Muhammadanism — The Term

Muhammadanism — The Term

Muslim: Christians should not use the word, Muhammadanism, because Muslims don’t worship Muhammad.

Response: This is an unfounded objection, because the term, Muhammadanism, does not imply that Muslims worship Muhammad. To insist this must be the meaning indicates a poor understanding of the English language. An -ism refers to a doctrine, conduct, or system of thought; it does not imply divine worship. Muhammadanism simply refers to the doctrine, conduct, and system of thought that were taught by Muhammad.

ism (iz’em) n. [< fol.] a doctrine, theory, system, etc., especially one whose name ends in -ism
-ism (iz’em) [ME –isme <OFr & L –isma (< Gr) & -ismus (<Gr –ismos): orig. suffix of action or of state, forming nouns from verbs in L –izareGr –izeinsuffix forming nouns 1 the act, practice, or result of [terrorism] 2 the condition of being [pauperism] 3 action, conduct, or qualities characteristic of [patriotism] 4 the doctrine, school, theory, or principle of [cubism, socialism] 5 devotion to [nationalism] 6 an instance, example, or peculiarity of [Gallicism, witticism]  7 an abnormal condition caused by [alcoholism] 1

For example, terrorism does not mean the worship of terrorDarwinism is not the worship of Charles Darwin; it refers to his theory of biological evolution. Likewise, Hinduism is not the worship of Hindu, instead it refers to a complex set of beliefs that center around reincarnation, castes, customs, Vedic scriptures, and a multiplicity of gods. Lastly, Judaism isn’t the worship of Judah (Yehuda) who was the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. So there is no reason to insist that Muhammadanism signifies that Muslims worship Muhammad.

She [Leah] conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children. Genesis 29:35 (NIV)

وحبلت ايضا وولدت ابنا وقالت هذه المرة احمد الرب . لذلك دعت اسمه يهوذا . ثم توقفت عن الولادة .  تكوين ٢٩‏:٣٥

English speaking Muslims know what -ism signifies, but some disingenuously insist that Muhammadanism still implies the worship of Muhammad. Yet, these same Muslims add the suffix -ism to words knowing that the resulting word does not imply worship. For example, they use the term, Marxism, to describe the system of thought that Karl Marx developed in Das Kapital. When they use the term, Marxism, they know that Marxists don’t go to sacred building to worship and pray to Karl Marx, and they would never suggest that Marxists revere Karl Marx as a divine object of worship. Now, if Muslims understand words like Marxism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Darwinism, why is it so difficult for them to understand the word, Muhammadanism?

Muslims refer to the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Muhammad as the basis for their religion. The Qur’an instructs Muslims to pattern their lives after Muhammad because he is thought to be the perfect pattern of conduct. To accomplish this task, Muslims study many volumes of the hadiths, because these books contain his sayings and behavior (Sunnah).

Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah. Sura Al-Ahzab 33:21 (Yusuf Ali’s translation)

لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا. سورة الأحزاب ٣٣‏:٢١


The prophet of Islam is considered by Muslims to have been the most perfect of men, in fact the most noble and perfect of all of Allah’s creation, ashraf al-makhluqat. Allah bestowed upon him all the virtues and all the perfections which the human state is capable of possessing. As the Noble Qur’an states, he did not acquire the state of prophethood by himself but was chosen by Allah; furthermore, all of the virtues became perfectly actualized in him. Therefore, he is seen by Muslims as the perfect model for human life to imitate. He is the perfect or universal man, al-insan al-kamil and the Quran itself refers to him as the example to be emulated in the verse, “Verily in the Messenger of Allah ye have a good example” (XXXIII:21).2

In fact, Muslims obey Muhammad as if they were obeying Allah. This shows the elevated place that Muhammad occupies.

He who obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah. Sura An-Nisa 4:80

مَّنْ يُطِعِ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ اللّهَ   سورة النساء  ٤‏:٨٠


These Muslim sources show the central place that Muhammad had in the establishment of his religion.

Islam is a term that carries many uncritical assumptions and biases that may not be freely investigated by Muslims. On the other hand, as a term, Muhammadanism does not ground itself upon these presuppositions. Instead it critically assesses the truth claims of Muhammad in an objective manner that values academic and intellectual freedom. Most Muslims find this approach distasteful and personally dangerous, so they reject this approach to the study of Muhammad.

In the back of some Muslims’ minds is Shari’a law that demands the death of a Muslim who would deny an Islamic tenet where there is prior scholarly consensus.

“Someone raised among Muslims who denies the obligatoriness of the prayer, zakat, fasting Ramadan, the pilgrimage, or the unlawfulness of wine and adultery, or denies something else upon which there is scholarly consensus (ijmn’, def:b7) and which is necessarily known as being of the religion (N: necessarily known meaning things that any Muslim would know about if asked) thereby becomes an unbeliever (kafir) and is executed for his unbelief…” f1.3, 3

On the other hand the term, Muhammadanism, has been used by scholars past and present who value intellectual freedom and the pursuit of truth. Because of this, the term, Muhammadanism, is an enlightened and eminently appropriate term to use for the intellectual study of Muhammad’s teachings without assuming the uncritical presuppositions of Muslim believers. This is why scholars often use the term, Muhammadanism, to describe the topic of their investigation.

There is no reason why a Muslim who values intellectual freedom should be offended by the term. Quite the contrary, they should encourage an unfettered study of the teaching and life of Muhammad and follow the path of truth wherever it leads them. Our prayer should always be,

Show us the straight way. al-Fatiha 1:6

اهدِنَــــا الصِّرَاطَ المُستَقِيمَ سورة الفاتحة ٦

We should be able to walk this path without the dread of Shari’a casting its dark shadow over our love and pursuit of the truth.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. I John 4:18 (NIV)

لا خوف في المحبة بل المحبة الكاملة تطرح الخوف الى خارج لان الخوف له عذاب واما من خاف فلم يتكمل في المحبة.  ١ يوحنا ٤‏:١٨

May Allah guide you to His Truth and Love.

Last edited 10/16/2002