Why does the mainstream media refer to “the Prophet Muhammud”?

Virtually every mention in the Western mainstream media of the seventh-century historical figure Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim, who founded Islam toward the end of his life and whom the religion regards as the final prophet, refers to him as “Prophet Muhammad” or “the Prophet Muhammad,” complete with capital “P.”  (The name Muhammad is sometimes spelled differently due to transliteration from the Arabic; even the New York Times apparently doesn’t have a consistent spelling in its style guide.)

The uncritical assignment of the title “the Prophet” seems rather normative given the media’s neutrality on, or disdain for, religious belief.  They refer to Cardinal and Pope, but those are official titles granted by a recognized sovereign state, akin to Duke or King.

Use of “the Prophet” seems more analogous to “Jesus the Christ” (which means something like “Jesus the messiah”), which would also editorially confer a religious imprimatur to a historical figure—which the mainstream media’s news pages rarely, if ever, do when it comes to Jesus.  Mainstream newspapers rightfully discuss Jesus as a historical figure, of course in the context of his place in religion, but one doesn’t find many examples of a reporter assenting to the views of the faithful through his use of default language.

One would think that the mainstream media, committed to objectivity, would use language like “the Muslim historical figure Muhammad” or “Muhammad, the founder of Islam” or “Muhammad, whom Muslims regard as the final prophet.”  Do the editors of the New York Times think that prophets exist?

P.S.  In the Muslim world, the press always refers to him as “Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)” and “Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)” or “the Prophet (pbuh)” in subsequent references.  How long before the Western press feels compelled to adopt this usage as well?

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