I recently invited everyone to a read along in Let’s Read About the Qur’an Together! The plan is to read What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an by James R. White together.
Feel free to grab a copy of the book and join in at anytime!
The first post covering the introduction is here – First Discussion: What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an.This is the second installment covering chapter one, “The Qur’an and Muhammad of Mecca.” Due to length, I’ve broken chapter one into two parts – a and b. This post covers part a which ends through the “Military Conflicts” sub-heading. For ease, the sub-headings in the post correlate with those in the book.
Dr. White begins explaining the Sunni belief in the eternality of the Qur’an with Muhammad as the passive receptor. Yet, he considers the importance of understanding Muhammad’s “life, his experience, his understanding— as a proper context for the Islamic holy book” staring with the early years.
The Earliest Years
Some scholars actually question the existence of Muhammad, but Dr. White find it hard to belief such a narrative would be made up. However, there is little critical inquiry into Muhammad’s life in the Muslim world. White walks the reader through Muhammad’s life noting Mecca (which non-Muslims cannot enter) as the main Islamic focus. The importance of Mecca dates back to Abraham where “Abraham and his son Ishmael established the Kaaba, a site of true worship of the one true God.” White notes the idol worship that began taking place in the Kaaba which Muhammad eventually cleansed.
In his adolescence, Muhammad traveled with his uncle throughout Syria where he allegedly met with a Christian monk. Tradition would later claim that at this meeting the monk warned that Muhammad should be protected due to a mark of prophecy. While sharing more of Muhammad’s life, White points out that Muhammad probably heard many religious stories while traveling with his uncle. And it may have been difficult for the young boy to distinguish facts from fables which may have influenced his later religious beliefs.
First Encounter With Gabriel
At 40 years old, Muhammad claims he was visited by and spoke with the angel Gabriel. In the chapter, White quotes the scene from popular Muhammad biographer Martin Lings. Muhammad feared he may have been possessed after the conversation and fled to a cave where Gabriel called him out identifying him as a messenger of God. Even so, Muhammad rushed home to his wife Khadijah still in fear he was possessed by a spirit. In fact, Muhammad was so afraid he was possessed that he was suicidal. I find it fascinating that Muhammad allegedly talking to an angel made him suicidal fearing spirit possession only to later belief himself to be a prophet.
The Beginnings of the Qur’anic Revelation
Islamic belief is that God sent the Qur’an down in one night. That night is called the Laylat al-Qadr or the Night of Power. White states, however, that Muhammad received the book piece by piece over a 22 year period. Over this time Muhammad continued struggling with whether or not his experience was from God.
Allegedly reassured by Gabriel, Muhammad eventually began combating polytheism in the Kaaba. White notes:
His was a message of pure monotheism: tawhid, as it became known, Allah’s oneness and unity, over against the impure worship that had developed over all the generations since Abraham, said to have originally set up the Kaaba. (Kindle Locations 285-287)
At this point, it’s hard to understand how a prophet of God continues with suicidal thoughts wondering if God is really speaking.
Opposition and Persecution
White only includes a paragraph in this section. Muhammad’s persecution probably derived from the fact that he was pushing monotheism in a polytheistic culture that thrived economically from idol worship.
The “Satanic Verses”
The “Satanic Verses” are something that have come to embarrass today’s Muslim apologists. The sources for these verses are from “two of the most important early sources for Muhammad’s life: Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah (The Life of the Messenger of Allah) and Al-Tabari’s massive history.” (Kindle Locations 303-305)
White provides a long citation from Sirat Rasul Allah. The story is basically that Muhammad was searching for a way to attract his people who had turned their back on him. He desired a word from God. Instead, while meditating on reconciliation, Satan gave him the words to say. As far as I understand the quote, Satan allegedly told Muhammad to accept the worship of the other Meccan gods. Gabriel later came to Muhammad to annul Satan’s words and offer God’s forgiveness.
The story is disputed by Muslim scholars, but White notes that the Satanic verses seem to be edited out of the most authoritative hadith collection, Sahih Al-Bukhari. Again, another bizarre occurrence for a prophet of God.
The Isra and the Mi’raj
“According to Islamic tradition, another event placed in the Meccan period is the Isra, Muhammad’s night flight, and the Mi’raj, his visitation to heaven.” (Kindle Locations 345-346) This heavenly visit is believed to have been actual by way of flight on a Buraq which is a white, winged, half-mule, half-donkey creature. Gabriel guided Muhammad through heaven where he would receive five daily prayers of Islam. While there are different versions of the story White quotes from Sahih Al-Bukhari encouraging readers to read it at least once.
Muhammad’s visitation takes him through all levels of heaven where he meets various biblical figures. This event is used to establish Muhammad’s position as prophet. As White duly notes, Muhammad is exalted above both Jesus and Moses.
I understand how a Muslim who believes Muhammad holds an exalted position above both Jesus and Moses would accept his new revelation as from God. However, comparing the lives of Muhammad with his suicidal thoughts, fear of spirit possession, and verses from Satan – I have a hard time placing him in such an exalted position.
This section is also short containing only two paragraphs. I’ll let White answer the looming question – what is the Hijra?
The Islamic calendar is based upon one of its history’s most important events, the Hijra—the pilgrimage of Muhammad’s followers from Mecca to Yathrib, a city 210 miles to the north, later renamed Medina, the city of the Prophet. (Kindle Locations 415-417)
Muhammad escaped with his life to Medina where he would deem himself The Prophet where his reign of political power began.
White explains that entire books have been written about Muhammad’s military life. Christians need to realize how dearly Muslims hold these accounts of Muhammad’s life. Muslims in Medina soon began raiding caravans from Mecca. Today’s Muslims claim these raids were simply a reaction to theft of Muslims property.
White briefly describes “the Battles of Badr (AD 624), Uhud (625), and the Trench (627).” Muslims won at Badr, lost at Uhud, and won again at Trench. Muhammad claims two revelations from Allah from Uhud and Trench which are recorded in Surah 3:152 and Surah 33:9-27, respectively. Noted also is Muhammad’s overtaking of the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza which led to male beheadings and enslavement of women and children.
As White states at the end of this section, Muhammad was engaged in a troubling mix of religion and politics.
What stood out to you?
Here I blog…
P.S. Plan on chapter 1b next Friday.