Book Abstract: Muhammad is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet
David Stephan Powers
Cornell University - Department of Near Eastern Studies
August 13, 2009
Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper No. 09-73
The Islamic claim to supersede Judaism and Christianity is embodied in the theological assertion that prophecy ended with Muhammad. The Qur’an identifies Muhammad as the Seal of Prophets, a figure of speech that came to be understood as signifying that he was the Last Prophet. The success of this claim was an achievement that required work. The Qur’an suggests that the office of prophecy is hereditary. Thus, if Muhammad had a son, he might not be the Last Prophet; and if he was the Last Prophet, he could not have a son. As is well-known, Muhammad had no natural sons who reached the age of maturity. Before receiving his first revelation, however, Muhammad is said to have adopted a man named Zayd as his son: Zayd’s name was changed to Zayd b. Muhammad and mutual rights of inheritance were created between the two men. This seemingly marginal figure, known as the Beloved of the Messenger of God, was the first adult male to become a Muslim and the only Muslim apart from Muhammad whose name is mentioned in the Qur’an. Eventually, Zayd would be repudiated by his father and sent to certain death on a battlefield in southern Jordan. By focusing attention on Muhammad’s relationship with Zayd, I seek to recover a neglected phase in early Islamic history. To secure the integrity of the claim that Muhammad was the Last Prophet, the first Muslims were compelled to substitute sonlessness for biological generativity. I argue that Muhammad’s repudiation of the Beloved of the Messenger of God and Zayd’s martyrdom at the Battle of Mu’ta were driven by theological imperatives designed to facilitate the doctrine of the finality of prophecy. To this end, the historical record was adjusted, legal institutions were abolished or reformed, and the consonantal skeleton of the Qur’an was modified.
Date posted: August 19, 2009
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