By Craig Consindine, who is a Catholic American of Irish and Italian descent. Craig is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Rice University in Houston, Texas
As an advocate of interfaith dialogue, particularly between Christians and Muslims, I’m often faced with the issue of conversion. People ask me, “If you admire Prophet Muhammad so much, why don’t you convert to Islam? Why don’t you accept him as “the seal”? I see these questions popping up on my Twitter and Facebook feeds more than you might imagine.
Basically, me admiring Prophet Muhammad isn’t “enough” for Muslims; in their eyes, I must take a few concrete steps towards Islam to be fully recognized as a “true believer.” Otherwise, I’m just a weirdo Christian who respects Muhammad, but doesn’t recognize him as a “the man.” Christians, on the other hand, have called me “pseudo Catholic” and “infidel” for my positive writings about Muhammad. For these Islamophobes, I’m quite simply a heretic. There’s no way around it. Perhaps my work is irritating to Muslims and Christians because I’m pushing a few traditional boundaries and making people question the very heart of their religious traditions and identities.
Here’s the main issue according to popular narratives: Muslims must recognize Jesus as a prophet of God, as laid out explicitly in the Qur’an. Muslims aren’t at risk of anything when they say “I believe in Jesus.” However, if we switched the situation (“I’m a Christian. I believe in Muhammad as a prophet”), people might start to question my credibility as a self-professed Christian. People might say, “Jesus is the only way. You’ve turned your back on God. You’re no longer Christian.”
I’m writing this piece to explain why I disagree with the idea that Christians can’t recognize Muhammad as a prophet. Really, what is in question here is the definition of “prophet.” “Prophet” can be defined as “a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God.” Outside of the dictionary, I’ve always understood “prophet” to mean a messenger of a Higher Power who works on earth to bring justice and peace to humanity.