The IAP’s Position on Muhammad and the Muslim Faith
Muslims currently number more than one billion (almost one-fifth of the world’s population), concentrated primarily in Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, and North Africa, but with significant populations located in Europe and North America.
In 595 C.E., at the age of 25, Muhammad began retreating into the solitude of the desert to pray, meditate, and worship. He had become dissatisfied with the corruption, idolatry, and social inequities that plagued Mecca; he sought for a higher truth that would provide peace, justice, and spiritual fulfillment for him and his people.
When he was 40, Muhammad’s spiritual seeking and preparation reached a culmination. According to Islamic history, one night while Muhammad was engaged in prayer and meditation on Mount Hira near Mecca, the angel Gabriel appeared to him to deliver a message from God (Arabic, Allah). Three times the angel commanded that Muhammad “Recite! In the name of thy Lord who created, created man of a blood-clot. Recite! And thy Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the pen—Taught man that he knew not” (Qur’an 96:1–5).
For a period of 22 years, from 610 C.E. to his death in 632, Muhammad received communications that he said were from Allah, by way of the angel Gabriel, and that he memorized verbatim and recited orally to his disciples. These oral recitations of Allah’s mind and will are collectively referred to as al-Qur’an or “recitation.” His message was rejected in this early period in Mecca, and he and his fledgling community of converts, mostly a few family members and close friends, were shunned, persecuted, and even tortured.
In 632, at the age of 62, Muhammad died unexpectedly after a short fever.
Contrary to Western civilization’s stereotype of Muhammad as a false prophet or enemy of Christians, Muslim sources portray a man of unfailing humility, kindness, good humor, generosity, and simple tastes. His gentle humor is evident in the following story:
“One day a little old woman came to him to ask whether old wretched women would also go to Paradise. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘there are no old women in Paradise!’ Then, looking at her grieved face, he said with a smile: ‘They will all be transformed in Paradise, for there, there is only one youthful age for all!’”
He dispensed wise and practical advice to followers. When a man asked if he needed to tie his camel up, since he already trusted in God’s help and protection, Muhammad replied: “First tether it, and then trust in God.” Some reports indicate that Muhammad’s family were poor and often hungry, only able to afford coarse bread at times. His statement, faqri fakhri, “My poverty is my pride,” reveals his joy in simple pleasures, and this saying was later adopted as a slogan by Muslim ascetics. He was especially fond of children, allowing his two young grandsons to climb on his back while he was performing prayers. A man once criticized him for kissing his grandson Hasan, saying, “I have 10 boys but have never kissed any of them.” Muhammad answered, “He who does not show mercy will not receive mercy.”
In his last speech in the mosque in Medina, given on the day he died, Muhammad displayed humility and magnanimity in bidding farewell to his community after more than 30 years of sacrifice on their behalf: “If there is any man whose honour I might have injured, here I am to answer for it. If I have unjustifiably inflicted bodily harm on anyone, I present myself for retribution. If I owe anything to anyone, here is my property and he may help himself to it… Nobody should say: ‘I fear enmity and rancor of the Messenger of God.’ I nurse no grudge towards anyone. These things are repugnant to my nature and temperament. I abhor them so.”
With this view of Muhammad in mind, we can understand why Muslims commonly bless his name when it is mentioned in speech or writing, invoke his name in conversations, and celebrate his birthday. Pious Muslims strive to emulate his example in every aspect of life: mode of dress, style of grooming, table manners, religious rituals, and benevolence toward others.
The Teachings of Muhammad
Islamic life revolves around five basic principles that are outlined in general terms in the Qur’an and expounded in the teachings and customs (Arabic, sunna) of Muhammad. These five pillars are the witness of faith, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Some examples of Muhammad’s teachings on charitable giving and fasting will illustrate his manner of teaching and his central role in Muslim life.
The principle of alms-giving is designed to care for the poor and to foster empathy in the community of believers. The Qur’an states that charity and compassion, not mechanical observance of rituals, define one’s worthiness in God’s sight (2:177). Muhammad’s sayings clearly teach the practice of charity:
“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
“Charity extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire.”
“Smiling to another person is an act of charity.”
Muslims view fasting as having a dual purpose: to bring about a state of humility and surrender of one’s soul to God, and to foster compassion and care for the poor in the community. Thus, fasting and alms-giving go hand in hand: denying of oneself cannot be complete without giving of oneself.
James Toronto was reminded of this principle among Muslims, and the profound influence of Muhammad’s example in their lives, while living in Cairo, Egypt, during the holy month of fasting, Ramadan. He and his family were invited by a Muslim friend, Nabil, to participate in his family’s evening meal in which they broke their fast. As they entered their modest apartment in one of the most impoverished quarters of Cairo, I noticed that one of the rooms was occupied by numerous peasant women (distinguishable by their black clothing) and their children. They were all sitting on the floor with food spread out before them on a cloth, quietly waiting for the call to prayer that marks the end of fasting each day. When James asked if they were his relatives, Nabil replied: “No, I don’t know any of them. It is our habit to invite strangers off the street who cannot afford good food to share our Ramadan meal. We do this because it was one of the customs of our prophet, Muhammad.”
James was deeply moved by his Muslim friend’s unselfishness and compassion for the poor, and humbled by his good example in practicing a principle that from the Bible: “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; … but when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee” (Luke 14:12–14).
The IAP Perspective
It’s important to recognize the truths and values we share with our Muslim brothers and sisters, even while politely acknowledging that differences exist. We, as IAP members, collectively believe in being humble and open to spiritual light, while embracing shared beliefs of faith, prayer, strong families, patriotism, and bringing our country back to the original intent of our Founding Fathers, who were tolerant of all religions.
“Love never needs a visa.” Neal A. Maxwell
While one portion of Americans are judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views each of us as His offspring, and causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, but not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men.
The IAP recognizes the goodness reflected in the lives of other communities and peoples. While we do not compromise our principles and The Proper Role of Government, we will never seek to espouse an adversarial relationship. Rather, we seek to treasure up that which is virtuous and praiseworthy and cultivate an attitude of gratitude for the light reflected in the eyes of each one of our brothers and sisters.
(Much in this article was taken from the writings of James A. Toronto)