Why Islam has not Seen the Success Muhammad Desired

Installment #2 of posting my old term papers and finals on the blog. I’m sure to get some interesting responses to this one,but oh well. The footnotes for whatever reason do not copy and paste, so let me know if you’re interested and i can let you know sources (if I recorded them). Keep in mind I wrote this a few years ago, so I may or may not still hold to what I propose in this paper…


When one looks at the teachings of Muhammad, they are left without a doubt of the man’s brilliance and dedication to Allah, the Arabic term for God. He was one of the most divinely inspired men of all time, but did his message fall on misguided ears? Was Muhammad a successful teacher of his beliefs? It is evident that Muhammad’s teachings were pure and virtuous in their own right, but once the master was deceased, and not able to guide and direct his followers, his pupils allowed petty squabbles to shroud his legacy in a legalistic veil. To be fair, the observer must have a way to define and quantify his success empirically. There are certainly traits that are associated with success in a leadership sense. Finally, history will show that ultimately, it was the People, not the Prophet, who lead Islam to its spiritual turmoil.

After 3 years of preaching the Oneness of Allah, Muhammad had only 40 followers. Despite his meager number of disciples (mostly comprised of his own tribal and family members), his message was virtuous. With patience, the Prophet amassed a larger following in years to come, eventually succeeding in spreading his teachings to Mecca and Medina before the end of his lifetime. Additionally, Muhammad tore down the 360 Idols inhabiting the Ka’aba in his hometown of Mecca. His message preached peace and mercy; he is quoted as saying “Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.” Muhammad also stressed the importance of modesty and simplicity, that men and women should “lower their gaze and guard their modesty.” Finally, the pivotal means in which Muhammad portrayed his beliefs was by example; he lived the life he desired others to lead.

In order to understand the success of any religious leader, there has to be some qualitative gauge by which to judge that defines Success. There are several factors one can use to judge success in a religious leader. First and possibly most pivotal is the unity of the leaders’ followers. Do they adhere as one body to his teachings, or do they divide over negligible issues? Second is the religions’ longevity, or aptitude there of. How long has the message survived in its original spirit, and will it continue to endure? Another way to measure religious success is by its Breadth; how far does the message span across a nation’s borders, how many believers can the faith plausibly claim as its own? Additionally, speed of the message’s spread is a significant indicator of the messenger’s success. However, the most essential gauge of any religious leader is the strength of the message itself; did the Prophet accurately convey his beliefs to his followers, and did they adhere to it in a manner consistent with his intended legacy? These issues should all be key factors in determining Muhammad’s success as a religious leader.

It can be inferred from the evidence the Muhammad did not achieve success as a religious leader because his followers misinterpreted or neglected his core message. Immediately following the Prophet’s demise, disagreements over a successor arose; the cause being that Muhammad did not appoint one. This left a leadership chasm in the fledgling religion that, without a provoked a power struggle between possible candidates. Without a strong charismatic leader, his followers abandoned the teachings of peace and harmony and adopted a foundation of Legalism in its place. Assassination after assassination branded the tribe of early Muslims as aggressive and politically charged. The hope of longevity was almost non-existent to them as a unified group of believers; the famed split resulting in the Sunni and Shia denominations of Islam occurred before the Prophet could even be laid to rest.

Soon after the messenger passed away, Islam made a pivotal move toward formation as a state entity as opposed to a spiritual one. A growing army of Muslims conquered land as a military body, spreading as far west as Spain and into the former Persian empire. Although this succeeded in spreading the kingdom of Islam, it did not spread the beliefs; non-Muslims in the conquered lands were taxed a sizeable amount for not adopting Islam as their belief system – despite Muhammad preaching “there is no compulsion in Religion.” The full potential of Islam still cannot be reached because of it’s refusal to officially endorse translations of the Holy Qur’an. No other language is tolerated except the Prophet’s native tongue; Arabic. Such rejection has severely limited Islam’s expanse. Furthermore, it is recorded that the earliest Imams burned copies of the Qur’an that did not reflect the chosen message;
We know that when Muslims differed on the
readings of the Qur’an, the Caliph Uthman -may Allah
be pleased with him- sent his authorized copy to all
provinces and removed all other copies of the Qur’an
from circulation and burned them. Thus he was able to
keep the unity of the Ummah.

This mirrors the legalistic Qin Dynasty emperor Li Su’s burning of books that affected his authoritative governing of his people in ancient China. One could say that the Kingdom of Islam spread, but not the message. One theory supports this possibility; “…the expansion was deliberately planned by the ruling elites in Mecca to expand their trade routes and bring surplus-producing regions under their control.” In another parallel with ancient China, Muhammad could be compared inversely to Confucius; while Confucius desired to stir political transformation but was attributed spiritual greatness, Muhammad intended to arouse spiritual evolution but could be credited with political excellence. The expansion of Islam was affected more by institutionalization of it’s principles than by the strength of its core message, “In Islamic society, there is no rigid demarcation between church and state, between the sacred and the secular.” Muhammad taught spirituality, but his legacy was caught up in the Legalistic institutionalization of Islamic Law in practice in many modern Muslim states.

In conclusion, Muhammad himself made an excellent spiritual guide for the Bedouin tribes of the ancient Arabia. His lessons in love and harmony had resounding
impact on the lives of those he touched. However, when held to an empirical measurement of success, the Prophet falls short of his ultimate goal of spreading the practice of his core beliefs to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. The Bedouin whose attention and admiration he captivated so well did not hold fast to the message; instead allowing petty differences and hunger for power muddle their faith as his message slowly lost in politically charged Legalistic principles.

5 thoughts on “Why Islam has not Seen the Success Muhammad Desired

  1. When you talk about Mohammed (pbuh), I think you need to talk about the Mohammed of Mecca, or the Mohammed of Medina; the early Mohammed or the later Mohammed. His message dramatically changed, as can be seen in the early and late surats. And yes, the later Mohammed of Medina was very much king of his fief, marrying political and spiritual power. I see little difference between that Mohammed and the actions of his followers.

    But if we are to judge a religion based on how divided the followers became and how early, consider that Jesus couldn’t even hold on to all of his followers while he was alive, so much that one betrayed him to his death.

  2. @bdul, great insight, and i cannot thank you enough for your reflection. it is true, jesus’ disciples failed to remain one, despite even His own prayer in gethsemane. besides, if a religion is to be judged solely on how divided its adherents are, to which would one submit?

  3. We were talking about this problem a few weeks ago in my small church group.
    2nd or 3rd times removed the original message can get lost. In some ways the Mullas have it right. You have to keep going back to the original source. In the face of cultural change and liinguistic evolution this requires some scholarship. Retracing the past acurately is not as easy as it might appear.
    If they live long enough most great teachers are a bit horrified with what happens to their original message.

  4. That is true. I think Jesus and St. Francis would both be rather horrified- or are, as the case may be. But I’d say Mohammed (pbuh), not so much. I agree with you, that primitivism is the way to go to get an accurate understanding of what the teacher taught. But when we look at the primitive Church vs. the primitive dar al islam, we get two very different pictures. One is a persecuted minority, barely surviving, and the other is perhaps the fastest-expanding empire in world history, from it’s foundation under Mohammed (pbuh) married to the state. I’d say, yes, Mohammed would be horrified, but not at the Wahabi or Taliban, but rather at the Moroccan nominal Muslims and Sufis (who personally I am much more in agreement with). Islam did not spread by the sword, but it certainly found it very convenient that the Islamic Empire did. Christianity never spread by the sword- until it left it’s primitivist era and the Babylonian Exile under Constantine began.

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