In this lecture, Vivienne Stacey discusses how many Muslims tend to venerate Muhammad. This may include the celebration of his birthday and imitating him as the best of God’s creation. The veneration of Muhammad is often a unifying practice for Muslims and may even be continued for some Muslims who become Christians. These lectures were given at Columbia International University in partnership with the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center was founded in 1979 and exists to offer comprehensive courses on Islam, facilitate research, foster dialogues, offer seminars, conduct training, and provide resources for effective witness and ministry among Muslims. We also have a course study guide for these lectures that you might find helpful.


Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Vivienne Stacey’s Lecture on the veneration of Muhammad: 


I would like us to consider the subject of Muhammad veneration. Muhammad veneration. When I went to the Muslim world in 19 fifties, there wasn’t as much Muhammad veneration going on as there is now. Muhammad has always been very venerated by his followers, but there have been periods when there has been more veneration than at other times. And we are in a period in in history when the veneration of Mohammed is increasing.


Early in this, say, in the fifties, there would not be processions, and the birthday of Muhammad would not be widely celebrated by processions and other celebrations. But now wherever Muslims are, it seems that the birthday is certain to be celebrated. And, I know that about 10 years ago, there was a procession in Britain starting off from Hyde Park in London, where the sort of speaker’s corner is. It’s a public place for talking. And there were 5,000 Muslims who processed through the streets of London celebrating, the the, prophet on his birthday, which is also thought to be the day on which he also died.


It’s the only thing in Britain that totally unites Muslims. In that procession, there would be people from every possible grouping of Muslims. And, one of the reasons for the increase of Muhammad veneration seems to be, desire to find a unity in the household of Islam. Every Muslim honors the prophet of Islam, And, since the fall of the caliphate in the twenties, the focus of unity has been lacking, and, so there’s a growing desire to honor Mohammed and to venerate him, and to so it kind of naturally draws people of every, background, together. The other focus of unity is the implementation of sharia law, and we read of country after country, which is either turning back to Sharia law or wanting it.


We read of I Nigeria and, Sudan, Pakistan, many countries. Those also that already have it, like Saudi, Saudi Arabia. So let’s look at this veneration of the prophet of Islam. It’s quite remarkable in some ways. Muslims, don’t worship Muhammad, but he has extraordinary veneration from his followers, and it has been so from very early on in Islam.


I’ve got here a paper by Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, Pakistani, who became eventually a bishop in the church in England, Church of England. He’s Bishop of Rochester. And, he has this study on a Christian assessment of the cult of Muhammad veneration. Now, even in a poem which is used in schools, there is some evidence in Pakistan of Muhammad veneration. And I quote from a poem of Malana Zafar Ali Khan, which is being taught in schools in Pakistan. And one statement is this in the poem. Though my link with the divinity of God be severed, may my hand never let go of the hem of the chosen one. Now the chosen one is Mohammed. So though my link with the divinity of god be severed, may my hand never let go the hem of the chosen one. Amazing.


In other words, one’s relationship with the transcendent god is a distant one, and it’s only through one, Mohammed, that one dares even to approach the throne of God. And then outside, shrines, like outside the or part of the shrine complex of Hazrat, Datagunj Bakhsh. That’s one way he’s described. He’s a Sufi saint. He’s the patron saint of Lahore, and hundreds of thousands of people go to that shrine every year.


It’s the largest shrine in Lahore. And there are those who provide music near the shrine. They sing what are called koalis, and Muhammad is praised in verse. And often, this takes the form of deification, although this is banned in Islam, of course. There is one god.


If Muhammad had not been, God would not have existed. Yeah. If Muhammad had not been, God himself would not have existed. Extraordinary. It’s poetry, don’t forget, so there’s poetic license, but it’s, seems very strange.


It’s an allusion to the close relationship Muhammad is supposed to have with God. And in the media in Pakistan, Muhammad is often given the title, savior of the world. He’s sometimes given the title lord of the universe. These things, Muhammad never claimed for himself. So the practice of Muhammad veneration is accompanied by a high doctrine of the person of Christ. And I find it very interesting to study a poem like the Casita Buddha, The prophet’s mantle is the translation of it, and, it’s, like a you know, it’s very interesting to see what people use for the devotional aids. So do people use daily light here sometimes? I don’t know. They do you use daily light? Okay.


Well, that’s quotation from scripture, but sometimes you have some kind of devotional aid. A devotional aid early on in Islam was this. A is a poem in praise of a well known and respected person. And, this issue of encounter you’ve met Encounter Now, documents for Muslim Christian Understanding, published, in Rome by the Roman Catholics. This is a translation, and an explanation about this poem. And, the writer says, or the editor of this article, the value of the poem, as far as Christians are concerned, is that it gives a very good picture of the Muslim idea of their prophet and also the basis of such popular religion in the Islamic world. And, I first came across this poem about 25 years ago when I was staying with my Muslim friends in the city of Hyderabad in India. She gave me some bedtime reading. She gave me some prayers that she had written, and I still have that book, and she gave me, a copy of the Casita Burda. And I was so fascinated, I stayed out half the night copying it, not realizing that it’s available in about 80 languages, that it’s, well known, throughout the Muslim world.


And, anyway, it’s become part of my reading since, and I’m going to read some sections of it to you. It was first written in Iraq. And it’s used very much for the prophet’s birthday celebrations. It here the the person who’s edited this, it says, this poem stands alongside other Arabic and Swahili material recited at mauludi, Maudi Maudi Maudi Maudi no. It’s not right.


The celebrations for the prophet’s birthday in that group of devotional symbols, which makes the faith live for it is its adherence. So it’s it’s a very, very popular poem, probably the most popular religious sort of aid at all in the Muslim world, written by a man, a religious very religious and respected Iraqi, really, as he was. He lived in Basra, I think, and he wrote it after receiving healing, and he wrote it to praise Muhammad. So I’ll quote it to you, some of it. You’ll get the idea of Muhammad veneration, certainly.


It’s a translation. Verse 33 is about 100 and something verses, how could the poverty of such a one summon to the love of this world? Why but for him, that’s Mohammed, the world would not have come out of nothingness. But for him, that is Muhammad, the world would not have come out of nothingness. Muhammad, lord of both worlds and both races.


Both races means men and jinn. And both peoples, Arab and non Arab. Verse 36. He is the friend whose intercession is to be hoped for, assaulting every kind of fearful threat. Verse 37.


He summoned to God, and those who furly firmly grasp him. The question here might be whether it’s Muhammad or God are firmly grasping an unseverable rope. But certainly here, it’s Muhammad. He excelled the prophets in bodily form and character, nor did they approach him in deed or in honor. Verse 31 41.


For it is he whose inner meaning and outward form are perfect, Wherefore, the creator of souls chose him as a friend. He is free from peer, rival or peer in his excellent qualities, so that the essence of goodness in him is undivided. Verse 45, for the excellence of the apostle of god has no limit, which may be expressed by word-of-mouth. Verse 51. Nay, the sum of knowledge concerning him is that he is human and that he is the best of all God’s creatures. And here’s an interesting one. Next verse, 52. And every miracle performed by the noble apostles was only brought into connection with them through his light. So he didn’t perform miracles, but he is the source or the light that, causes the miracles that Jesus did or the miracles that any other of the Rusul or prophets did. Verse 53.


He is the son of excellence, s u n. They are its planets, showing its beams to people in the darkness. How noble is the appearance of the prophet who was adorned by a character including all goodness and and marked with cheerfulness. I can think of 1 or 2 verses from memory. Blessed is the man who has kissed the dust of the grave of the monarch of mankind.


I think it’s giving you an example here. I don’t probably, you can look at this text, and we’ll put it in the, we will put it available for you. And if you’re studying anywhere in the world, you probably can get a copy in your local language, if they if it’s a language used by Muslims, as well as the English. You can try. But extraordinary I do also quote a certain amount of it in my book on women in Islam, which I think everyone will have.


So it’s a remarkable poem. You it’s not really fair to base theology on poetry, But the idea in the poem is, that Muhammad there was a divine light in Muhammad, so there’s a divine light. He is the nur or the light, which illumin so much that came before he was even born. It’s going back a bit to some of, Platonic and Christian mixture, I think, here. Now I had a difficulty when I was staying with my Muslim friend, because, I read with interest the things that she gave me.


But I found that whatever I said in praise of Jesus, she appropriated for Mohammed. So when I got back to Pakistan, I asked Michael Nazir Ali, you know, what do I do? I I spent these days with my friend, and I didn’t whatever I said about Jesus, she she said, Muhammad is this, and Muhammad is that. He’s the lord of the worlds. He’s, he’s all these things that you read in this poem.


He said, well, why don’t you concentrate more on the sufferings of Christ? So when I meet people who are very involved in the veneration of Muhammad or who like to take what I say about Jesus and say, well, Muhammad was even better, or he there’s a sort of comparison. I talk about the sufferings of Jesus. They don’t take those and put them on Muhammad. So there is a clue or a way in here in relation to to the sufferings of Christ and how to share.


There there’s another poem which is used in Turkey. It’s called Mahaba. Mahaba Mahaba. Welcome. Sorry about my pronunciation, but anyway, welcome. It’s the the most, famous part of this poem is well, sometimes the whole poem is used, on the prophet’s birthday, and also on memorial days of his death, which is the same day, actually, and other people’s death. So it’s used at funerals. And the most famous part of the poem, sing is when creation sings when the light of Muhammad begins to radiate on the night he was born. This very much reminds me of the ode on the morning of Christ’s nativity, if you happen to know that by John Milton. The chill marble seems to sweat as each familiar power forgoes his wonted seat.


So as the gods start to tumble down, because Christ is born, it affects the universe. That’s Milton’s thought. Here it is, the same kind of idea, the idea that creation sings when the light of Muhammad begins to radiate on the night he was born. Its preexistent light, nur. Well, here’s a quotation so that you can have the exact words.


Welcome, oh high prince, this is to Mohammed. Welcome, oh high prince, we greet you. Welcome, oh one who is not separated from God. Welcome, o intercessor for the sinner. Welcome, o prince, of this world and the next.


Only for you, time and space was created. That’s well into Turkish thinking. It’s recited at funerals, as well as on the birthday of Mohammed. So we need to look at these devotional manuals and, aids that Muslims use, so that we get some idea of, of how they are looking at things. To some Muslims, this will be offensive, but, this is the it comes out of the desire, I think, to find God nearer. God is so far off in Islam. And, Muhammad veneration and its increase. Okay. Would you is there any question you would like to ask about it? I do want to not be unfair to Muslims.


In poetry, you can be extravagant, and, it would be true poetic license. But there is an extravagance here, which is goes rather far. And now you see in Lebanon, and in Pakistan, and in Egypt, in London, much more celebration of the birthday of Mohammed, part of venerating the prophet, I believe, part of seeking that unity between people of every, part of every section of Islam. I don’t think it’s a deliberate plan to celebrate that unity, but it’s the natural growing veneration of the last of the prophets of Islam, the greatest of the prophets of Islam, in a world which is getting torn apart in different ways. It’s as they’re bringing together a focus on Muhammad, which may lead to a focus on on on God.


But, so if you’d like to ask some questions, that’s in order, and we’ll just that’s fine. You’re on tape. You can mention your name if you like. Yeah. So, any comments? Jay, you have a comment? Let’s also, for me, I’ve seen just over and over just how central of a role Mohammed plays in life by Muslim friends, particularly when it comes to the hadiths. I mean, the sunnah of the of the prophet. You know, it’s just how he ate, how he joined, how he sat, Just circulating him. It just goes beyond even more than what Christians when we when we talk about our obedience to Christ, it’s never how he dressed, how he wore his hair, how he sat, how he drank.


But it was, you know, there’s just a totally different dimension of of discipleship that I see in contrast. Yes. There’s a much greater emphasis on imitating, in a true proper sense, what he did and said in in like you, if you Muslims who I think our our brother, who was here yesterday, he met a Muslim for the first time about 2 days ago when he went to have his haircut, and he’s getting the beginning of a beard. And, I think that he got it cut. I mean, he didn’t realize until he’s walked through his haircut, that the brother was a Muslim.


So he he asked him, do you go to church? Which where do you go to church or something? He said, well, I’m a Muslim, and so on and so forth. So I think he’s got a beard that’s gonna identify him as a Muslim. So I expect he’ll meet his second Muslim fairly, very quickly. But this is a totally different approach, isn’t it, as you’re saying? I have a deep respect for the way that some Muslims follow their prophets. I’m never gonna forget, staying in one Asian city. And, I was near a place where there was some Muslim celebration. It was the celebration of the night of the when the Quran commemorating the night when the Quran came down.And, so there were some special services. But I was just walking down the street. We’re near this, and, I came to a corner, and I couldn’t see around the corner. It was a corner of a building. So I was just about to turn when I heard someone singing, and here was a obviously, a religious leader, Muslim religious leader, and he was singing a chorus, just like a chorus, a chorus about Jesus. 


The only difference was that it was about Muhammad. But with devotion and with love and just for his own worship and his own, he didn’t know there was anyone was around the corner, and he was walking the other way. I just it touched me. And, I just wish that he was praising Jesus. So women are involved in this.


Sometimes, verses from this casita, this poem that I’ve been reading pieces of, I used, if someone’s ill, you read certain verses in case of illness, and you read certain verses, to come for some other trouble that you might have. And it was a poem written to praise Muhammad, because Muhammad through, because of healing that seemed to come through through Muhammad, god’s healing through Muhammad somehow. This man was healed from a very serious illness, so he thought he should write something to praise Muhammad. Have a look yes, Laurie? When Muslims become Christians, is a part of that renouncing belief that Muhammad is a prophet, or does it ever kind of crossover for a while before they come to that realization?


I mean, I I would you restate the question? State it again for me because I I don’t quite clear. Yeah? When Muslims are converted to Christianity, have you do they sometimes carry with them the veneration of Mohammed for a while before they realize that he’s not a prophet of God, or is that an immediate renouncing of him? No.


Quite sometimes they carry over. They I think any of us carry over something from our past when we come to Christ. We unless we’ve been very small children, we’re gonna take something over. Now this is where I think the discipling and teaching is very important for, someone who’s a new believer. And, also, I I am not happy with some of the teaching, which, allows baptism but doesn’t teach a renunciation of Satan and all his works.


I I’m not just I’m not thinking so much of of this, but, there are many things which are clearly the works of Satan. And if there is not teaching given about the cut or the I I would not be encouraging a person to renounce Islam. Islam is a culture as well as a a religion, so you don’t renounce your whole heritage. But, involvement in the occult in any way, and this this could be there’s an involvement in the occult if you’ve used surahs from I mean, verses or other from the poem like this. I would prefer that the convert him herself or himself, would reach the stage when they consciously realize that Muhammad is not a prophet in the New Testament in the biblical sense, and therefore, don’t continue an allegiance in that way.


And I think this is part of our responsibility is to teach the Old Testament or to teach the bible so that particularly the Old Testament, so that it’s not a teaching just about Jesus, so that Jesus doesn’t just replace Muhammad in the new believer, but, the new believer has a concept of of God and a knowledge of God, the triune God, God in the Old Testament. And I remember that there was a Moroccan convert who said, you Christian workers, you, teach us about Jesus, but you don’t give us teaching so that our concept of God changes. So you’ve got a a groundwork which doesn’t change, and you’ve, swapped Muhammad for Jesus and then realized that Jesus is, is to be worshiped. But but if the if the background and the and the whole sort of area of theology stays, then there’s a Muslim concept of God. And, and Jesus comes into the picture, and, there’s not enough foundation.


And so some Muslims who became Christians have gone back into Islam, says this convert, because there hasn’t been enough teaching about the overall view of God, in the bible. But you would never confront a new believer about Mohammed, you would just let them learn about the Bible and come to that Personally, I wouldn’t. If they bring it up, then I would discuss, but I personally wouldn’t. What would you do, EJ? But maybe you do it with men and not with women, but still we’ll listen.


Well, I take the approach of, definitely praying in that in that realm that the holy spirit, the true holy spirit would open our hearts and minds to see spiritual nature of of the practices that they’ve been involved in. Because I think there has to be a deep work of repentance Yes. In all areas of life, you know, renouncing Satan in all of his works. Yes. Renouncing Satan in all of his works.


And I think that’s the key there. And I Yeah. And I’ve seen in one situation, a young Moroccan girl when she came to know the Lord, it was just like the lights went on. Okay. And difference between light and darkness.


Yeah. Okay. So we rely on the, work of the Holy Spirit, and we pray for that deep work, which is the work of repentance. Thank you.