Muhammad’s special relationship with God makes him the closest being to celestial perfection. This phenomena renders his effective legacy that of moral superiority, in addition to various roles he takes across the Islamic world, including the embodiment of faith, love, and one’s best self.
Al-Bukhari relates Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey, and in doing so, he creates an image of Muhammad as faith. In it, Muhammad has a vision of himself in heaven. His heart is purified in “a gold basin full of faith, and the Prophet Muhammad meets the prophets who came before him and visits God. Whereupon this encounter, he discusses how many times a day his community should pray. This hadith is the representation of Muhammad’s sway with God. Besides being evidence of Muhammad’s special relationship with God, the Night Journey elucidates a picture of the Prophet who is humble and whose heart is literally filled with faith. Shepard says that following the Sunna of the Prophet is indispensable to calling oneself a Muslim, and the hadith creates an image of a Muhammad who is humble and special to God. Not only is his heart become full of faith, but Muhammad travels through these layers of heaven with the result being a successful negotiation with God, the supreme being. Muhammad recognizes the importance of knowing the limits of what to ask from God because of his faith in the truth of God. When Moses tells him to go back and ask for less prayers a day, Muhammad replies that he is content and will submit to God. In this story, Muhammad acts an intercessor between humans and God because of his faith.
The truck art in Pakistan, specifically the example which Elias provides, creates an image of Muhammad as a Muslim. I do not mean as a Muslim in broader sense of anyone who says they are Muslims, but rather it creates an image of Muhammad really being within this truck owner spiritually. At the top, there are images of the Ka’ba and the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. This symbolizes both these locations as equally important. The Ka’ba symbolizes God, Abraham, and to a lesser extent Muhammad, as well as the center of the world, and the Prophet’s mosque symbolizes Muhammad and his message from God. Additionally, the truck’s name translates to “Divine Caravan,” which seems reminiscent of Muhammad’s own work as a merchant. The focus of the art is obviously Muhammad, but it is also the personal religion of the truck driver. They see themselves within Muhammad – a merchant of goods, travelling around the country as well as deeply religious persons. Based off this strong imagery, I think Muhammad is themselves, a reflection of who they are faithful to and how they would like to be, in a perfect world.
Malcolm X sees Muhammad as unifying. Although Malcolm X rarely mentions Muhammad in his recount of participating in the hajj, the hajj transforms him as a Muslim. In the letter written and published recounting his experience, he says:
Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad, and all the other prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.
In this passage, he encapsulates the transformative nature of hajj and thus Muhammad. During hajj, the rituals are performed in unison, and in ihram, the constant maintaining of a ritual state of purity. Across all races, Malcolm experienced this overwhelming and wholly transformative nature of being one with a crowd of thousands. Muhammad comes to represent, for Malcolm X, the possibilities of Islam when it comes to erasing “the race problem” and in the broader sense, an end to racially based hate. He is further drawn to the idea of equality because he finds this notion of true brotherhood intoxicating. The welcoming nature of his host country created hope in the possibility of human goodness and true unification of all persons, or as Malcolm X calls it, brotherhood.
Broadly, Muhammad is a moral authority. However, the Sunna of the Prophet and the correct way of interpreting and applying them to one’s own life can be deeply controversial and not universal in Islam, and is reflected in an individual’s practice of Islam, as seen in the truck art in Pakistan. Whether it is the transforming power Muhammad’s religious legacy imparted on Malcolm X, true faith in the Night Journey, or in various other images and views of Muhammad, he has an authority because his life is the example for all Muslims to follow. Above all these other images, morality is the one quality which seems completely identified with Muhammad.
In summation, Muhammad embodies different qualities to Muslims, based off of their cultural and religious contexts, but he is consistently the ideal human being in Islam. When in doubt, one can look towards the Sunna of the Prophet for guidance in earthly matters.
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