Christian scholars have begun to accept Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

Was Muhammad s.a.w. a true Prophet of God? Find out what some major Christian academics and scholars have said in answer to this question.

By Ibn Anwar BHsc (Hons), MCollT

Many articles have been written, produced and promoted to show the many good words of past and present scholars and lay persons of the non-Muslim communities that have sang gleaming words of praise to our noble Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. I have always found these quotations fascinating and they assure us that not everyone is opposed to our faith. However, what many Muslims and non-Muslims have been kept in dark about is that many non-Muslim scholars have gone beyond simply giving words of tribute to the prophet of Islam, but they have even gladly and strongly call for the recognition of his prophethood. With the scant information on this in mind, I decided to write a most comprehensive article about it. Complete with explanatory notes, I hope that the content of the article may in some way fill the void of non-Muslims’ recognition of our good prophet’s messengership.

More than a thousand years ago, the Assyrian Patriarch Timothy was asked by the ruler of the ‘Abbasid empire as to why he wouldn’t recognise the prophet of Muhammad s.a.w. and in reply to this he essentially said that Muhammad s.a.w. was indeed among the brotherhood of prophetic dispensation.

“…In the eighth and ninth century, the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi asked this question of the Assyrian patriarch, Timothy, in his meeting with him, and Timothy answered saying “He [Muhammad] walked in the path of the prophets.” [1]

And many years later, in a French work called ‘Ces Ecritures qui nous questionnent: les Bible et le Coran’ by the Muslim-Christian Research Group, many favourable views towards Islam are cited, one of which is the view of the Catholic archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Tarancon, who was then the president of the Spanish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In his inaugural lecture to the Second Christian-Muslim Conference of Cordoba in March of 1977, he “called on Christians to recognize Muhammad’s prophetic tone, especially his faith in one God and his thirst for justice.” [2]

This wonderful book also mentions Protestant scholars W. Cantwell Smith and Watt Montgommery (whom we shall see later) as essentially agreeing with Cardinal Tarancon’s stance on Muhammad s.a.w. He then cites the eminent Anglican scholar, Bishop Kenneth Cragg who, in his ‘Muhammad and the Christian: A Question of Response’, “calls on Christians to recognize without quibbling that Muhammad was really a prophet while still insisting that Jesus was “more than a prophet.”” [3]

Perhaps no Western academic was more vociferous is his profuse affirmation of Muhammad’s s.a.w. prophethood than Dr. William Montgommery Watt, who was a historian of Scottish descent and Emeritus Professor in Arabic and Islamic studies at Edinburgh University. Watt encouraged his Christian brethren to carefully consider the revelation that Muhammad s.a.w. received and upon closer and unbiased scrutiny, one may well come to the affirmation that he was a true claimant of prophethood. In ‘Islam and Christianity Today’ he writes:

“A religious community developed, claiming to serve God, numbering some thousands in Muhammad’s lifetime, and now having several hundred million members. The quality of life in this community has been on the whole satisfactory for the saintliness of life, and countless ordinary people have been enabled to live decent and moderately happy lives in difficult circumstances. These points lead to the conclusion that the view of reality presented in the Qur’an is true and from God, and that therefore Muhammad is a genuine prophet.“ [4]

In the above, Watt sings paeans to the decent and happy community that was shaped by the prophet that directly engendered individuals who were good and saintly. This in itself, as the fruits of Muhammad’s labour, should direct Christians to see Muhammad s.a.w. as a prophet. He repeats the formula that Muhammad was “a genuine prophet” in his essay ‘Muhammad as the Founder of Islam’:

“Muhammad was a genuine prophet in the sense that God used him to communicate truth about himself to human beings; but this assertion has to be qualified by holding also that prophets can make mistakes of a sort, as the Old Testament prophets Haggai and Zechariah did when they thought that prince Zerubbabel was the Messiah.” [5]

What we may discern above is that to Watt “a genuine prophet” when attached to Muhammad s.a.w. means that he was truly an instrument or a mouthpiece of God’s message of truth through whom he delivered unto mankind. Despite seeing Muhammad s.a.w. as possibly having made mistakes, considering the said Old Testament prophets, he still unhesitatingly affirms Muhammad’s prophethood as genuine. Echoing the view that he airs in ‘Islam and Christianity Today’ that Muhammad s.a.w. was God’s mouthpiece and the view that he was a ‘genuine prophet’ despite “having made mistakes” that he mentions in ‘Muhammad as the Founder of Islam, he writes:

“…Muhammad as a religious leader through whom God has worked, and that is tantamount to holding that he is in some sense a prophet. Such a view does not contradict any central Christian belief. It has, however, to be made clear to Muslims that Christians do not believe that all Muhammad’s revelations from God were infallible, even though they allow much of divine truth was revealed to him.” [6]

Here we see that Watt is assuring Christians that to accept Muhammad as a true prophet of God is not to negate any of the fundamentals of Christian doctrine and dogma. That he was a “religious leader through whom God worked” must lead to recognition of his prophethood.

As though his declarations have just fallen on deaf ears, this time around Watt makes his announcement as vivid as possible in his 1988 ‘Muhammad’s Mecca’:

“Personally I am convinced that Muhammad was sincere in believing that what came to him as revelation (wahy) was not the product of conscious thought on his part. I consider that Muhammad was truly a Prophet, and think that we Christians should admit this on the basis of the Christian principle ‘by their fruits you will know them’, since through the centuries of Islam has produced many upright and saintly people. If he is a prophet, too, then in accordance with the Christian doctrine that the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets, the Qur’an may be accepted as of divine origin.” [7]

The above seems to be a summary of what he has already said in the other writings regarding the proofs of Muhammad’s prophethood, but here he adds a golden nugget: the Qur’an is divinely ordained.

And revitalising the answer given by the Assyrian Patriach, Timothy to the Caliph al-Mahdi that “He [Muhammad] walked in the path of the prophets.”, Watt strongly encourages Christians that they “must accept Muhammad as a prophet who was similar to the Old Testament prophets.” [8] He reaffirms his strong belief that Muhammad s.a.w. walked with the Old Testament prophets in his 1995 ‘Religious Truth for Our Time’:

“Muhammad was a prophet comparable to the Old Testament prophets, though his function was somewhat different. The latter were primarily critics of deviations from an existing religion, whereas he had to bring knowledge of God and of his commands to a people without any such knowledge. In this respect Muhammad’s role and station more closely resembled that of Moses in that through each of them a form of the divine law was communicated to their people.” [9]

Watt sees Muhammad s.a.w. in the same light as Moses a.s. (perhaps Muhammad s.a.w. may well be the one foretold in Deuteronomy 18:18), because like Moses a.s., Muhammad s.a.w. too was a lawgiver and his laws that he communicated to his people were of divine origin as Watt seems to testify.

Father Giulio Basetti-Sani sees Muhammad s.a.w. as archetypal to the king and prophet David a.s. Just as David a.s., he identifies Muhammad s.a.w. as a “man of God”. Being a “man of God”, Muhammad s.a.w. must have been a person who was greatly concerned with following the precepts of God and to avoid His prohibitions. The epithet is antithetical to pretense and so, what we may adduce from Basetti-Sani’s attestation of Muhammad s.a.w. as a “man of God” is that he believed that Muhammad was sincere and would not have purposefully spread falsehood about God. He was after all “al-Ameen”, a title that was given to him in his days by both friend and foe, meaning “the Truthful”. In short, Basetti-Sani affirms the historical testimony that Muhammad was a spirit of truth. He writes:

“As were Gideon, David, and Solomon, Mohammed also could have been a man of God, notwithstanding, here and there, a fierce and warlike in vindication of God’s honor – deeds analogous to the massacres which are presented as ordered by God in the stories of Exodus or the books of Judges and Kings. In spite of his polygamy, and his sensitivity to the feminine charm, Mohammed could have been a man of prayer and worship of God, as were the “holy king David, harp of the Holy Spirit,” and the wise Solomon, whose harems were much larger than that of Islam’s prophet.” [10]

To Basetti-Sani, none of the popular polemics hurled at Muhammad detracts from the fact that he was “a man of God” and “a man of prayer” who was worshipping God. He reasons that the Prophet’s character cannot be blemished because of the wars that he waged as Moses did the same at the behest of God and neither can Muhammad’s s.a.w. polygamous marriage life can detract from the fact that he was indeed a “man of God” because Solomon had a far greater harem. If Muhammad s.a.w.is to be totally rejected on those bases then both Moses, the many prophets of the Old Testament and Solomon should be equally rejected, but it should be noted that in the battles participated by Muhammad s.a.w., there were strict rules of engagement that the soldiers had to abide by, e.g., no killing of women, children and old people. These groups of people were fair game and mercilessly butchered by Moses’ armies according to the Old Testament. And there were certainly no massacres that occurred under the eyes of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

Moving on, we come to the British academic who was a specialist in Eastern religions. Robin C. Zaehner was Professor of Eastern Religions at Oxford and he unabashedly declares Muhammad s.a.w. a prophet and affirms his revelation as true in his ‘At Sundry Times’:

“there is no criterion by which the gift of prophecy can be withheld from him unless it is withheld from the Hebrew prophets also. The Qur’an is in fact the quintessence of prophecy. In it you have, as in no other book, the sense of an absolutely overwhelming Being proclaiming Himself to a people that had not known him.” [11]

There is little doubt in the above that Zaehner sees the Qur’an, the revelation given to Muhammad s.a.w., as guidance from on High. He sees the Qur’an as an utterly unique book with no rivals that declare the absolute supremacy of the Divine Being.

Adamant about Muhammad’s s.a.w. true prophethood, Swiss Catholic priest, theologian and academic, Hans Kung writes, “Muhammad… can be accepted as an authentic prophet, though at the same time (like all prophets) he had human limitations and weaknesses.” [12] Emulating Watt’s reasoning on prophets’ fallibility, Kung says that even if one could show weaknesses in the person of Muhammad s.a.w., that would not detract from the authenticity of his prophethood.

In fact, Department Chair of Biblical and Theological Studies and Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, Victor Ezigbo of Bethel Seminary comments just how vehemently insistent Dr. Hans Kung is in his ‘ Christianity and World Religions’ on Christians recognising and accepting Muhammad’s prophethood:

“Kung demands that Christians acknowledge “Islam as a way of salvation,” recognize “Muhammad as a prophet,” and treat “the Qur’an as God’s word.” [13]

Like the Assyrian Patriarch Thomas more than a thousand years before him, Watt years and decades before him and Basetti-Sani, Kung wants Christian communities to see Muhammad s.a.w. in the same light as the Old Testament prophets as Professor of History at the University of Nantes and director of Maison des Sciences de l’Homme Ange Guepin, John Tolan comments:

“Should they recognize him as a prophet? Kung asks his reader to compare Muhammad with the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament: Muhammad’s authority, like that of the prophets, came not from any official capacity but from a special relationship with God; he saw himself as the verbal instrument of God, addressing God’s message to his people; he proclaimed God’s unity and justice and demanded submission to his will; and he did all this in the midst of a spiritual and political crisis among his people.” [14]

And the following is Kung’s conclusion as quoted by Tolan:

“In truth, Muhammad was and is for persons in the Arabian world, and for many others, the religious reformer, lawgiver, and leader; the prophet per se. Basically Muhammad, who never claimed to be anything more than a human being, is more to those who follow him than a prophet is to us: he is a model for the mode of life that Islam strives to be.” [15]

Finally, the General Council of the United Church of Canada convened at its 39th council meeting in August 2006 and discussed the relationship between Islam and Christianity. This led to a “Statement on United Church-Muslim Relations Today” with a document entitled ‘That We May Know Each Other’. This document contains twelve precepts that the General Council of the United Church of Canada agreed upon and the eighth precept is as follows:

Acknowledges the prophetic witness of Muhammad, and that the mercy, compassion, and justice of God are expressed in the Qur’an, which is regarded by Muslims as the Word of God.” [16]

In an earlier conference, at the 38th General meeting, a lengthier and more detailed document comprising 128 pages worth of material, the United Church of Canada agreed to the following in recognition of Muhammad’s s.a.w. prophethood:

We believe it is important that Christians strive to speak truthfully and respectfully of Muhammad. We also believe it is a possible, though major, step forward in Muslim–Christian relationships for Christians to acknowledge Muhammad as a prophet of God.

…For Christians, the term “prophet” has been used widely with understandings that vary greatly from one tradition to another. Referring to early Christian prophecy, one general definition speaks of the prophet as an “immediately-inspired spokesperson for God,” someone who represents the “present, immediate voice of the deity.” However, many churches, the United Church included, would more comfortably speak of prophets as those who, in the community of believers, call people back to obedience to God, reveal injustice, call the community to repentance, and claim justice for the oppressed.

We believe that in this later context there certainly should be no difficulty in affirming Muhammad as a prophet. Any reading of his life reveals the extent to which he sought to overcome injustice and oppression and called people to obedience (and submission) to God. Christians should readily affirm Muhammad as a prophet of justice and obedience to God

we believe that it is possible for Christians to affirm Muhammad as one of a number of unique voices who followed in the prophetic traditions of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, or, in other words, to affirm the “prophetic witness” of Muhammad. It is important to acknowledge as well that the prophetic witness of Muhammad is linked inextricably to the Qur’an. Therefore it is necessary, in affirming this, to also invite the possibility within the Christian community of a recognition of the Qur’an as an inspired word from God, as God’s revelation directed to the people who would come to be known as followers of Islam—in other words, to acknowledge that the mercy, compassion, and justice of God is expressed in the Qur’an, regarded by Muslims as the authoritative word of God.” [17] (emphasis added)

According to the above discussion by The Committee on Inter-Church and Inter-Faith Relations The United Church of Canada, after carefully evaluating Muhammad’s life, Christians should not hesitate to accept and recognise his prophethood. And since Muhammad’s messengership if “linked inextricably to the Qur’an” it only follows that recognition of the book or revelations becomes logically incumbent. The committee agreed that it is possible for Christians to acknowledge that the Qur’an is indeed “an inspired word from God”.

In the foregoing discussion, we have seen that the preconceived notion that Muslims and Christians generally share has been shattered: not all non-Muslims oppose every Islamic belief. In fact, what we have shown is that these renowned Christian scholars and theologians, some of whom pressingly so, push for the belief in the most fundamental and foundational of all Islamic doctrines, that is, the recognition and acceptance of the prophethood of Muhammad s.a.w. Our discussion above has proven the Qur’anic divine declaration that among the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) there are in fact believers but most of them are transgressors:

“You are the best nation ever brought forth to men, bidding to honour, and forbidding dishonour, and believing in God. Had the People of the Book believed, it were better for them; some of them are believers, but the most of them are ungodly.” (Surah al-Imran, 3:110; Arthur J. Arberry*).

 

Notes:

[1] Mahmut Aydin (2002). Modern Western Christian Theological Understandings of Muslims Since the Second Vatican Council. In George F. McLean (Ed.), Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change Series IIA. Islam, Volume 13. Washington: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy. P. 169)

[2] Anon. (1989). The Challenge of the Scriptures: The Bible and the Qur’an (Stuart E. Brown, trans.). In Paul F. Knitter (Ed.), Faith Meets Faith Series. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. p. 59

[3] Ibid. pp. 59-60

[4] Mahmut Aydin. Op. Cit. p. 177

[5] Ibid.

[6] Block, J. C. (2013). The Qur’an in Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Historical and modern interpretations. New York: Routledge. p. 252

[7]Mahmut Aydin. Op. Cit. p. 178

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. p. 179

[10] Block, J. C. Op. Cit.

[11] Hourani, A. (1980). Europe and the Middle East. Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 17

[12] Bennett, C. (1998). In Search of Muhammad. New York: A&C Black. p. 225

[13] Ezigbo, V. I. (2015). Introducing Christian Theologies: Voices from Global Christian Communities, Vol. 2. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. p. 171

[14] Tolan, J. V. (2010). European accounts of Muhammad’s life. In Jonathan E. Brockopp (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 248

[15] Ibid.

* Professor Arthur J. Arberry was an eminent orientalist in his time and his translation of the Qur’an was very well received by the Western academic world. In his introductory notes to his work ‘The Holy Koran: An Introduction with selection.’, he appears to have no difficulty in recognising the divine origin of the Qur’an:

“I do not doubt at all that the Koran was a supernatural production, in that it bears all marks of being the discourse of exaltation. We know quite well how Muhammad spoke in his normal everyday moods; for his obiter dicta have been preserved in great abundance.” (Arberry, A. J. (1953). The Holy Koran: An Introduction with selection. London: George Allen and Unwin ltd. p. 31)

[16] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.united-church.ca/sites/default/files/resources/statement_that-we-may-know-each-other.pdf

[17] The Committee on Inter-Church and Inter-Faith Relations (2004). That We May Know Each Other: United Church–Muslim Relations Today Toward a United Church of Canada Understanding of the Relationship between Christianity and Islam in the Canadian Context. Toronto, Ontario: The United Church of Canada. pp.32-33

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3 Responses to “Christian scholars have begun to accept Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.”

  1. Ismail Ochieng says:

    MashaAllah,barakAllah akhy for this informative piece.

  2. ABDUL LATIF says:

    thanks a lot for providing me the information which is a great importance thanks

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