My hope for this post is a cursory examination of the lives of two tremendous leaders in world history: Jesus and Mohammad. Both of these men are revered as prophets. As a Christian minister, I have a great deal of training and study in Christianity, so my knowledge of Jesus’ life is more extensive. I have tried, however, (as I always try) to be fair and honest in my scholarship (such as it is). I hope this brief comparison is enlightening and edifying. I hope soon to add a second part to this article comparing the spread of both Christianity and Islam.
Jesus (actually, Jeshua) was born into a Jewish family in a Jewish land ruled by the Romans. Israel was fiercely monotheistic. The religious life of the Jews of Jesus’ time revolved (on a daily/weekly basis) around local synagogues, but the heart of Judaism was the Temple in Jerusalem, the sacrifices there, and the Pilgrim Feasts. Read J. Julius Scott’s work for a spectacular introduction to the Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament.
The New Testament data coupled with Roman records (and other sources) places the birth of Jesus around 7-6 B.C. From the biblical accounts, Jesus was a good boy (Luke 2:40,52), causing his parents a bit of angst (Luke 2:41-51). Jesus was baptized by John ca. late AD 26 and began his ministry in the Spring of AD 27. The ministry of Jesus lasted only three years and began when he was “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23). His first year of ministry was relatively popular, his second year was wildly popular, and his third year was not very popular. His ministry consisted of preaching, teaching, and the working signs and miracles (especially healing the sick). Jesus’ ministry ended with his murder in the Spring of AD 30. Jesus was murdered as the result of a conspiracy between one of his own disciples, the Jewish leadership (and people) and the Roman leadership. He was put to death on a wooden cross, died quickly, and was buried the same day. According to the Scriptures, Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, appeared to hundreds of people over the course of forty days, and he was received back into heaven as some of his disciples watched. In case some doubt the veracity of the NT accounts of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, nearly all his apostles were persecuted to death for holding to these historical facts. For the general chronology of his life see Dr. Battle’s notes at WRS.
The context into which the Prophet Mohammad was born was, best I can tell, a somewhat topsy-turvy one. (Incidentally, I’ll sometimes refer to Mohammad as “the Prophet,” as that’s how Muslims call him. I do not, however, think he was a prophet of God, quite the contrary.) The Arab world was largely limited to the Arabian Peninsula. Arabia was not unified, but consisted of many oft-warring tribes, which themselves were divided into strife-ridden castes or classes. Arabian culture was polytheistic, but there were influential religious traditions already in place, for example, there was a traditional pilgrimage to Mecca that antedated the Prophet.
Mohammad was born in Mecca ca. AD 570-1, but was orphaned as a young boy and brought up under his uncle. He took his first wife, Khadijah (15 years his elder and quite wealthy), in AD 595. Khadijah died in AD 619, but the Prophet had at least a dozen wives after her. His most famous wife was named Aisha. He was engaged to her when she was 6 or 7 years old, but didn’t consummate that union until she was 9 years of age. In his later years, his many wives would be a source of scandal and great consternation to the Prophet. Until he started his prophetic ministry, Mohammed worked largely as a merchant. In AD 610, at 40 years of age, Mohammad began getting revelations from God. These revelations came in various ways. He saw angels, heard voices, and had dreams; these revelations were often accompanied by physical drama including sweating, falling to the ground, and foaming at the mouth. These revelations were later collected, ordered by length, and codified into the Qur’an. By AD 622, the Prophet had run afoul of the governing authorities in Mecca, but had only gained a small following. He fled Mecca for Medina, which is called Hijrah (the Islamic calendar starts here). In Medina, the ranks of his followers swelled, he dominated that city and, in AD 630, he led the conquest of Mecca. By his death in AD 632, he had militarily unified Arabia and had imposed Islam as the religious, political, and military force that was to dominate much of the world from that point on.
Just a quick glance at these two men will pay dividends. I hope this sparks an interest to read more about these men, but especially Jesus. Mohammad’s life, while most impressive, is not morally compelling (indeed, in many ways it is morally sickening). Mohammad’s message is that God is One and that all are to submit to him. Jesus, on the other hand, is not only the quintessential teacher and healer, but his message was that he, himself, was God come in the flesh, that he came to seek and save the lost and helpless, and that he would give up his life for the life of the world. Which will you follow? Who really is a prophet of God, Mohammad or Jesus?