Founders and Exemplars of Faith
Without doubt, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the key figure who has been the most influential for Muslims. In Islam, he is the Seal of the prophets sent by God and it is through him that the foundations of Islam were laid down. It is because of him that Islam flourished and nowadays is the fastest growing religion in the world even after 14 centuries.
Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is seen as the mother of Islam, as it is she who gave all she had in the way of Islam which initiated the success of the religion in the early days. She was an eminent woman who was highly respected by both men and women. She was the wealthiest woman in Arabia who was very powerful and influential. There is a difference of opinion between the two main sects in Islam (Sunni and Shi’ah) as regards the succession of the Prophet.
The Sunni hold the companions (ashab) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in high regard and consider the first four as the rightly guided successors (Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali). The Shi’ah Muslims believe that the first legitimate successor is Imam ‘Ali, as they believe he was chosen by God as opposed to being elected by the people.
‘Ayshah, daughter of Abu Bakr and one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is the lady who shaped Sunni Islam. She is held in very high esteem by Sunnis.
His family (Ahl al-Bayt) are also very important to Muslims, especially Shi’ah Muslims, who regard the family of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as the true authorities and successors after his demise.
Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and wife of Imam ‘Ali (the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)), was a lady of knowledge and piety. Men and women would seek guidance and knowledge from her on many Islamic issues. It is Fatimah who shaped Shi’ah Islam. Imam Hussein, the third Shi’ah Imam is considered, particularly by Shi’ah Muslims, as the saviour of Islam who sacrificed his life for the faith along with some of his family members and companions.
There are also contemporary personalities who are regarded as being influential in Islam. Malcolm X was a convert and a promoter of civil rights. He was affiliated with the Nation of Islam until 1964 when he entered mainstream Islam but was assassinated in 1965. Imam Khomeini was the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran (1979) after an uprising the Shah regime. His thought and movement was inspired by Imam Hussein (mentioned above). He was a political and a spiritual leader.