Archives For December 2007

In his masters thesis, entitled “A Comparison of Muhammad and Joseph Smith in the Prophetic Pattern,” Todd J. Harris (2007) discusses a number of similarities and differences between Muhammad and Joseph Smith. In my analysis of Harris’ thesis, I will focus on the similarities and differences between Muhammad and Joseph in terms of patterns of revelation and of the books of scripture each produced, namely the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants, respectively. Muhammad can be seen as a prophet in the typological sense. In other words, he fits the general pattern of individuals claiming divine inspiration. In keeping with the prophetic pattern, and in like manner to Joseph Smith, Muhammad was called of God through an experience of the divine, was charged with challenging the customs and practices of the people of his day, received revelation later recorded as scripture, was commanded to declare that which was revealed to him, and faced enormous odds. Muhammad also meets the definition of a prophet, based on its Arabic and Hebrew etymology, as one in the state of announcing the message that was given to him. Like Joseph, Muhammad can also be seen as a restorer in that he restored monotheism among his contemporaries. As a restoration prophet, Muhammad received continuing revelation on an as needed basis throughout his life, as did Joseph, to aid him in fulfilling his calling.

Although there are differences in the manner in which Muhammad and Joseph received revelation, the similarities are striking. Both prophets had an initial vision followed by a period of silence. During this period of silence, each of them questioned their standing before God. In both cases, the silence was broken by an angelic visit. Each prophet was tutored on an ongoing basis by the same angel who had made the aforementioned visit. As restoration prophets, both Muhammad and Joseph received instruction from their respective angelic tutors regarding the logistics of the restoration each carried out. In addition to the angelic visits they received, each prophet also received revelation indirectly. Sometimes Muhammad received revelation directly from the mouth of an angelic visitor, and at other times indirectly, in a manner which he described as reverberations that only ceased when he became aware of them. However, the Orthodox Muslim position is that Muhammad had no bearing whatsoever on the language of the revelations he received. Orthodox Muslims maintain that Muhammad received revelation in God’s own words. The pattern varies slightly for Joseph, who received revelation after the manner of his own language, and according to his own understanding, yet the pattern is still prevalent and still evidences divine influence. Further evidence of the roles of Muhammad and Joseph as restoration prophets lies in the large amount of revelation each received.

Receiving revelation was strenuous for both Muhammad and Joseph. Joseph became accustomed to it and tired less from it over time. When section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants was revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, Sidney was exhausted. Joseph, who seemed unaffected, commented that Sidney wasn’t used to it, as he was. Muhammad never got used to it. He said that the experience of receiving revelation was always like having his soul torn away. His wife Aisha noted an instance in which sweat ran from his forehead as he was receiving revelation on a very cold day. Both Muhammad and Joseph struggled to put into words the revelations they received. Both Muhammad’s and Joseph’s revelations compare each of their revelations with those of biblical prophets before them. While Joseph became accustomed to the physical rigor of receiving revelation, he struggled to put it into his own words, whereas Muhammad, according to tradition, struggled physically to receive revelation directly in God’s own words. Despite this difference between Muhammad’s experience and Joseph’s, their seems to be a similar pattern in which, according to the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants,  the Lord speaks to the hearts and minds of each prophet, and they in turn arrange and amend the revelations they have received as they gain greater understanding. Another similarity in the revelations each prophet received, in the pattern of prophets, who tend to become more schismatic over time, is the increasing divisive nature of the revelations each received later in his life. In the case of both prophets, revelation evolved as the religion of each prophet developed. Over time, Muhammad and Joseph received revelation as needed, and for each of them, a new religion and its accompanying doctrine gradually unfolded.

Muhammad and Joseph both follow the prophetic pattern of receiving revelation latter written down by either themselves or their followers. While Muhammad’s and Joseph’s followers both hold the word of God sacred, Muhammad’s followers take this further than Joseph’s. Muhammad’s followers take the Qur’an to be god inlibrate (in book form,) in much the same way as Joseph’s follower take Jesus the Christ as God incarnate (in the form of a man). While this represents a difference between Muslim and Latter-day Saint views on scripture and there are other differences between the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants, these two books bear many similarities as compilations of situational revelations (revelations given in response to immediate needs or questions). Each of them was revealed over a period of time. Both are similar in length. The Qur’an consists of 114 chapters, called surahs, while the Doctrine and Covenants consists of 138 chapters, called sections. Each book contains shorter and longer revelations varying between a few sentences and several pages in length. Both books are written mostly in the first person in the voice of God, although the Qur’an is written in the voice of God the father (Allah) and the Doctrine and Covenants is written in the voice of Jesus the Christ. The revelations contained in both the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants came severally, according to the needs and questions of the prophets who received them and their followers. Just as the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants has chapter headings giving historical background information to the revelation that follows, some edition of the Qur’an provide the same type of information for the same reason.

The Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants both address a very small and very particular group of people at a specific time and place in history, yet both continue to provide guidance today. Both were revealed in parts, “line upon line,” and “precept upon precept,” as the Doctrine and Covenants puts it. There is a pattern in the gradual manner in which Muhammad and Joseph received revelation for themselves and their followers. Both the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants deal intimately with the issues Muhammad and Joseph and their followers faced, respectively, because the revelations contained in them were given in response to the needs and concerns of these people. Because these revelations were given to fill in gaps in previously revealed knowledge, they lack continuity. Each book of scripture contains revelations given in order to correct previous scripture, whether it be the false beliefs of the Christians and Jews from a Muslim point of view, or the errors and omissions of the Bible from a Christian viewpoint. Both the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants confirm or clarify biblical writings, remind their readers of forgotten laws, and give specific situation guidance. Lacking a unifying theme, these two books of scripture seem to ramble disconnectedly. Both the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants contain relatively short revelations received over a period of 20 and 23 years, respectively.

The situations Muhammad and Joseph faced led to the gradual revelation of truths and practices that informed the development of Islam and Mormonism, respectively. This unfolding happens chapter by chapter in the Doctrine and Covenants, as its sections are mostly organized chronologically, according to the date on which the revelation they contain was received. The Qu’ran is instead arranged from longest to shortest surah. Each book breaks with its respective pattern of organization once, namely in its first chapter, which is placed at the beginning as a preface. It is apparent that both Muhammad and Joseph intended for their revelations to be compiled in book form. Joseph oversaw and directed the publication of his revelations, which were usually written down by scribes, in two books before he died. The sections from Joseph Smith added after his death had all been received and recorded while he was yet alive. As for Muhammad, his followers either memorized his revelations or wrote them down on whatever was ready-at-hand. The Qur’an also indicates that Muhammad himself wrote down some of the revelations he received. A semi-official version of the Qur’an was available about two years after Muhammad’s death and about two centuries later, a standard version was produced. An important difference between the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants is that the Qur’an is a closed book as revelation ceased with the death of Muhammad, whereas the Doctrine and Covenants is an open book, subject to addition or alteration by a living Latter-day Saint prophet. Another important difference lies in the belief that the Qur’an contains God’s word as it was literally dictated to Muhammad, wherefore any translation of it is considered interpretive. In fact, the poetic beauty of Qur’anic Arabic, which is generally lost in translation, is considered evidence of its divine origin. The Doctrine and Covenants, on the other hand, is still regarded as scripture even in translation.

The many similarities between Muhammad and Joseph and the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Coveants cannot be dismissed as mere coincidences. It is unlikely that either Muhammad or Joseph forced his life into the prophetic pattern, as many of their circumstances were beyond their control. It is also unlikely, considering the difference in time and place in which each of them lived, that the similarities between them can be attributed to the human psyche either.  It is interesting to note the differing ways in which Islam and Mormonism viewed revelation after their respective prophets died. For Muslims, revelation ceased with the death of Muhammad. For Mormons, revelation continued through Joseph’s successors, the later presidents of the church.  Nevertheless, both Muhammad and Joseph received revelation and produced scripture, in keeping with the prophetic pattern. Both the Qur’an and the Doctrine and Covenants were intended to confirm previously revealed truths and to restore lost truths. Both Muhammad and Joseph were, therefore, restoration prophets. Both of them were viewed by their followers as opening a new and last dispensation, leading up to the end of the world. Their followers believed that accepting them as prophets and adopting their teachings was crucial to their salvation. This, too, is in keeping with the prophetic pattern.