I have been reading about Muhammad in Karen Armstrong’s biography, and I have concluded that he was a genius.
That prophet’s spiritual presence was so compelling to his first followers that they accepted without question hundreds of utterings spoken through his mouth. They later assembled these verses as the suras of the Qu’ran.
This was no small feat. The lyrical content of Islam’s holy scriptures is composed entirely of one man’s revelatory pronouncements. (If I am wrong about this, you Muslims please correct me. I understand that the hadiths, written later by others, followed, but are not considered holy revelatory scripture.)
Compare this Mohammadan revelation to, say, the Bible, which was assembled as sixty-six books that were spoken or authored by a multiplicity of authors over thousands of years. What a legacy the Jewish people have given us. Muhammed benefited directly from the Judaic legacy, and considered himself a part of it–a most definitive and corrective part of it.
What Mohammed had to say about al-Lah to his fellow Arabs during the early seventh century c.e. was quite urgent and compelling. The essence of it is that al-Lah is one God, not some pagan collection of many gods and goddesses. This may sound like religious quibbling to modern secularists, but the monotheistic insistence was downright revolutionary to 7th-century Arabs, especially those of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. Muhammad’s impact upon the Arabic tribal life and religion was similar to Paul’s upending message about Jesus Messiah to his fellow-Jews, which had happened about five hundred years earlier.
Muhammad’s message of monotheism, consistent in some ways with the ancient Abrahamic covenant, has spread across the world for fourteen centuries now. It is quite amazing, even as Muhammed himself must have been a quite amazing man.
Not as amazing, however, as being resurrected.
In her biography of Muhammed, Karen Armstrong reports that in the year 621 c.e. Mohammed instructed the Muslims to pray facing Jerusalem. Because the prophet had been taken up in a night vision by an angel, Gabriel, and transported mystically to Jerusalem for certain revelations, the holy city of the Jews was shown to be “central to the Muslim faith too.”
For more than two years, the Muslims adopted Jerusalem as their qibla, or direction of prayer. But in January of 624 c.e., about eighteen months after Muhammed’s hijra (the prophet’s history-shaking, exilic journey to Medina after being rejected by the powerful Quaraysh tribe of Mecca), something happened to re-orient forever the Muslim quibla. On page 162 of her book Karen Armstrong wrote:
“. . . Mohammed was leading prayers in a mosque . . . Suddenly, inspired by a special revelation, Muhammad made the whole congregation turn round and pray facing Mecca instead of Jerusalem. God had given the Muslims a new focus and a new direction (qibla) for their prayer.”
At that turning point in time, the Muslims redirected their salat devotions back toward Mecca, the place of their origin. I wish that they had, at that point, just left Jerusalem to the Jews. Our present-day situation in that city might have been less contentious.
Now the Jewish caretakers of the holy city would have to deal only with, instead of Ishmaelic Muslims, God and everybody else who claims to know Him.
According to the account of God’s work among homo sapiens that I subscribe to, God’s verdict on the matter is:
“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”