The legacy of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) may be the most disputed and scrutinized subject in the post-9/11 era, not just by Muslim scholars who focus on interpretation, but increasingly by non-Muslims who seek to understand Islam itself.
Few things are more important than the protection and sanctifying of this legacy today, and Jonathan Brown’s Misquoting Muhammad can be read as a contribution to this effort. Dr. Brown is a convert to Islam who is now the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Taking inspiration from Christian theologian Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, Brown explores the highly complicated interpretative history that occupies so much of Islamic scholarship and theology.
This is an important contribution to our contemporary public sphere, where misconception, misunderstandings, and outright lies of what the Prophet (SAW) stood for is all too common. For whatever reasons, many books have been written in the past decade or so that seek to vilify the Prophet (SAW) and his legacy, mostly through shoddy scholarship and unjustifiable polemic. Dr. Brown’s book is hopefully one contribution to what will become a multi-dimensional antidote to such distortions.
Misquoting Muhammad looks primarily at hadith literature, and explores some of the debates that surround how Muslims have sifted through these Prophetic traditions in an effort to derive meaning and guidance from the Prophet’s (SAW) blessed life. It’s a good introduction for those who are not scholars themselves, but seek a window or framework through which they can make sense of the vast Islamic hadith tradition. This is important for the lay reader, who, in the politically charged atmosphere of the early 21st century, seeks to navigate the ummah’s apparent crisis of authority.
Issues regarding the nature and dynamics of Shariah, for instance, are constantly under modern scrutiny, and the average Muslim can read Dr. Brown’s book to gain a framework through which he or she can explain certain aspects of the Islamic tradition. Misquoting Muhammad is a starting point for those who are interested in learning more about how Muslims have grappled and explored every known detail of our Beloved Prophet’s (SAW) life.
The timing of this book’s publication adds to its importance. In a time of scrutiny without understanding and debate without empathy, Muslims (in the West, especially) will do well to return to the truths laid out by the one through which the mercy of Islam was revealed.
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