Hans Kung is a Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, author and emeritus professor of ecumenical theology at University of Tubingen.
“There is no doubt that if anyone in the whole of religious history is termed the prophet, because he claimed to be just that, but in no way more than that, it was Muhammad.
But may a Christian assert that Muhammad was a prophet? Christians, if they pause to survey the situation, must admit the following (especially in light of the Hebrew Bible):
- Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad did not function by reason of an office assigned to him by the community (or its authorities), but by reason of a special personal relationship with God.
- Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad was a person of strong will who felt himself fully imbued with a godly calling, fully consumed,exclusively appointed to his task.
- Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad spoke to the heart of a religious and social crisis, and with his passionate piety and revolutionary proclamation he opposed the wealthy ruling class and the tradition it was trying to preserve.
- Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad, who mostly called himself the “Warner”, sought to be nothing but the verbal instrument of God and to proclaim not his own, but God’s word.
- Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad untiringly proclaimed the one God who tolerates
no other gods and who is at the same time the good Creator and merciful Judge.
- Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad required, as a response to this one God, unconditional obedience, devotion, submission, which is the literal meaning of word Islam: everything that includes gratitude to God and generosity toward fellow human beings.
- Like the prophets of Israel, Muhammad combined monotheism with humanism or human values, belief in the one God and God’s judgment with a call to social justice, and a threat to the unjust, who go to hell, with promises to the just, who are gathered into God’s paradise.
In truth, Muhammad was and is for persons in the Arabian world, and for many others, the religious reformer, lawgiver, and leader; the prophet per se.
Basically Muhammad, who never claimed to be anything more than a human being, is more to those who follow him than a prophet is to us: he is a model for the mode of life that Islam strives to be. If the Catholic Church, according to the Vatican II “Declaration on Non-Christian Religions”, “regards with esteem the Muslims”, then the same church must also respect the one whose name is embarrassingly absent from the same declaration, although he and he alone led the Muslims to pray to this one God, for through him this God “has spoken to humanity”: Muhammad the prophet. But does not such an acknowledgment have very grave consequences, especially for the message he proclaimed, the teachings set down in the Qur’an?
I think for the peoples of Arabia Muhammad’s prophecy led to tremendous progress. Whatever we Christians do with this fact, we must affirm that he acted as a prophet and that he was a prophet. I do not see how we can avoid the conclusion that on their way of salvation, Muslims follow a prophet who is decisive for them.”
Hans Kung, “Christianity and World Religions: Dialogue with Islam”, in Leonard Swidler (ed.), Muslims in Dialogue: The Evolution of A Dialogue, vol. 3 (The Edwin Mellen Press, 1992)