Saints and Road Apples: A Cantankerous Paragon

Kevin J. Rice,,

Religion Paper 9, Operative question: Define the Role of Mohammed

Does any man have one single role to play in life? Is his whole existence one script that accomplishes one purpose? No, obviously it is not. The roles we play vary with the people we meet, insofar as the meshing of any two personalities must change (if only temporarily) the character of each. Behind everyone's public mask is a multifaceted, deep, complex, and changing persona. This description probably applies best to mystic visionaries like Mohammed. Luckily, a great deal is known about Mohammed by those who wish to know, due to his life being so relatively recent.

"So," asks the skeptic, "what makes this guy so special, anyway?" Well, there is the slightly obvious item of his almost single-handed creation (aided or not by God) over the course of a mere 20 years of a lastingly popular monotheistic religion. This is to say nothing of his philosophy espousing everyday gentility and kindness where before a rather harsh polytheistic state had once stood.

It is plain that Mohammed was a great prophet and visionary. What is easily missed is the view of a statesman who negotiated for his followers wisely, gaining them a safe haven and subsequently prosperous growth in Medina in one instance, and averting a major bloody war with entrenched powers at Mecca in another. He also could be cited as a student of Judaism, although if the Jews of the time are to be believed, he misquoted their scriptures a bit too often. This might be understandable in light of Mohammed's lack of formal education and perhaps a strong Jewish emphasis on learnedness and scholarship.

As much as Mohammed may be noted as a visionary, he is also noted as a pragmatic leader as both a general and the administrator of a large and growing organization. He apparently urged much social reform for women including divorced women's rights and charity towards orphans.

To idealize Mohammed into a paragon of virtue probably isn't advisable in that he was quite human. My view of saints is about the same as my view of unicorns: Yes, they may exist, but I have yet to meet one, and they probably leave road apples all the same. Everyone gets ornery sometimes. "To make an omelet you have to break eggs," and Mohammed had some "Mighty Big Cookin'" to do.

Where, oh where, could Mohammed have run amuck? On a religious front, it may be both claimed and equally disputed that his troubles found an inappropriate voice in the Koran, a work supposedly wholly of God (sorry for punning). On a leadership and social justice front, he may or may not have had alternatives to the mass killing of Jewish women and children at Medina after the Battle of the Trench in 627 C.E.

So, to directly answer the question posed, the role of Mohammed was a complex interplay between disparate forces in his life, forcing him to be many things to many people. Mohammed seems to have fit the many roles (and thus labels) of warrior, trader, prophet, missionary, husband, lawmaker, (arguably) writer, negotiator, father, mystic, pragmatist, and student. These, I accept. "Saint", I don't, because even if the label reads "fertilizer" it smells the same: better from upwind.

Saints and Road Apples:

A Cantankerous Paragon

by Kevin J. Rice

Tuesday, December 4th, 1990

Introduction to World Religions

Professor Derfler

Tues & Thurs 9:30 am

Fall Semester, 1990

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