Misquoting Muhammad

Pages: 384
Subject: Religion: Islam, Religion, History
Series: Islam in the Twenty-First Century
Imprint: Oneworld

Misquoting Muhammad

The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy

Jonathan A.C. Brown

A much needed and timely work on the contentious issues of Islamic thought in the modern world
9781780747828 (6 Aug 2015)
RRP £12.99 / US$18.95

The Book


Few things provoke controversy in the modern world like the religion brought by Prophet Muhammad. Modern media are replete with alarm over jihad, underage marriage and the threat of amputation or stoning under Shariah law. Sometimes rumor, sometimes based on fact and often misunderstood, the tenets of Islamic law and dogma were not set in the religion's founding moments. They were developed, like in other world religions, over centuries by the clerical class of Muslim scholars.

Misquoting Muhammad takes the reader back in time through Islamic civilization and traces how and why such controversies developed, offering an inside view into how key and controversial aspects of Islam took shape. From the protests of the Arab Spring to Istanbul at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and from the ochre red walls of Delhi's great mosques to the trade routes of the Indian Ocean world, Misquoting Muhammad lays out how Muslim intellectuals have sought to balance reason and revelation, weigh science and religion, and negotiate the eternal truths of scripture amid shifting values.

Additional Information

Subject Religion: Islam, Religion, History
Series Islam in the Twenty-First Century
Pages 384
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Jonathan A.C. Brown is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Muslim-Christian Understanding in Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. 


'Identifies and contextualizes the larger interpretive issues at stake in the global competition between diverse traditional and Salafi Sunni voices, and is written in such an engaging manner that the reader may find it difficult to put it down.' 

- Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies

‘Lucid, learned and engaging' 

- Karen Armstrong, Sunday Times

‘Superb… an essential read for anyone seeking to understand Islam and the Muslim world… fascinating'

- Tribune

‘Brown ably navigates the cutting edge of Hadith studies while offering his able insight, encyclopedic knowledge of Muslim textual traditions, and awareness of the political contentiousness of scholarship in Islamic studies… highly recommended'

- ALA CHOICE Magazine

Misquoting Muhammad is a book I wish I had the money to buy for all my friends and colleagues, because he presents readers with a guide to Islamic thought that portrays it not as a fixed entity but as a complex product of utterly human machinations... Ultimately, Brown teaches a simple, if vital, lesson: Authenticity is elusive in religion, and those who claim it tend not to be searching for the truth but grasping for power.'

- Pacific Standard magazine

‘Exhilarating  ... Brown is among the most talented and productive scholars in the field of Islamic Studies today ... He is also a practicing Muslim who has the rare ability to sit at the feet of traditional scholars from Egypt to Malaysia for hours on end and translate that knowledge into something beneficial for his American audiences.'

- Los Angeles Review of Books

'Misquoting Muhammad makes the important point that what many Muslims believe to be essential tenets of their faith are often nothing of the sort'

- Independent, best books of the year

'Brown possesses formidable knowledge of premodern Muslim scholars who sought to preserve accounts of Muhammad's teachings and practices … MISQUOTING MUHAMMAD sheds light on the considerable dynamism and sophistication within the Sunni tradition.'

- Washington Post

‘an inside view into how key controversial aspects of how Islam took shape'

- Asian Art Newspaper

‘There aren't many books on Islam where the Prophet Muhammad and Martin Scorsese appear together… helpful for the lay reader'

- Independent

‘Erudite and provocative… compelling' 

- Literary Review

'Eminently qualified... Brown eloquently parses Islam's rich interpretive tradition.'

- Kirkus Reviews

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations




Notes on dates, transliteration, abbreviations and citations


1  The Problem(s) with Islam

     A world full of God

     Taking Islamic scripture and its interpreters seriously


2  A Map of the Islamic Interpretive Tradition

     The word of God, the teachings of His Prophet and the mind of man

     Obey God and obey His Messenger

     The beginnings of the Islamic interpretive tradition

     Abu Hanifa and the Partisans of Reason

     Malik and the authority of custom

     The power of reason: the Greek legacy and Islamic theology

     Shafi‘i and the beginnings of Sunni Islam

     The collection and criticism of Hadiths

     Putting reason in its place in Sunni theology and law

     The great convergence of Sunni Islam

     Legal theory and its discontents

     Sufism and inspiration from God

     The iconoclasts and Islamic revival

     Twilight of an era


3  The Fragile Truth of Scripture

     A crisis of confidence

     Canons and reading scripture with charity

     The turning over of an era

     Reading scripture so it's true

     The Islamic science of epistemology and interpretation (Usul al-Fiqh)

     The language of God and the rhetoric of His Prophet

     The Qur'an: valid for all times and places

     Hadiths and interpreting the life of the Prophet

     Changing times and the reasons behind scriptural law

     The interaction of the Qur'an and Hadiths in time

     Into the weeds: the case of raising one's hands in prayer

     The summer of the liberal age


4  Clinging to the Canon in a Ruptured World

     Upstarts at the end of time

     The treason of interpretation

     Heresy acceptable: ruptures in canonical communities

     Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them: jihad and (re)interpreting scripture

     Women cannot lead: historicizing scripture versus God's inscrutable law

     Sex with little girls: interpreting scripture amid changing norms

     The ulama, the state and Shariah authenticity without scripture

     The court must not be political - morality and truth in a ruptured world


5  Muslim Martin Luthers and the Paradox of Tradition

     The paradox of interpretive control

     The rule of interpretation in the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Islam

     Tradition as governor, scripture as subject

     Killing one's children: tradition betraying scripture

     Reconsidering the penalty for apostasy: tradition redeeming scripture

     Women leading prayer: should scripture trump tradition?

     The ‘Qur'an Only' movement

     No escaping tradition

     The price of reformation

     The guide of tradition: a necessary but thankless job


6  Lying about the Prophet of God

     The truth, what's that?

     Noble Lies and profound truths

     The ulama as guardians

     Appealing to the flesh: using unreliable Hadiths in Sunni Islam

     A familiar habit: assisting truth in Western scripture and historiography

     Seventy-two virgins: pragmatic truth and the heavenly reward of martyrs

     The cost of Noble Lying

     Muslim objections to the Noble Lie

     Genre versus book: reviving an old approach to authenticating Hadiths

     The dangers of Noble Lying for Muslims today

     Pragmatic truth and the beauty of Noble Lying


7  When Scripture Can't Be True

     The Qur'an and domestic violence

     Who decides what God means?

     Courts have the final word

     Saying ‘no' to the text and the hermeneutics of suspicion


Appendix I: Marracci and Ockley on Aisha's Marriage to the Prophet

Appendix II: Hadiths on a Parent Killing His Child

     Ratings of the Hadith by Muslim critics

     Examination of individual narrations

     My evaluation of the Hadith

     Citations for Hadith of a Father Killing His Child

Appendix III: The Hadith of riba and Incest

     Ratings by Hadith critics

     My evaluation of the Hadith of Riba and Incest

     Citations for the Hadith

Appendix IV: The Hadith of the Seventy-Two Virgins

     Overall rating

     Citations for the Hadith of the Seventy-Two Virgins



Select Bibliography


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