Then, in 610 C.E., a 40-year-old Arab merchant named Muhammad claimed he was another in the line of Biblical prophets, met the ancient challenges that confronted all the Biblical figures, and won. Monotheism at last triumphed in the Near East, and the Children of Abraham were finally at the center of a great and growing religious empire.
But there was a problem. Another religious empire, dedicated to the same God, was also on the rise across the Mediterranean. Christianity and Islam have challenged and competed with one another ever since. The relationship has spurred both civilizations to greater creativity, but has also been the source of conflict over the centuries, which is now reignited on both sides of the divide.
In a recent 60 Minutes broadcast, the Rev. Jerry Falwell calls Muhammad a "terrorist." Falwell says, "In my opinion.Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses, and I think that Muhammad set an opposite example." This comes on the heels of comments from conservative Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson that Muhammad was an inherently violent man.
One answer to these kinds of charges is to point out that Moses was a much bloodier figure than Muhammad. Leviticus 20 might be one place to cite. There Moses proclaims the penalties for various crimes, including death for anyone who curses his father or mother, commits adultery, or engages in homosexual sex. Or Numbers 31, where Moses chastises his army for sparing the women and children of the vanquished Midianite and orders his men to "Slay every male child and every woman who has had intercourse with a man. But you may spare and keep for yourselves all the girls who had no intercourse with a man."
There are more examples. David is praised in Samuel 18 for slaying his "tens of thousands," and in Judges 14 Samson kills 30 random Philistines in revenge for losing a bet.
There are other examples that could be offered. But citing such examples to say that Muhammad was either more or less violent than other Biblical figures is meaningless and anachronistic. By the standards of the world we live in today, there is an appalling amount of violence associated with many of these people.
Both proclaimed the existence of One God against stiff opposition. Both were accused of preaching foreign ideas, and Muhammad was said to be threatening the livelihood of his hometown of Mecca, which made most of its money from being one of the centers of pagan pilgrimage. As the Egyptians did with Moses, the Meccans threatened and ridiculed Muhammad. Muhammad, in fact, often thought of Moses during this period, and the Qur'an is filled with many references to him, citing him as a model of patience and forbearance that all Muslims should follow.
In time, the attacks became more deadly. Some of Muhammad's followers were killed. Others were forced to flee to a nearby Christian Kingdom that gave them shelter. When an assassination plot was hatched against him, Muhammad himself had to leave and led his followers out of Mecca, as Moses led his out of Egypt.
Muhammad went to the nearby city of Yathrib, later renamed Medina. In his new home, Muhammad faced more of the challenge of bringing social and political order to his people, which is something that Jesus did not face. So while Jesus was left to mainly talk about ethical principles--since the Roman Empire already provided law and order--Muhammad and Moses had to talk about crime and punishments. Muhammad and Moses also both faced the challenges of feeding and protecting his followers in a harsh world, another burden that Jesus did not face.
The accepted practice in the Biblical period when times were hard was to steal from neighboring communities. Moses and Muhammad both did this, though Muhammad limited the raids to only Meccan caravans.
Muhammad also was forced to be a general. Three times the Meccans sent large armies to killed Muhammad and slaughter the small but growing Muslim community. Like Moses, Muhammad proclaimed special permission to fight his enemies, but within limits, and he offered comforting visions of paradise to the wives and mothers of fallen Muslims who died in the fighting. They were martyrs, he said.