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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

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What role does Muhammad play in Muslim life?

During his lifetime and throughout the following centuries, the Prophet Muhammad has been the ideal model for Muslims to follow as they strive to do God's will. Islam places great emphasis upon action—exhorting Muslims to strive, to make an effort, to do their best. Some Muslims say that Muhammad is the “living Quran,” the witness whose words and behavior reveal God's will. In contrast to the frequently spiritualized Christian view of Jesus, Muslims look upon Muhammad as both a prophet and a very human figure, one with great political as well as spiritual insights. Thus Muslims look to Muhammad's example for guidance in all aspects of life: how to treat friends as well as enemies, what to eat and drink, how to mourn and celebrate. The importance given to Muhammad's example is a variation on a tradition that originated with pre-Islamic Arabian tribes who preserved their ideals and norms in what was called their sunnah (trodden path). These were the tribal customs, the traditions handed down from previous generations by word and example. Muhammad reformed these practices, and as a result his Sunnah (his words and deeds) became the norm for Muslim community life.

Muhammad's life translated the guidance revealed in the Quran into action; he lived the revelation, giving concrete form to the laws that God revealed for the various conditions of ordinary human life. For Islam, no aspect of life is outside the realm of religion. Muslims' observations or remembrances of what the Prophet said and did were passed on orally and in writing through “traditions” (hadith). The hadith deal with all aspects of Muhammad's life: the intensely personal and public, social, and political. Thus, for example, when Muslims pray or make the pilgrimage to Mecca, they try to pray as the Prophet prayed, without adding to or subtracting from the way Muhammad is said to have worshipped. This is not to imply that Muslims worship Muhammad in any way. Rather, traditions of the Prophet provide guidance regarding personal hygiene, dress, eating, spousal treatment, diplomacy, and warfare. The detailed records of Muhammad's actions in war and peace, his interactions with family, friends, and foes, his judgments in good and bad times, and his decisions when under siege and when victorious recall and reinforce for Muslims what it takes to follow the word of God.

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