Life of the prophet
On Orkut we have had endless discussions about Mohammad, whom Islam-bashers like to call a psychopath and pedofile. My aim of reading that booklet, however, was not to find out the "truth" about Mohammad. I wanted to know how Senegalese Muslims describe his life. I like the Islam the way it is practiced in Senegal. It will be very difficult to find a fundamentalist / extremist / terrorist in Senegal. The culture of Senegal is in general peaceful and tolerant, also towards other religions.
I am not much interested in the facts of Mohammad's life, whether Aischa was 9 or 14 years old when he married her (my booklet doesn't talk about Aischa at all by the way). I am mainly interested in the ethics that are being described in the booklet. And for a big part the ethics are very beautiful. I especially like the emphasis on helping the poor; a willingness to help which is unconditionally. It reminds me strongly of Levinas.
Mohammad's first wife Khadija (the first Muslim ever, converted by Mohammad) says to Mohammad:
"Toi, tu aides les proches, ta parole est véridique, tu soutiens le faible, tu es hospitalier envers le visiteur et tu es patient devant les épreuves de la vie."
"You help your dear ones, you speak the truth, you help the weak, you show hospitality to a visitor and you are patient with the trials of life."
The booklet says also about Mohammad:
"Et si Dieu les gratifiait d'un quelconque bien, il n'en prenait jamais ni pour lui ni pour sa famille avant d'en avoir donné à tous les autres. Il se comporta en homme ordinaire qui ne s'est jamais laissé dominer par l'euphorie de la puissance, de la royauté ou du pouvoir. Pour cette raison, il n'a jamais accepté que ses compagnons se levent à son arrivée ni qu'ils lui octroient une place de choix dans leurs assemblées. Au contraire, il leur ordonnait de rester à leur place et s'asseyait à même le sol et mangeait avec l'esclave et le pauvre."
"And if God gave them something good, he never just took for himself, neither for his family, before he made sure to have given to all others first. He was like an ordinary man who never let himself be carried away by the euphory of strength, kingdom or power. For this reason, he never accepted his followers to stand up for him when he arrived, or that they gave him a chair in the assembly. On the contrary, he told them to remain seated and he himself sat down with the slave and the poor man and had dinner with them."
It's also beautiful what the booklet says about war and peace:
"L'Islam est une religion de sécurité et de paix. Dommage que les musulmans n'aient pas assimilé le sens de cette règle divine enseignée par Dieu. Si le monde dans sa totalité avait correctement compris ce noble credo islamique alors les états auraient détruit leurs armements et les hommes auraient vécu dans l'amour, l'entente, la paix et la confiance."
"Islam is a religion of security and peace. It's a pity that Muslims didn't understand the meaning of that holy rule that was thaught by God. If the world as a whole would have understood that noble Islamic creed correctly, states would have destroyed their weapons and humans would have lived in love, understanding, peace and confidence."
Now the Islam-bashers on Orkut will probably ask what's the use of these beautiful words if the behaviour of Muslims in reality is often totally different. But I think that ethics have a meaning independent of behaviour in the real world.
Personally I think that to help the poor, in an unconditional way (as it is described by Levinas), should be the core of any religion. God is there especially for the people who face extreme difficulties, suffering and injustice. If God is good - and I don't want to believe in a God who is not good - then he wants humans to strive for peace, tolerance and justice. He wants us to be good to each other and to help each other, especially the ones who need our help badly.
In relation to this I also wanted to say that I don't understand why Frank Westerman is turning his back towards religion in his book "Ararat" (see what I wrote before), which I was reading in Senegal. He gives many examples of how science collided with religion in his life, and how he decided finally to choose for science / reason. But the point is, in my opinion, that science and religion don't need to collide. They are from a different order. Science is from the order of facts, research and proof. Religion is from the order of something like belief, ethics and emotions.It's not important if Mohammad married a 9-year old girl. If he did so then I find that a bad thing. But this fact doesn't change the ethics that are being described in my booklet. Only if my booklet would say that it's perfectly alright to marry and have sex with a nine year old girl then it would mean that I dissapprove of the ethics of that book. Sometimes Westerman seems to aknowledge that religion and science are from a different order, sometimes he remembers what it felt like to believe in God, as a child. Sometimes he understands the symbolic meaning of the stories from the Bible and the Quran, and he stops focussing on scientific facts. But then in the end he still decides to reject religion. Why?
And to come back to "La vie du prophète". There is one point which I don't understand and that I don't agree with. The booklet writes positively about Christianity. There are some wise Christian munks in the book who predict that Mohammad will become a great and good leader. In the eyes of Mohammad Christians are wise people with historical knowledge and whom you can turn to for advice. It's being emphasized each time that Abraham / Ibrahim is the father of both Islam and Christianity, and that many prophets are from both religions. But then Jews are described everywhere as eternal enemies of all Muslims in the world, of all times. Mohammad expelled / deported all Jews from Medina, is written in the booklet. While Medina was originally not his city, he came there with his followers as immigrants. I don't know how that happened exactly, but I think I cannot consider that as ethically just. Why should the Jews be enemies of Muslims according to this book? Why not the Christians? All three religions are Abrahamic. I asked it to my friends in Diofior but they couldn't really answer that.
I don't know whether most Muslims see Muhammad in that way. But it would be easy for Christians to assume that they would.
Personally, like you, I'm more interested in the ethics being taught than in such minute questions.
But fortunately it's usually not recommended / accepted to marry a child.