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Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires Hardcover – Illustrated, October 9, 2018
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"Juan Cole's Muhammad comes at precisely the right time. During a moment where Islam has been positioned as an enhanced threat to America and the West, Cole provides a historical account that trenchantly takes down the mis-narrative that the Prophet Muhammad was, above all, war-mongering and wed to violence. This is more than historical work, but writing that equips readers with the knowledge to navigate our turbulent present."―Khaled A. Beydoun, professorof law and author American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise ofFear
"Juan Cole's Muhammad draws deeply on the text of the Qur'an and on a vast selection of the best modern scholarship to make a convincing case for Muhammad as apostle of tolerance and peace. Cole shows how this original message of peace, consistently articulated in the Qur'an, was distorted by later Islamic tradition and denied by more than a thousand years of European polemic against Islam. Filled with astute observations at every turn."―Fred M. Donner, professorof near eastern history, University of Chicago
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.2 pounds
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 156858783X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1568587837
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.13 x 9.5 inches
- Publisher : Bold Type Books; Illustrated edition (October 9, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #315,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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This is both enlightening and important in our current context, as Islam is seen as a religion predicated on violence and conquest. Cole breaks down these preconceived notions throughout the book. Muhammad did not promote anything resembling sharia law. The clashes that are mentioned during Muhammad’s life were defensive struggles. His “conquest” of Mecca was more akin to Martin Luther King’s “March on Washington” than an attack. Jihad, when the word is used in the Qu’ran, always refers to internal struggle rather than a “holy war”. The examples continue, and Cole spaces them remarkably to keep the focus on his main argument. It is interesting to see the ways that Islam has changed since Muhammad, and Cole spends the conclusion of Muhammad detailing these changes as compared to Muhammad’s teachings. As a historical argument, it is highly compelling.
As an evangelical Christian, I found Cole’s treatment of both Islam and Christianity extraordinarily fair to both religions. From my knowledge of both Muhammad’s teachings and the history of Islam since then, he approaches the topics without partiality and using historical documentation responsibly to make his points. He also is very upfront on the similarities between Muhammad’s teachings, Judaism, and Christianity. Muhammad often paraphrases parts of the Talmud or the Bible, and Cole points out a plethora of examples.
Pluralism and inclusivism also provide major themes in Muhammad, as Cole defines each and uses those definitions to investigate how Muhammad thought and taught of those from other religions. Pluralism is the belief that multiple religions provide equally valid paths to God. Inclusivism is the belief that all religions provide some truth, but certain religions provide more complete truth than others. His analysis of Muhammad’s religion on these grounds is enthralling:
The Qur’an embraces pluralism on the level of salvation but inclusivism at the level of theology. It allows that members of other faith communities can reach heaven. At the same time, it sees the older religions as somewhat corrupted by ideas and practices introduced over time that departed from the pure, exemplary faith of Abraham, and it does not hesitate to reproach them for these lapses. Still, God will forgive everything but outright polytheism.
This nuance to Muhammad’s beliefs about salvation and theology were so interesting to me because of the way it compares to Christianity. Christianity is inherently exclusive. Although Cole does not compare Islam and Christianity outright on those grounds, he makes clear that even as there are many similarities between Muhammad’s teachings and those of Jesus, there are irreparable differences. Here is the quote that stood out to me:
The Qur’an goes so far as to present peace activism and beneficence as the vehicle of redemption from the fall, rather than, as in Christian theology, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
That is the divergence. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is everything to true Christians, including our redemption from Adam’s sin. If Jesus is not the Son of God but only born of a virgin, a teaching put forward by Muhammad to begin his religion, that changes everything and will never be reconcilable.
For those interested in Islam, world history, or a comparison of three major world religions as of the 7th century, I would encourage you to pick up Juan Cole’s Muhammad. The details and thinking contained within are highly illuminating and thought-provoking.
I received this book as an eARC courtesy of Nation Books and NetGalley, but my opinions are my own.
One of the characteristics of the book that appeals most is not only its exceptional intellectual analysis, but also its very accessible writing. The book has the erudition of an academic treatise but reads like an interesting narrative. Professor Cole makes a compelling case that what Muhammad preached was peace. The work is situated within the geo-political context of the 6th and 7th century Middle East, and the competition between the Eastern Roman Empire and Sasanian Persia, initially led by Khosrow II.
The comparisons and contrasts with other religions are among the fascinating aspects of the book. The central focus is on Muhammad’s teachings, with extensive references to Christianity and Judaism.
Professor Cole’s study is equitable to all religions discussed. In an in-depth final part, he addresses the fact that the message of peace preached by Muhammad has been misappropriated in subsequent times and used to justify offensive warfare. Muhammad’s key teachings included “the prohibitions on coercion of conscience and on aggressive warfare.” The final part of the book addresses in depth the subsequent misappropriation at times, after Muhammad’s lifetime, of his teachings. Professor Cole analyzes both the “how” and “why” aspects of this issue, from the standpoint of theology and history. He also discusses other religions, originating in the Middle East and South Asia, whose peaceful message was, at times, subsequently misappropriated.
The book explores what the Qur’an says about peace and war. Battle, according to the Qur’an, is a legitimate response to aggression, which the book indicates is similar to what St. Augustine stated about defensive warfare. Professor Cole also writes about passages that give insight into the Qur’an’s theory of social peace (from The Pilgrimage chapter in the Qur’an). According to this chapter of the Qur’an, when one people launches aggression, others must restrain them, in an effort to establish collective security (p. 148). Professor Cole explains the evolution of years of Roman discourse (especially 300s-400s CE) on breaches of peace. It is fascinating to find out how it had changed from when the Roman Empire had been pagan (at the time of Cicero) to when it adopted Christianity as the new religion.
The book analyzes the Constitution of Medina in the early 620s, which was part of forging a social contract among the clans of Medina and delineating community relations. The constitution offers a vision of a non-doctrinal, religiously multicultural society based on communal loyalty, granting of security, and mechanisms for settling torts, which establishes obligations of non-belligerence in the city of the Prophet.
The book’s readable and scholarly account of Muhammad’s message and the events which took place in the Middle East in the 6th and 7th century is compelling. Professor Cole critically examines sources, some of which, for example those alluding to war between Byzantium and clans in Arabia, are anachronistic (p. 182). He explains that this conflict occurred after the death of Muhammad, not during his lifetime. At times the book cites Christian theologians, such as St. Augustine as rendering an accurate analysis. At other times, Professor Cole points out that, as in the case of Bishop Sophronios, the latter’s statements are unsubstantiated by historical record. The book references at certain points biographers of Muhammad- but considers those in light of the Qur’an, and the rich array of historical and theological sources available.
Very interesting in terms of geo-political context is that the later Roman Empire, under Herakleios, still had republican remnants, with the Senate as an important consultative body. This model, according to the book, which differed from the absolute monarchy of Khosrow II of Iran, may have been important for Muhammad’s views on the Roman Empire. Those views would have also been influenced by the Arab preference for the consultation between clan chiefs over centralized power (p. 134).
Among the discussion of the rich array of events is a comprehensive explanation of the dynamics between Mecca and Medina, and of the Treaty of Hudaibiya (reconstructed from historical sources). There is also an account of Muhammad’s trips to Damascus and his interactions with other faiths; as well as his views on the Roman empire. The narrative of “Muhammad, Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires” has been written within the theological context of the teachings of Muhammad, and it draws parallels and contrasts with Christianity and Judaism. The narrative closely follows the life of the Prophet. Geopolitically, the events in the book are based within the context of the power struggle between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sasanian Iranian Empire. The appendix contains the multiple verses on peace from the Qur’an that are relevant to the book.
Overall, “Muhammad, Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires” is a brilliant book, which gives the reader fascinating insight into a complex era. It is written beautifully and contains compelling, expert analysis.
The Prophet Muhammad lived in 7th century Arabia, where the society and culture differed vastly from today's. It never ceases to amaze me that some (even some Amazon reviewers) judge Muhammad and his then followers by the standards of today. If one reads the 'Five Books of Moses', take notice of the extreme violence described. A distant time. I see little criticism of the 'Five Books of Moses' coming from those who are critical of the Prophet Muhammad. Nor do I see any abhorrence of Christian violence, or for that matter, violence committed in the name of any other religion.
To me, Professor Cole's main point is Muhammad's peace-making and peaceful activities need to be highlighted, particularly now when there is such vitriol and prejudice directed at the Muslim community, and willful ignorance practiced about Islam.
And, Juan Cole's colorfully descriptive writing style made this book eminently readable. It put me in 7th century Arabia, riding along with Muhammad and his followers. Excellent job, Professor Cole.
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These are just two of the many examples Juan Cole gives which are right below
Surah The Cow verse 2:190 says “fight in the path of God those who enter into combat against you, but do not commit aggression. God does not love aggressors.”
Surah The Cow Verse 2:62 Proclaims, Those who believed, and the Jews, ,and the Christians, and the Sabians, and whoever has believed in God and the Last Day and performed good works, they shall have their reward with their lord.
That the new faith should be spread by the sword, or through holy war, cannot be found in the Qur’an. Cole’s comprehensible approach is that he carefully re-reads the scripture but considers the prophet’s biography, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya, which had been formulated long after the unprecedented triumph of Islam and far-reaching conquests under the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, as unreliable hagiography. Later Muslims had to paint the picture of an illiterate Prophet who was not even aware of the scriptures of the two other monotheistic religions in order to protect him from being accused of plagiarism. In contrast, Cole is right when he characterizes Muhammad, wealthy business woman Khadija’s husband, as highly skilled and educated international tradesman who frequently traveled with his caravans to the economic and cultural centers of Palestine and the Levant. Muhammad had heard, with horror, of Jerusalem’s fall to the Sasanian general Sharbaraz in 614, just after surah ar-Rum had been revealed. Numerous neologisms in the Qur’an prove that Muhammad mastered Aramaic as well as possibly Greek. He was well aware of then popular stories like the Alexander Romance as well as the tale of the Seven Sleepers. Both stories are referred to in surah 18 (al-Kahf).
Cole interestingly interprets the conflict between Mecca and Medina as sort of a proxy war of the two main adversaries in the first half of the 7th century, the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires. It becomes clear that Mecca (Sasanian sphere of influence) was the aggressor while Muhammad was able to capture Mecca in 630 without any bloodshed.
The unholy blending of what can be found in the Qur’an and highly unreliable ahadith (the traditions of the Prophet) and sira in later centuries has done lots of damage to the religion of Islam. Umayyad and Abbasid violent conquests and civil wars may remind us of another Islamic tradition, the Shi’a. The members of the Prophet’s family, the descendants of his cousin Ali and daughter Fatimah, had been subject for centuries of persecution. The Shi’a Imams had always claimed to be the rightous spiritual (and political) successors of the Prophet, having access to and being able to interpret the divine law. They were decidedly pious and defensive and all were martyred by Umayyad or Abbasid usurpers. Cole does not entertain this interesting aspect of an entirely peaceful Islam in his book.