Verily in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent model for everyone who looks forward [with hope and awe] to God and the Last Day, and remembers God unceasingly. Sûrat Al-Aḥzâb, 33:21
Those of us who follow Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, are we “Muhammadans”? Our apologists have often rejected this term as having been misappropriated by Western academics (the classic “Orientalists”) who assumed that a comparative religion approach to Islam would yield results worthy of those conversant with Enlightenment values of rationality—logic applied to observables—and humanism—‘man as the measure of all things.’
How could it be objectionable for us Muslims to be associated with the name of Muhammad ﷺ, whom the Quran defines as the conclusion and ‘sealing’ culmination (khâtama al-nabiyyina) of the prophets” (Sûrat Al-Aḥzâb, 33:40)? Yes, we are God-centered and we worship and submit to Allah alone—without partners or peers.
Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and women, and all truly devout … and true to their word, and … patient in adversity, and … who humble themselves [before God], and … give in charity, and … self-denying … mindful of their chastity, and who … remember God, unceasingly: for all of them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward. Sûrat Al-Aḥzâb, 33:35
And yes, in one way, we Muslims are worlds apart from many of other faiths, most notably of the would-be followers of Jesus, now called “Christians,” i.e., “those who call upon the name of ‘Christ.’ We Muslims have no mandate to “call upon” our Prophet; we are taught to take our concerns directly to our Almighty, Merciful Allah—directly, the same way that Prophet Muhammad did. (Also, by the way, the same way that Jesus did!)
Muhammad ﷺ is our human model and God-sent messenger of guidance, not our ersatz God, or His cosmic partner. As reported in the Aljumuah article, “Monotheism in Interfaith Exchange, Part 1,” those who go by the name ‘Christian’ have been conditioned to worship God through Jesus, never apart from him.
Believing Jesus to be their intercessor with God (Bible, Letter to the Hebrews 7:24-25), Christians are specifically instructed (due to a misinterpretation/ mistranslation of Gospel of John 16:23-24) to end their supplications with a wording such as, “In the name of Jesus we pray,”—even though Jesus’ model prayer taught to his Disciples includes no hint at such phrasing (Bible, Gospel according to Matthew: 6:9-13). Rather, Jesus’ model prayer ends simply with “Âmên.”
For orthodox Christians a prayer [to God] that does not call upon Jesus as their intermediary with God is not a Christian prayer, says the leading British Biblical scholar, James D. G. Dunn, as noted in the same Aljumuah article referred to above. There he characterized “monotheism” in Christian belief as more accurately to be labeled “Christological monotheism.” Therein we see a theological (i.e., philosophy of God) system in which the Creator is said to have manifested himself on earth as a fellow human being, namely as the man Jesus, who is said to have been invested with the power of God’s anointed ruler (“Christ”).
Starting with such a premise, then, if Jesus is “Son” of his “Father (God),” then—through logical deduction—Jesus would be understood to carry a ‘divine’ essence as part of his inherent being. But or our present purposes, let us leave aside those complications; they are thoroughly addressed in the above-referred to “Monotheism” series.
Label by Analogy
Thus, for us Muslims living in a Christian-majority society in the West, one dilemma facing us in our self-representation is how we deal with the existing analogical parallel:
Christ: Christian :: Muhammad: Muhammadan
This formula can be read: ‘Christ’ is to ‘Christian’ as ‘Muhammad’ is to ‘Muhammadan.’ So, if a ‘Christian’ is a follower of Christ (meaning Jesus), then a follower of Muhammad is a ____?____.
Yes, by analogy the correct answer would be “Muhammadan.” But do Muslims mean the same thing as do Christians by the phrase, “follower of”? Not at all. Why not? Because Muhammad is our belovèd prophet, our most immediate perfect hero, but not our object of worship, nor our intermediary with God—as in the Christian mold.
In fact, the earliest followers of Jesus were known in Biblical documents, not as ‘Christians,’ but as Nazarenes (Bible: Gospel of Matthew 2:23, 21:10-11, 26:71; Acts of the Apostles 2:22, 10:38). Similarly, in the Quran we find the same designation naṣârâ (plural) used for followers of Jesus as a group (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:140), and naṣrâniyyan (Sûrat Âl-͑ Imrân, 3:67) is used in reference to an individual follower of Jesus. Such naṣârâ were those who followed in the tradition of Jesus and of his personally-mentored Disciples—those Disciples [all of them Jews!] who were commissioned by Jesus to go throughout the known world and take his message [to their fellow Jews] (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18).
It was only after the time of Jesus that those associated with Paul came to be called ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:27). It would be good if any new translations of the Quran into English, or any revisions of existing translations, could reflect this distinction between the original Jesus and the distorted, ecclesiastically-entrenched version associated with Paul. Thus, rather than “Christian/s” the Quran translation would read “follower/s of Jesus.” Accordingly, we would rework our analogy thus:
Jesus from Nazareth : the Nazarene : : Muhammad : ____?_____
OR (?): Jesus the Nazarene : a Nazarene : : Muhammad : ____?_____
OR SIMPLY: Jesus the Nazarene : a follower of Jesus : : Muhammad : a follower of Muhammad.
This revision would more accurately reflect the corrected first part of the analogy to indicate that those who followed Prophet Jesus (“the Nazarene”/ “from Nazareth’—or, possibly, “the Nazarite,” meaning a person under a Nazarite vow) formed a community called “Nazarenes” [or “Nazarites”?] —in the Quran, naṣârâ).
So now then, what about the last term in the analogical formula? Is one who follows Prophet Muhammad to be called a “Muhammadan”? No, the coined term “Muhammadan” works only by analogy to a false belief that the true followers of Jesus were those who believed in the Pauline ‘God-man’ figure as packaged [in the absence of Jesus] into Paul’s term “Christ.” Paul has improvised this ‘Christ’ persona and linked it to Jesus—and this has been expounded thoroughly for us in the 13 writings attributed to Paul in the New Testament.
Riding a wave of ensuing success, Paul then audaciously popularized in his personal preaching tours what amounts essentially to a mystery cult persona—a one-better ‘knock-off’ copy of other mystery cult god-men like those dominating the pagan Roman world of the time.
Undeniably, Muhammad considered himself a muslim, historically never a “Muhammadan,” and his followers from the start were accordingly called muslims, following the Quranic wording and the Prophet’s usage. In fact, one of the emphases of the Quran is that believers of all times, including those who followed Jesus and Moses, had been and will be those in self-surrender or in submission [islâm] to Allah [that is, to the one God] as muslims.
Say: “We believe in God, and in that which has been bestowed from on high upon us, and that which has been bestowed upon Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, and that which has been vouchsafed to Moses and Jesus, and that which has been vouchsafed to all the [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them. And it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.” Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:136
Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him; and those who were vouchsafed revelation aforetime took, out of mutual jealousy, to divergent views [on this point] only after knowledge [thereof] had come unto them… Sûrat Âl-CImrân, 3:19
For, if one goes in search of a religion other than self-surrender unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come he shall be among the lost. Sûrat Âl-CImrân, 3:85
Today have I … willed that self-surrender unto Me shall be your religion. Sûrat Al-Mâ`idah, 5:3
Yes, we are followers of Muhammad ﷺ, and proudly so. We follow a noble prophet of sublime character, whose life has been voluminously attested and preserved in unbroken historical chain—oral and written—through an active science of Ḥadîth.
Christians should ask themselves, “Would Jesus have considered himself a “Christian”? Would he have accepted the label “Christian” for his true followers? If he gave himself, or his followers, a distinctive label, what would it have been? (CLUE: His followers were all Jews and he put himself forward as [messianic] reformer of his [Jewish] people—not as savior of the world.) In the New Testament Gospel documents he refers to himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” and his followers simply as “my disciples.” Others referred to him as “Nazarene” or as the leader of the Nazarenes:
Matthew 2: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
John 18:4-5 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said.
Acts 24: 4-5 “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.
Thus, a more accurate analogy [connecting prophet to his true follower], based upon historical labels accepted/ intended by each prophet, would be:
Jesus of Nazareth : the Nazarene : : Muhammad, a muslim : a Muslim
OR: Jesus the Nazarene: a Nazarene : : Muhammad, a muslim : a Muslim
In fact, the whole analogy business breaks down on the issue of relevance in practical modern usage, since the label “Nazarene” is used currently to self-identify followers of Jesus only by a restricted group belonging to a particular Protestant denomination of Christendom, originating in 19th century America.
Historicity and Identity
No one doubts the historicity of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who was the object of thousands of eye-witness accounts, meticulously preserved outside of Islam’s official Scripture, the Quran.
By contrast, a reputable ‘historical Jesus’ in modern academia, hardly exists outside the limits of Church-collected documents, which reflect eye-witness reliability only at several removes. Accordingly, some modern Western scholars have dared to portray Christendom’s version of Jesus as no more than a mythological figure reflecting the Pauline ‘Christ’!
In fact, Paul’s ‘Christ’ figure is best explained as a construct of pagan resources, grafted into the historically prestigious tradition accorded to Bani Isrâ’îl from before the time of Jesus □, with the result of offering an ultimate agent of mystical ‘salvation’—from the guilt of wrongdoing, marketed to a world lost in corruptive imperial oppression of the many by a few—to include Jews and Gentiles alike. This theological interpretation is the official Church version of the man Jesus that has come down to Christians today.
While we Muslims reject the mythological ‘Christ’ figure projected by the writings of Paul in the New Testament, we do believe in the historicity of Jesus as a major prophet of Allah. The Quran refers to Jesus as “messiah” —but not with the doctrinal implications of Paul’s term “Christ.” While “Χριστος” [pronounced christos, transliterated into English as “Christ,” and meaning “anointed one/ chosen one”] is the Greek language version of the Hebrew language term ‘messiah’ [‘anointed / chosen one’], the two terms are not co-equal. The Quran honors the Hebrew meaning, but not Paul’s transformed, theological sense attached to his use of “Christ.”
Let us accept, and live with the idea that we Muslims are “Muhammadans,” though not in parallel with the sense in which ‘Christians’ intend to worship God through a divine Son, ‘Christ.’ We cherish and constantly draw upon the memory of our belovèd Prophet, Muhammad □, as mankind’s latest, perfect model of behavior and as an impeccable source of the Creator’s Guidance for mankind.
Our Law, our sharîCah, is directly derived from the Quran—communicated for mankind through Muhammad—and also from his exemplary embodiment of that God-given Guidance. In that sense we Muslims are ‘Muhammadans.’ True, ‘Muhammadan’ is not our God-given label: We belong, inshâ’Allah, to those who have submitted to the Creator’s prophetic guidance across the ages. We are muslims.
But since we are already referred to by a label [‘Muhammadan’] well-established in the non-Muslim world, why not then fill this label-category known to them with correct information focused on the biography of our Prophet ‘Muhammad’?!
We live in a time in which—in all spheres of knowledge—old paradigms are actively being replaced with revisions intended to encompass validated, previously known facts while enhancing those with new discoveries and more defensible interpretations. Muslims have an established presence in, and familiarity with, the West. As a community we are highly educated. Let us use our collective expertise to fill the term ‘Muhammadan’ with the correct perspective and its true narrative. Our Western world—now more than ever—is listening, ready to hear our side of the story.
Call to Self-definition and to Tweaking Public Perceptions
Let us Muslims allow our ‘Muhammadanism’ to be a card to play in our self-identification as those who ‘submit to God/Allah.’ Let us not reject altogether the Western term ‘Muhammadanism’ just because it isn’t our perfect, God-given label. Let us, instead, re-define their label ‘Muhammadanism’ –and thereby correct their understanding of ‘Muhammad’—in the public spaces in which we live and work.
Rather than hoping to dissolve away the historically negative connotations of such terms as ‘Muhammadanism’ through means of forbidding their wrongly-defined terminology, let us re-habilitate their terminology, at the same time that we present to them our God-given label. When correct information arrives presented in clear daylight, God-willing, malicious propaganda and half-truths can fade and hasten away, its purveyors then in disrepute. Let us get around to this with our financial and human resources.
The Nobility of Muhammad and ‘His’ Religion
As for those who deliberately smear and defame Muhammad ﷺ, Islam and Muslims, Allah has already spoken:
Their parable is that of people who kindle a fire: but as soon as it has illumined all around them, God takes away their light and leaves them in utter darkness, wherein they cannot see: deaf, dumb, blind—and they cannot turn back. … those who are bent on denying the truth say, “What could [your] God mean by this parable?” In this way does He cause many a one to go astray, just as He guides many a one aright: but none does He cause thereby to go astray save the iniquitous, who break their bond with God after it has been established [in their nature] and cut asunder what God has bidden to be joined, and spread corruption on earth: these it is that shall be the losers. Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:17-18, 26c-27
For all of us, Muslim or non-Muslim, Allah offers guidance with undisguised threats and promises in order to shunt us towards success in decision-making choices—choices in keeping with our inherent needs and nature:
O mankind! Worship your Sustainer, who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him … do not, then, claim that there is any power that could rival God, when you know [that He is one]. And if you doubt any part of what We have bestowed from on high, step by step, upon our servant [Muhammad], then produce a sûrah of similar merit, and call upon any other than God to bear witness for you – if what you say is true! And if you cannot do it –and most certainly you cannot do it—then be conscious of the fire whose fuel is human beings and stones which awaits all who deny the truth! Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:21, 22b-24
Our Mandate as the People of Muhammad
In all aspects of life we face consequences resulting from negative and positive choices. As the people of Muhammad ﷺ, we are to be a mutual aid society to each other, taking responsibility for our collective success:
In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state! Sûrat Âl-͑ Imrân, 3:103-104
The basis for our mutual edification—and thus dawah to mankind—is the simple guidance confirmed to us through Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:
You are indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for [the good of] mankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and you believe in God. Sûrat Âl-͑ Imrân, 3:110a
Let us be bona fide muslims, the people of Muhammad—or, ‘Muhammadans,’ if they like—authentically defining for them the persona of the human prophet Muhammad and what it means to follow him in submitting to Allah; it is Allah upon whom alone we call for help and to whom alone we call each other—and all mankind—for the worship of the One God.
Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet; [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender! Sûrat Al-Aḥzâb 33:56-57