Who have been the key people in the development of the religion?
by John Kaltner
individual has had more influence on Islam than the Prophet Muhammad.
He is considered to be the perfect Muslim who fully submitted himself
to the divine will and put into practice the message of the revelation
he was privileged to receive. He is therefore held up as a model
of faith upon whose example all subsequent Muslims should base their
lives. Once Muhammad died the prophetic model was no longer a living
presence among them, and his passing led to the development of an
important body of prophetic traditions.
often assume that the Qur’an serves as a useful record of
Muhammad’s life that Muslims can consult, but that is not
the case. The Qur’an
is not about Muhammad at all and, in fact, his name is found only
four times in the text, which contains more than six thousand verses.
Instead, Muslims have had to rely on reports of
what Muhammad said and did in order to gain detailed information
about the Prophet’s life.
reports, called hadith, began to circulate soon after Muhammad’s
death, and were eventually gathered together into collections that
covered a wide range of topics, including everything from how to
pray properly to the most intimate matters of personal hygiene.
The hadith have been very influential in Islamic law and
personal piety, and they give us a good sense of the central role
Muhammad has played in the life of his community.
most important sources for the hadith were those people
who knew the Prophet personally and were therefore in the best position
to be familiar with the private details of his life. In fact, the
reliability of a given report is based on the identities and reputations
of the individuals in the chain of transmission that is an essential
part of every hadith.
groups have been singled out for special recognition in this regard,
particularly the “companions of the Prophet” because
they knew him well and associated with him on a regular basis. Similarly,
Muhammad’s wives, especially Khadijah and Aisha, were able
to provide a great deal of information about his home life, and
therefore many hadith are traced through them. His
wives are so highly regarded within the community that they are
often given the title “mothers of the faithful.”
the other individuals who have played a key role in the development
of Islam are the various caliphs and other political leaders who
have held positions of authority. Within this group, the “four
rightly guided caliphs,” who governed immediately after Muhammad,
were particularly influential in guiding and shaping the early expansion
of the faith: Abu Bakr (ruled 632-34), Umar (634-44), Uthman (644-56),
and Ali (656-61). Another set of four individuals who had a tremendous
impact on theology and social interaction were the founders of the
Islamic legal schools: Abu Hanifah (d.767), Malik ibn Anas (d.795),
Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi`i (d.819), and Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d.855).
Each of them helped to organize and formalize a legal system that
continues to play an influential role in Muslim life into the present
medieval figures were very prominent theologians and intellectuals
whose influence sometimes extended beyond the Islamic world. Ibn
Sina (980-1037), known as Avicenna in the West, was a brilliant
philosopher and physician whose medical textbook was a standard
reference work in Europe for centuries. Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111)
was one of the great minds of the medieval world who made significant
contributions in the fields of law, theology, philosophy, and mysticism.
Ibn Rushd (1126-98), or Averroes, was a Spanish Muslim who wrote
extensive commentaries on Aristotle, and it was through Latin translations
of his work that Greek philosophy was reintroduced to the West after
a long period of absence.
the modern period several thinkers have been very influential in
determining the role of Islam in the world. Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938)
was an Indian philosopher who was instrumental in the creation of
Pakistan. He thought it was vitally important that the strong intellectual
tradition within Islam be recovered so that Muslims would be able
to address the many issues they need to confront in a world dominated
by western non-Muslim powers.
reformer was the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), who was one
of the early pioneers of Islamic nationalism and modernism.
In particular he called for a return to a more pristine form of
Islam that would be able to respond to some of the social and cultural
problems of his time. He was especially interested in issues related
to education and improving the place of women in society.
figure whose influence has been felt in more recent years is Sayyid
Qutb (1906-66), an Egyptian who was an outspoken critic of the West
and Muslim countries that became too closely allied with the West.
He was eventually executed for his views, but he is considered to
be the main ideologue and inspiration behind present day extremist
groups like al-Qaeda.
©2006 John Kaltner
Kaltner is a member of the Department of Religious Studies
at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee where he teaches courses
in Bible, Islam, and Arabic. Among his books are Islam:
What Non-Muslims Should Know (2003); Inquiring
of Joseph: Getting to Know a Biblical Character through the Qu’ran
Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qur’an for Bible Readers
(Collegeville: Liturgical Press/Michael Glazier, 1999).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.