History and Sources

What place does Muhammad occupy in Islamic tradition?

Muslims consider Muhammad the last in a line of prophets commissioned to act as God’s spokesmen to humankind. Beginning with Adam and continuing down through Jesus, the pre-Islamic prophets preached the same fundamental message of belief in one sovereign transcendent God. But because successive generations invariably found the message difficult and inconvenient, people sometimes corrupted or diluted the revelation. Hence, God chose upright individuals to reassert the original revelation. Muhammad was a man singled out for his natural virtue and integrity to fulfill the role of final and definitive intermediary of the divine communication. As a human being, Muhammad naturally had his faults. But Muslims regard him as the finest our species has yet produced, the ideal family man and leader of humanity.

Muhammad himself never claimed to be a wonder-worker. His sole miracle was the Qur’an (pronounced koRAAN and hereafter transliterated as Qur’an), the Muslim sacred scripture. Popular tradition has nevertheless sometimes idealized Muhammad, expanding his powers and prerogatives to include various kinds of marvels. One dual experience, called the Night Journey and Ascension, stands out. According to tradition, God conveyed Muhammad by night from Mecca to Jerusalem, and from there through the various levels of Heaven and Hell. Popular lore has attributed other wonders to Muhammad, but what is most important is to appreciate the enormous affection and reverence Muslims universally feel for their Prophet.


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