A Prophet Versus Islamists? What Would Muhammad Say? (2/2)

Previously, as a non-Muslim, I raised the question of the distinction between a living letter and prophet, and a dead letter and prophet.

And I’m not so much attempting to intrude from the outside of Islam, to set a “program” or “plan” for the religion…

But I am raising some questions that are fairly broad in scope, and no doubt apply to other religions too.

One key conundrum about the theme of the “living” and the “dead” view of a prophet has been raised by some Jewish philosophers:

wittgenstein on moses

This question is probably not looking for a straight answer.

And the question itself threatens the stability and the order of a nice, safe, complacent “faith” that gives one all the answers.

Doubt and Faith

This doesn’t mean that “doubt” becomes an end in itself, or something that is itself worshiped.

However, constructive skepticism and inquiry have always existed. They are not exclusively “modern” or “postmodern” or anything else.

Rather, they are something that can arise at any point in history, and any place…

And not only among elites…

And such critiques are not always written down; not always preserved; not always spoken in public, and not always even spoken at all.

But they do exist.

And ideas that may have been shocking, or that might seem shocking, and as “inappropriately newfangled” (or in Arabic, “bid’ah,”) might have always been in the hearts of earlier faithful…

Even if they didn’t openly and explicitly express it.

tillich quotemining

For, it’s all fine to talk about the question of outward consensus as a criterion for ensuring authenticity; but then, why not also consider the question of the consensus of the heart too?

(Remember that all that I say here, is likely relevant to any religion; or perhaps other traditions too; such as political ones…?)

Look at intellectual inquiry in medieval Islam; Reform Judaism; the 11th century Great Schism…

Medieval scholasticism in Europe; disputes between the three main vehicles of Buddhism; China’s Hundred Days’ Reforms…

20th/21st century Islamic reform; orthodox versus heretical schools of thought in India; Reform and Opening Up in China; the Protestant Reformation…

So can we really say (or even hypocritically imply) that to question and to critically reason is a monopoly of the Enlightenment…

Or even of postmodern disillusionment with 20th century mass atrocities?!

I’m really not getting into moral equivalence here…

Or the notion that all of world history is just variations on a single theme; with no individuality, no particular context.

Indeed, critics of “Orientalism” like Edward Said, and critics of foolish historical speculations (critics from China, Europe, the Middle East and everywhere else) are correct that there is no default scheme or model of history, to which “we” (sic) all must be assimilated.

edward said contingency

If this is so, then we should surely be careful about the risk of assuming that any “negative” sides of the figure or representation of Muhammad are all that history has to offer the future.

So… I don’t know for sure how to distinguish the real, historical Muhammad from the various historical interpretations.

I don’t know how “the real Muhammad” would have responded to the atrocities committed in his name.

(And I could say the same for any other religious figure from many centuries back).

But I imagine Muhammad saying something like this to Islamists:

I do not approve of what you do. You tried to compliment me (or so you said) by writing about me, by doing things for me. But doing or saying something for me has often meant following your own desires.

I always said I was not a god, but that I had been given a message. But when I said this message was sure and certain, I didn’t mean that I had given you a complete recipe for solving every problem in the world.

So…. what do you think I actually meant? I am afraid I can’t give you that one.

Yes, I lived on earth once; I live in Paradise; I live in memories. I love all of you: and if you love someone, you don’t constantly instruct them and micromanage them.

You are not infants: you are my friends. And when you are friends, you give people space to grow and to flourish.

I’ve advised you all, because I love you; but the rest is up to you.

Yes, I want you to be proud of me; and I also want to be proud of you.

Where there are friends, there is another friend among them: God.

And God will rejoice with us.

Salaam be with you all.


quran open or closed


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