Book Review of The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View
A few years ago, I discovered Dr. Craig Considine’s inspiring posts on Twitter and Instagram, where he often shares his recognition of the many similarities among the beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Now with his inspiring and empowering book The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View, he offers a study to “build stronger bridges” with interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians. With his commitment to confronting Islamophobia by dispelling misinformation, he shares the truth about Muhammad’s remarkable life of embracing people of all faiths and backgrounds.
Considine recounts Muhammad’s invitation to the Christians of Najran as exemplifying religious pluralism at its essence. At Muhammad’s mosque, the Muslims and Christians engaged in theological dialogue regarding beliefs, governance, and politics, and they discussed their mutual reverence of Jesus as a distinguished prophet with the ability of carrying out miracles. This extraordinary meeting enabled the Muslims and Christians to cooperate and co-exist with each other on common values while also preserving their own identities within their faiths. After the meeting, Muhammad welcomed the Christian Najranis to pray in his Al-Masjid al-Nabawi mosque. Considine makes clear that this remarkable interaction between Muslims and Christians demonstrates Muhammad’s vision of the Muslim community, the ummah, as a state that honors religious freedom.
When Muhammad began to share God’s revelations, his teachings of charity and generosity caused the wealthy merchants of the Quraysh tribe to persecute Muhammad and the ummah. During their migration, the hijrah, from Mecca, they sought asylum under the Abyssinian king who accepted the Muslims and opened up a dialogue with them. Considine relates this meeting as another example of religious pluralism. He also examines Muhammad’s covenant with the Christian monks at Mount Sinai as further evidence of Muhammad’s pluralism and humanity. This covenant with the Christians and other treaties Muhammad made with the Persians guaranteed peace, protection, safety, and human rights to those of other faiths. Considine assesses how any mistreatment of Christians or others defies the teachings of Muhammad, who sought to establish a community based on human rights, freedom of worship, and the protection of every citizen. These rights, freedoms, and protections, moreover, did not depend upon one’s class or race, but rather on the piety, civility, and humanity everyone showed to others in the community.
Considine’s studies also bring light to the fact that Muhammad established the ummah as a “civic nation state” based on inclusion, which adhered to equal rights and justice under the law, regardless of one’s background or faith. He explains how Muhammad’s Constitution of Medina ensured freedom of equality under the law among Jews, Muslims, pagans, and Christians. What is most remarkable about this constitution is how Muhammad created it among the warring tribes of Medina. He succeeded because he separated religious and political matters and because he distanced himself from placing importance on customs. Instead, he preached about a society based on equality and democracy. He rejected any emphasis on hierarchy and he made certain to regard civility and piety over ethnicity and kinship. In this way, Considine relates how remarkably Muhammad’s vision reflects the work of America’s Founders who sought a government that protected its diverse peoples as equals, regardless of religion or race.
With racial hatred increasing around the world, Considine points to the examples set by Muhammad as ways to eradicate racism. Muhammad called out one of his companions for his disparaging behavior towards an Ethiopian slave named Bilal who became so revered within the ummah that Muhammad gave him the important job as muezzin. Muhammad’s extraordinary Final Sermon also echoes his commitment to antiracism when he told the ummah that no one can be judged by color or ethnicity, but only by one’s piety and action. Considine shows how Muhammad’s words and deeds reflect the activism of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In fact, prior to his hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm had preached non-integration, but after he interacted and worshipped with Muslims of all races and backgrounds, he understood how Islam made co-existence among races possible. It was the antiracist teachings of Muhmmad that made Malcolm see how racial equality was possible.
Considine offers further insight into Muhammad’s emphasis on learning, knowledge, and education. He chronicles Islam’s long historical record of women and men who created learning institutions and renowned libraries and who contributed immensely to world civilizations, particularly in the fields of science and medicine. Considine shows how, indeed, the Qur’an declares that men and women are equal because they were created from a single soul. Through the revelations from God, Muhammad set the example of how women had societal, property, and marital rights. Muhammad also forbid practice of female infanticide, and he enabled women to contribute mightily to the ummah as business leaders and scholars. With the unwavering support of his wife Khadijah, Muhammad overcame his doubts and fears about his prophethood. She convinced him of his divinity to share and teach God’s message to humankind. After Khadijah’s passing, Muhammad’s wife Aisha played an instrumental role in Muhammad’s migration to Medina. She preserved thousands of her husband’s sage and humane words and deeds in hadiths, and Aisha became a respected teacher, scholar, and judge who Muhammad told others to consult.
To overcome the hatred and violence that has often plagued Christian-Muslim relations over the centuries, Considine reminds us how “Jesus and Muhammad were kindred spirits who followed the Golden Rule.” He examines how both prophets committed their lives to peace by setting examples with their words and deeds. They both stood up for the persecuted and the oppressed, and they warned against the evil of hurting others. Moreover, they both believed in the power of forgiveness, especially of enemies, because both understood how revenge and vendettas have no place in humanity.
Considine’s inspiring and empowering book ultimately shows how the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad reflect the need for everyone to struggle towards love and peace. This self-struggle to overcome personal shortcomings and deficiencies is the true meaning of jihad within the Islamic faith. Muhammad said the great jihad is with the self, while the lesser jihad is with making war. In this way, Considine recognizes how the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad guide their faithful on similar paths “of non-violence, love of humanity, the perfection of the soul, and the search for knowledge.”
The Humanity of Muhammad: A Christian View is a vital contribution to the scholarship and literature on one of the world’s greatest teachers and leaders. Considine’s work makes clear how building bridges of interaction and acceptance between religions can be strengthened by studying the sage and compassionate teachings of Muhammad and by following the great humanity he exemplified throughout his life.
Roger Deblanck is an author and book reviewer. His latest novel, Prayers from the Far Quarter (2020), honors the sacrifices and contributions of Muslims in America’s struggle to make our country a place where we all belong. The story’s main character and narrative voice is Isa Muhammad Rahman, an enslaved African Muslim who eventually serves in the Union army during the Civil War.