Many have known, and most Muslims feel proud when Michael H. Hart listed Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. as the most influential person in history. With a little compromise, I can agree to his choice of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. to lead his list of the most influential persons in history. Although, in true sense, all the other persons in his list doesn’t even deserve to be in the same list as Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., for they are nowhere near his qualities of virtue, of leadership, of character. My critique, however, is towards Michael H. Hart’s descriptions of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. Let’s take a look at his text;
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world's most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels (1). Of humble origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated (2) one of the world's great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive. The majority of the persons in this book had the advantage of being born and raised in centers of civilization, highly cultured or politically pivotal nations. Muhammad, however, was born in the year 570, in the city of Mecca, in southern Arabia, at that time a backward area of the world, far from the centers of trade, art, and learning (3). Orphaned at age six, he was reared in modest surroundings. Islamic tradition tells us that he was illiterate. His economic position improved when, at age twenty-five, he married a wealthy widow. Nevertheless, as he approached forty, there was little outward indication that he was a remarkable person (4). Most Arabs at that time were pagans, who believed in many gods. There were, however, in Mecca, a small number of Jews and Christians; it was from them no doubt that Muhammad first learned of a single, omnipotent God who ruled the entire universe. When he was forty years old, Muhammad became convinced that this one true God (Allah) was speaking to him, and had chosen him to spread the true faith. For three years, Muhammad preached only to close friends and associates. Then, about 613, he began preaching in public. As he slowly gained converts, the Meccan authorities came to consider him a dangerous nuisance. In 622, fearing for his safety (5), Muhammad fled to Medina (a city some 200 miles north of Mecca), where he had been offered a position of considerable political power. This flight, called the Hegira, was the turning point of the Prophet's life. In Mecca, he had had few followers. In Medina, he had many more, and he soon acquired an influence that made him a virtual dictator (6). During the next few years, while Muhammad's following grew rapidly, a series of battles were fought between Medina and Mecca. This was ended in 630 with Muhammad's triumphant return to Mecca as conqueror. The remaining two and one-half years of his life witnessed the rapid conversion of the Arab tribes to the new religion.
How, then, is one to assess the overall impact of Muhammad on human history? Like all religions, Islam exerts an enormous influence upon the lives of its followers. It is for this reason that the founders of the world's great religions all figure prominently in this book. Since there are roughly twice as many Christians as Moslems in the world, it may initially seem strange that Muhammad has been ranked higher than Jesus. There are two principal reasons for that decision. First, Muhammad played a far more important role in the development of Islam (7) than Jesus did in the development of Christianity. Although Jesus was responsible for the main ethical and moral precepts of Christianity (insofar as these differed from Judaism), St. Paul was the main developer of Christian theology, its principal proselytizer, and the author of a large portion of the New Testament. Muhammad, however, was responsible for both the theology of Islam and its main ethical and moral principles (8). In addition, he played the key role in proselytizing the new faith, and in establishing the religious practices of Islam. Moreover, he is the author of the Moslem holy scriptures, the Koran, a collection of certain of Muhammad's insights (9) that he believed had been directly revealed to him by Allah. Most of these utterances were copied more or less faithfully (10) during Muhammad's lifetime and were collected together in authoritative form not long after his death. The Koran therefore, closely represents Muhammad's ideas and teachings and to a considerable extent his exact words (11). No such detailed compilation of the teachings of Christ has survived. Since the Koran is at least as important to Moslems as the Bible is to Christians, the influence of Muhammad through the medium of the Koran (11*) has been enormous. It is probable that the relative influence of Muhammad on Islam (12) has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity.
My critique may not be complete, but I would like to focus on the few words that I’ve highlighted, underlined, and numbered. Those are excerpts from Michael H. Hart’s description of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. which are contradictory to the real fact of Prophet Muhammad’s life. I would hope that by giving out these critiques, the usage of Michael H. Hart’s text would not be used as to refer to who Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. really is. There are better and more authentic references to Prophet Muhammad’s life from well renowned Islamic scholars such as Abu ‘l-Hassan ‘Ali al-Hasany an-Nadwy’s “as-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah” or Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buti’s “Fiqh Sirah”.
(1) Islam is not just merely a ‘religion’ as understood by others. We Muslims understand Islam as ad-Deen, or al-Millah, which brings the meaning of ‘the way of life’. Islam’s concept or ‘religion’ is entirely different from any other religions. Islam is comprehensive and encompassing. It is not just about faith, about rituals, about ceremonies; rather, it is the way of life. Therefore, I rather disagree with the dissection of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ to be associated with Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. The concept of ‘secular’, generally understood as the separation of ‘religion’ from other aspects of life, is non-existent in Islam. For in Islam, ‘religion’ is not just about prayers, ceremonials, and metaphysical aspects; but the ‘religion’ of Islam is also about business, about politics, about economics, science and everything else in life. Which is why, I disagree the terms ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ to be associated with Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
(2) Prophet Muhammad promulgated the religion of Islam, yes. He did so with such sincerity and passion, displaying qualities of the highest class that no other person in the world would be able to match. However, Prophet Muhammad is not, and was never, the founder of Islam! This is a mistake of the biggest magnitude. Islam is a religion that comes from the one and only God, Allah S.W.T. Prophet Muhammad is just a human being like the rest of us, although actually he is the best of all Allah’s creatures. The concept and teachings of Islam were sent down by Allah S.W.T., through the medium of angel Jibril a.s., to Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. As the Prophet of Allah, Muhammad’s task was to teach and promulgate the message of Islam to the entire world.
(3) Someone with better historical knowledge might be able to put more clarification on this point. From what I understand, Mecca was not – at that time – a backward area of the world. In fact, Mecca was one of the greatest cities at that time. Being the place where the Ka’abah was located, Mecca was constantly visited by outsiders who came to worship and perform pilgrimage at the Ka’abah. The leaders of Mecca would, at that time, do their best to show Mecca’s hospitality to the visitors by offering them shelter and the best foods. Mecca was also a city which was very well managed; the people in Mecca lived in an organized way. Mecca was also the center of attention for commerce. The market in Mecca was the hub for import and export activities which extended to as far as Africa and Asia. Compared to other cities at that time, especially European cities, Mecca is relatively well organized and economically prosperous.
(4) There was little outward indication that he was a remarkable person? I think Michael Hart needs to do lots more of reading. The birth of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was highly anticipated even before he was born into this world. In fact, as Islam teaches us all, the main purpose Allah S.W.T. sent Prophet Jesus (Isa) a.s. with the holy book, Injeel (known today as the Bible), is to confirm (the truth, and then to ensure continuity of tawhid) the previous holy book which is the Taurat (known in the Western world as Torah) and to spread the good news about the advent of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. When Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was still a small child, there have already been clear indications that he was a special person. His mere presence at his foster parents’ rural home brought them unexpected wealth, something they have never experienced before. When he was young, his grandfather Abdul Muthalib who was the most respected leader in Mecca at that time, placed Muhammad to sit right beside him – a seat of honour that none other people have had the chance to sit upon at that time. At one time, when his uncle Abu Thalib brought him on a business journey from Mecca to Syam, they stopped at a church in Busra. The priest there, who often entertained them, quickly noticed Muhammad and saw the signs of a prophet in him, and told Abu Thalib to take good care of Muhammad. In Mecca, Muhammad was nicknamed “al-Amin”, which means someone who is very trustworthy. Everyone in Mecca believed and trusted him. Muhammad even managed to solve a highly critical dispute between the major tribes in Mecca during a time when the Ka’abah was damaged. There were many more indications that Muhammad was a remarkable person even before he reached the age of 40, which if written can become a book on its own.
(5) The reason Muhammad performed the migration from Mecca to Yathrib (now Medina) was not because he feared for his safety. If Muhammad really feared for his own safety, he would’ve gone even earlier. However, history tells us that Muhammad was the last to leave Mecca. In fact, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. left Mecca with a heavy heart, for he was very fond of Mecca. The main reason Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. left Mecca was because Allah S.W.T. ordered him to do so. The other reason was for strategic purposes. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. realized that it would be hard for him to promulgate Islam actively in Mecca since the Meccan leaders were pressing him and trying their best to close all avenues for him to perform his activities. Prophet Muhammad had been making connections with people of Yathrib and when the people there expressed their willingness to accept Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. and the teachings of Islam, the process of migration started. If Muhammad really was in fear, he would’ve migrated with the other Muslims. Yet, he chose to go last and he travelled only with his best friend, Abu Bakr as-Siddiq. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. feared only Allah S.W.T., and none other.
(6) Somehow, I don’t like the term ‘virtual dictator’. For, Prophet Muhammad was far from a dictator, he was a leader. A highly respected leader. He never ordered anyone with compulsion; but the followers of Islam obeyed him out of respect and love. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was known as the humblest and the most gentle of a person. He never raised his voice when speaking and he never used harsh words. People around him do not fear him, they love him and they respect him. In fact, the words of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. as recorded in the collection of hadiths still wields enormous influence upon the lives of Muslims today, more than 1,400 years after his death.
(7) As I’ve said before, Islam is a religion from Allah, the one and only God. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. did not invent Islam, nor did he ‘developed’ Islam. Islam is a perfect religion from Allah S.W.T. Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and actions, although not explicitly written in the Holy Qur’an, are all thoughts from Allah S.W.T. In other words, the purpose Allah S.W.T. chose Muhammad as Allah’s Prophet was for Muhammad to become the living example of how to practice the teachings of The Qur’an. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. did not develop Islam, he was just elaborating the teachings of Islam in practical terms the way Allah S.W.T. wanted it to be.
(8) Again, as I’ve mentioned before, Islam is a religion from Allah S.W.T., the one and only God. Everything – the theological, the values, the principles – are all from Allah S.W.T.
(9) Another recurrence of the same erroneous idea; Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. is not the author of the Holy Qur’an! This is why Allah S.W.T. made Muhammad an illiterate, as proof that Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. did not write the Holy Qur’an, and that the Holy Qur’an is not the words or insights of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. It is from Allah S.W.T.
(10) The verses of the Holy Qur’an were ‘memorized’ fully by the companions of the Prophet, not more or less faithfully, but with full faith and full conviction. Not a single word, not even a single letter, of the Holy Qur’an has changed since the time of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. until now. The proof that the Holy Qur’an is the words of God, and that Allah S.W.T. has preserved it from being tampered in any way, is that it is perfect, the language used is too beautiful for even any Arabic language master to write, and the facts in the Holy Qur’an are far too accurate that it is impossible for any human being to devise.
(11)(11*) As said before, the Holy Qur’an is not Prophet Muhammad’s ideas. It is from Allah S.W.T. Of course Muhammad’s teachings are similar with the contents of The Qur’an, for it is his job to spread the message of Islam truly, and spread the contents of The Qur’an word-by-word, as the words of Allah S.W.T. are not words that can be tampered with.
(12) Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. did not influence the development of Islam. What he did was influence the lives of humans and many Muslims.
Allah S.W.T. said in The Glorious Qur’an, meaning:
“Say (O Muhammad s.a.w. to mankind): ‘I am only a man like you. It has been revealed to me that your Ilaah (God) is One Ilaah (God – i.e. Allah). So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord.” (Al-Kahf, 110)
May Allah forgive me for any wrong facts, praise be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
Only Allah knows best!