An article in the Huffington Post this week proposes that Christians acknowledge Muhammad’s greatness and accept him as a prophet as a way to move forward in interreligious dialogue.
Writer Craig Considine writes that he is a Christian with deep admiration for Muhammad, but doesn’t convert because, although he was an extraordinary human being, Muhammad is not “the man.”
Considine makes that case that since Muslims recognize Jesus as a prophet, Christians should turn the other cheek and recognize Muhammad as a prophet as well. All of this would move interreligious dialogue forward.
In an effort to avoid ambiguity, Considine offers his definition of a prophet as “a messenger of a Higher Power who works on earth to bring justice and peace to humanity.” And Muhammad, he says, fits the bill.
“I fully recognize Muhammad’s greatness,” Considine writes. “He was an exceptional person; he might even be the greatest and most influential human being ever to walk the face of the earth.”
Moreover, he says, “Prophet Muhammad brought love, peace, and much more to a part of the world that had little of these things.”
Perhaps Muhammad’s greatest quality, Considine suggests, is that he adopted a “fierce anti-racist stance.” Unlike many of his contemporaries, the founder of Islam made “the unprecedented move of considering both white people and black people as equals in the eyes of God,” he writes.
Yet somehow, Considine remarks incredulously, “many Christians still refuse to recognize Muhammad as an ‘inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God.’”
From the perspective of both orthodox Christianity and historical truth, however, Considine’s thesis doesn’t seem to have a leg to stand on.
Christians believe John the Baptist to be the last of the prophets, since the age of the prophets ends with the coming of God’s son Jesus into the world. “All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John,” Jesus said, adding elsewhere that “the law and the prophets lasted until John” after which the Kingdom of God was preached.
Similarly, the Letter to the Hebrews says that in “many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”
This doesn’t mean that prophesy does not continue to exist in the world, and that Christians act as prophets for one another by announcing God’s Word, but it does signal the end of one era and the beginning of another. Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus came as the culmination of God’s self-revelation to the world.
It seems very strange to suggest that Islam, which began as a Christian heresy, could represent a form of prophesy, or that its founder Muhammad could be a prophet as Christians understand the term. His “additions” to Christianity have always been considered as distortions and perversions, not prophecy.
Even apart from Christian belief, Considine’s argument that Muhammad fits the definition of a prophet as “someone who has valuable insight and intuition” and “who is sensitive about the well-being of others” would require something more that his assertion that Muhammad is not a racist.
It would also require showing, for instance, that he was not a rapist, didn’t torture kafirs and didn’t preach or instigate conversion to Islam through the sword. To say, as Considine does, that Muhammad brought “love and peace” seems to defy logic and ignore history.
According to the medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas, for instance, Islam appealed to ignorant, brutish, carnal men and spread not by the power of its arguments or divine grace but by the power of the sword.
“Mohammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms,” Aquinas wrote, “which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.”
Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of the great evangelist Billy Graham, has been openly critical of Islamic practices, particularly its claim to be a religion of peace and its unjust treatment of women.
In 2010, Graham himself was disinvited from the National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon because of his critical remarks about Islam, including criticism of its treatment of women. “When you look at what the religion does to women and women alone, it is just horrid,” he said.
In an Oct. 18, 2014 Facebook post, Graham asked, “Is Islam really a religion of peace? Islamic State justified kidnapping women as sex slaves in the new issue of their online magazine. They said that it is a ‘firmly established aspect of Shariah’ and anyone who denies this is denying the Koran.”
Jesus came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life. Mohammad was a warrior and killed many innocent people. (2 of 3)
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) February 5, 2015
In the end, however, Considine tips his hand. He acknowledges that though he does not believe everything that Prophet Muhammad said according to the Qur’an and hadiths, he also doesn’t believe “everything that Jesus or Moses said according to the Gospel or Talmud.”
“In short,” he admits, “my religion is fluid.”
So fluid, perhaps, that it is hard to qualify as Christian, or anything else.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome