Short Answer: Surely if he had been an opportunist, he wouldn’t have refused to accept the bribes from the ruling clan in Makkah when they offered him anything and everything if he would only drop his message of God’s Oneness. Islam cost him all the wealth and prestige he had gained in his marriage to Khadijah. None of the revelations God gave him benefited him personally, and some of them made his life harder. He was prohibited from receiving charity during his hard life, and died in poverty.
Salam (Peace) Jamie,
Thank you for speaking frankly about your concerns.
It gives us an opportunity to clear up misconceptions and give a clearer picture of who the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him-PBUH) was.
He Refused Bribes From The Ruling Class
First, let’s address your first concern about Muhammad “using religion to further his social status (which was tenuous based on his orphan status)”.
This is unlikely if you consider the fact that in the early days of revelation of the Quran, the Quraysh (those who opposed the message of Islam) offered Muhammad (PBUH) a position as the leader of Makkah and all the wealth he desired if he would just stop spreading the message from God.
Utba, from the tribe of the Quraysh, said to Prophet Muhammad:
O son of my brother, if by this affair [spreading the message of Islam], you intend to acquire riches, honors, and dignity, we are willing to collect for you a fortune larger than is possessed by any one of us; we shall make you our chief and will do nothing without you. If you desire dominion, we shall make you our king; and if the demon which possesses you cannot be subdued, we will bring you doctors and give them riches until they cure you.”
The Prophet (PBUH), answering this attempt at bribery, said:
Now listen to me, O father of Walid [Utba].
Then the Prophet recited the first thirteen verses of Surah (Chapter) Fussilat (41:1-13).
When the Prophet (PBUH) had finished his recitation, he said to Utba:
This is my reply to your proposition; now take what course you find best.
This is to say, he refused the bribe and told Utba, and by extension all of the Quraysh, that he would not stop spreading God’s message even if they offered him the world and everything in it.
If he had been an opportunist only out to gain worldly status, wouldn’t he have taken them up on that offer?
His Family Connections Brought Him Wealth & Prestige—He gave it all up
Yes, he was an orphan. But his grandfather then his uncle, who were leaders in Makkah, adopted him.
And because of this and the fact that he was from an important tribe, Muhammad (PBUH) held a high status in his society before his prophethood.
He married into wealth and was loved and very much respected by all of those around him. They called him THE trustworthy, THE honest.
Once he started spreading the message of God’s Oneness and that justice was for all–not just the rich, he suffered the loss of this status and wealth (even though he was still considered THE trustworthy, THE honest).
He suffered ridicule, was called a madman, was attacked, was under death threats constantly, and was always on duty (as prophets are examples in everything they do).
If he were looking to further his status, don’t you think in the face of this hardship and not knowing what the future would hold, that he would have taken the bribe and abandoned the message he was teaching?
None Of His Revelations Benefited Him Personally
As for your second concern that Muhammad was trying to “manipulate Muslim beliefs and his revelations to suit his will and his desires,” I would ask you: what revelation benefited him personally?
I am not sure there is even one.
Was it that the Arab has no superiority over others based on ethnicity?
Was it that the wealthy have a duty to help the poor?
He was even prohibited from receiving charity for himself or his family, even though he had need of it.
He ate little (only dates and water most days) if he was not fasting for days at a time, slept on harsh leaves while others slept on soft mattresses.
He even gave most of what little he owned away in charity.
He lived in very tight quarters after he left his home in Makkah (his own quarters were so small that he couldn’t even stretch out).
He died with very little in his possession.
He was not a man interested in worldly gain.
He was not even interested in his own comfort much less trying to make people do his bidding, or as you put it manipulate people to suit his will or desire.
And even though he lost so much and faced great adversity, he was still patient and kind.
I hope this helps clear things up. And please do not hesitate to contact us again with any further questions or concerns you may have.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)