“Muhammed: Legacy of a Prophet” is a 2002 PBS documentary directed by Omar Al-Qattan and Michael Schwarz. The film discusses the life and times of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Despite the odds stacked against him such as his humble beginnings, Muhammad was able to develop Islam into a major world religion within a short number of years. To this day, Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions and is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the lives of a countless number of people worldwide. To fully understand the religion of Islam, it is important first to understand the life and personality of Muhammad and how they are reflected throughout Islamic traditions and beliefs. Furthermore, understanding the background of Islam is key to understanding how this localized religion with only a few followers grew into one of the three major monotheistic religions of the present day.
The film begins with a discussion of the early years of Muhammad’s life. Muhammad was born around 570 AD in the city of Mecca (present-day Saudi Arabia). After the death of his parents at a young age, Muhammad was raised by his uncle, Abu Talib. During his youth, Muhammad worked as a merchant along local trading routes stretching from Saudi Arabia to Greece and encountered Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and members of other religious faiths. His encounters with other faiths encouraged Muhammad to study different religions and gain an understanding of diverse practices and traditions. At the age of 25, Muhammad married a wealthy widow named Khadija bint Khuwaylid and soon established himself as a successful business person and respected figure in his community. Despite his material success and prominent position within his respective community, Muhammad grew more and more restless about the problems facing Arab society. Muhammad habitually withdrew to the nearby mountains to contemplate on these issues. On one such retreat in 610 AD, Muhammad had a revelation in which he received a divine message from God that was delivered by the archangel Gabriel. Gabriel told Muhammad that the Arab people would be held accountable for their actions in the afterlife and that if they did not change their ways, a catastrophe awaited for them.
As a result of his experience, Muhammad took his message advocating morality to the public, and his followers began to spread Muhammad’s words to the larger community. The first Muslims faced much oppression and harassment from Arab authorities when they practiced their newfound faith in public. Muhammad also began to face resistance from the people of Mecca, who made several attempts on his life. During this time, he continued to receive messages from Gabriel, which kept his faith strong in the face of the obstacles he faced. By 622 AD, Muhammad and his followers left Mecca for the city of Medina, where they established a Muslim community and a formal legal system.
The people of Mecca did not take well to the successes of Islam in Medina and soon engaged in a series of battles with Muhammad and his followers. Muhammad then became a military commander for the Muslim faith. By 630, the balance of power shifted towards Muhammad, and his new army marched on Mecca without any bloodshed and forced the government of Mecca to sign a peace treaty. Over the next few years, Muhammad consolidated much of the Arabian Peninsula under Islam. Shortly before his death in 632, Muhammad gave his final message in Mecca in which he stated that people must be humane, that they must treat everyone as brothers and sisters, and called for an end to revenge killing. Within a century of Muhammad’s death, his teachings had spread from the Arabian Peninsula to as far away as parts of Europe such as Southern Italy, Spain, Portugal, and parts of France and Austria.
Muhammad advocated helping the poor and needy and opposed the injustices present in Arab society. Due to his humble upbringing and exposure to the rampant disorder in Arab society, Muhammad felt a kinship with the oppressed and downtrodden. Muhammad spoke of fighting inequalities as an essential component of Islamic faith, saying that it is one’s moral duty to recognize and fight injustices in society and taking action to prevent any injustice from occurring. Additionally, Muhammad made it clear that support for immigrants would be one of the cornerstones of Islamic society. Muhammad also advocated women’s rights and made gender equality a component of the Islamic faith. In Arab society, women were often treated as objects by men and lacked legal rights. In response, Muhammad advocated in favor of legal rights for women and banned the practice of female infanticide in Islamic law. Due to the efforts of Muhammad and the spread of Islamic teachings, women in the Islamic world had more rights when compared to many nations in Europe and North America even as late as the mid-20th Century.
Another aspect of Muhammad’s personality was his advocacy for monotheism and support for Arab unity in the face of turmoil. Middle Eastern society before Islam was characterized as having a defined religious hierarchy that differentiated between the different social classes. The three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity) were only worshipped by societal elites and common people primarily followed polytheistic religions (many of which dated back nearly 5,000 years to the ancient Sumerian civilizations located in present-day Iraq) consisting of numerous gods and deities worshipped for a variety of reasons. The polytheistic religions worshipped by everyday people in the Middle East contained less of a moral code and more of an infrastructure offering resources to people seeking personal gain. Thus, people used religion as a way to control events in the world around them. Additionally, the Arab world in the early 7th Century was essentially a battleground in which the two major regional powers of the Middle East (the Sassanid Empire, based in present-day Iran and the Byzantine Empire, based in present-day Greece and Turkey) fought numerous wars to expand both their dominant religions (Eastern Orthodox Christianity was the dominant religion of the Byzantine Empire, whereas the Sassanid Empire was majority Zoroastrian) and regional influence.
The message of Muhammad was opposed to the prevailing religious practices of the time. One key idea of Islamic teachings is the concept of a single God and a strict form of monotheism that forbade the worship of any god but the one of Abrahamic tradition. The relationship between a Muslim and God was considered to be direct and without any intersection, which went against contemporary religious teachings in Arabia. Additionally, Muhammad’s message of Arab unity gave the Arab people a sense of hope in the face of insurmountable odds that prevented their independence and made their societies vulnerable to the imperialist ambitions of hostile regional powers.
Muhammad was also opposed to idolatry and often spoke out against the depiction of gods as idols. The polytheistic adherents of Arabia worshiped an array of idols in temples and shrines located throughout Mecca. Muhammad felt that idol worship went against God’s message and discouraged his followers from engaging in the practice. Additionally, Muhammad did not want any depictions of himself because he felt that he was an ordinary person. As a result, images of Muhammad are nonexistent, and calligraphy became the main method of depicting Muhammad in Islamic art.
In conclusion, “Muhammed: Legacy of a Prophet” is an excellent and highly recommended documentary that effectively depicts how Muhammad was able to grow Islam successfully into a major world religion in a relatively short time almost singlehandedly. Additionally, “Muhammed: Legacy of a Prophet” is relatively unbiased in its message and does not play into contemporary stereotypes and misconceptions regarding Islam.