Prophet Muhammad’s approaches to community building provide us with inspiration in building our own communities today. Exploring his life and legacy is valuable because it entails many positive encounters with ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.
Racial inequalities are rife in the United States and beyond. Muhammad did not merely condemn racism; he actively countered it by taking deliberate action to liberate his fellow human beings. His Farewell Sermon in 632 sheds light on his vision for the Ummah as a “post-racial” society. So does his relationship with Bilal Ibn Rabbah.
In 630 Prophet Muhammad and the Ummah welcomed the Christians of Najran for a three-day diplomatic event at Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina. Christians, Muslims, and other “Believers” engaged in a civil conversation about Christology. Muhammad also provided the Christians of Najran with prayer space inside the masjid. His example showed that hospitality is an act of faith and a key feature of Islam.
Critics say that Islam and American values are mutually exclusive, but that is far from the truth. Muhammad engaged in civic nation building by agreeing to the articles of the Constitution of Medina. He established a political community that provided freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and freedom of speech to Jews and pagans (and likely Christians). The Constitution of Medina mirrors the founding political documents of the United States of America, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Building bridges across the ethnic, racial, and religious divide is more important than ever. Communities across the U.S. and the world are barricading themselves on exclusive identities which strip us of our common humanity. Muhammad was an ally to marginalized groups. He also allied himself with several Christian communities around the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century.
Muhammad had family members and friends from various religious backgrounds. He even honored a Jewish funeral procession and encouraged his followers to be more embracing of our common humanity. The Qur’an focuses on the common ground between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Fostering interfaith harmony is crucial to our multi-religious environments.
I have deep respect for the Islamic tradition, which has many similarities with Judaism and Christianity. I also value the Qur’an for holding Jesus and Mary in such high esteem. Examining Prophet Muhammad’s life and legacy offers us a way to understand the nature of the Divine.