How Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) Was Viewed By Non-Muslim Intellectuals

How Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) Was Viewed By Non-Muslim Intellectuals

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Twitter:@NassarMohamadMR

This article is written for those who continue to slander the last Prophet of Islam. Obviously those who defame The Prophet (pbuh) haven’t read anything about the character and the life of the noble man who was sent as a mercy to the whole world.

After reading this article if they continue to hold bias, it would be their inability to unlearn what the media has made them believe. And if they continue to believe that entire Arabia was transformed in two decades by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through his sword, then we highly recommend them to read this article on ‘Non-Muslims in Islamic History‘…

Also bear in mind that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the man who never wrote an autobiography yet has more biographies have been written about him than any man in history. In addition, no Muslim today has ever seen him. No photograph or sketch or painting exists of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), yet he is loved by billions of Muslims (and few non-Muslims) around the world.

The Quran says,

And We have sent you (O Muhammad) not but as a mercy for the Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). ~ Quran 21:107

Here are select few impressions that gives perspective on how these select few global thinkers, writers and historians understood the noble character of The Prophet (pbuh). We believe none of them accepted Islam; hence these words reflect their personal and unbiased views on various aspects of the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

#1. Michael Hart: American Astrophysicist

Michael rated Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as the most influential man in history. He has emphasized enough in the book that the yardstick for ranking the people in his book is their influence not their greatness, the people who swayed the destinies of millions of human beings, determined the rise and fall of civilizations and the course of history. See here.

Excerpts from his book: The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, 1978

My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels. Of humble origins, Muhammad founded and promulgated one of the world’s great religions, and became an immensely effective political leader.

Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive. The majority of the persons in this book had the advantage of being born and raised in centers of civilization, highly cultured or politically pivotal nations. Muhammad, however, was born in the year 570, in the city of Mecca, in southern Arabia, at that time a backward area of the world, far from the centers of trade, art, and learning. Orphaned at age six, he was reared in modest surroundings. Islamic tradition tells us that he was illiterate.

Since there are roughly twice as many Christians as Moslems in the world, it may initially seem strange that Muhammad has been ranked higher than Jesus. There are two principal reasons for that decision. First, Muhammad played a far more important role in the development of Islam than Jesus did in the development of Christianity.

Although Jesus was responsible for the main ethical and moral precepts of Christianity (insofar as these differed from Judaism), St. Paul was the main developer of Christian theology, its principal proselytizer, and the author of a large portion of the New Testament. Muhammad, however, was responsible for both the theology of Islam and its main ethical and moral principles.

On the purely religious level, then, it seems likely that Muhammad has been as influential in human history as Jesus. Furthermore, Muhammad (unlike Jesus) was a secular as well as a religious leader. In fact, as the driving force behind the Arab conquests, he may well rank as the most influential political leader of all time.

#2. Alphonse de Lamartine: Historian, Statesman

Excerpts from his book: Histoire de la Turquie, 1855, Vol. I, Pg 154 – 155

If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in modern history than Muhammad?

The most famous men created arms, laws and empires only. They founded, if anything at all, no more than material powers which often crumbled away before their eyes. This man moved not only armies, legislation, empires, peoples and dynasties, but millions of men in one-third of the then inhabited world; and more than that, he moved the altars, the gods, the religions, the ideas, the beliefs and souls….

His forbearance in victory, his ambition, which was entirely devoted to one idea and in no manner striving for an empire; His endless prayers, his mystic conversations with God, his death and his triumph after death; all these attest not to an imposture but to a firm conviction which gave him the power to restore a dogma.

Philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, conqueror of ideas, restorer of rational dogmas, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire, that is Muhammad. As regards all the standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, Is there any man greater than he?

#3. Rev. Bosworth Smith: Late Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford

Excerpts from his book: Mohammed and Mohammedanism, 1874, Pg 261-262

Muhammad did not, indeed, himself conquer a world like Alexander or Caesar or Napoleon. He did not himself weld together into a homogeneous whole a vast system of states like Charles the Great. He was not a philosophic king like Marcus Aurelius; nor a philosopher like Aristotle or like Bacon, ruling by pure reason the world of thought for centuries with a more than kingly power; he was not a legislator for all mankind, nor even the highest part of it.

like Justinian; nor did he cheaply earn the title of “the Great” by being the first among rulers to turn, like Constantine, from the setting of the rising sun. He was not a universal philanthropist, like the greatest of the Stoics; nor was he the apostle of the highest form of religion and civilisation combined.

like Gregory or Boniface, like Leo or Alfred the Great. He was less, indeed, than most of these in one or two of the elements that go to make up human greatness, but he was also greater.

He (Muhammad) was Caesar and Pope in one; but he was Pope without Pope’s pretensions, Caesar without the legions of Caesar: without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue;

if ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by the right divine, it was Mohammed, for he had all the power without its instruments and without its supports. Muhammad was content with the reality, he cared not for the dressings of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.

#4. Sir George Bernard Shaw: Playwright, Socialist 

Excerpts from his book: The Genuine Islam, Vol. 1, No. 8, 1936, Singapore

I have always held the religion of Muhammad in high estimation because of its wonderful vitality. It is the only religion, which appears to me to possess that assimilating capacity to the changing phase of existence, which can make itself appeal to every age.

I have studied him – the wonderful man and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ, he must be called the Savior of Humanity. I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness.

I have prophesied about the faith of Muhammad that it would be acceptable to the Europe of tomorrow as it is beginning to be acceptable to the Europe of today. If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam.

Muhammad was by far the most remarkable man that ever set foot on this earth. He preached a religion, founded a state, built a nation, laid down a moral code, initiated numerous social and political reforms. He established a powerful and dynamic society to practice and represent his teachings and completely revolutionized the worlds of human thought and behavior for all times to come. Yes, he was Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

He was born in Arabia in the year 570, started his mission of preaching the religion of Truth, Islam(submission to One God) at the age of forty and departed from this world at the age of sixty-three. During this short period of 23 years of his Prophethood, he changed the complete Arabian peninsula.

  • From paganism and idolatry to submission to the One True God,
  • From tribal quarrels and wars to national solidarity and cohesion, 
  • From drunkenness and debauchery to sobriety and piety,
  • From lawlessness and anarchy to disciplined living,
  • From utter bankruptcy to the highest standards of moral excellence.

Human history has never known such a complete transformation of a society or a place before or since. Imagine all these unbelievable wonders in just over two decades.

#5. Swami Vivekananda: Hindu Monk

Lecture delivered at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, Feb 1900

Mohammed was the Prophet of equality, of the brotherhood of man, the brotherhood of all Mussulmans. Mohammed by his life showed that amongst Mohammedans there should be perfect equality and brotherhood.

There was no question of race, caste, creed, colour, or sex. The Sultan of Turkey may buy a Negro from the mart of Africa, and bring him in chains to Turkey; but should he become a Mohammedan and have sufficient merit and abilities, he might even marry the daughter of the Sultan. Compare this with the way in which the Negroes and the American Indians are treated in this country!

And what do Hindus do? If one of your missionaries chance to touch the food of an orthodox person, he would throw it away. Notwithstanding our grand philosophy, you note our weakness in practice; but there You see the greatness of the Mohammedan beyond other races, showing itself in equality, perfect equality regardless of race or colour.

Lecture delivered in the Universalist Church, Pasadena, California, Jan 1900

Christian people hate no religion in the world so much as Mohammedanism. They think it is the very worst form of religion that ever existed. As soon as a man becomes a Mohammedan, the whole of Islam receives him as a brother with open arms, without making any distinction, which no other religion does. 

If one of your American Indians becomes a Mohammedan, the Sultan of Turkey would have no objection to dine with him. If he has brains, no position is barred to him. In this country, I have never yet seen a church where the white man and the negro can kneel side by side to pray.

Just think of that: Islam makes its followers all equal — so, that, you see, is the peculiar excellence of Mohammedanism. In many places in the Koran you find very sensual ideas of life. Never mind. What Mohammedanism comes to preach to the world is this practical brotherhood of all belonging to their faith. 

More quotes from Swami Vivekananda on Quran, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Islam is summarised here. You may also want to glance through an interesting article covered in an Indian newspaper on the Indian vote-bank politics.

#6. Thomas Carlyle: Philosopher, Historian 

Excerpts from his book: Heros, Hero-Worship & The Heroic in History, 1840. Section: The Hero as Prophet (Muhammad), Pg 67 – 125

Much has been said of Muhammad propagating his religion by the sword. It is no doubt far nobler what we have to boast of the Christian religion, that it propagated itself peacefully in the way of preaching and conviction. Yet withal, if we take this for an argument of the truth or falsehood of a religion, there is a radical mistake in it.

The sword indeed but where will you get your sword! Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a minority of one. In one man’s head alone, there it dwells as yet. One man alone of the whole world believes it; there is one man against all men. That he take a sword and try to propagate with that will do little for him.

The lies (Western slander) which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man (Muhammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only… How one man single-handedly, could weld warring tribes and wandering Bedouins into a most powerful and civilized nation in less than two decades. A silent great soul, one of that who cannot but be earnest. He was to kindle the world, the world’s Creator had ordered so. 

At the end of his essay on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Thomas concludes:

The Great Man (Muhammad) was always as lightning out of Heaven; the rest of men waited for him like fuel, and then they too would flame.

#7. Prof. K. S. Ramakrishna Rao: Philosopher, Psychologist, Researcher 

Excerpts from his book: Muhammad, The Prophet of Islam. Full details available here.

The personality of Muhammad! It is most difficult to get into the truth of it. Only a glimpse of it I can catch. What a dramatic succession of picturesque scenes. There is Muhammad the Prophet, there is Muhammad the General; Muhammad the King; Muhammad the Warrior; Muhammad the Businessman; Muhammad the Preacher; Muhammad the Philosopher; Muhammad the Statesman; Muhammad the Orator; Muhammad the reformer; Muhammad the Refuge of orphans; Muhammad the Protector of slaves; Muhammad the Emancipator of women; Muhammad the Law-giver; Muhammad the Judge; Muhammad the Saint. And in all these magnificent roles, in all these departments of human activities, he is like, a hero.

After the fall of Mecca, more than one million square miles of land lay at his feet, Lord of Arabia, yet he mended his own shoes and coarse woolen garments, milked the goats, swept the hearth, kindled the fire and attended the other menial offices of the family.

The entire town of Medina where he lived grew wealthy in the later days of his life. Everywhere there was gold and silver in plenty and yet in those days of prosperity many weeks would elapse without a fire being kindled in the hearth of the king of Arabia, His food being dates and water. His family would go hungry many nights successively because they could not get anything to eat in the evening.

He slept on no soften bed but on a palm mat, after a long busy day to spend most of his night in prayer, often bursting with tears before his creator to grant him strength to discharge his duties. As the reports go, his voice would get choked with weeping and it would appear as if a cooking pot was on fire and boiling had commenced.

On the very day of his death his only assets were few coins a part of which went to satisfy a debt and rest was given to a needy person who came to his house for charity. The clothes in which he breathed his last had many patches. The house from where light had spread to the world was in darkness because there was no oil in the lamp.

Circumstances changed, but the prophet of God did not. In victory or in defeat, in power or in adversity, in affluence or in indigence, he is the same man, disclosed the same character.

#8. Annie Besant: Theosophist, Women’s Rights Activist

Lecture on The Life & Teachings of Muhammad, 1903

There is much of course in the exclusive claims of Christianity which make it hostile to other faiths. But none the less that is no excuse for an ignorance of one of the great religions of the world — an ignorance that I think ought to be regarded as a duty by the Muhammadan world to diminish by making known the real character of the Muhammad and by spreading a knowledge of his teachings in countries where those teachings are misrepresented.

It is then that I had the idea of putting before you who hold that faith, and of putting before others who do not hold it, a way in which it may be regarded, which will replace mistrust with trust, which will make friendship instead of hostility. 

It is impossible for anyone who studies the life and character of the great Prophet of Arabia, who knows how he taught and how he lived, to feel anything but reverence for that mighty Prophet, one of the great messengers of the Supreme.

And although in what I now put to you I shall say things which may be familiar to many, yet I myself feel, whenever I re-read them, a new way of admiration, a new sense of reverence to that mighty Arabian Teacher.

Note the liberality and inclusiveness of Islam. It is declared in Europe that Islam sanctions polygamy, and leads to the degradation of woman. When Muhammad began his teaching, Arabia was plunged in the grossest licentiousness and sensual degradation; no union between the sexes was recognised; profligacy was found on every side;

and so the Prophet began by narrowing down the limits within which there might be connection; so he limited the number of wives to four, but made a provision which would gradually lead to a close union; for he declared: “Take a second wife only if she could be loved and cherished as the first,”

I often think that woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. Woman is more protected by Islam than by the faith which preaches monogamy. In Al Quran the law about woman is juster and more liberal. It is only twenty years that Christian England has recognised the right of women to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times. 

#9. Jules Masserman: American Psychoanalyst

TIME Magazine. ‘Who Were History’s Great Leaders?‘ Edition July 15, 1974

Leaders must fulfill three functions:

  • Provide for the well being of the led,
  • Provide a social organization in which people feel relatively secure, and
  • Provide them with a set of beliefs…

People like Pasteur and Salk are leaders in the first sense. People like Gandhi and Confucius, on one hand, and Alexander, Caesar and Hitler on the other, are leaders in the second and perhaps the third sense. Jesus and Buddha belong in the third category alone.

Perhaps the greatest leader of all times was Mohammed, who combined all three functions. To a lesser degree, Moses did the same.

#10. Rev. Prof. William Watt, Historian, Emeritus Prof. Univ. of Edinburgh

An interview published in The Coracle, the Iona Community, 2000

I’ve found evidence in some of the early sources that seems to show that Muhammad made things better for women. It appears that in some parts of Arabia, notably in Mecca, a matrilineal system was in the process of being replaced by a patrilineal one at the time of Muhammad. Growing prosperity caused by a shifting of trade routes was accompanied by a growth in individualism.

Men were amassing considerable personal wealth and wanted to be sure that this would be inherited by their own actual sons, and not simply by an extended family of their sisters’ sons. This led to a deterioration in the rights of women.

At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible – they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons. Muhammad improved things quite a lot. By instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, he gave women certain basic safeguards. Set in such historical context the Prophet can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women’s rights.

#11. Washington Irving: American author, Biographer, Historian

Excerpts from his book: The Life of Mahomet, 1850, pg. 262-264

His (Muhammad’s) intellectual qualities were undoubtedly of an extraordinary kind. He had a quick apprehension, a retentive memory, a vivid imagination and an inventive genius. Owing but little to education, he had quickened and informed his mind by close observation, and stored it with a great variety of knowledge concerning the system of religion current in his day…

He was sober and abstemious in his diet, and a rigorous observer of fasts. He indulged in no magnificence of apparel, the ostentation of a petty mind; neither was his simplicity in dress affected, but the result of a real disregard to distinction from so trivial a source …

In his private dealings he was just. He treated friends and strangers, the rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, with equity, and was beloved by the common people for the affability with which he received them, and listened to their complaints …

His military triumphs awakened no pride nor vain glory, as they would have done had they been effected for selfish purposes. In the time of his greatest power he maintained the same simplicity of manners and appearance as in the days of his adversity. So far from affecting regal state, he was displeased if, on entering a room, any unusual testimonial of respect were shown to him.

#12. Mahatma Gandhi: Indian Freedom Fighter, Statesman

Excerpts from his book: Young India, 1924

I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind. I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life.

It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle.

When I closed the second volume (of the Prophet’s biography), I was sorry there was not more for me to read of that great life.

Elsewhere Gandhi stated (as called out by Prof. K. S. Ramakrishna Rao, IPCI, New York, pg 7)

Someone has said that Europeans in South Africa dread the advent of Islam ― Islam, that civilized Spain.  Islam that took the torch light to Morocco preached to the world the Gospel of Brotherhood.  The Europeans of South Africa dread the advent of Islam, as they (Islam) claim equality with the white races. They may well dread it, if brotherhood is a sin. If it is equality of the colored races that they dread, then their dread is well-founded.

#13. Sarojini Naidu: Indian Poet-Writer

Speeches & Writings: Ideals of Islam, Madras, 1917

Islamic Brotherhood must not confine the ideal of Brotherhood to those alone that profess their creed, but must expand the interpretation of that ideal of Brotherhood till every community within this land has learnt the lesson that Muhammad was born to teach.

When we look at the lego-religious law, what is laid down there is the outcome of the Prophetic vision that realises that civilisation would tend more and more towards democracy. It was the first religion that preached and practised democracy, for in the mosque when [from] the minaret [the call to prayer] is sounded and the worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and the king kneel side by side and proclaim, “God alone is great.”

#14. Edward Gibbon: English Historian & Member of Parliament

Excerpts from his book: History Of The Saracen Empire, 1870

The talents of Muhammad are entitled to our applause but his success has perhaps too strongly attracted our admiration… It is not the propagation but the permanency of his religion that deserves our wonder: the same pure and perfect impression which he engraved at Mecca and Medina, is preserved, after the revolutions of twelve centuries, by the Indian, the African and the Turkish proselytes of The Quran… His beneficial or pernicious influence on the public happiness is the last consideration in the character of Muhammad. 

Note: As mentioned above these are select few citations that we have hand-picked. There are many eminent non-Muslims who have a very high regard of the noble Prophet (pbuh). To end this article, here is the description of how Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the best of Allah’s creation, looked like.

The Quran informs mankind,

Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow… ~ Quran 33:21