… these objections … can be said to represent what sometimes amounts to a legitimate concern among otherwise well meaning people who suffer from limited exposure to a distorted presentation of Islam in popular media and among certain churches in the west. Historical information is useful when it is honest, but owing to the ill-will of many individuals and organizations, sometimes accurate sources of information are misinterpreted and misrepresented, if accurate sources are used at all.
Thousands of traditions (hadith) exist concerning the Prophet Muhammad and his companions and at least a few collections have been produced in which an attempt has been made to comprehensively preserve them. Due to varying degrees of authenticity, not all of these traditions can be accepted as reliable in the same manner that not all extant accounts of Jesus’ life are accepted as canonical within Christianty. Islamic Jurisprudence is a rigorous science which possesses sophisticated methods for authenticating these traditions. Unfortunately, not all scholars possess the skills necessary for making this kind of judgment. This is especially true for scholars trained in the west but also includes many Muslims claiming to be legitimate scholars of Islamic law and tradition. The result is a situation in which many people make unqualified use of hadith to corroborate and justify sometimes extravagant conclusions concerning the religion of Islam in general and the character of the Prophet Muhammad in particular. It is also worth noting that throughout the history of Islam, those who have been most well versed in the traditions of the Prophet and qualified teachers of Islamic Jurisprudence have not been mere scholars of history but great spiritual teachers and Sufis also. Ahmad al-Ghazali, Ibn al-Arabi, Abu-l-Hassan ash-Shadhili, and more recently Ahmad al-Alawi come to mind as being relatively well known and authoritative in this respect.
According to these qualified representatives of Islam, its history, traditions, and spiritual teachings, Muhammad is seen as the model par excellence of the spiritual life due both to his character and virtues. Internally and externally, he is the embodiment of all that is best in Man and of that which has been revealed to us from God. As has already been mentioned, an excellent narrative has been produced by Martin Lings called Muhammad: His Life Based Upon the Earliest Sources. This book possesses the merit of being based solely upon traditional sources and allowing them to speak for themselves without the interruption of the author’s own speculations and interpretations, however desirable these might have been. Concerning the role of the life of the Prophet Muhammad as the basis of the spiritual life of Islam, I would particularly recommend a book called The Path of Muhammad by Imam Birgivi which, through numerous references to the Quran and hadith “portrays the beauty and depth of the Prophet’s character and the excellence of his example for followers of God in all times and places.” This is a book that has been used in many Islamic universities and will, in addition to demonstrating the unimpeachable character of the Prophet, also provide a better understanding of what Islam means for those who follow it in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad – May peace and blessings be upon Him.
Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.