Who is the “founder” of Islam? Who “brought” Islam?
Most would respond by saying Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims would give the same answer.
But that is not the correct answer. One may say it is only partially correct.
The traditional thinking is that Islam was born in Arabia in the early Seventh century C.E. That is also only partially true.
Before you get upset, let me explain.
The Qur’an describes Islam as a universal religion with a much broader meaning. God sent the same basic religion to all messengers from Adam and on to Prophet Muhammad, with the same essential message.
The Qur’an repeatedly describes Islam as the “religion of Abraham.” (Din Al Ibrahim). There are numerous references to “this religion” as the “way of Abraham”.
Who can be better in religion than one who submits his whole self to God, does good, and follows the way [faith or religion] of Abraham, the true in Faith? For God did take Abraham for a friend. 4:125
Say (O Muhammad): ‘Surely, (as for) me, my Lord has guided me to the right path; (to) a most right religion, the faith of Abraham, the upright one, and he was not of the polytheists’. 6:161
The Qur’an also calls Abraham, as well as his descendants, Muslim.
Again, please don’t get upset. The description of a “Muslim” as spelled out by the Qur’an is not necessarily the same as the conventional meaning we have become accustomed to. If you believe Islam was brought by Prophet Muhammad, and that a Muslim is one who followed after Prophet Muhammad, then calling anyone Muslim before his time would not make sense to you.
But the Qur’an repeatedly mentions many prophets before Muhammad as ‘Muslims’.
He has chosen you and has not laid upon you a hardship in religion; the faith of your father Abraham; He named you Muslims before, and in this (scripture). 22:78
And who forsakes the religion of Abraham but he who makes himself a fool, and most certainly We chose him in this world, and in the hereafter he is most surely among the righteous. When his Lord said to him, Be a Muslim (submit), he said: “I submit myself to the Lord of the worlds.” 2:130–131
Islam- One Religion
This may be an oversimplification, but Islam means ‘submission’ (to One true God) and a Muslim is a submitter (to One true God).
The Qur’an has made numerous references to Islam as the same religion brought by all other prophets, starting from Adam and on. Here is a small sample.
The same religion has He established for you [Muhammad] as that which He enjoined on Noah—that which We have sent by inspiration to you—and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: Namely, that you should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other things than God, hard to the unbelievers is that which you call them to. God chooses to Himself those whom He pleases, and guides to Himself those who turn (to Him). 42:13
Verily this Islam is your religion, is one religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me and I am your only Lord, therefore worship Me Alone. And they broke their religion (into sects) between them: to Us shall all come back. Therefore, whoever shall do of good deeds and he is a believer, there shall be no denying of his exertion, and surely We will write (It) down for him. 21:92–94
O messengers! [Note the plural used] Eat of pure things and do good deeds, certainly I have knowledge of all your actions. In fact, your religion is one religion, and I am your Lord: so fear Me Alone. Yet people have divided themselves into factions and each faction rejoices in its own doctrines—well! Leave them in their heedlessness for an appointed time. 23:51–53
One might find an apparent contradiction in calling Islam the one religion God sent down, as well as the “religion of Abraham.” So how about the prophets before Abraham? What religion were they preaching?
The Qur’an, as mentioned in preceding discussions, praises Abraham as a noble servant of God, and one may conclude that by referring to the universal religion Islam as the religion of Abraham, the Qur’an intended to highlight Abraham’s key role in propagating that religion by linking it to him, who in turn was following the same universal religion.
So how is Prophet Muhammad viewed by Muslims? Why is he still considered to be the ‘founder of Islam’?
This in no way undermines the highest position Prophet Muhammad holds in the hearts of Muslims, and in the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an is full of praises for Prophet Muhammad.The Qur’an calls him ‘mercy for the worlds’. His name means “the praised one”. He has several nicknames in the Qur’an, such as Ya’sin and Ta’ha, in reference to his perfection, and being the beloved of God. He is the focal point for Muslims and considered the role model. (Whether we follow the examples of the role model is another story). In fact the Shahada, or testimony for Muslims, is not complete without believing “Muhammad is God’s Prophet”.
I hope no one thinks the article in any way lowers his status in Islam, as he clearly is the front and center in Islam. Just want to make sure that my immense love for him is still reflected in here. I will write an article focused on Prophet Muhammad, but the subject of this post is Islam as a way of Abraham.
Prophet Muhammad did not “bring” Islam. He completed it. Many Muslims would argue that he perfected it. And the following verse from the Qur’an supports this view.
This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion. 5:3
Shia Muslims point to this verse in reference to him appointing Ali, his son in law, as his heir (‘whoever I am Mawla-guardian’ of, Ali is his Mawla’), as he was returning from his last Hajj, a short time before Prophet Muhammad passed away.
It would be accurate to say that the Islam we see today was indeed ‘brought’ by Prophet Muhammad in that the rituals, and the sharia or jurisprudence, were introduced through him. Similarly, the sharia of Moses (Law-Torah) was introduced to the Israelites, and the sharia of Jesus to his disciples. The following verse explains that every nation was given a set of laws, or sharia.
…. To each among you have We prescribed a law and an open way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single nation [community-Ummah], but He intended to test you in what He has given you: so vie with one another [hasten to] in good works. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute. 5:48
Since God is the one who will show us the truth, so let us not dispute. Let’s vie with one another in good works.