Mohammedan (also spelled Muhammadan, Mahommedan, Mahomedan or Mahometan) is a term for a follower of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It is used as both a noun and an adjective, meaning belonging or relating to, either Muhammad or the religion, doctrines, institutions and practices that he established. The word was formerly common in usage, but the terms Muslim and Islamic are more common today.
The OED cites 1663 as the first recorded usage of the English term, along with the older term Mahometan that dates back to at least 1529. The English term is derived from New Latin Mahometanus, from Medieval Latin Mahometus, Muhammad. It meant simply a follower of Mohammad. The words 'Calvinist' and 'Confucian' do not imply that Calvinists or Confucians worship John Calvin or Confucius, but that they are followers of their respective teachings.
In Christian Western Europe, down to the 13th century or so, some people had a mistaken belief that Muhammad had either been a heretical Christian or that he was a god worshipped by Muslims. Some works of Medieval European literature referred to Muslims as "pagans" or by sobriquets such as the paynim foe. Depictions, such as those in the Song of Roland, depict Muslims praying to a variety of "idols", including Apollo, Lucifer, Termagant, and Mahound. When the Knights Templar were being tried for heresy, reference was often made to their worship of a demon Baphomet, which was notable, by implication, for its similarity to Muhammad's name when transliterated in to Latin, "Mahomet", that was used by contemporary Christian authors, given that Latin would be for another 500 years the language of scholarship and erudition for most of Europe.
These and other variations on the theme were all set in the "temper of the times" of the Muslim-Christian conflict as Medieval Europe was becoming aware of its great enemy in the wake of the quickfire success of the Muslims through a series of conquests shortly after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, as well as the lack of real information in the West of the mysterious east.
The term has been largely superseded by "Muslim", "Moslem" or "Islamic", but was commonly used only in Western literature until at least the mid-1960s. Muslim is more commonly used today, and the term Mohammedan is widely considered archaic or in some cases even offensive.
Muslim objections to the term
Some modern Muslims have objected to the term, saying that the term was not used by Muhammad himself or his earlier followers, and that the religion teaches the worship of God alone (see shirk and tawhid) and not Muhammad or any other of God's prophets, according to Muslim beliefs. Thus modern Muslims believe "Mohammedan" is a misnomer, "which seem to them to carry the implication of worship of Mohammed, as Christian and Christianity imply the worship of Christ." Also, historically the term al-Muḥammadīya has been used in Islam to denote several sects that have been considered heretical by mainstream Islam.
Other similar uses
Tariqa Muhammadiyya (the Way of Mohammad) is a school of reform Sufism that arose in the 18th century and seeks to redirect and harmonize Sufi philosophy and practices with the authority and example of the prophet and hadith.
In Indonesia, Muhammadiyah (followers of Muhammad) is the name of a Sunni socioreligious reform movement that shuns syncretistic and Sufi practices and advocates a return to a purer form of Islam based on the hadith and examples from the life of the prophet and has adapted Western institutions such as the Boy Scouts to Islamic ends.
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- JOHN BOWKER. "Muhammadans." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jun. 2010 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.
- -Ologies & -Isms. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc.
- Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, edited by Noah Porter, published by G & C. Merriam Co., 1913
- A concise etymological dictionary of the English language, By Walter William Skeat
- Kenneth Meyer Setton (1 July 1992). "Western Hostility to Islam and Prophecies of Turkish Doom". DIANE Publishing. ISBN 0-87169-201-5. pg 4-15 - "Some Europeans believed that Moslems worshipped Mohammed as a god,[...]" (4)
- Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, "Termagant
- Watt, Montgomery,Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman. Oxford University Press, 1961. fromm pg. 229
- See for instance the second edition of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by HW Fowler, revised by Ernest Gowers (Oxford, 1965)
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000) annotates the term as offensive. The OED has "its use is now widely seen as depreciatory or offensive", referring to English Today no. 39 (1992): "The term Mohammedan [...] is considered offensive or pejorative to most Muslims since it makes human beings central in their religion, a position which only Allah may occupy". Other dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, do not label the term as offensive.
- see e.g. Mohammedanism a Misnomer,[dead link] by R. Bosworth Smith, Paul Tice; Definition of Mohammedanism,[dead link] Farlex Encyclopedia; What does Islam mean?, Islamic Bulletin
- Gibb, Sir Hamilton (1969). Mohammedanism: an historical survey. Oxford University Press. p. 1.
Modern Muslims dislike the terms Mohammedan and Mohammedanism, which seem to them to carry the implication of worship of Mohammed, as Christian and Christianity imply the worship of Christ.
- JOHN BOWKER. "Muhammadans." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. Retrieved 8 June 2012
- Strothmann, R.. " al-Muḥammadīya." Encyclopaedia of Islam, First Edition (1913-1936). Brill Online , 2012. 8 June 2012
- Green, Nile, Sufism: A Global History, Jon Wiley & Sons, 2012 pg 167-168