Muslims do not believe the prophet to be perfect, as perfection is believed to be reserved only for God, they revere his relationship with his companions, followers, enemies, wives and neighbors as the ideal that humans should aspire to emulate.
The verbal sayings and actions of Muhammad are key elements of Islam that Muslims often refer to when interpreting Islamic law or answering questions that may not be fully addressed in the Quran. A saying or action by the prophet, known as a "hadith," has been studied in great detail by scholars for centuries to establish its validity. This means the reliability of its transmitters and the accuracy of its lineage back to the prophet must be authenticated.
What is an example of a hadith?
Muhammad and his followers were often subjected to mockery, abuse and torture in Mecca, the holy city in present-day Saudi Arabia, by those opposed to Islam and its message during its early years. It is said he remained patient and did not return insult for insult. This is further exemplified by one his teachings or hadith, in which he states; "Should I inform you about the best characteristics of the dwellers of this world and the hereafter? They are: keeping a relationship with one who cuts it off with you, giving to the one who deprives you, and pardoning the one who oppresses or wrongs you."
Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll contributed from New York.