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What is the Significance of a Non-Muslim Accepting the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad?

 

On occasion, one aspect that comes to the fore during discussions about relationships between religions and dialogue is how non-Muslims view the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The following questions often come up: what do those non-Muslims who give importance to relationships with Muslims and dialogue have to say about the prophethood of Muhammad? To what extent is the opinion of non-Muslims about the prophethood of Muhammad taken into consideration when Muslims establish relationships with them? If a non-Muslim has made a positive statement about the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad in one form or another, does this indicate a different approach from the traditional non-Muslim attitude?

In the context of relationships between members of different religions, particularly when concerned with the Christian view, the following objections are sometimes made by Muslims: Although we accept Prophet Jesus, why do they not accept the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad? When this objection is considered, both from an Islamic perspective and from the position adopted by non-Muslims, it can be seen that it is not really justified. It would be helpful to determine the Muslim attitude involved here before examining the Christian attitude. This objection is based on an argumentative form of discrimination, separating Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad into "theirs" and "ours". In Islam it is abundantly clear that to discriminate in such a way is wrong; Prophet Muhammad was one of the Prophets of Islam - like Prophet Jesus - who is mentioned in the Quran. As with all the Prophets, Muhammad is a link in the chain of prophets who taught the revelations of Allah to people and who brought the message of tawheed(Unity). Therefore, this approach, which is based on the argument "although we accept Jesus, who is part of their belief, as a prophet, why do they not accept Prophet Muhammad as a prophet?" is acting as if we are doing some great service to the Christians, presenting them with some kind of concession, and such an approach is based on faulty premises. When this argument is looked at from the Christian point of view, the fact that such an argument is faulty is abundantly clear; here we need to examine who or what Prophet Jesus represents. The Prophet Jesus who has a place in Islamic belief and the Jesus who belongs to Christianity are not the same person. Prophet Jesus in Islam was a person or a prophet; like all the other prophets before him he communicated the revelation of Allah and struggled with oppression, cruelty and other bad treatment throughout his life. In the Christian tradition Jesus was a divine being; he was the divine Son of God incarnated on the earth as a Messiah for the salvation of humanity. Therefore, there is no relationship between the divine Son, Jesus, the Messiah in Christianity, and Prophet Jesus in Islam. In this connection, the Muslim acceptance of Jesus as a prophet is not a belief that can be accepted from a Christian perspective.

When the matter is examined from the aspect of accepting Muhammad as a prophet from a Christian perspective, the argument above is unacceptable, because from a Christian perspective the Son of God was incarnated on the earth and crucified, and from the aspect of Divine salvation a new period began. In this period, the sole means of salvation was to believe in the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. There was no need for a prophet in this era. To expect a Christian with such an outlook to accept a person who refuted the Trinity and the belief in the Son of God as their salvation as a Prophet of God is just not reasonable.

On the other hand, it is known that some Christian authors and thinkers, when asked if Prophet Muhammad could be accepted by them as a Prophet, have emphasized that this is possible. For example, an author who makes such an argument is W. Montgomery Watt. In an evaluation of Islam, Montgomery Watt states: "For a Christian to avoid answering this question when a Muslim requires a clear answer would be cowardice", and then he goes on to discuss the prophethood of Muhammad, finally saying: "I personally accept that Muhammad was a prophet."

In truth, such an approach on the part of some non-Muslim authors and thinkers (in fact, some within the church) has excited a few Muslims, opening the way for the formation of the opinion that these people have finally understood the truth and have come to the point of acceptance. In fact, some Muslims have understood these people (openly or secretly) to be Muslims. Well, is this actually the case? Without a doubt, this situation should be taken individually for every non-Muslim writer or thinker who has stated their opinion about Prophet Muhammad. However, if we examine the matter working from the example of W. Montgomery Watt, it can be seen that there are important details that are present in the acceptance of Prophet Muhammad as a prophet by a non-Muslim. These details give us information about the basic criteria involved in this acceptance. For example, Watt, when evaluating a related matter, before stating that he believes in Muhammad's prophethood, draws attention to the differences between the concept of prophethood in the Islamic belief and that of the Biblical tradition. In the Biblical tradition, every prophet receives a revelation that is concerned with the particular situation of the people at his time, and in contrast to Islam, the prophets are affected by the character of the people and the conditions of the time in which they live, thus interpreting the revelation they receive from God and informing the people of it. In the light of this information Watt, when asked whether or not Muhammad was a prophet, states that he has accepted that Muhammad was a prophet in keeping with the concept of Biblical prophethood. Along with this acceptance, he states that there are incorrect expressions, such as the claim that the Quran denies Jesus' crucifixion or that Christians believe in three gods. OK, Watt has accepted Prophet Muhammad as a prophet in this context; does this mean that he accepts sense that Prophet Muhammad was a prophet in the real (Islamic) sense? It can be clearly understood that his acceptance of Prophet Muhammad as a prophet does not fall within the criteria for an Islamic prophet. Watt is of the opinion that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received some divine revelations and had some visions; however, Prophet Muhammad interpreted these according to his own concepts and historical conditions and then passed them on to the people. According to Watt, it is for this reason that Prophet Muhammad made some wrong claims and provided some incorrect information in the Quran. It is clear that this approach of Watt to Muhammad's prophethood is not very different from the traditional Christian approach, and is an interpretation of Prophet Muhammad and the Quran based on Christianity and the Bible. Therefore, while there can be no doubt that every explanation concerned with Prophet Muhammad's prophethood is important, the explanations of Prophet Muhammad's prophethood made by Watt and other non-Muslims, who are acting from their own traditions, should not be loaded with meanings that are out of context.

 

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Şinasi Gündüz

Professor Şinasi Gündüz, the head of the Religious History department at the Faculty of Theology, Istanbul University, graduated from the Faculty of Theology, Ankara University in 1984. In 1991 he completed his doctorate at the Middle East Research Department, Manchester University. In 1995 he received his associate professorship from Ondokuz Mayıs University, Faculty of Theology, and he became a professor in 2003 at Istanbul University, Faculty of Theology. Still head of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department at Istanbul University, Faculty of Theology, Şinasi Gündüz is a member of the Executive Board of the Faculty of Theology, Istanbul University and is a member of the Senate of Istanbul University; Professor Gündüz has published a large number of international articles. He has written sections for international publications and presented articles in a number of refereed journals and at international academic conferences, making great contributions to the field of religious history. In 2004 Professor Gündüz was seen worthy of the Successful Researcher Award by the Istanbul University Rector's Office and in 2005 by the Istanbul University Academic Research Projects Institute.

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