As the figureheads of two major world religions, the lives and teachings of Jesus and Muhammad are consistently examined and debated. The lives of these two men are strikingly different, and perhaps this is reflected in the different ways in which they are considered and worshipped. Jesus promoted peace and goodwill to all men, was destined for his role as a spiritual leader at the moment of conception, and is worshipped as a divine entity. In contrast, Muhammad was a powerful political and military leader as well as a religious one, and is not worshipped as a divine entity, but simply as a prophet, or messenger of God.
The Life and Death of Jesus Christ Jesus is thought to have been born in Bethlehem, in or close to 4 BC (Bockmuehl, 13), and to have been raised in Nazareth by parents Mary and Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter by trade, as was Jesus himself. Jesus was a devout Jew (Bockmuehl, 15), but it is thought that his interpretation of the Torah was significantly different from what was generally accepted.
The Gospels frequently describe incidents in which Jesus debated scripture and was critical of certain Jewish sects, most notably the Pharisees.
In the absence of other historical sources, the Gospels are the main source of information about the life of Jesus. Little is known about the events that occurred between Jesus’ birth and his emergence as the leader of a religious movement. At an unknown point in his life, Jesus became a follower and friend of a prophet named John the Baptist (Bockmuehl, 22). After the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus began preaching. He taught that the kingdom of God was imminent and that repentance of sins and acceptance of the Gospel was necessary to “acquire treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).
It is thought that Jesus’ ministry lasted approximately three years. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus traveled throughout Galileee, teaching in synagogues and open fields alike, healing the sick, and “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). Jesus used parables extensively, presumably because they made his messages of faith and forgiveness easier to understand. The events culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion occurred in Jerusalem (Bockmuehl, 36).
According to the Gospels, he caused a disturbance in a temple by overturning tables belonging to moneychangers and preventing the passage of people who used the temple as a sort of shortcut through the city. Ultimately, he was executed because his teachings and actions made him a threat to the stability of established religion and power structures (Bockmuehl, 96). Jesus’ death is perhaps more important than his life, in terms of the impact it has had on the popularity and acceptance of his religious teachings. If Jesus had not died a martyr, Christianity would not exist as we know it today.
Even more important than his manner of death, however, are the Gospel reports which state that three days after his death, his tomb was empty, and that he was subsequently seen alive by the disciples (Bockmuehl, 102). Regardless of whether or not Jesus was actually resurrected, belief in the resurrection is the defining principle of the Christian faith, and is the basis for the enormous impact of Christianity on the Western world. Jesus’ resurrection increases the significance of his death and validates the messages of his ministry (Bockmuehl, 101).
The Life and Death of Muhammad Unlike Jesus, who, having been conceived immaculately was destined for greatness, Muhammad was a middle aged man before he received his calling (Cook, 14). Muhammad was born in or around 570 AD, and did not “receive his mission” (Cook, 14) for over forty years. This occurred on Mount Hira, near Mecca. It is said that as Muhammad lay asleep, the angel Gabriel came to him in a dream and revealed to him the first of a series of scriptures which eventually became the Koran.
Muhammad subsequently spend ten to fifteen years in Mecca (Cook, 16), where he not only made many converts, but was also visited repeatedly by Gabriel, who introduced him to Abraham, Moses, and Jesus and allowed him to visit heaven. At this time, Paganism was the predominant religion in Mecca, and while Muhammad was mocked by some, he and his new religion were mostly tolerated. However, Muhammad began to criticize Pagan gods, and hostility was the eventual result, as city rules feared that the turbulence caused by religious division might limit trade between Mecca and other cities.
A number of Muhammad’s followers fled to Ethiopia to escape persecution (Cook, 18). Muhammad himself eventually found protection in the form of tribesmen located in the northern city of Medina, who apparently saw Muhammad’s religion as a means of uniting their city, which was then fraught with internal political division (Cook, 19). Muhammad’s move to Medina took place in 622 AD, and is called the hijra. The year in which this occurred became known as the first year of the Muslim era. Once settled in Medina, Muhammad succeeding in uniting the warring Arab factions by enveloping both under the Muslim umbrella (Cook 21).
With bloodshed between Muslims forbidden, the feud was effectively halted. With internal peace assured, Muhammad turned his attentions to external enemies, the chief of these being his home town, Mecca. He achieved a number of military successes, including the invasion and capture of Mecca (Cook, 22). His religious message spread as his conquests continued, and many Arab tribes submitted to his political and religious authority. Muhammad continued to receive visits from Gabriel, and many of the rituals which define Islam originated in this way (Cook, 23).
Unlike Jesus, Muhammad died peacefully, of an unknown illness (Cook, 24), and was survived by nine wives as well as four daughters. Military operations continued in the name of Islam after his death. Muhammad had apparently planned to send an exploratory expedition to Palestine (Cook, 22), but died before this could be carried out. However, within a generation after his death, the Middle East had been conquered by the Muslims. Historical Worship of Jesus and Muhammad Jesus was an object of worship within a generation after his death (Bockmuehl, 220).
Christ was invoked in prayer and hymn as early as the first century AD. However, it was not until the fourth century that Christianity was widely accepted (Bockmuehl, 223). At this point religious iconography began to appear in public displays, and purpose-built Christian churches were erected as the Christian faith became more organized and hierarchical. The importance of Christianity steadily increased until the end of the Middle Ages, at which point Christianity was the center of all aspects of life.
Art, literature, music, and architecture were created to glorify Christ and depict Biblical events. Also at this time, religious art began to explore the human side of Jesus (Bockmuehl, 225), portraying his mental and physical anguish in realistic crucifixion scenes. It was not until the Italian Renaissance and Humanistic philosophy of the fifteenth century that secular art and literature began to appear. The self-exploration prompted by the Renaissance eventually gave rise to schisms within the previously unified Christian church.
In the modern world, Jesus is increasingly viewed as just one of many prophets, including Moses, Muhammad, and Buddha (Bockmuehl, 237). Worship of Jesus in the twenty-first century is perhaps more personal than it once was, with less emphasis on organized religion and more emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ. This is perhaps necessary in a world which is increasingly secular, where there are many different religious denominations which identify as Christian, and where Christianity is no longer an entity which dominates every aspect of both public and private life.
Unlike Jesus, who is worshipped as a divine entity, Muhammad is worshipped as a prophet or messenger of God, rather than a divine being (Cook, 83). Muhammad was not only a religious leader, but a political and military leader as well. The monotheistic faith that Muhammad created gave Islamic Arab nations the political stability that enabled them to become one of the world’s major civilizations (Cook, 86). Within two hundred years of Muhammad’s death, the Islamic religions had spread far beyond the borders of Arabian countries (Cook, 87).
In the modern world, the faith is no longer spread via conquest of other countries, despite the efforts of extremist sects such as Al-Qaeda. As with Christianity, the basic tenets of Muslim faith remain unchanged, however the modern world has indeed influenced Muslim practices (Rippin, 127). Similar to the way in which the increasing separation of religion and state influenced Christianity, this division, together with the existence of the Muslim faith in countries which are not predominantly Muslim, has made the religion more of a personal choice and less of a political or national way of life.
Just as with Christianity, numerous Muslim sects exist in the world. However, for devout Muslims, the rituals and practices of the faith remain virtually unchanged in comparison to what they were during ancient times. Conclusion The lives and deaths of Jesus and Mohammad have been just as influential in their respective religions as their teachings, if not more so. Both managed to unite innumerable people under one religion in different ways, which are reflected in their teachings and the events of their lives.
Both were the figureheads of monotheistic religions, but had very different teachings. Jesus’ main message was the importance of love of both God and of fellow man, while Muhammad promoted unity within the Muslim community but used war as a means of spreading the Islamic faith to new lands.
Bockmuehl, Markus. (2001) The Cambridge companion to Jesus. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Cook, Michael. (1996) Muhammad. Oxford: Oxford University. Rippin, Andrew. (1990) Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. London: Routledge.