Life – An Exalted Destiny – Aga Khan III

Life - An Exalted Destiny - Aga Khan III Life is a great and noble calling; not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can, but a lofty and exalted destiny.

Muhammad, Prophet and Statesman — by Diana Steigerwald


Dr. Diana Steigerwald

Dr. Diana Steigerwald

The following is the first chapter from Dr. Diana Steigerwald’s wonderful book Diversity in Islamic History. It is her wish to provide a free copy to each and every person in the world so that they would understand Islam and its history and so make educated opinions of what Islam really is.

The PDF version of the chapters has now been made available for download for free. All I ask in return is if you can please log your vote of thanks and comments at the bottom of this article to let Diana know in your own words, what you think about this chapter and also the rest of her book.
Nina Jaffer, Editor and Publisher, The Ismaili Web



Dr. Steigerwald is an expert in the History of Islamic Thought specialising in theology, philosophy, and mysticism. She has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from McGill University (Montreal). She has lectured at different universities in Canada and United States.  Her first two books analyzed the works of al-Shahrastānī (1086-1153) who is recognized as an influential Muslim theologian and as an historian of religions. He was among the pioneers in using a scientific approach to the study of religions. Her second book is an annotated French translation of a work written  in Persian Majlis by al-Shahrastānī, which reveals particularly the esoteric and mystical facets of his thought. L’Islam:  les  valeurs  communes  au  Judéo-Christianisme  is  her  third  book  which  was  reviewed  through  Les  Éditions Médiaspaul (Paris). Her book develops different themes of Muslim ethics such as: tolerance, brotherhood, faith, prayers, prophecy, justice, and death. For each topic, she highlighted several concepts that Islam shares with the Bible, different Jewish and Christian traditions, and apocryphal  literature. Her work emphasises  the common principles of  the  faith shared by  these  three monotheistic religions. It shows the affinities of Muslim ethics with Judeo Christian ethics.  This present book contains basic knowledge about Islam as well as showing its great historical diversity. In addition to her books, Diana has over than thirty published articles in academic publications and various encyclopaedias. This book is her fourth Nazrana of Time and Knowledge offered to the entire world.



Diversity in Islamic History by Diana Steigerwald




The religion of Islam, revealed to Muhammad in 610, has shaped the cultural, religious,
ethical, and scientific heritage of many nations. Some contemporary historians argue that
there  is substantial proof  in  the historical  record of Muhammad’s existence as a man,
while what is known about the life of Jesus is exclusively derived from the scriptures of
the  Christian  Church.  Therefore  they  consider Muslim  primary  sources  to  be  more
reliable than Christian ones. Compared to the reality of Muhammad, Jesus is a mythical
figure. Arnold Toynbee explains:


The  sources  for  the  study  of  Islamic  history,  from Muhammad’s  lifetime
onwards,  are  copious,  and  many  of  them  are  of  first-rate  value  from  the
historian’s professional point of view. Muhammad’s career, unlike Jesus’s, can
be followed point by point —and, in some of its chapters, almost day by day―
in  the  full  light  of  history.  But  these  valuable  historical  records  are  all  in
Arabic; and this pulls up short the Western historian who has been following
the history of South-West Asia and Egypt in Greek and Latin records over a
span of nearly twelve hundred years… (Toynbee, 464)


Since the 1960s, Western scholars have made considerable effort to translate and analyze
these Arabic primary sources.


Prophet Muhammad’s political success was spectacular! Muhammad extended his
power from the city-state of Madīna over all the Arabian Peninsula and in Transjordan.
Even after his death, the Muslim Empire rapidly expanded over the whole of the Sāsānian
Persian Empire and into Syria and Egypt (previously part of  the Roman Empire). In  a
very short time span, the Islamic State covered vast territories and various populations.
Islam’s  impact  on  world  history  is  as  impressive  as  the  legacy  of  Judaism  and
Christianity.  Islam contributed  to  the  religious, artistic, and  intellectual  renaissance of
these conquered people. Islam was not imposed by force; the process of conversion was
gradual over a period of six centuries, but never complete. Even now there are substantial
Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian minorities who survived due to the Islamic policy of
toleration  toward  the  non-Muslim  People  of  the  Book  (Ahl  al-Kitāb),  founded  on
Muhammad’s  example  and  the  Qur’ān.  Even  the  Jews,  during  the  Middle  Age,
recognized the fact that Muslims were more tolerant than Christians.


Introduction – Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


At first, Western scholarship often depreciated Islam due  to Christian prejudice
against  Islam.  Since  the  1960s, Western  scholars  have made  detailed  studies  of  the
history  of  Islam,  the  Qur’ān,  the  hadīth(s),  Islamic  law,  theology,  philosophy,  and
Sufism. Great Western  scholars  (Theodor Noldeke,  Ignaz Goldziher,  Joseph, Schacht,
Régis Blachère, Marshall Hodgson, Philippe Hitti, Louis Massignon, Louis Gardet, Guy
Monnot, Henry Corbin, Wilfred Madelung, Arthur Arberry, Reynold A Nicholson, and
others) wrote valuable works  improving  the  image of  Islam. They have examined  the
faith of Islam from their critical and scholarly viewpoint.


The critical study of the very thorough traditional biography has shown that many
of the details in question were suspected to have been forged for tendentious purposes
(with plenty of art for that matter), one or two centuries after the event. We must never
forget  that the oldest biographies of  the Prophet date  from  the early  IXth century,  two
centuries after the events. It is true that they have used older compilations that had been
preserved  in writing or memory. They  cite as  sources  some oral  traditions with  their
chain  (isnad)  of  transmitters  going  back  to  the  time  of  the  events.  But we  have  no
guarantee  of  the  fidelity  of  transmission  or  even  its  reality. We  cannot  completely
exclude the content reported by these written or oral traditions, but we cannot rely blindly
on their presentation of history without being critical. One source is probably true, the
Qur’ān, which is considered by Muslims, to be the authentic words of God dictated to
Muhammad. But its text is in great disorder. We can only uncover with much difficulty
and uncertainty the chronological order of events, because those relating to Muhammad’s
biography are mentioned in an allusive way. It is therefore a difficult source to use.


The  oldest  classic  biographies  are  those  of  Ibn  Ishāq,  whom  we  know  only
through  the abridged adaptation of  Ibn Hishām  (d. circa 219/834);  that of Wāqidī  (d.
207/822)  relating  the  campaigns  of  the  Prophet,  that  of  his  secretary  Ibn  Sa‘d  (d.
230/845),  and  finally  that of  the historian Tabarī  (d. 225/923), who used only  earlier
sources. Occasionally, earlier information of value was transmitted by intermediaries into
later works. A careful review of the sources is necessary.


Can  we,  as  Westerners,  understand  Islam  and  respect  its  adherents  without
compromising our own traditions? I believe it is possible for Westerners to understand


Introduction  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


the Islamic viewpoint. But this requires a great effort. First Westerners must learn to set
aside their prejudices about the Islamic world and they must make a conscious effort to
see what is actually there. They have to develop their capacity to see Islam objectively
and  increase  their  empathy  toward  the Muslim world  by  identifying  themselves with
Muslim experience.


Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, more and more we need books that
explain the Muslim viewpoint. As the conflict between Israel and Palestine and the Iraq
war persist, we must discover what the root of the problem is. These conflicts are driven
by Western politics which mainly want to control the oil market. These struggles have
nothing  to  do  with  the  faith  of  Islam.  The Muslim  world  is  tremendously  diverse
culturally, economically, and theologically.  Islam is not a monolithic civilization. Islam
should  not  be  limited  to  the Middle East,  since  the majority  of Muslims  come  from
Southeast Asia.


There is substantial misperception in much of the Western World about Islam, in
part due to the current political climate. However, if we study the real nature of Islam by
carefully  reading  primary  sources,  we  discover  that  there  is  nothing  fundamentally
different —nothing fundamentally contradictory, nothing that creates conflict— between
the Christian and Muslim worlds. In order to comprehend the sameness of their roots, we
have to understand the Muslim concept of the People of the Book (Ahl al-Kitāb, i.e. Jews
and Christians) of Allāh sending the same revelation  to all men,  through His Prophets
(Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad).


The Western misperception  of  Islam  can  be  attributed  to many  causes,  but  I
believe that it comes mainly from the fact that many non-Muslims are unable to grasp the
Muslim viewpoint about Muhammad and Islam. Therefore the purpose of my book is to
present how Muslims belonging to various schools portray Islam. This book presents a
brief  survey  of  Islamic  history  and  the  beliefs  of  different  schools. The  first  chapter
presents how Muhammad’s life as Prophet and Statesman represents, for Muslims,  the
Islamic ideal of human life. The second chapter describes the power struggle and the state
of civil war between different Muslim parties  following  the death of  the Prophet. The
third chapter gives a brief survey of  Islamic history until  the present  time. The  fourth


Introduction  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


chapter attributes the decline of Islam to various causes (political, intellectual, scientific,
economic, and colonization). The fifth chapter presents some questions related to modern
times. It portrays the life of two Muslims, al-Afghānī and Muhammad ‛Abduh, who had a
tremendous  influence  on  present  Islamic  trends.  It  explains  the  complexity  of  the
contemporary scene due to the fact that there are various types of terrorists. A section of
the chapter is devoted the place of women in Islam. The sixth chapter analyses critically
the nature and the content of the Qur’ān while presenting it as a source of guidance for
Muslims. The seventh chapter presents different schools and fundamental concepts used
in the field of Islamic law and Islamic theology. The eighth chapter portrays the history
and  some  essential  concepts of  two major branches of Shī‘ism: Twelver Shī‘ites  and
Ismā‛īlīs. The ninth chapter explains how Hellenic philosophy and the Qur’ān influenced
the philosophical tradition of Islam. It describes how Shī‘ites particularly advocate the
philosophical  tradition  while  giving  a  historical  survey  of  some  great  Islamic
philosophers.  The  tenth  chapter  shows  the  influence  of  the Qur’ān,  of Muhammad’s
sayings  and his Night  Journey on  the Sufi  tradition of  Islam.  It provides  a historical
survey of some great Sufis and of a few Sufi Orders. Most introductory books on Islam
do  not  cover  the  debate  between  Sunnīs  and  Shī‘ites  regarding  the  succession  of
Muhammad, nor devote an entire chapter on Shī‘ī Islam and on Islāmic Philosophy. By
covering these topics, my book is certainly more complete than other books in the field.
Many  books  have  been  written  about  Islam.  The  books  written  by  Western
scholars give a critical and an external point of view from a non-believer’s perspective on
Muhammad and Islam. These scholars tend to present only the Sunnī version of Islam.
Most books written by Muslims about Muhammad generally also  give only  the Sunnī
viewpoint. My research breaks new ground  in  the  field, because I present  in a critical
manner the way many Muslims belonging to different schools of Islam (Sunnīs, Shī‛ites,
theologians,  Islāmic philosophers, and Sufis) perceive and understand  Islam. My book
reveals the plurality of Islam, showing how Islam is portrayed by different communities
of  interpretation  and  spiritual  affiliation,  from  century  to  century,  in  diverse  cultural
environments. It is my hope that my book will help to correct Western misperceptions, by
revealing how Islam is understood by diverse Muslim communities.


Introduction  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History




Since  the  beginning  of my  career  in  the  field  of  Islam,  Professor Rippin  has
constantly  helped  me  and  offered  his  support.  It  is  a  pleasure  to  acknowledge  the
countless hours Dr. Claudia Hoffer-Gosselin, a specialist of languages, spent with me to
proofread my work. I also want to thank Nina Jaffer who graciously accepted to present
my book on her website.


Toynbee, Arnold “Islam’s Place in History in A Study of History”, in A Study of History,
Vol. XII, pp. 461-476, Oxford University Press, 1961.


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


Chapter I
Prophet and Statesman


Muhammad was admired by his contemporaries for his courage, resoluteness, and
impartiality, and for a firmness that was tempered by generosity. He won men’s hearts by
embodying the qualities of equity and justice. He became for later Muslims an exemplar
of virtuous character, and stories presented him as realizing the Islamic ideal of human
life. In contrast to Jesus, who was mostly successful in his spiritual life, Muhammad had
a very active political life while he devoted his evenings and nights  to meditation and
prayers. Hence, for Muslims, he realized the perfect equilibrium between the material life
and the spiritual life. From a Muslim perspective, Moses symbolizes the material life as
expressed in the religious law while Jesus represents the spiritual life as unveiled in his
spiritual  exegesis  of  the  law. Muhammad  came  to  reconcile Moses  and  Jesus.  The
Western misperception of Islam can be attributed to many causes, but I believe  that it
comes  partly  from  the  fact  that many  non-Muslims  are  unable  to  grasp  the Muslim
viewpoint about Muhammad. Therefore  the purpose of  this chapter  is  to present how
Muslims  portray Muhammad.  The  objective  is  to  understand why Muhammad  is  so
greatly idealized and has become an exemplar of the Muslim way of life.



Pre-Islamic Arabia and Makka


According to Muslims, never in the history of the world was the need so great for
the  appearance of  a Deliverer.  In order  to  appreciate  the achievement of Muhammad
during his time, it is necessary to take a quick survey of the religious and social condition
previous to the emergence of Islam. Arabia geographically was rather isolated from the
other nations of the world. The Byzantines and the Persians came close to its borders but
they failed to penetrate them. This immense region was inhabited by two kinds of people:
the people of  the  towns and  the dwellers of  the desert.  Poetry  transmitted orally was
highly  appreciated.  Eloquence  of  speech  was  greatly  valued.  The  tribes  were  very
distinct, each honoring a particular deity. One’s tribe determined all honor, social status


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


and relations. If one did not belong to a tribe, one’s life was in danger. The Arabs were
devoted to their clan and had a strong sense of honor. When their clan or their honor was
attacked,  they did not hesitate  to  indulge  in  excessive bloody  revenge,  showing  their
disregard for human life. Unfortunately Muhammad was entirely unable to abolish blood-
vengeance; it was too deeply rooted in  the  legal understanding of Arabs. However, he
attempted to limit this abusive behavior by stipulating that only one life could be taken in
exchange for one life (i.e. the life of a free man for a free man, of a woman for a woman,
of a slave for a slave). Muhammad succeeded in convincing the tribes that unintentional
homicide did not give one the right to blood-vengeance; the family of the victim must be
satisfied with a resolution consisting of one hundred camels for a man.


Makka, the city where Muhammad was born, was a center of commerce and of
polytheistic worship and was highly populated. At  its center was a  temple containing
various idols as well as a cubic black-stone (Ka‘ba) venerated by the people. Many Arabs
were addicted to drinking and gambling. Dancing and singing were practiced by a class
of women who were called kiyān (or in the singular kayna); they were appreciated by the
greatest  chieftains,  who  paid  public  court  to  them.  Polygamy  was  practiced  to  an
unlimited extent; thus when later the Qur’ānic injunction reduced the number of women
per man to four, it was a great improvement. This type of society based on power and
physical strength for survival did not appreciate women and therefore the killing of baby
girls was extensive. Later again, the Qur’ān (XVI: 59) will come to the rescue of women
by condemning this sexist practice.


Many  tribes  that worshipped  different  idols were  living  in Makka  during  that
time. The Kināna,  closely  allied  by  blood  to  the Quraysh  (the  tribe  of Muhammad),
besides the star Aldoran, served the goddess ‘Uzzā, represented by a tree at a place called
Nakhla, not far from Makka. The Hawāzin, in the south-east of Makka, worshipped the
goddess Lāt,  located  at Tāyif. Manāt was  symbolized by  a  rock on  the  caravan  road
between Makka and Syria. The majority of tribes were addicted to fetishism: worshipping
animals (gazelle, horse), plants (palm-tree) and also pieces of rock, stones, etc.


Besides the Arabs, the Jews (who were persecuted by the Assyrians, the Greeks,
and the Romans) had found a refuge in Arabia. They were able to convert many Arabs to
Judaism. At the time when Muhammad received his revelation, Judaism was practiced in


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


Yaman,  Kinda,  Khaybar,  and  Yathrib.  The  Nestorians  and  the  Jacobite  Christians,
established in Southern Arabia, were engaged in many bloody conflicts. The Nestorians
and the Jacobites did not agree with the doctrine, established at the Council of Chalcedon
(in Rome in 451), according to which Christ is one person in two natures. The Nestorians
took their name from Nestorius, a Vft (fifth) century monk at Antioch, who believed that
in the Incarnate Christ there had been two separate persons, one human, one divine. The
Jacobites  are  the  disciples  of  Jacob  Baradaeus,  they  are  Syrian Monophysites  who
rejected the doctrine of the two natures (human and divine) and adhere to the thesis that
Christ has only one nature. But there was also a minority, neither Jews nor Christians,
who believed in the idea of a Supreme Divinity.


According to the Muslims, the Prophet came from a noble family. When Allāh
selected Muhammad, He chose the best tribe of Banū Kināna, in which He found the best
subdivision Quraysh, and from the Quraysh He selected the family of Banū Hāshim. Jews
and Christians as well believed that Prophets come from a very specific noble lineage.
According  to  the  legend, Hāshim was  an  important man who  used  to  equip  the  two
annual caravans to Yaman and Syria. His son ‘Abd al-Muttalib, was the grand-father of
the Prophet, in whose house Muhammad was raised. ‘Abd al-Muttalib, a respected leader
among his people, used to apportion  the water from the well Zamzam to  the pilgrims.
‘Abd  al-Muttalib,  through  a  dream-revelation,  uncovered  the  meaning  of  the  well
Zamzam. According to the legend, Allāh once made the well spring forth for Ishmael, the
ancestor of Muhammad. His mother Hagar was wandering about in the desert close to
Makka. When her son was on the point of dying of thirst she first ascended Safā and then
Marwa to ask for help. Thereafter Allāh sent the Angel Gabriel who struck the ground
with his foot so that water began to trickle upwards.


‘Abd al-Muttalib’s son ‘Abd Allāh, the father of the Prophet, married Āmina bin
Wahb. Soon after this marriage ‘Abd Allāh died in Madīna. When Muhammad was six,
he  lost his mother also and he became an orphan. He was adopted by his grandfather
‘Abd al-Muttalib who  loved him more  than his own children. But after  two years  the
grand-father died and Muhammad went to live with his uncle, Abū Tālib, who cared for
him greatly. His uncle was the father of ‘Alī who became Muhammad’s foster-brother.


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


When Muhammad was twelve years old, he  followed his uncle who had  to go
Syria with a trade caravan. Now in Bostra, in Syria, there was a monk named Bahīra, who
was holding all the Christian esoteric knowledge. It was a knowledge transmitted from
generation to generation and kept in a book. Many caravans of  the Quraysh had often
passed the monk’s dwelling but he had never paid any attention to them. But this time, he
invited the whole caravan to a feast. Muhammad was considered too young to be taken to
the feast, but Bahīra especially wanted to see him. The motive for this was that Bahīra
had seen how a cloud shaded Muhammad as he was riding in the caravan, and how a tree
had lowered its branches over him to give him shade at the resting-place. Of course in the
desert under a burning sun  this was very useful! When Muhammad arrived  the monk
examined him attentively and found on him the signs he was looking for, in accordance
with the secret knowledge contained in his book. Between his shoulders he discovered
the seal of the prophetic office.


When Muhammad was twenty-five years of age, his uncle suggested that he offer
his services to Khadīja, who was sending a caravan to Syria. Khadīja was the widow of a
merchant, an energetic and resolute woman, the most distinguished, and richest among
the Quraysh. Khadīja accepted Muhammad’s offer with pleasure. After a time, she was so
fond of Muhammad  that she proposed marriage  to him and he accepted her proposal.
According to tradition, when Muhammad began his career as a Prophet, she stood loyally
by  him. Muhammad  is  reported  to  have  said  about  her:  “No,  no  one  is  better  than
Khadīja. She believed in me when all others were unbelieving; she took my words to be
true when all others treated me as a liar.” (Nabhani, 96 cited by Andrea, 40-41)
When the time was ripe for the revelation to come down, Muhammad was now
forty  years old,  a  respected man also  called Al-Amīn  (the  reliable);  the holy  element
became noticeable in his dreams. He had sublime visions; he came to love solitude and
wandered upon mountain paths. The earliest biographer, Ibn Ishāq (d. 150/767) (whose
biography has been preserved by Ibn Hishām (d. 218/833)) related that the first revelation
came upon him on the Mount Hirā towards the end of Ramadān (610). That night called
the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr)  is considered extremely powerful on the spiritual
plane and  this  is why Muslims  focus on  the spiritual matter and  fast during  this holy
month.  That  night,  Gabriel  came  to  the  Prophet  asking  him  to  recite.  According  to


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


Muslims, Muhammad was  illiterate  (ummī) so  this  is why he hesitated and  replied: “I
cannot  recite.”  Muslims  give  different  explanations  about  this  Prophetic  state  of
“illiterateness.” The famous Sufi Rūmī (d. 672/1273) explains  that  this does not mean
that Muhammad was  incapable of writing and studying  the sciences. Muhammad was
called “illiterate” because he did not have to acquire science and wisdom: they were an
innate knowledge for him. Every one with their partial intellect learned from the Prophet,
who was at  the spiritual  level of  the Universal  Intellect  (Rūmī, 185). The Angel said:
“Recite thou, in the name of the Lord who created man from a clot of blood. Recite thou!
For thy Lord is the most beneficent, who hath taught the use of the pen, hath taught man
what he knoweth not” (96: 1-4). Muhammad explained that he awoke from his sleep, and
it was as if they had written a message  in his heart. He went out of  the cave and saw
Gabriel in the form of a man (Andrea, 42-44).


In  the  year  612, Muhammad  inaugurated  his  preaching  in Makka.  The  first
revelations were concerned with ethical and spiritual teachings, the Unity of God and the
Judgment Day. They attacked the richness of the Makkan leaders and denounced idols.
The Makkan leaders expressed their opposition immediately, because they felt threatened
at  every  level  and  particularly  in  the  political  and  economic  realms.  If  the  Ka‘ba
pilgrimage was attacked, the position of the tribe of Quraysh was at risk. The heart of
Muhammad’s prophetic message is the certainty that the Judgment Day will occur. In the
judgment, no soul can bear the burden of another: a father will not be able to do anything
for his  son, nor a brother  for his brother. Everyone will be  judged according  to  their
deeds. An angel will weigh each deed on a scale. God will show his mercy by giving ten
times more weight to a good action than to a bad action. Here is a good illustration of the
style  of  these Qur’ānic  verses  from  Chapter  81  entitled  “The Overturning”  revealed
during this period.


When the sun is overturned, when  the stars fall away, when the mountains are
moved,  […] when  the seas are boiled over, when  the girl-child buried alive  is
asked what she did to deserve murder, when the pages are folded out, when the
sky is flayed open, when  jahīm  is set ablaze, when  the garden  is brought near,
then a soul will know what it has prepared…
This style resembles the Apocalypse, which means “unveiling” in Greek. At the end of
time, the sky, the seas, the mountains will be overturned to unveil their deepest secrets. In


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


pre-Islamic  Arabia,  female  children,  considered  as  a  financial  burden,  were  not
appreciated  and  female  infanticide was common. This verse  condemns  the murder of
baby girls as a severe crime. The assassins will enter jahīm (the fire of hell). Also each
soul will become conscious of what it has done (Sells, 48-49).


Three years after the beginning of Muhammad’s prophetic mission, according to
the Sunnī historian al-Tabarī, a revelation came down (XXVI: 214): “Warn your closest
relatives.” Afterwards Muhammad invited forty members of the clan ‛Abd al-Muttalib to
a meal. This episode is reported by ‛Alī:


Then the Apostle of God addressed them saying: “O family of ‛Abd al-Muttalib
by God, I do not know of anyone among the Arabs who has brought his people
anything better than what I have brought you. I have brought you the best of this
world and the next. God Almighty has ordered me to call you to Him. And which
of you will assist me in this cause and become my brother, my Trustee and my
Successor among you.” And they all held back from this while I [‛Alī], although I
was the youngest of them in age, the most diseased in eyesight, the most corpulent
in body and thinnest in legs, said: “I, O Prophet of God, will be your helper in this
matter.” And he put his arm around my neck and said: “This is my brother, my
Trustee and my Successor among you, so  listen  to him and obey.” And so  the
people arose and they were joking, saying to Abū Tālib [‛Alī’s father]: “He has
ordered you  to  listen  to your son and obey him.”  (Al-Tabarī, vol.1, 1172-1173
quoted by Momen, 12)

This incident was not taken seriously by the people, because it was always the custom to
appoint elders in positions of leadership and ‛Alī was considered too young. Of course
for the Shī‛ites this shows that, from the beginning, Muhammad wanted ‛Alī to succeed
him.  Muhammad  had  constantly  been  very  close  to  ‛Alī.  During  a  severe  famine,
Muhammad decided to adopt his cousin ‘Alī. Muhammad had lost all his sons at an early
age;  in the love of ‘Alī, he found some comfort. The future marriage of ‘Alī with his
youngest daughter Fātima reinforced his deep attachment toward his cousin and son-in-


For  three long years he tried  to convince his people to abandon the worship of
idols. But polytheism was deeply rooted among them; the ancient cult offered privileges,
which Islam did not offer. The Makkans had vested  interests  in the old worship;  their
prestige was involved in its maintenance. His uncle, Abū Tālib, disapproved the injustice
and intolerance of the Makkans towards Muhammad. The hostile Makkans prevented the
Prophet and his disciples from offering  their prayers at  the Ka‛ba. They covered  them


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


with dirt and filth when they were engaged in their devotions. They incited the people of
the town to insult them. Amidst all these  trials, Muhammad remained confident in his
heavenly mission. Several times his life was endangered, but Muhammad never ceased
calling on the people to abandon their evil ways.


Muhammad continued to preach with all his heart and soul, giving birth slowly to
a  revolutionary movement. Conversions  to  Islam  increased. The Makkan  leaders were
now  thoroughly  alarmed.  Their  power  and  prestige  were  at  stake.  They  were  the
guardians  of  the  idols  whom Muhammad  threatened  with  destruction. Muhammad’s
preaching was intensely democratic; in the sight of his Lord all human beings were equal.
This leveling of old distinctions was contrary to all their traditions. They were afraid to
loose their exclusive privileges. Urgent measures were needed to prevent the movement
from gaining further strength. They consequently planned the persecution of Muslims in
order not to infringe their laws of vendetta. Each clan decided to exert pressure on each
member who was sympathetic to Muhammad’s cause. Muhammad, who was protected
by Abū Tālib and his kinsmen, was at  the beginning exempt  from persecution. Many
Muslims  were  thrown  into  prison,  starved,  and  then  beaten  with  sticks.  Some were
exposed to cruel tortures such as being exposed to the burning heat of the desert, until
they accepted to renounce their faith in Islam or die of thirst. The slave Bilāl, the first
Mu’addhin (Muezzin) of Islam, was submitted to such cruel tortures that he was on the
verge of death; but fortunately he was ransomed by Abū Bakr just in time.


To avoid these persecutions, Muhammad advised the Muslims to seek refuge, for
a while, in the neighboring Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia, which was ruled by a pious
and just King. This is called the first Exile in the Islamic history and happened in the fifth
year of Muhammad’s mission. The Makkan leaders pursued them even there. They sent
deputies to the King to demand the delivery of these refugees that they might be put to
death because they rejected their old religion and adhered to a new one. The King asked
the refugees: “What is this religion for which you have abandoned your former faith and
adopted neither mine nor that of any other people?” Ja‘far, son of Abū Tālib, acting as
spokesman for the fugitives, spoke thus:


O king, we were plunged  in  the depth of  ignorance and barbarism; we adored
idols, we lived in unchastity; we ate dead bodies, and we spoke abominations; we
disregarded  every  feeling  of  humanity,  and  the  duties  of  hospitality  and


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


neighborhood; we knew no law but that of the strong, when God raised among us
a man, of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty, and purity we were aware; and he
called us to the unity of God, and taught us not to associate anything with Him; he
forbade us the worship of idols; and enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful
to our trusts, to be merciful, and to regard the rights of neighbors; he forbade us to
speak evil of women, or to eat the substance of orphans; he ordered us to abstain
from evil; to offer prayers, to render alms, to observe the fast. We have believed
in him, we have accepted his teachings and his injunctions to worship God, and
not to associate anything with Him. For this reason our people have risen against
us, have persecuted us in order to make us forego the worship of God and return
to  the worship of  idols of wood and  stone and other abominations. They have
tortured us and injured us, until finding no safety among them, we have come to
thy country, and hope thou wilt protect us from their oppression.” (Ameer Ali, 29-


Afterwards the King asked them if they had an excerpt from their Holy Book. Then Ja’far
recited the Chapter of Mary from the Qur’ān and the King replied: “Truly, this and what
Jesus  brought  both  came  from  the  same  niche.”  (Williams,  42)  The  demands  of  the
Makkan delegates were not accepted by the King; subsequently they returned to Makka.
While  his  disciples  were  seeking  safety  in  other  lands,  Muhammad  himself
remained courageously at his post, supporting every insult. The Makkan leaders wanted
to seduce him with promises of honor and wealth but he never wavered, replying that he
was not looking for dignity nor wealth, but to deliver a message from God. They laughed
at him and ridiculed him, trying to insinuate that his teachings were false. Muhammad
never resorted to the miraculous to assert his influence or to prove the authenticity of his
message. He  invited people  to observe  attentively  the physical  creation and nature  to
discover the signs of the divine presence. In contrast to Moses and Jesus, Muhammad did
not perform any spectacular miracles. Instead he encouraged people to use their human
intellect  to  uncover  in  the  physical  creation  proofs  of  God’s  existence. Muhammad
encourages empirical observation in order to uncover “the signs of God” in the natural
order. Every element of  the cosmos worships God by  following  the  laws of  its  inner
nature. Muhammad also incited people to reflect carefully on the beauty of the Qur’ān
and to recognize that this revelation was not written by a human but that it came from a
heavenly source. Islam is a profoundly scientific religion, inviting everyone to found their
faith on their intellect. Muhammad is even reported to have said:


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


Acquire knowledge, because he who acquires it in the way of the Lord performs
an act of piety; he who speaks of it, praises the Lord; who seeks it, adores God;
who dispenses  instruction  in  it, bestows alms; and who  imparts  it  to  its  fitting
objects, performs an act of devotion to God. Knowledge enables its possessor to
distinguish what is forbidden from what is not; it lights the way to Heaven; it is
our  friend  in the desert, our society  in solitude, our companion when bereft of
friends; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is our ornament in the
company of friends; it serves as an armor against our enemies. With knowledge,
the  servant  of God  rises  to  the  heights  of  goodness  and  to  a  noble  position,
associates with sovereign in this world, and attains to perfection of happiness in
the next (Ameer Ali, 360-361).


Muhammad also said: “the ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr”
and he encouraged his disciples to seek knowledge as far as China, if necessary (Ameer
Ali, 361).


During  the  periods  of  acute  conflict  with  the  Makkans,  Muhammad  was
accustomed  to pray and meditate during  the night on  the esplanade of  the Temple of
Makka. One night, he was transported on a night journey from Makka to Jerusalem and
up to the seventh sky (XVII: 1). In this mythical account, the Rock rose but the Angel
Gabriel  retained  it  on  the  ground. Muhammad met  the Prophets  at  different  heavens
before rising to Allāh.


The Qur’ān does not relate the rise of the Prophet very clearly, but the Muslim
traditions offer more details. Here is the Qur’ānic chapter the Star (LIII: 1-18) referring to
his mystical experience:


By the star as it falls, your companion has not lost his way nor is he deluded. He
does not speak out of desire. This is a revelation taught him by one of great power
and strength that stretched out over while on the highest horizon— then drew near
and came down two bows’ length or nearer. He revealed to his servant what he
revealed. The heart did not lie in what it saw. Will you then dispute with him his
vision? He saw it descending another  time at the  lote tree of  the furthest  limit.
There was the garden of sanctuary when something came down over the lote tree,
enfolding. His gaze did not turn aside nor go too far. He had seen the signs of his
Lord, great signs.


This chapter of the Qur’ān is the most explicit allusion to Muhammad’s prophetic vision.
Allāh is swearing by the falling star that your companion (Muhammad) does not speak
out of desire (hawā). The poets speak out of desire but Muhammad is not a poet. God,
who is beyond any definition, is never portrayed in the Qur’ān; therefore the object of


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


vision is never actually described. His vision is never depicted in detail or given fixed
form. The expression “he saw it’’ remains vague: is “it’’ referring to God or Gabriel?
(Sells, 45).


According to several Muslim traditions, there would have been two journeys of
the Prophet: the night journey from Makka to Jerusalem (isrā’) and the other where he
rose to the seventh sky (mi‛rāj). A tradition tells that Muhammad was sleeping close to
the Ka‘ba when the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and made him go up on a winged
Mare  (Burāq)  who  transported  him  to  Jerusalem.  During  his  rise,  Muhammad  met
Prophets at different skies. Before beginning his rise, Muhammad left the print of his foot
on  the Rock of Jerusalem,  like Abraham on  the Ka‘ba and Jesus at  the Chapel of  the


The dominant position considers the rise as a veracious vision that  the Prophet
achieved with his entire body and spirit. According to the Sufis, Muhammad during his
spiritual visit did not try to enter into the private life of God; he hesitated and stopped
before reaching the point of union with Him. Muhammad, like Moses, did not dare  to
penetrate into the burning Bush. When Muhammad began his journey in Makka, he was
at a certain spiritual  level. The sacred Mosque of Makka  represents  the station of  the
heart with which no bodily faculties may be associated. The one who is at this station
perceives the signs of the Lord. When Muhammad arrived in Jerusalem, he had reached a
higher spiritual level. The Mosque al-Aqsā’ of Jerusalem represents the station of Spirit
which  is  the  most  remote  from  the  physical  world.  One  reaches  this  station  by
contemplation. The one who is on this level perceives and understands the real meaning
of the divine signs. (Steigerwald, 1997, 95-109)


The Makkans persistently asked Abū Tālib  to stop his nephew  from preaching
against  their  religion. At  first,  he  turned  them  down; when  it  became  unbearable,  he
begged Muhammad  to  renounce  his  task. Muhammad  replied:  “O my  uncle,  if  they
placed the sun on my right hand and the moon on my left, to force me to renounce my
work, Verily  I would not desist  there-from until God made manifest His Cause, or  I
perished  in  the  attempt.’’ When Muhammad was  on  the  point  of  leaving, Abū  Tālib
called aloud:  “Son of my brother, come back,” and he came. And Abū Tālib said: “Say


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


whatsoever  thou pleasest; for by the Lord, I shall not abandon thee, nay, never.’’ (Ibn
Hishām cited by Ameer Ali, 37)


Emigration to Madīna


The year 620 is called in the history of Islam the Year of mourning because the
Prophet  lost  the  support  of  Abū  Tālib  and  Khadīja,  who  had  died.  In  Abū  Tālib,
Muhammad  lost  the guardian of his youth who protected him against his enemies.  In
Khadīja, Muhammad lost his first and greatest love. Not only was she the first Muslim
woman  to believe  in him  and his divine  revelation,  she was his  true consoler during
difficult times; and God says tradition comforted him through her when he returned to
her. After Khadīja, his cousin ‘Alī was the first male to accept Islam. The death of Abū
Tālib, whose personal influence restrained the anger of Makkans, became the signal for
the Makkans  to  increase  their  persecutions. Muhammad was  forced  to  immigrate  to
Yathrib  later  called Madīna;  it was  the Hijra  in 622. The  inhabitants of  the oasis of
Yathrib heard about the wisdom and good reputation of Muhammad and they invited him
to become the leader of their community. The Makkan leaders plotted his assassination
but Muhammad went to sleep in a nearby cave while ‘Alī slept that night in the Prophet’s
bed in order to fool the assassins. In the morning, the assassins were furious to find out
that Muhammad had escaped.


Madīna was situated about eleven days’ journey to the north of Makka. The two
tribes of Aws and Khazraj, forgetting their previous bloody conflicts in the brotherhood
of the faith, gathered round the standard of Islam. The Muslims of Madīna received the
respectable  designation  of  ansār  (helpers).  Those  who  had  abandoned  their  beloved
birthplace and the ties of kith and kin received the title of muhājirīn (emigrants or exiles).
In Madīna, Muhammad designated the Jews and the Christians as people of the Book (ahl
al-Kitāb). He  became  aware  that  he was  a  direct  descendant  of  Ishmael,  the  son  of
Abraham. Thus he claimed, like the Jews and the Christians, to be part of the family of
Abraham and his faith. He received several Qur’ānic revelations supporting his point of
view.  For  the Muslims,  some  Jews  and  some  Christians  have  distorted  the  original
religion of Abraham. Their understanding of God  is erroneous because  they give God
associates. The Mission of  the Prophet was  to  restore  the original monotheist  religion
(hanifism)  of  Abraham.  The  People  of  the  Book  received  only  the  partial  truth.


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


Muhammad invited the Jews and the Christians to accept his revelation, which completes
former revelations. People of the Book examining their Writings attentively should find
the confirmation of Muhammad’s message. The Prophet considers  the Judeo-Christian
Writings corrupted and falsified, each time that they do not agree with the Qur’ānic truth.
According  to Muslims,  all  the  Prophets  that  preceded Muhammad  brought  the  same
religious truth to their peoples; even if religious  law could evolve  in order  to adapt  to
changing  times. Muhammad  saw  his  task,  therefore,  not  as  introducing  a  new  set  of
beliefs, but as continuing in the path carved by previous revelations and giving them their
ultimate form.


In Madīna, Muhammad  established  the Muslim  community,  founded on  social
and economic justice. He supervised the construction of the first Mosque while showing
his  disciples  the  proper  way  to  worship  God.  The  sūras  revealed  at  Madīna  were
concerned  with  social  legislation  and  the  politico-moral  principles  for  ordering  the
community. Muhammad  put  in  place  the Constitution  of Madīna  demonstrating  how
Muslims were in the vanguard for their time in the way they respected other religions and
cultures. This Constitution stipulated that:


“The state of peace and war shall be common to all Muslims. […] The Jews who
attach  themselves  to our commonwealth shall be protected  from all  insults and
vexations; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance
and good offices. The Jews of Yathrib shall form with the Muslims one composite
nation; they shall practice their religion as freely as the Muslims; the clients (the
protected) and allies of the Jews shall enjoy the same security and freedom; the
guilty  shall  be  pursued  and  punished;  the  Jews  shall  join  the  Muslims  in
defending Yathrib (Madīna) against all enemies. […] All true Muslims shall hold
in  abhorrence  every man  guilty  of  crime,  injustice,  or  disorder:  no  one  shall
uphold  the  culpable,  though  he  was  his  nearest  kin.  […]  All  future  disputes
between  those  who  accept  this  Charter  shall  be  referred,  under  God,  to  the
Prophet.” (Ibn Hishām cited by Ameer Ali, 58-59)


Many  Jews  recognized  that,  in medieval  times,  the Muslims were more  tolerant  than
Christians because of the example set by the Prophet in this Constitution.
The  Prophet  prepared  for  an  expedition  to  Tabūk  leaving  ‘Alī  in  charge  of
Madīna.  ‘Alī was not happy  to be  left with  the women  and children but Muhammad
replied to him: “Are you not content to be with respect to me as Aaron was to Moses,
except that after me there shall be no other Prophet.” (Ibn Hanbal, 1313/1896, vol. 1, 170;


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


Tirmidhī, vol. 2, 301, Muslim, vol. 2, 323-324) Aaron in the Bible is the High Priest who
replaced Moses when he went up  to Mount Sinai.  In  the Qur’ān, Aaron,  called  Nabī
(Prophet)  (XIX:  142),  is mentioned  along  with  other  prophets  as  having  received  a
revelation (IV: 163). He replaced Moses (VII: 150) and was sent as an assistant Minister
(Wazīr)  to  ease  the  task of Moses  (XX: 29-36). Aaron  should not be blamed  for  the
episode of the golden calf; it is the people who not only did not obey him (XX: 90-94),
they even oppressed Aaron and were about to kill him (VII: 150).


The Muslims had  to  fight  three battles against  the Makkans.  In 624  their  first
major meeting brought the victory to the Muslims at Badr (a valley between Madīna and
the Red Sea). There only three hundred Muslims beat a thousand men from Makka. Badr
laid the foundation of Muhammad’s power; this first military victory was understood as
embodying the will of Allāh. At the battle of Uhud (close to a mountain a few miles from
Madīna) in 625, the Muslims were defeated by the Makkans. In 627 the Muslims broke
the  force of  the cavalry charges of  the Makkans by  the ditch which  they dug around
Madīna. During all these battles the Muslims had to kill some Jews who betrayed them.
Unfortunately the Jews had close business relations with the Makkans and contacts with
people who were hostile to the faith. The Jews were not happy that they could not use
Muhammad  to  help  the  conversion  of  Arabia  to  Judaism.  Furthermore, Muhammad
reprimanded the Jews for considering themselves to be the race chosen by God. The Jews
did  not  appreciate  the  fact  that  his  belief was  so much  simpler  than  their  Talmudic
legends;  they soon broke off and became enemies of  the new  faith. The Jews  tried  to
create hostility among his people. They defamed Muhammad and his followers. By their
union with the party of the munāfikīn (the disaffected), and by the strong unity, which
prevailed among them, in contrast to the disunion of the Arabs, the Jews became the most
dangerous enemies within the State.


Conquest of Makka


In 628 the Muslims went to Makka as pilgrims, but their arrival upset Makkans
and negotiations began. The  reputation of Muhammad had  so grown by  then  that  the
Makkans felt obliged  to make a treaty with him. A truce was signed between the  two
parties at Hudaibiyya (nine miles from Makka). The treaty virtually ended the war with


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


his people and  led  to  the occupation of  the city  two years  later by  the Muslims. The
conquest  of Makka  was  the  greatest  achievement  of  the  Prophet.  He  reclaimed  the
sanctuary of  the Ka‘ba  for worship  after  its original builder, Abraham; with  ‘Alī, he
destroyed the idols. Usually the losers in tribal wars were killed and women turned into
slaves but this time Muhammad showed his mercy toward the Makkans without seeking
revenge; he just wanted to destroy the idols, not the people. In time, most of the Makkans
accepted Islam. During the last two years of his life, the Prophet deployed efforts to bring
as much of Arabia as possible under the control of Islam. Muhammad, through marriages
with  women  of  different  tribes,  strengthened  alliances  with  various  clans  in  order
preserve  the unity of  the  Islamic State. Other marriages were contracted out of mercy
with widows who had been left without a protector.


Shortly  before Muhammad  died,  an  event  took  place  at Ghadīr Khumm. This
event  is  both  reported  by  Sunnīs  and  Shī‘ites  but  interpreted  differently.  This  event
related by the Sunnī jurist Ibn Hanbal (Ibn Hanbal. n. d. vol. 1: 84, 118-119, 152, 331;
vol. 4: 281, 327, 370) is expressed this way by the Shī‘ite Muhammad al-Bāqir Majlīsī
(d. 1699):


When the ceremonies of the pilgrimage were completed, the Prophet, attended by
‘Alī and the Muslims, left Makka for Madīna. On reaching Ghadīr Khumm, he
(the Prophet) halted, although that place had never before been a halting place for
caravans. The reason for the halt was that verses of the Qur’ān had come upon
him.  […] The message  that  came  from  the Most High was  this:  “O Apostle,
declare all that has been sent down to thee from thy Lord. No part of it is to be
withheld.  God  will  protect  you  against  men,  for  he  does  not  guide  the
unbelievers” (V: 71). […] When the crowd had all gathered, Muhammad walked
up on to the platform of saddles and called ‘Alī to stand at his right. After a prayer
of thanks he spoke to the people, informing them that he had been forewarned of
his death, and saying, “I have been summoned  to the Gate of God, and  I shall
soon depart to God, to be concealed from you, and bidding farewell to this world.
I am leaving you the Book of God [Qur’ān], and if you follow this you will not go
astray. And I am leaving you also the Members of Household (Ahl al-Bayt), who
are not to be separated from the Book of God until they meet me at the drinking
fountain of Kawthar.” He then called out, “Am I not, more precious to you than
your own  lives?” They  said “Yes.” Then  it was  that he  took  ‘Alī’s hands and
raised them so high that he showed the whites of his armpits, and said, “Whoever
has me as his Master (Mawlā) has ‘Alī as his Master. Be friend to his friends, O
Lord, and be an enemy to his enemies. Help those who assist him and frustrate
those who oppose him.” (Majlīsī 1909 vol. 3: 339; Donaldson 1933: 5)



Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


This  verse  from  the  Qur’ān  was  revealed  on  the  same  occasion:  “This  day  have  I
perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you
Islam as your religion” (V: 3). The event of Ghadīr Khumm is not denied by Sunnīs but is
interpreted differently by them. For the Sunnīs, Muhammad did not explicitly appoint a
Successor, but he  left  this  responsibility  to  the companions who  elected  the one  they
considered the best Caliph Abū Bakr. As Muhammad had done on other occasions for
Abū Bakr, he just wanted  to honor ‘Alī at Ghadīr Khumm. The Sunnīs understood the
term Mawlā in the sense of close Friend, whereas the Shī‛ites recognized ‘Alī as their
Master.  For Shī‛ites, Muhammad  at Ghadīr Khumm  explicitly  designated  ‘Alī  as  his
Successor;  afterward  the  spiritual  authority  of  ‘Alī  was  transferred  to  his  direct
descendants, the rightful Guides (Imāms).


Concerning the phrase “Ahl al-Bayt” which appears twice in the Qur’ān, once in
regard  to  the  family  of  Abraham  (XI:  73)  and  in  this  verse  (XXXIII:  33)  about
purification (tathīr): “Verily Allāh only wishes to keep uncleanness away from you, O
the Ahl al-Bayt, and to purify you completely.” Wilferd Madelung makes the following
observation:  “Who  are  the  ‘people  of  the  house’  here  (XXXIII:  33)?  The  pronoun
referring to them is in the masculine plural, while the preceding part of the verse is in the
feminine plural. This change of gender has evidently contributed to the birth of various
accounts of a legendary character, attaching the latter part of the verse to the five People
of the Mantle (Ahl al-Kisā’): Muhammad, ‘Alī, Fātima, Hasan and Husayn. In fact when
this specific verse was revealed, Muhammad enveloped them with his mantle. In spite of
the  obvious  Shī‘ī  significance,  the  great majority  of  the  reports  quoted  by  al-Tabarī
(Sunnī historian) in his commentary on this verse support this interpretation.” (Madelung,
14-15.) In South Asia, these five people are therefore called “the five pure ones” (panj
tan-i pāk).


Muhammad died at home in Madīna, probably of malaria. It is possible that the
subsequent development of Islam is due to the inspiration of his disciples to follow the
example  of Muhammad. Many  researchers  have  credited  him with  great  intelligence,
skill,  a  remarkable  tenacity  and  diplomacy  in  dealing  with  contentious  issues.
Muhammad  showed,  in  many  cases,  clemency,  forbearance,  and  he  was  often  very
demanding of himself. He had an open-minded way of knowing how to benefit from a


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


plurality of views and his words were wise and very progressive for his time. His private
life influenced his ideas. He was particularly attached to his close family: his daughter
Fātima, his son-in-law ‛Alī, and his two grandsons Hasan and Husayn.


The reputation of the Prophet Muhammad continued to grow after his death. He
became the symbol of the unity of the new faith and he was called the founder of a new
civilization. Muhammad was a reformer who has left a considerable mark on culture and
civilization. He was an eminent judge who spoke with knowledge and wisdom. He gave
speeches to build bridges between rival tribes and he taught religious ethics. This great
Prophet was able to unite all Arabia in a short period of only nine years. He united rival
peoples  scattered  in  a  desert  of  two million  square  kilometers  –  peoples  who  were
ignorant,  undisciplined,  uneducated  and  engaged  in  a  permanent  state  of  internecine
warfare —under one banner and gave  them a unified religion, culture, civilization and
community (umma). The Prophet was able to cure the chronic tribal rivalries and disunity
of Arabian society. The main social achievement of Muhammad was  the bonding of a
hundred feuding tribes into one nation based on a faith that supersedes the ties of kinship
and  the enmity of blood-feuds. Muhammad changed how  tribesmen  think,  their habits
and even their morals. He transformed the society of his time into civilized, pious, and
righteous people.


Thanks to the influence of Muhammad, from a nation that had not seen a single
great man for many centuries, many scientists emerged who travelled to preach and teach
the principles of religion, of morality and civilization. In the beginning, the Muslims were
so united that the power of Byzantium and Persia could not resist them. The new religion
gave so great an impetus that within one generation the Muslims had conquered a vast
territory extending  from Tunisia to  India. The  reason  for  this great success  is  that  the
people  of  the  surrounding  dominions  were  fed  up  with  their  previous  regime;  the
Muslims were therefore received as liberators. Moreover, the Muslims did not rule with a
heavy  hand  over  these  lands.  Following  the  example  set  forth  by  the Prophet  in  the
Constitution of Madīna,  they  entered  into  alliance with  the  local people,  letting  them
practice their faith freely.


Muslims believe in the prophetic lineage (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus
and Muhammad) and this belief is based on the need for the continuous divine guidance


Chapter 1  Diana Steigerwald  Diversity in Islamic History


of men  throughout  their  lives  for  their  own  salvation.  This  prophetic  light  reappears
regularly on earth to remind believers of the same truthful message. Indeed, it is the same
divine presence, which manifests itself in the succession of revelations, from Adam to


Selected Bibliography


Ameer Ali, Syed, The Spirit of Islam, Delhi: Islamic Book Trust, 1981.

Andrea Tor, Mohammad the Man and His Faith, New York: Harper & Row, 1960.

Donaldson, Dwight. The Shī‘ite Religion: A History of Islam in Persia and I rak. London:
Luzac, 1933.

Hitti, Philip, History of the Arabs, London: MacMillan, 1985.

Hodgson, Marshall  G.S.  The  Venture  of  Islam,  3  vols.  Chicago:  The  University  of
Chicago Press, 1974.

Ibn  Ishāq,  Life  of  Muhammad,  translated  by  Alfred  Guillaume,  Oxford:  Oxford
University Press, 1955. (The earliest biography of Muhammad)

Ibn Hanbal, Ahmad. Al-Musnad, 6 vols. Beirut, n.d.

Ibn Hanbal, Ahmad. Al-Musnad, 6 vols. Cairo, 1313/1896.

Madelung, Wilferd.  The  Succession  to Muhammad:  A  Study  of  the  Early  Caliphate,
Cambridge, NY and Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Al-Majlīsī, Muhammad al-Bāqir, Hayāt al-Qulūb, Tehran, 1909.
Nabhani, Al-anwar al-muhammadiyya min al-mawahib al-laduniyya, Cairo, 1320.

”Muhammad” Encyclopedia Britannica.

Momen, Moojan, An  Introduction  to Shi‛i  Islam, New Haven: Yale University Press,

Muslim, Abū al-Husayn ibn al-Hajjāj, Sahīh, 2 vols. Cairo, 1349/1939.

Rūmī,  Jalal  al-Dīn, Fīhi mā  fīhi,  translated  in French by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch.
Paris, Sindbad, 1982.

Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qur’ān. Ashland : White Cloud Press, 2002.

Steigerwald, Diane, “Jérusalem: Ville de l’ascension du Prophète Muhammad,” Studies in
Religion/Sciences religieuses, Vol. 26.1 (1997): 95-109.

Steigerwald,  Diane,  L’islam:  les  valeurs  communes  au  judéo-christianisme.
Montréal/Paris: Médiaspaul, 1999.

Al-Tabarī, Abū Ja‛far Muhammad, Ta‛rīkh al-Rusul wa al-Mulūk, ed. M. J. de Goeje, 15
vols. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1901.

Al-Tirmidhī, Abū ‘Īsā Muhammad, Sunan, 4 vols. Cairo, 1292/1875.

Watt, William Montgomery, Muhammad at Mecca, Oxford: Oxford University Press,

Watt, William Montgomery, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford: Oxford University Press,

Williams, John Alden (ed.), The Word of Islam, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.



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2 Responses to Muhammad, Prophet and Statesman — by Diana Steigerwald

  • Amaana says:

    Thanks Dr. Steigerwald for this wonderful book. It is a privilege for me to feature it on my website and I hope a lot of people download your book to read and realize that this was a voluntary effort as your TKN contribution, Time and Knowledge Nazrana to the Lord of the Age! Mashallah! (What God has willed has come to pass!)

    I really enjoyed reading it as in this book you handled this very complex and diverse subject and have made it easy to understand and have shown how the people of Islam are made of a mosaic of communities tied to their belief in God All-High and His Holy Book revealed to Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, a Guide par excellence and he has left his mark on humanity, and in Shia belief, the guidance was continued among his progeny from Imam Hazrat Ali as it continues today in their great grandson, H.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan. You have covered its history that takes place in many regions of the world and have captured the mystical dimensions and the devotional practices as well as shown the current state of Muslim World. As a Western author, you have captured it well:

    “The idea that prevailed throughout the centuries was that the Islamic value of an individual is to be judged by God alone, not by other humans. Thus, when compared with the history of Christianity, there have not been in Islam as many massacres in the name of religion. This tolerant legacy which characterized Islamic history is quite different from the recent attitude of certain extremists.”

    I also really enjoyed the section on the Quran and Sufism. If more people read your book, they will understand why God created various peoples with their diversity of religious and traditional practices and we are supposed to recognize these differences as God’s design “so we may know one another” (Quran).

    “And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one community; but they will not cease to differ. Except whom your Lord has given Mercy, and for that He created them.” (Quran 11:118)

    Those who read this book will come away with a message of hope for all of humanity as God wants us to think, to reflect! Thank you Diana!

  • Sam says:

    Shukhaar Allah! Thank You! This has been very en lighting and has sincerely helped in educating on one’s understanding of the “Islamic being”

Please leave your comments

Quran, 13:28

ألا بِذِكْرِ اللهِ تَطمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“Verily! In the remembrance of Allah do hearts find contentment.” - Quran, 13:28

Prophet Muhammad

Prophet Muhammad:

‘Ali is ‘as my own soul’ (ka-nafsi).

He said to ‘Ali, ‘You are from me and I am from you (anta minni wa ana minka).’

‘Truly, ‘Ali is from me and I am from him (inna ‘Ali minni wa ana minhu), and he is the wali (patron/spiritual master) of every believer after me.’

Hazrat Ali

12. When some blessings come to you, do not drive them away through thanklessness.

13. He who is deserted by friends and relatives will often find help and sympathy from strangers.

Imam Ali Sayings

Imam Jaffer Sadiq

لاَ يَكُونُ شَيْءٌ فِي اْلاَرْضِ وَلا فِي السَّمَاءِ إِلاَّ بِهذِهِ الْخِصَالِ السَّبْعِ: بِمَشيئَةٍ وَ إِرادَةٍ وَقَدَرٍ وَقَضَاءٍ وَ إِذْنٍ وَكِتابٍ وَأَجَلٍ. فَمَنْ زَعَمَ أَنَّهُ يَقْدِرُ عَلى نَقْضٍ وَاحِدَةٍ، فَقَدْ كَفَرَ.

“Nothing occurs in this earth and in the heaven except with the following seven stages: Will, intention, destiny, decree, permission, book and implementation. Then whoever thinks that he can reduce any of these stages, then indeed he has disbelieved.”

- Imam Jaffer Sadiq, Usul al Kafi, vol. 1, p. 149

Rumi on Ramadan

The month of fasting has come, the emperor’s banner has arrived; withhold your hand from food, the spirit’s table has arrived. The soul has escaped from separation and bound nature’s hands; the heart of error is defeated, the army of faith has arrived. Fasting is our sacrifice, it is the life of our soul; let us sacrifice all our body, since the soul has arrived as guest. Fortitude is as a sweet cloud, wisdom rains from it, because it was in such a month of fortitude that the Koran arrived. …Wash your hands and your mouth, neither eat nor speak; seek that speech and that morsel which has come to the silent ones.


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99 Beautiful Names

Asma-ul Husna


Aga Khan jokes

Aga Khan Speech Brown University May 1996:

"Looking around this colorful gathering, I recall helping in the choice of the Aga Khan University's regalia. Our research into Islamic traditions of academic dress revealed that an academic's rank determined the height of his hat. The higher the rank, the taller the hat. The senior most professors therefore appeared taller than their students even when sitting down. I have just learnt that my friend Neil Rudenstein, the President of Harvard has given instructions that all Harvard hats are to be heightened by at least a foot. This has caused havoc in the Ivy League which is now debating resolution MAHH96, standing for Maximum Allowable Hat Height. My academic standing and that of President Gregorian, should be evident from the hats that we are presently wearing!"

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