Saturday, October 16, 2010

Teaching Muhammad

The church I attend offers Wednesday evening classes on a variety of subjects. Dinner is at six, followed by the class of your choice.

A few months ago, they asked me if I would be interested in leading a book discussion of the Bernard Lewis book The Crisis of Islam. I replied that merely discussing a book about Islam could be boring, but a study of the life of the historical Muhammad would be fascinating. They then asked me to teach a three-hour class, one hour per week for three weeks, on the life of Muhammad.

The response was amazing. The turnout for the class was higher than any the church has ever offered, and the attendance increased week by week. This was not due to my being a fantastic teacher (well, to be honest, I hope I did a good job) but because this is an important subject that has caught the interest of a lot of people. Whether it's burning Qurans in Florida or building mosques near Ground Zero, things just keep popping up to peak people's interest in things related to Islam.

The class was only about the life of Muhammad; it was not about the Quran, or Islam and Muslims today. Three sessions is actually a good amount of time to devote to the Prophet's life, since it naturally divides into the three time periods of Jahiliyah (the ignorance that prevailed before his first revelation, Dawah (preaching Islam in Mecca), and Jihad (spreading his empire from Medina).

If I taught it again and had some more time, I would incorporate more of the Quran. Many people do not realize the Quran was not composed as, for example, much of the New Testament where Paul or other authors simply sat down with a quill at a desk to write. The Quran is a series of  "revelations" given to Muhammad in response to particular events in his life. When Muhammad was rejected by the Quraysh tribe in Mecca, he received revelations to confront that rejection. When the Jews in Medina refused to accept him as a prophet, he was given revelations to challenge them. When he wanted to marry his daughter-in-law Zainab, Allah gave him a revelation authorizing him to do that. When his wife Ayesha was suspected of adultery, he was given a revelation declaring her innocence. When he promised his wife Hafsah he would never again sleep with her slave Mary the Copt, Allah sent him a revelation absolving him of his promise.

People often try to make sense out of the Quran without understanding this historical context. Knowing the events in Muhammad's life that prompted the individual revelations over the last 23 years of his life can make it much more interesting. Relating those biographical incidents to current events today can also help understand how Muslims today - moderates as well as Jihadists - interpret the Quran and its impact upon their daily lives.


Traeh said...

Have you had a chance to read Mark Durie's book, The Third Choice?

Best book I've ever read about Islam (and dhimmitude).

Traeh said...

Correction: I'm only about half way through it.

Quotable Quotes: said...

Thanks, Traeh....hadn't heard of that book.