The BBC recently ran a series about the life of the Islamic prophet, Mohammad (http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2011/06_june/20/muhammad.shtml). This is something I was very interested in watching as I had previously not had very much knowledge of the man or his influence.
I was expecting the programme to result in me having genuine reason to dislike him. The main reason for this is that previous descriptions of him that I have heard include the words; raider, polygamist and paedophile. Not words you’d want to have associated with any prophet.
The programme was very different though and did not portray Mohammad as the monster I was expecting. It was obvious that all those being interviewed held a respect for the man and his values that was more than just skin deep. I’d even go so far as to say that some held a reverence like respect for his legacy.
However, there is a caveat to that glowing praise. The presenter and producer appear to be Muslim and the majority of those interviewed were also Muslim. There were a couple of others who had written about Mohammad and they included a couple of Anglican Reverends and a Jewish leader (Priest?). There was no one who was an obvious atheist. The result is that I am left with a feeling that the whole programme was somewhat biased in favour of the prophet.
Impressions from the Programme
That said, I still watched all three episodes and found them informative and interesting. Even if I had no way of telling how much was left out or how much spin was being employed.
There are a few things that stood out for me from the programme. The most obvious one being the revelations that he had; they all seemed to be just the right thing at just the right time and to my sceptical mind it smacked of a man who was making things up to suit him and his continued establishment of power. At no point at all was anyone else the recipient of these revelations, it was only him. This seemed far too convenient and to me does not constitute satisfactory evidence of a man of God (or Allah), quite the opposite in fact.
Inclusive, ecumenical and respectful.
Mohammad’s early adult life seemed to be one that very few modern critics of Islam would recognise. Women were apparently valued as equals and respected and other religions were accommodated and given equal validity too. Those who look at modern Islam and see the oppression of women and the desire to be the dominating religion and a special zeal to eradicate Jews would not recognise the young religion that was growing during Mohammad’s lifetime.
In fact, all the commentators agreed that the modern activities of extremist Muslims were not in accordance with Mohammad’s legacy or the words of the Koran.
The Covering up of Women
The origin of Muslim women covering up was traced to an instruction by Mohammad to his wives to cover their whole bodies. I can’t remember the exact reasons given in the programme, but it was an instruction for a specific reason in the context of a specific situation at that time. The modern following of it seems utterly ridiculous and irrelevant. I can’t help but be reminded of the Christian Church’s issue with women and head coverings.
What a Young Wife to Have
Among the most uncomfortable issues to get brought up was that of one of his wives, promised in marriage at very young and still young when finally married. Some narratives place her age at 9, while others put her as a teenager. One commentator said that it was his belief that she was 16 or 17. Either way, it was a very young bride for a man close to 50.
I don’t know how I feel about this revelation really. Obviously by modern standards its not acceptable, but in the context of that time when an older man would take more than one wife and some very young, is it right that we should judge them by our standards today? If she really was as young as 9, then it is an act that can’t be defended well; even then, I don’t think he would have been alone in doing such a thing. If the culture of the time habitually did that then his actions should be seen in that context.
The Killing of the Jews
There was another major keystone event in the life of Mohammad; that of an act of war where he slaughtered the men from a tribe of Jews when they sided with his enemies.
The bigger story here is that these were Jews who had an agreement with him to help and assist him. The Jews in question saw a chance to usurp his leadership when he was busy defending from other attackers. The plan failed and punishment was exacted.
A Jew interviewed for the programme called it the first holocaust, which I think is a bit rich frankly. The slaughter was a clear punishment for a specific act that could easily be called treachery. It was not a specific attempt to rid the area of Jews. I think Jews who take the holocaust stance on this event should go and read about what the Israelites did in some of their battles in the Old Testament.
Having watched the programmes, I am not sure exactly how accurate much of the information was; but I now have some information with which to form a view of Mohammad.
I think he was a leader with ideals around personal integrity that people today would recognise as decent. He was one of several religious leaders in the area who were all fighting for greater boundaries of power. As such his personal ideals clashed with a greater desire and being a leader with growing power resulted in some of those ideals being sidelined when it suited.
I certainly don’t believe Mohammad was anything special, I was just one of many leaders, he was just the one that got lucky. I also don’t believe that he was the horrid despot that others would say he was.
The Islam that I see today in the news does not seem to bare any resemblance to the Islam that Mohammad was trying to practice in his day and that does seem to be a very real shame.