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3. Muhammad as Founder and Legislator

Muhammad is often referred to by the Muslim philosophers as "The Lawgiver," since from his governing of the early community and the example of his life the Islamic Law has been systematized. The Law is usually seen as of Divine origin, but mediated by the Prophet. In the important task of establishing God's community on earth, there could be no error, and by continually referring to the prophetic period, the Muslim community hopes to be preserved from error. In a sense, then, the Prophet's sunna is revelation, and it is embodied in the Ḥadīth.

Historically speaking, Muhammad was the exponent of a more civilized existence in a land dominated by the wild and violent norms of the Beduins. Even the life of the towns of Arabia was deeply affected by their setting in the sea of nomadism, and changing this barbaric world was no easy task.

The cultural situation of Arabia in the seventh century

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was not too dissimilar to that described in the Book of Judges, and one is struck by the essential similarity of Muhammad to the prophets of the Old Testament--there is his tenderness for his people, his personal mildness where his own affairs were concerned and his relentless zeal where he considered that the affairs of God were concerned.

However, the Ḥadīth literature is so rich that one may, while never feeling that he has fully understood this extraordinary man, add vivid details to the general prophetic type; his daily life is depicted for us, and there are the flashes of kindly irony, and his joy in the simple pleasures of life.

The typical form of a fully sound ḥadīth is as follows:


Al-Bukhārī writes: "‘Abdallah ibn al-Aswad told me: 'Al-Fadl ibn al-‘Atā’ told us: 'Isma‘īl ibn Umayya told us on the authority of Yaḥya ibn ‘Abdallah ibn Ṡayfī that he heard Abū Ma‘bad, the freedman of Ibn ‘Abbās, say, 'I heard Ibn ‘Abbās say: 'When the Prophet, the blessings of God be upon him, and peace, sent Mu‘adh to the Yemen, he said to him: 'You will come upon some of the People of the Book, so the first thing you will call on them to do is to profess the Oneness of God. When they have learned that, inform them that God has prescribed for the five ritual prayers a day. When they have made the ritual prayers, inform them that God has imposed zakāt on their possessions, to be taken from the rich and given to the poor. When they have accepted all this, then take the tax from them, but leave them their most precious possessions:'"'"'" 18


The following ḥadīths are taken from the "sound" collections of Bukhārī and Muslim, and I have suppressed all but the first and last links of the isnāds.

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Bukhārī . . . from ‘Abdallah: "I said, 'Messenger of God, what is the greatest sin?' 'It is to make an idol for God, who created you.' 'Then what?' 'To kill your own child from motives of economy.' [lit., fearing lest he eat with you.] 'And then what?' 'To commit adultery with your neighbor's wife.'" 19


Bukhārī . . . from ‘A’isha: "The Prophet did something and thus permitted it for others, but some people still abstained from it. And that came to the Prophet, and he went into the pulpit, and praised God. Then he said, 'What ails those people who refrain from a thing I have done? For by God, I know God better than they do, and I am more fearful of offending him.'" 20


Bukhārī . . . from Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī: "The Prophet was more shy than a virgin in her green years. When he saw a thing he disliked, we knew it from his face." 21


Bukhārī . . . from Abū Salama from Mir: "A man who had become a Muslim came to the Prophet, God's benediction and peace be on him, and confessed to fornication. The Prophet turned away from him. This happened until the man had confessed four times. Then the Prophet said to him, 'Are you insane?' 'No,' he said. 'Are you married?' He replied 'Yes,' and the Prophet ordered him to be stoned at the Muṡalla [mosque outside Medina]. When the stones struck him, he ran away, but he was caught and stoned until he was dead. Then the Prophet--the blessing of God and peace be upon him--spoke well of him and prayed over him." 22


Bukhārī . . . from Ibn ‘Umar: "They brought the Prophet, on whom be God's benediction and peace, a Jew and a Jewess who had committed fornication. He said to them: 'What do you find in your book?' They said: 'Our rabbis blacken the face of the guilty and expose them to public ridicule.' ‘Abdallah ibn Salām (who had been a Jew) said, 'Messenger of God, tell the Jews to bring the Torah.' They

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brought it, but a Jew put his hand over the verse which prescribes stoning and began to read what came before it and after it. Ibn Salām said to him 'Raise your hand,' and there was the verse about stoning beneath his hand. The Messenger of God gave the order, and they were stoned." Ibn ‘Umar added: "They were stoned on the level ground and I saw the man leaning over the woman to shield her from the stones." 23


Bukhārī . . . from Anas ibn Mālik, servant of the Prophet: "A group of people from the tribe of ‘Ukl came to the Prophet and accepted Islam. Then they became ill in Medina, and he ordered them to go to the camel-herd of the public purse and drink the urine and the milk (as medicine). They did, and were cured. Then they renounced their religion, killed the herdsmen and stole the camels. He sent trackers after them, and they were captured. And he cut off their hands and their feet and burnt out their eyes and did not cauterize their wounds, so that they died." 24


Bukhārī . . . from Ibn ‘Abbās: "The Prophet cursed men who act like women and women who act like men, and said, 'Drive them from your houses.' He expelled such people, and ‘Umar did it as well." 25


Bukhārī . . . from Sa‘d ibn Abī Waqqās: "The Messenger of God refused to let ‘Uthmān ibn Maẓ‘ūn make a vow of chastity. Had he allowed him, we would all have been castrated." 26


Bukhārī . . . from ‘A’isha: "A Beduin came to the Prophet and said 'Do you kiss children? We never do.' And the Prophet said, 'What shall I do to give back to you the mercy God has taken from your heart?'" 27


Bukhārī . . . from Abū Hurayra: "A Beduin came to the Messenger of God and said, 'Messenger of God, my wife has given birth to a black male-child.' 'Have you camels?' the Prophet asked. 'Yes,' said the Beduin. 'Are they ever ash-colored?' 'Yes,' said the Beduin. 'And how is that?' he asked.

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[paragraph continues] 'Something in the blood changed them.' 'Then perhaps something in the blood has changed your son,' said the Prophet." 28


Bukhārī . . . from Sahl ibn Sa‘d: "A woman came to the Messenger of God, and said, 'Messenger of God, I have come to offer you my person.' The Messenger of God gazed upon her and looked her up and down. Then he lowered his head. And when the woman saw that he had made no decision about her, she sat down. One of the Prophet's Companions rose and said, 'Messenger of God, if you have no need of her, marry her to me.' He asked, 'Do you have anything (to give her as marriage portion)?' 'No, by God, Messenger of God.' 'Then go to your people and see if you can find something.' The man went and returned, and said, 'No, by God, I found nothing, Messenger of God.' He said, 'Look; even for a ring made of iron.' He went and came back and said, 'No, by God, Messenger of God, not even a ring made of iron, but here is my waist-wrapper.' Sahl added, 'It was not large enough as that he could have given her the half of it.' The Messenger of God asked, 'What would she do with your waist-wrapper? If you wear it, she will get nothing out of it, and if she wears it you will get nothing out of it.' The man sat down for a long time, and then he rose to go. The Messenger of God saw him leaving and ordered him to be called back. When he came, he said, 'How much of the Qur’ān do you know?' He replied, 'I know sūra so and so, and such a one, and such a one.' He said, 'Could you read them on the surface of your heart?' 'Yes,' said the man. 'Go then. I give her to you for what you have of the Qur’ān.'" 29


84:18 Al-Bukhārī, ed. Krehl & Juynboll, Kitāb al-Jāmi‘ al-Sahīh (Leyden, 1868-1908), p. 445. The Sahīh has also been translated into French by O. Houdas and W. Marcais (Paris, 1903-1914).

84:19 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 115.

84:20 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 139.

84:21 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 139.

84:22 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 302.

84:23 Ibid., Vol. IV, pp. 300, 309.

84:24 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 298, several versions.

84:25 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 308.

84:26 Ibid., Vol. III, p. 413.

84:27 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 114.

84:28 Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 431.

84:29 Ibid., Vol. III, p. 403.

Next: 4. Muhammad as Model and Guide