Table of Contents

Abbreviations Used in the Essay
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Foreword: Dr. John O Voll
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Editor's Note: Sabreen Akhter
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Acknowledgments
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Objectives of the Review
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Attitudes towards Prophet Muhammad
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I. The Seeker of Truth
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II. The Recipient of the Mantle of Prophethood/ The Warner and the Exhorter
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III. The Stoic Optimist
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IV. The Pluralistic Leader
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V. The Courageous Yet Reluctant Warrior
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VI. The Statesman par excellence and the Teacher
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VII. The Compassionate Ruler and Spiritual Leader
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Does this essay cover any new ground?
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Appendices
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The Sources for This Essay

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Foreword

By John O Voll
Georgetown University


The Prophet Muhammad (S) is recognized as having a very significant role in world history. In a widely discussed book identifying the one hundred most important people in history, he is listed in the first place. People view the Prophet from many different perspectives and write about him for many different reasons, and much has been written about him. It is clear that all about him recognize, whether they write to praise or to condemn him, that he is a major historical personality.
Despite the vast body of works written about the Prophet Muhammad (S), there are some gaps. In particular, it is difficult to find a short introduction to the life of the Prophet written from the perspective of the believer but which also recognizes the contributions of contemporary scholarship by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. Such a work is needed by young adults and people who are unfamiliar with the historical and religious sources, but want to know more about the Prophet and his life. Javeed Akhter has succeeded in writing such a book for the use of Muslims and other interested people in countries like the United States where Muslims need such publications both to help educate their children and also to inform their neighbors.
Akhter's approach is to concentrate on the different periods in the life of the Prophet. The seven phases of Muhammad's (S) life introduce the reader not only to the biography of the Prophet but also to important themes in Islamic life and history. In setting the stage at the beginning of the presentation, Dr. Akhter reminds the reader of the importance of maintaining a balance in the portrayal of Muhammad (S). While the Muslim reader is aware of the polemic that has been used by some non-Muslims to attack Muhammad (S) and justifiably rejects such falsehoods, Muslims are also reminded that excessive veneration is not appropriate. The Qur'an emphasizes that Muhammad (S) is "aught but a man" ( Qur'an 17:93). It is the theme of Muhammad (S), the exceptional and influential human being that guides Akhter through his presentation.
It is unnecessary simply to summarize the writing of Dr. Akhter but it might be helpful to highlight some aspects of this biographical presentation. Akhter gives the reader a short but effective portrayal of the time in which Muhammad (S) lived. It was a time of moral confusion and disorganization among the major religious traditions in the Eastern Hemisphere. The most important humans in history have come at such times and the guidance that they provided in times of social and religious turmoil is what gave them their significance in history. It is of interest to note, for example, that all of the first five names mentioned in the list of the one hundred most influential people in history were people who articulated beliefs and concepts for the guidance of humans, rather than being great military conquerors. Four of the five - Muhammad (S), Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Confucius are commonly identified with the establishment of traditions of morality and faith, while the remaining person is Isaac Newton, whose influence came from presenting a new vision of life and universe.
The power of the major leaders in history comes from their ability to help their fellow humans gain new insights into the nature of life and the universe which can help to resolve the great issues of their times. The truly greatest of these leaders are those who bring a vision that is not simply helpful during their lifetime but is understood by humans over many centuries to be a vision for other ages as well. The great prophets and teachers in history both represent a climax of the prior experiences and the gateway to a new era. These leaders thus fulfill the dual responsibility of providing a culmination, and a critique, of what has gone before and of defining new paths for humanity to follow. For Muslims, the content of this vision and message is revelation from God. The words of the Qur'an are not viewed as being the words of Muhammad (S). However, Muhammad (S) plays the role of the messenger and he also is the best exemplar of how humans should live within the guidelines of the revelation. It is for this reason that the specifics of Muhammad's (S) life assume importance for all people.
Muslims from the earliest days treasured reports of incidents in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (S) and preserved them. Many of these accounts or hadith were collected and are the basis for later biographies of the Prophet. The hadith collections provide a great mass of details, and many tales were said by medieval Muslim scholars to not be "sound" traditions. However, as one major Western scholar has noted, "through the mass of all-too-human detail there shines out unmistakably a largeness of humanity, sympathy for the weak, a gentleness that seldom turned to anger save when dishonor seemed to be done to God, something even of shyness in personal intercourse, and a glint of humor all of which contrast so strangely with the prevailing temper and spirit of his age and of his followers that it cannot be other than a reflection of the real man. Akhter makes excellent use of the early biographies and stories about the Prophet's life to present an effective account of this "real man" who possessed a true "largeness of humanity".
The seven phases of the life of Muhammad (S) as portrayed by Akhter show a human being who is distinctively human and facing the problems all humans face. The life of the Prophet becomes, as it has been for fourteen centuries, a model for others to follow. At the same time, the full spectrum of experiences in the Prophet's life as described Akhter goes beyond the life experiences of most individuals. Muhammad (S) was both persecuted and victorious. In tribulation, he is seen as brave, kindly, and humble and in victory he is generous and compassionate. As Akhter shows, in the phases of Muhammad's (S) life, he was a warner-exhorter, a warrior, a statesman, and a ruler, and in each of these roles he was successful in fulfilling his mission. It is this multi-dimensional character of his historical role that gave him, for example, the highest ranking in the list of the one hundred most influential people: "he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels".
The biography of the Prophet as presented by Akhter also provides a sound introduction to Islamic teachings. The primary source used is the Qur'an and the result is a good summary of many important aspects of Islam. By focusing on the life of a human being in the framework of guidance from the Qur'an, this biography also helps to highlight what many people have emphasized: Islam is not simply a set of creeds or beliefs, it is a comprehensive way of life. In the seven phases of Muhammad's (S) life, the reader can find how Muslims lived as a small minority in a non-believing society, as participants in a religiously pluralistic society, and as a majority community. The universality of the message of Islam is reflected in the life of the Prophet. Akhter has provided a helpful starting point for understanding both the message and the human through whom the message was revealed.