THE LIFE AND RELIGION OF MOHAMMAD. By J. L. Menezes. (Roman Catholic Books, P.O. Box 2286, Fort Collins, Colo. 80522, 1912/2005 reprint), 194 pp. HB $24.95.
Mohammed, the founder of the Islamic religion, was born in Mecca, Arabia, in 570 and he died in 632. Father Menezes, the author of this book, lived and worked in India, which has a significant Moslem population. He wrote this book in 1911 as a type of friendly letter to the Moslems of India, explaining to them the history and origins of their religion.
The main purpose of the book is to show that Mohammed, on the basis of his own experience and with the help of a few others, fabricated a new religion dedicated to the one only God, Allah, with special honor for the prophet, namely, himself, whom he placed above Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ.
The culture of Arabia at the time was dominated by various forms of idolatry, which was an abomination to Mohammed. One of the good things he did was to destroy idols and idol worship and bring his followers to the worship of the one God of heaven. It seems that he got his idea about the one God from the Jews because he was familiar with the Old Testament. He also knew the New Testament and had great respect for Jesus and his Mother, Mary. He acknowledged Jesus as a great prophet and miracle worker, but he did not recognize the divinity of Jesus.
Mohammed’s ideas about God and religion are contained in the Koran, which he claimed was given to him by God through the agency of the archangel Gabriel. The borrowings in the Koran from the OT and the NT are obvious.
There are five chapters in the book. In the first chapter the author gives a history of the life of Mohammed. Up to the age of about forty he lived a rather decent life with one wife. After her death he married twelve women; he also had many concubines. Once he started his religion he fell into a life of sensuality; he engaged in robbery, murder and cruelty to his enemies.
Because of the hostility against him in Mecca, he was forced to move to Medina where he was more successful in gaining followers. From there he waged holy war in all directions in order to spread his religion by the sword and bloodshed. When it is said that Islam is a religion of peace, it means it is peaceful if you accept it; if you do not, you are either killed or made an oppressed subject forced to pay exorbitant taxes.
Next, Fr. Menezes explains the faith of the Moslems from the Koran. It is a very simple religion with few articles of faith. There are six articles of faith: 1) Belief in one God (but total rejection of the Trinity); 2) Belief in Angels; 3) Belief in Books (OT, NT and the Koran); 4) Belief in Prophets (Mohammed in the greatest and last); 5) The Resurrection and the Day of Judgment; 6) Predestination of Good and Evil.
The moral code or duties of Islam are four, namely, prayer, alms, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
Because of its use of Jewish and Christian ideas in a sense one can say that it is a Jewish and Christian heresy. Fr. Menezes says, “with all its positive and negative laws [it] has been a curse to human society” (p. 140). He also says that Mohammed has given “to the whole world a religion which, claiming a divine origin as the final and irrevocable standard of morality, has kept its followers sunk in ignorance and barbarism, and has become an insuperable barrier to the regeneration, civilization and progress of the Eastern world” (p. 142).
The fourth chapter deals with sects in Islam. The author says that there are at least 150 different Moslem sects. The two main ones are the Sunnis (the most numerous) and the Shiites. In recent years there have been many reports from Iraq about the conflicts between these two Moslem sects.
The last chapter is a friendly letter written by the author to the Moslems in India. He offers a point-by-point refutation of the claims of Mohammed, relying often on quotes from the Koran to show that the only true religion is the Catholic religion and that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of the world. He invites his Moslem readers to see that Islam is a human creation and that they should put their faith in Jesus Christ who is both God and Man and who established the one true Church on Peter and the Apostles.
Given the present world situation and the conflict of civilizations between Islam and Christianity, the book is recommended for Catholics who would like to have a better understanding if Islam and the fanaticism that motivates young people to blow themselves up in order to kill other people who do not agree with them.
Kenneth Baker, S.J.