[This post has been revised because of renewed interest in it. I have corrected a typo and inserted documentation for many of the statements I have made. With many of the statements, vast amounts of documentation could be provided, but I have only given one reference per citation. CL-April 16, 2011]
I've been working this one up for weeks at my son's basketball practices and writing it on my BlackBerry. It's hard to write with any polish on a mobile device and this thing has grown far beyond what I expected. So I'm posting it just to finish it. I hope it's helpful.
Christians have many misconceptions about Muslims. One of the most common is equating the Koran with the Bible and Mohammed with Jesus. Intellectuals "correct" this by pointing out that Muslims actually think of Mohammed in the same way that pious Jews think about Moses. The Koran is in a sense, the incarnation of God. It is perfect, fully divine and the word of God (Allah). To some extent, Muslims view the Koran the same as Christians view Jesus.
Without going much into how Muslims view the Koran, it is important to note that unlike the Christian view that the Bible is both fully human and fully divine, the Koran is only fully divine. All the words are God's words. Instead of the Spirit of God working through an apostle to bring his revelation (2 Peter 1:21), Muslims maintain that Mohammed was directly reciting God's words (2:129). Because the words are divine alone, Muslims do not write in the Koran as Christians do in the Bible, and the Koran can never be translated, only interpreted. Muslims have a much simpler, and less nuanced, understanding of the Koran than Christians have of the Bible.
But while this explanation of the Koran does seem to make sense of the way Muslims interact with the Koran, the abovementioned explanation of Mohammed doesn't seem to account for the relationship Muslims have with Mohammed. There is almost nothing in common between Jews and Muslims and the way they relate to Moses and Mohammed. You never hear Jews argue about the way that Moses urinated (Fiqh-Us-Sunna 1:19a). They don't riot in the thousands when a child names a Teddy Bear "Moses” (Somalia, 28 November 2007). There just isn't any resemblance between the Muslim view of Mohammed and the way that Jews or Christians consider ANY prophet. There are a lot of good reasons why Christians referred to Muslims for centuries as Mohammadeans. Whether we should call them that today I'll address at the end of this article.
One difference between Mohammed and Moses is that Mohammed is the perfect man, the standard of conduct for every Muslim (especially men) (33:21) much in the same way that Jesus is for Christians (1 Peter 2:21). However, while Christians hold up Jesus as the standard for morality, ethics, love, etc, Muslims hold Mohammed as the standard for dress, eating, bathing, and eliminating as well. While Muslims don't pray to Mohammed, they arguably pay a great deal more attention to his person.
We're not comparing apples to apples with the two men, however. Jesus had a three year public life which is recorded in one book, The New Testament. There are few outside sources for the life of Christ. The reliable contemporary sources (such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, the Talmud) are so sparse that they add nothing to our understanding of Jesus. There are extensive non-contemporary sources (Gnostic Gospels), but orthodox Christianity does not accept them (Eusebius, Church History, VII). The New Testament, then, is the sole window we have into the life of Jesus.
The picture that appears of Jesus is in some ways strikingly non-personal. We don't know what Jesus looked like, how he dressed or what kind of food he liked. Jesus taught about faith in God, faithfulness to God and his identity as the Messiah and Son of God. His entire ministry was directed at loving God and loving people. There is not one instance of Jesus pursuing a personal desire or preference or even defending himself from a personal attack.
All of this is different with Mohammed. The Koran is considered Allah's speech but often Allah seems very concerned with Mohammed's agenda, preferences, desires and honor. When Mohammed is mocked, Allah gets even (Ibn Ishaq, Hisham, 819). When Mohammed desires his daughter in law, Allah annuls all adoptions (33:37).
In the other written material concerning Muhammed we find out even more about Mohammed's preferences. He doesn't like music (Bukhari 7:494); he hates dogs (Muslim 3815) and salamanders (Bukhari 4.54.525). And he really likes women, young beautiful women (Bukhari 1.5.270). Mohammed marries Aisha at six and sleeps with her at nine (Bukhari 5.58.234). He lies to his wife to sleep with a slave (Bukhari 3:43.651). He feels free to attack and plunder from large extended groups of people based on the actions of a few (History of al-Tabari, McDonald, VII, 28-29). All of this becomes conduct to imitate for Muslims.
It isn't a coincidence that Islamic law doesn't recognize adoption or that Islamic countries permit child marriage. There's a reason that an action by the US military turns all Americans into "legitimate targets." It isn't random that Islamic law allows Muslim men to lie to unbelievers or their wives. If Mohammed did it then it is not only permissible, but commendable.
Another huge difference between Mohammed and Moses is his relationship to the Koran. Moses didn't write the Hebrew Scriptures, only a part of them. The entire Koran from first to last was recited by Mohammed - he stands alone. It is impossible to overemphasize this. The Bible has many, many authors but one Spirit. Part of the argument for the divine origins of the Bible is the continuity of the message over dozens of authors over 1500 years. It de-emphasizes human authors and makes them simply part of a vast and grand salvation epic. The Koran is all about Mohammed.
For a Muslim, everything is about the person of Mohammed. He is it. And the fact that he stands alone amplifies his importance to Muslims. The fact that the Koran focuses so much on the person and personality of Mohammed (and the Hadith even more so) amplifies his importance. This is why even though Muslims claim to follow Allah, what they really have is a Mohammed-cult.
Now I know that Muslims will protest this, but everything about their piety supports my thesis. Today in Pakistan the penalty for blaspheming Allah is imprisonment but the penalty for blaspheming Mohammed is death (Penal Code 295c). You can question the existence of God, but if you dishonor Mohammed, you will die. And actually, if you are accused of dishonoring Mohammed, of his book, you must die. It is better to kill an innocent than possibly let someone who dishonors the Prophet live.
They ARE Mohammedeans. Islam is the cult of the 7th century warlord whose honor is protected as if he was still alive and whose example and words are followed as if there has been no change in context in 1400 years. We don't call them Mohammedeans, however, simply because, in the words of Wafa Sultan, "It is wrong to call people by names that they do not choose." Or, in the words of the Son of God, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," (Matthew 7:12) a commandment absent from Islam.