Who was Muhammad?
Given that we now have cartoons of Muhammad as a bomber, as a devil, as a blindfolded man bristling with knives, flanked by wide-eyed burqa'd women, I thought it might be a good time to talk a little bit about who Muhammad really was.
Muhammad was a man, just like other men. He recieved revelation from God in the form of the Qur'an, but he remained a man. His character was loving, warm, and forgiving. He was modest and painstakingly just. Although he had many opportunities for self-aggrandizement, for taking advantage of his position as a prophet-ruler, he did not, living a very humble life of poverty. He was known to love horses, the color green, and to be fond of women and children.
As a young man, he was known among his people as, "al-Amin," the trustworthy. He proved to be so responsible and competant that the woman he worked for, Khadija, proposed to him. Though she was some 2o years older than him, a widow with children of her own, he agreed. He came to cherishe her so greatly that after her death he would turn pale at the mention of her name, and her memory evoked such powerful emotions that Aishah, often regarded as the Prophet's favorite wife, was jealous of their relationship.
Muhammad was a spiritual man; he did not follow the pagan traditions of his people, but would retreat to a cave to meditate for long hours. During one of these sessions, when he was 40, he began receiving revelations. Soon thereafter he began to teach what he was receiving. There were many who believed he was indeed a prophet of God and accepted his teachings. Others were less receptive. Some were down right nasty -- insulting him, dumping camel intestines on his back while he prayed, setting their children to throw stones at him, and eventually boycotting the community, murdering its most vulnerable members and attempting to murder the Prophet himself.
As his following grew, so too did the opposition. Finally, he and the believers of Mecca were invited to come to Madinah to escape the persecution. They fled, leaving behind their their homes and all their possessions other than what they could carry on their backs. From that time forward, Muhammad was the judge/ruler of Madinah. He continued to live in poverty, taking only that which he needed. He was known to be so just that members of other faiths would come to him for rulings. Hostilites with the Meccans continued and several battles were fought. In the end, the Muslims returned to Mecca triumphant.
More important to me, and to many Muslims, than the history of the events in Prophet Muhammad's life are the details we know about him that endear his figure to us. That he kissed his grandsons in public, even though that was seen as being weak and soft by many in his community. He cried over his mother's grave. When the people of Taif set their children to throw stones at him, he prayed God to forgive their city, and when he reentered Mecca rather than taking vengeance, he offered forgiveness and amnesty. At times he laughed so heartily that his molars showed, and he had a playful streak that led him to tease an old woman. He ran races with his wife. He made mistakes and had fears. He gave bad advice to some farmers, and turned away from an old, blind man to teach some rich, famous men about Islam, and later admitted they were errors. After receiving the first revelation, he ran to his wife and told her to cover him up, he wasn't sure if he was possessed or crazy or the truth from God. And when he made a treaty that in the short run was disadvantageous, but good for the long run, and he was afraid his people would not follow him, he turned to his wife for advice.
The pure simple humanness of the Prophet allows the rest of us to be human as well. To love our children beyond the bounds of sanity, to make mistakes in our lives and not be devastated by it, to have doubts and worries about God and His will for us, to have faith without having to be perfect believers. These details of his life bring alive the man that was Muhammad, and inspire those of us who follow him with love and reverence.
No wonder we're angered and saddened when his character is slandered and he's portrayed as a bomber, or a devil, as misogynistic and violent. Even if people who don't think he was a Prophet can acknowledge his widsom and kindness, and the beautiful spirituality of Islam.
For anyone who is interested in knowing more about the Prophet, I reccomend the biography by Martin Lings. It is a very easy read, feeling almost like a novel, and while it is a bit romanticized, it is based on the earliest sources and considered extremely authentic.