Memory is at the very heart of the great world religions as they seek to keep alive the memory of their founder or their foundational events or the teachings contained in their scriptures - and for many of them it's all three. For some religions like Hinduism there is no recognised founder while for others the founder is a source of inspiration and reverence, honoured in festivals and memories contained in both canonical scripture and other devotional writings. This is true of the Prophet Mohammed even though Muslims will tell us that they are not followers of the Prophet but followers of the Word of God, revealed to Mohammed and set out in the Qur'an. Muslims love and revere the Prophet even though they stress that they are not following him but the way revealed to him and set out in the Qur'an. Within a hundred years of the Prophet's death his sayings had been collected in the Hadith with the history of these sayings traced back to their original source. So one of his companions described him thus: "his face was radiant as if the sun were following its course across and shining from his face" He was the Last of the Prophets, the most giving of hearts, the most truthful, the best of them in temperament and the most sociable. Whoever unexpectedly saw him would stand in awe of him, and whoever accompanied him and got to know him would love him. Those describing him would say: "I have never seen anyone before or after him who was comparable to him." The biographical literature (called Sira) is disputed as being historically unreliable but in a sense this doesn't matter so much because what we have is the language of exaltation giving an insight into the meaning Mohammed had for his followers and the kind of respect and devotion he aroused in them. In spite of this exaltation he was a man with his feet firmly planted on the ground for his wife Aisha tells us "He always joined in household chores and would at times mend his clothes, repair his shoes and sweep the floor. He would milk, tether and feed his animals." - a nice image for a religious founder, I think.
The Buddha too is revered - as a man but an extraordinary man whose enlightenment changed the very nature of our world so that enlightenment and the flourishing of our innate buddha nature is a possibility for everyone. Stories of his birth reveal his extraordiness and significance, not just for human kind but for the whole of nature. His conception and birth are depicted as miraculous. The earth itself rejoiced as both the Buddha and his mother were showered with perfumed blossoms, and two streams of sparkling water were poured from the sky to bathe them. The tradition tells us that the infant Shakyamuni immediately stood, and took seven steps, proclaiming "For enlightenment I was born,for the good of all that lives.This is the last time I have been born into this world of becoming" Stories of Jesus too tell of his miraculous conception and a birth that brought angels from heaven to poor shepherds and wise men from the east to worship this child whose mother was told that he was God's salvation and a light to the nations. Miracles especially his resurrection underlined the significance of Jesus as the enfleshed Word of God.
For many years believers accepted these accounts as literal truth but new understandings of history show that religious scriptures are a special kind of literature, to be understood within the context in which they were written and the meaning that the writer is trying to convey by his use of stories and particular teachings. It's what they mean rather than what they say that's important. The stories haven't to be discarded but to be read as reflecting belief and reverance while understandign that they might be using the language of exaltation. They are important because they keep the memory of the significance of the religious founders alive. They keep the founders alive as do the members of the faith when they honour them. The Buddha continues to live in his community, the Sangha and through his teaching, the Dhamma. Jesus continues to live in his Word and in his community. Mohammed continues to live in his community, the Ummah. If this is true it places quite a responsibility on believers for so often the way they live their lives obscures the significance of their founder rather than reveals their message for the world. I once heard it said that no founder lives up to the expectations of the later tradition. I can see why this might be so. The founders of the main religious traditions were for the most part reformers who offered people a way of life which led to inner freedom and service of others. They were radical and got to the heart of what religion is about. But their followers tended to institutionalise their message, organise it and to some extent control it. I think it's probably true that no religion is as radical, honest, loving , compassionate, wise , just, as it's founder was. All religions need to keep alive their original inspiration, to be constantly remembering their founder, not just to honour him but to allow the memory to renew their commitment to living out his message and making his presence more relevant and accessible to the world today. For surely the world needs radical inspiration more than it needs organised religion.