Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Tim e

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Jianyang Zhang

History 2351


Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1992)


The author of the book Muhammad: A Prophet of Our Time, Karen Armstrong, born on 14

November 1944 is a well-known British author and commentator for her books on

comparative religion. She is a provocative, original thinker on the role of religion in the

contemporary world. Being a religious thinker, she has written more than 20 books on faith

and the major religions, studying what Christianity, Islam and Judaism have in common and

how our faiths transformed history of the world and drive present events.

This first chapter of the book by Karen Armstrong is a masterful nonfiction sketch of Islam's

messenger Muhammad demonstrating an indispensible source in understanding how effort,

chronicle of conflict and religious movements have taken place during the lash of coercion.

Mecca was a well-known and flourishing city, it has become a central trading place for the

Arabs,and however, only a few generations earlier the ancestors did not live an affluent

lifestyle. At the centre of Armstrong's book, is the Prophet Muhammad, a merchant of 7th

century born in Mecca and who grew up to become a political and sacred revolutionary who

devoted his entire life to challenging the existing socioeconomic and cultural standards of the

Quraish power structure (22-23).

In the second chapter, the political and intellectual culture that was dominant in Mecca was

sum up in the term 'Jahiliyah' which according to Armstrong is a state of mind that caused

terror and violence in seventh century Arabia. With the culture of Jahiliyah, a range of

societal ills could be attributed, most of which afflict current societies in the so-called

developed world. For instance, 6 th

and 7 th

century Arabia was categorized by deep economic

inequality or as Armstrong has written "Quraish put in efforts to secure a monopoly of the

north south trade, with which they alone would be allowed to service caravans. Moreover,

they also had control over the mercantile activity within Arabia that had been enthused by the

invasion of worldwide commerce. Muhammad did not openly challenge this system of power

until he received a vision while on Mount Hira. At Mount Hira, Muhammad received the

spirit of revelation embodied in the angel Gabriel, an angel that defied ordinary human and

spatial categories. After the visit from Gabriel, Muhammad began to apply the principles of

this new religion called Islam which means 'submission'. Islamic teachings encouraged

Muslims to "look after the weak and disadvantaged" and "feed the impoverished". These

ethical principles of Islam clashed with those of the Quraish who abandoned the badawah

virtue of generosity and become niggardly, except that they called this astute business sense.

In the third chapter, the flight to Medina (hijrah) by Prophet Muhammad and his followers

was an additional foremost step towards the spreading of the religion. The time before this

was not easy for the Prophet Muhammad to bear, but he was a patient man. When the

Quraish threw filth on him and disturbed him during his prayers, his daughter Fatima burst

into tears when she saw her father tolerating the littleness of the opposition (89). It continues

to describe the on-going development of Islam there and his dicey use of raids on caravans to

provide resources. The discussion of his (and his fellow leaders) efforts to recruit new

converts is ably done. The researcher has returned to Quran from time to time to confirm her

proofs and ideas that are given in the book. Karen also relied on the biography of Prophet of

Ibn Ishaaq and some traditional Islamic books. She has affirmed that the Muslim writers of

the Prophet's biography do not simply rely on their own memories, but were attempting a

serious historical reconstruction. From the economic, political and social context of pre-

Islamic Arabia to Muhammad's Life (from 570 CE to 632 CE), this book offers a rich survey

of almost every facet of life of Muhammad. The author in this book does not shy away from

the most controversial issues regarding life of Muhammad and his teachings. The author also

spoke about his often political marriages to multiple women including his association with

the girl Aisha, who would become his favorite wide.

In the fourth chapter, 'Jihad', Armstrong clarifies the audience the actual significance of jihad

by saying: "But the key meaning of that word, which we hear so often nowadays, is not "holy

war" but the "effort" or "struggle" needed to put the will of God into practice. Muslims are

encouraged to struggle in this attempt in every way: logical, communal, financial, and at

national level (125). Muslims were not allowed to perform Hajj like other Arabs; the hostility

of Quraish was at its peak. Without Mecca, Islam was ruined closely to disappearance.

According to Armstrong on clarifying the significance of jihad certainly the war is not the

merely characteristic of jihad. This characteristic of jihad has its conditions and its details

(126). The author addresses the oft-misunderstood early Islamic relationships with Jews in

western Arabia and she also has confronted direct notions about Islam's supposedly inherent

inclinations towards misogyny and violence. In defending the later areas, authors has

highlighted the opposition of Muhammad to the aggression of pre-Islamic Arabia and as

strange as it seems looking back today, the benefits to the era's widows and orphans of

Islam's endorsement of polygamy.

In the fifth chapter, the author elucidates the implication of salam for Muslims. It denotes the

greeting when two Muslims meet each other. The perception of hilm-tolerance, compassion,

serenity-was, and remains, regulatory values of Islamic practice. It is for this purpose that the

Quran preserves that "the real servants of the Most Gracious are they who walk lightly on the

earth, and who, every time the jahilun talk to them; they reply 'Peace' (salam!)" This is of

great importance within Muslim community and also said to be of great blessing if you first

greet a Muslim with salam (166).

In general, the writing of Karen Armstrong, remains a Western model to support the life and

practices of peace be upon him, and show his wonderful life to the world, however the model

life of the Prophet should be spread and developed in the Western society to know the

Muslim community better. The researcher compared religions wins big readers in the West,

and the clear example is her book Muhammad Prophet for Our Time. Finally, I hope that

scholars, thinkers and researchers spread the concept of Prophetic mercy, and they are able to

translate in different languages . There has been a lot of misperception and commotion

against the Muslim community which has made even the innocent suffer to immense levels.

There should be some sort of awareness done by contemporary authors and print media so

that the misunderstanding against Muslim community and the stereotyped approach should

be discouraged. The change around the world will emerge with such endeavours and I also

wish they could change the classical way of teaching the biography of the Prophet to a new

and modern method based on treatment of problems and issues that are sometimes

misunderstood and bear the consequences (Armstrong).

Work Cited

Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1992). Print.