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Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters Hardcover – November 17, 2009
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*Starred Review* Safi recognizes that in painting a portrait of the prophet Muhammad, he does not begin with a blank canvas. Indeed, he begins by confronting the negative images of Muhammad within the Western tradition—from Dante’s horrifying portrayal of the prophet’s damned soul to the mocking caricatures proffered by twenty-first-century Danish cartoonists. Safi invites his readers to lay aside the prejudices fostered by such images as they join in a fresh investigation of Islam’s Prophet. That investigation—based on the Qur’an and on Ibn Ishaq’s eighth-century biography, supplemented by other ancient and modern sources—uncovers a complex personality: a towering spiritual leader who dramatically challenged traditional Arab polytheism and a resourceful political strategist who appealed to the socially marginal while outmaneuvering the powerful elite. As he fills in the historical picture with accounts of important figures close to Muhammad—Khadijn, Ali, Hossein—Safi must delve into the tensions that developed among Muhammad’s followers, pitting the Shi’a against the Sunni, radical against moderate. Because of the persistence of these tensions, Safi despairs of delivering a single definitive understanding of the prophet. However, his depiction of a profoundly humane and compassionate visionary offers a much-needed corrective to the darker perspective promulgated by some Islamic extremists. --Bryce Christensen
“A fresh investigation of Islam’s Prophet that uncovers a complex personality. . . . [Safi’s] depiction of a profoundly humane and compassionate visionary offers a much needed corrective to the darker perspective promulgated by some Islamic extremists.” (Booklist (starred review))
“Safi traces the three important stages of Muhammad’s life: his climb up the mountain to receive God’s revelation (through the prophet Gabriel); his flight from Mecca and Jerusalem to heaven where he has a direct encounter with God; and his migration from Mecca to Medina and back.” (Raleigh News and Observer)
“[Memories of Muhammad] attempts to discover the true Muhammad obscured by both hagiography and militant extremism...Safi is on the front edge of a generation of scholars who, with one foot in both worlds, are trying to explain Islam and the West to each other.” (Religion News Service)
“Safi… brings the prophet into clearer focus with his book Memories of Muhammad. Safi provides a sweeping look at Muhammad’s life and explores many of the controversial issues that color modern perceptions.” (Washington Post Book World Blog)
“...A rounded and revealing portrait of the life, work, and legacies of Muhammad.” (Spirituality and Practice)
“Safi responds to all these Muhammad problems by giving us a highly readable and interesting retelling of the story of this man... [and] provides important background for anyone who wants to understand our friends and enemies among the more than one billion people who embrace Islam.” (The Pilot)
“This book ranks as a milestone for non-Muslim readers. When most of the other books in this era are forgotten, people will continue to read Memories of Muhammad.” (Read the Spirit)
“Safi makes his argument by simply and beautifully narrating the life of Muhammad. Beyond offering a biography of the spiritual leader, Safi explicates his spiritual teachings and describes how he has been remembered by Muslims over 1,400 years.” (Boston Globe)
“...Safi maintains that it is necessary to learn about the Prophet Muhammad in order to understand Islam and to engage in open and constructive dialogue.” (Wisconsin Public Radio)
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Without being overly zealous Omid Safi gives arguments about need of humanity to believe in God. To quote from the book "In the begnining we imagine God to be a slightly better version of ourselves, then the comforter of all that is missing from our lives, and then a king, before we finally realize that God is the Ultimate, the One, the perfection of Love, Majesty, and Beauty." God tells Muhammad PBUH "My heaven cannot contain me, nor can my Earth. But the heart of my faithful servant contains me". The one line which touched me the most from the book is "You can not know yourself without knowing God. You can not know God without knowing yourself."
He forcefully makes the point that the prophet Muhammad was sent as the mercy to all the worlds. He reminds Muslims to practice compassion and justice practiced by the last prophet to mankind. He mentions "For me, Muhammad represents the completion of the possibilities available to us as human beings, not because he is a superhuman, but precisely because he embodies the meaning of what it means to be fully human." Author refers an incident from the life of the prophet "on the way to Mecca, Muhammad saw a female dog that had given birth to a new litter of pups. Concerned that the commotion of an army ot ten thousand might disturb them, Muhammad bid one of his followers to stand guard over them, sheltering them"
Omid safi has done a beautiful job describing the Miraj (heavenly ascension) of the prophet, "Without the Miraj, Muhammad is the Warner who is sent to admonish society to abandon its heathen ways and return to God's path. With the Miraj, Muhammad also charts a path for humanity to ascend to the Divine." In another place Omid Safi summarizes the Quranic call of living by noting that "how one lives in the midst of humanity is related to how one sees God, and vice & versa. Theology and humanity are forever linked". Author reminds the readers " we can ascend to a height and a level of intimacy with God that angels dare not attempt".
Talking about war and violence "The Quran attests that Muhammad was predisposed by nature to despise war, but that God commanded him to undertake it when necessary: "Fighting is ordained for you, even though it be hateful to you Quran 2:216. The Quran emphasizes that when one has to confront enemy - those who, in the words of scripture, have driven one from one's home and oppressed a whole community- then the fighting must be undertaken in a noble fashion, with set bounds not to be exceeded." "And fight in God's cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression- for verily, God does not love aggressors. Quran 2:190"
On topic of social activism of the prophet author refers the spiritual practice of the prophet to link inner reflection with social action. He also mentions verses from the Quran regarding alleviating poverty in society, Quran 2:177 and one of the prophet's saying "Food for one person suffices two persons, and food for two persons suffices four persons, and food for four persons suffices eight persons".
For the first time I read different ways prophet is revered by different groups of Muslims (Sunni, Shia and Sufi). Omid Safi quotes Ali, the first male convert to Islam and one of the greatest Muslims (4th Caliph for Sunnis and 1st Imam for Shias) "I marvel at the creation of humanity: The human sees through a clear veil (the eye), speaks through a piece of meat, hears through a bone and cartilage, and breathes through a narrow opening". Author describes in brief the sacrifices of the grandson of the prophet when he with his family bravely fought against tyranny of the ruler Yazid. How he gave up everything (life of most of his family member and his own) and showed to Muslims how not to bow against tyranny and injustice, whatever the cost maybe.
Finally the author rues the fact that modern Muslims are neglecting the cosmic aspect of the prophet and are emphasizing the role of the prophet as a community leader and social engineer & wahhabi influence has destroyed many of the physical memories of the prophet including his place of birth etc. In the end he quotes Iqbal the famous Urdu poet from South Asia "Love of the prophet runs like blood in the veins of his community".
To understand Islam and Muslims, you have to understand the life of the prophet Muhammad from authentic sources. Other great works are by Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources and In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad.