The Prophet Muḥammad is undoubtedly a major source of self-legitimisation for the Jihādī-Salafī current in general and the Islamic State in particular. Via texts, chants (anāshīd), as well as still and moving images they refer, directly or indirectly, to the Prophet himself or to the nascent Muslim community under his leadership. The Islamic State therefore shares with many other Muslim groups and movements the effort to assure itself of the Prophet’s presence in their own actions and to preserve his aura.
This chapter scrutinises the ways in which members of the Islamic State and its predecessors have appropriated the Prophet in various forms of media. The author argues that, although they are fierce in their claim to defend pristine Islam and the “righteous” interpretation of its sources, they hardly engage intellectually with his sunna. The chapter further highlights a few instances where they show a spiritual or emotional relation to the Prophet, who is most often rationally invoked as a role model in religious, social, and military affairs. Third, the chapter shows how they have used him as an indispensable part of their symbolic repertoire, seeking to enhance their regulatory authority and the significance of their doctrine, aesthetics, actions, and practices by equipping it with Prophetic power.
This chapter intends to show that, in Pakistan, the figure of Prophet Muḥammad has proved efficient in structuring social issues, offering a repertoire to articulate political claims and mobilise for collective action. Generally speaking, the Prophet has been a component of identity politics, used by religious groups and individuals to negotiate and articulate their identity. He has also been used as a political re-source and instrumentalised as a legitimising tool by both state and non-state actors. He could thus be analysed both as a “symbol” and as an “empty signifier”. These issues will be explored through the lens of the Barelwi movement, a theological school founded in the nineteenth century, which has most loudly claimed its love for the Prophet and defended his honour against any attacks. In their self-representation, the Barelwis identify themselves as the true “lovers of the Prophet”, a quality that they deny to other sects. They have indeed succeeded in celebrating religious values and representations centred around the Prophet that have contrib-uted to the construction of their community. These processes have fuelled sectarian-ism between contending groups. And it has given ways to numerous mobilisations that have gradually politicised with time. After recalling the different causes the Barelwis have historically mobilised for, the author presents one of the most active and famous Barelwi “moral entrepreneurs” who has consistently defended causes centred around the Prophet of Islam, before focussing on the Barelwi party that he joined as patron-in-chief, the Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). This new group has been successful at mobilising the population against blasphemy and at reasserting Barelwis in the political field. The TLP became the fifth political party of Pakistan in the general elections in July 2018.
Bandalī Jawzī (1871–1942) is a famous historian of Palestinian origin who settled in the Soviet Union. Having studied in the missionary schools of the Holy Land, where he came in contact which both new ideas on politics and nationalism, and with the young intellectual elite of Palestine, he was sent to Russia in order to complete his curriculum. He wrote a thesis on Islamic studies in Kazan where he started to teach Arabic, French, and various Orientalist disciplines. His first writings display a com-mon ground with liberal jadidism. After the Bolshevik Revolution he was invited to the new Baku University by the short-lived independent Republic and afterward nominated there by the Soviet power. Bandalī Jawzī is primarily known for his Islam-ic Intellectual History (Min tārīkh al-ḥarakāt al-fikriyya fī l-islām) published in Jerusalem in 1928. His history of intellectual movements in Islam is reshaped according to a materialist dialectic conception of history, which reflects the intellectual atmosphere and debates of the Soviet Union during the 1920s around the class-nature of Islam and the role of Muḥammad, as well as Bandalī Jawzī’s view on the future role of the Arabs in history.
Instead of overtly criticising Muslim people, he maintained a certain ambiguity in his work, which was intended for an Arab audience, so as not to shock or offend people. His handling of the figure of the Prophet is noteworthy: Bandalī Jawzī never ques-tioned his sincerity, praised his reforms, and explained his limits (mainly the up-holding of private property under the historical conditions he faced). As he saw it, the dialectic of history would be resumed if Muslims could accept his historical in-terpretation. As a consequence, Marxism could come to life in the Arab world.
With his sīra-work Mukhtaṣar sīrat al-rasūl Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wahhāb attacks the devotional attitude to Muḥammad and the concomitant beliefs prevailing among Sunnī Muslims of his time. By consciously selecting and deselecting from the sīra literature he demonstrates that Muḥammad was neither pre-existent as light nor possessed knowledge about the unseen independent from revelation. Furthermore, he plays down the importance of miracles. As opposed to that he stresses Muḥammad’s achievements as military leader and his uncompromising attitudes regarding shirk, which Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb identifies with the contemporary veneration of the tombs of saints. The biography of Muḥammad is embedded in world history, whose central aspect is the relapse into paganism and idolatry after each former prophet. With Muḥammad this model has not come to an end, as is exemplified by the ridda just after his death. Deviation, however, will no longer be corrected by divine intervention. Instead, it is the task of the Muslims themselves to defend and re-establish Islam by implementing the sharīʿa and by waging jihād against apostates. The three crucial elements of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb’s religious doctrine – the stress on the human character of the Prophet, the cyclical view of history, and the branding of present religious practices as paganism – thus imply for him the necessity to follow the model of the Prophet Muḥammad by fighting shirk. The practices which Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb denounces can be described as thaumaturgic, in accordance with Stephen Sharot’s typology of the purposes of religious actions, as they are supposed to provide relief in worldly matters. In contrast to this, his own vision of Islam represents a transformative understanding of religion which centres on the mandate to impose a normative order.
The journal al-Manār, published from Cairo between 1898 and 1940, was the mouthpiece of Islamic modernism, that intellectual trend which articulated modernity from within the Islamic discursive tradition. Islam was thus used to distinguish between and at the same time connect both twins of the modern order, religion and society. The Prophet Muḥammad not only brought allegedly godly, timeless teachings most appropriate for modernity, but also himself took care of both religion and society. This chapter shows how the editor of al-Manār, Rashīd Riḍā, constructed the figure of the Prophet to represent an ideal religious and social reformer. This representation pursued two aims: the emotionally charged figure of the Prophet mediated the salience and practicability of abstract Islamic principles to a wider audience; and he served as a role model and lent authority to Riḍā, the self-styled reformist, himself. The reconstruction of prophets as social reformers was not peculiar to Islam, as the author illustrates by pointing to parallel endeavours by modern Jewish and Christian theologians and intellectuals. These parallels attest to the primacy of modernity in Riḍā’s appropriation of the Islamic tradition, and specifically in his construction of the Prophet Muḥammad.
The Ottoman dynasty had a special relation to the Prophet Muḥammad. Other dyn-asties claimed descent from the Prophet, such as the Fāṭimids in Egypt, the sharīfs of Morocco, or the Hashemites of Jordan, but the Ottomans adopted the Prophet as a kind of patron saint in the course of the sixteenth century. They patronised new forms of visual representation of the Prophet; they made the commemoration of his birthday an imperial celebration; and they acquired a unique collection of objects connected to his life, most prominently his mantle, his sword, and his banner, around which important dynastic and public rituals were formed. In this chapter, the author proposes to call this set of connections between the Prophet and the House of Osman “pietas Ottomanica”, drawing attention to the implicit theology of this cult of the Prophet and its significance for the sultan and his household, and for his subjects. Concepts of charisma, piety, authority, and salvation are all bound up in the “pietas Ottomanica” that deserves to be analysed not simply as serving Otto-man legitimacy, but as a historically contingent and specific form of Islam.
The teaching of religion in Turkish public schools is in the early republican decades highly dependent on the nationalist and reformist policies of the Kemalist state. In particular, it responds to the dynamics of secularisation, the state’s tutelage of the religious field, and the Turkicisation of Islam. Disappearing in the early 1930s and reappearing in the early 1950s, religious and moral education in public schools be-came widespread from the 1980s onwards. It is therefore invested by educational experiments that regularly enrich the programmes. The figure of the Prophet Muḥammad, to whom Mustafa Kemal was associated by many organic intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930s, has increased visibility in texts and textbooks since the 1980s. In particular, we note that the previously privileged doctrinal and historical ap-proach to the Prophet was gradually superseded by his model for citizenship and human exemplarity for the Turkish secular state. The Prophet became a model mor-al figure by which the questions of identity and otherness and the relational con-flicts of individual citizens were supposed to be settled. It is therefore a tool of an educational and civic engineering, and the Prophetic model is a way to work at the very roots of Turkish citizenship. The religious sacrality of the Prophet serves as a sort of civic pragmatism; the exceptionality of Muḥammad lies in his extreme acces-sibility, enhanced through universal and common identificatory examples that eve-ryone can appropriate. Paradoxically, the moral universalisation of a modern repub-lican Prophetic figure also coincided with the republican recognition of rituals around the birth of the Prophet (mawlid) and a revival of the Prophetic studies in schools and an institutionalisation of sīra studies.
In Albania, the Prophetic birthday, its celebration, and the literary genres in praise of him are widely known under the term mevlud. This chapter analyses the mevlud, as both a text and a ritual practice, and its gradual integration into the normative and semantic frameworks of the secular discourses that dominated Albanian nationalism. Since the late Ottoman period, literary and linguistic expressions of the mevlud emerged as part of the state- and nation-building process. The interwar period saw a dual treatment of the mevlud: on one hand, as an expression of a Sunnī Islamic piety in a pluralist and confessionalised Albania, and on the other, as a national symbol that facilitated the emergence of the mevlud as an emotional and performative medium for Muslim religiosity. The radical socialist secularisation that followed this period virtually wiped out the religious practice of the mevlud and its literary memory. The post-socialist era, still dominated by a socialist secular rationalism, saw a state-sponsored revival of the mevlud as a merely political expression of identity and belonging to the Albanian nation.
Aside from the state’s growing interest, the recent proselytism of Salafī networks, their spread of scripturalist interpretations of Islam, and the growing reintegration of Albanian Muslims into the umma have devalued local religious rituals and have prevented a resurgence of the mevlud. As a religious expression, the mevlud has substantially disappeared from the corpus of Prophetic devotions, remaining a literary heritage and a national ritual, which Sunnī authorities use to reaffirm their patriotic belonging.