Monday, March 2, 2015

Scott C. Lucas's Review of Jonathan Brown's Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (2014)


As Brown notes in his preface, Misquoting Muhammad is primarily inspired by his observation that 
by far the most pressing questions befuddling both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences were how we should understand such-and-such a controversial Qur’anic verse, or such-and-such a provocative Hadith. During the question-and-answer time at talks I gave, I saw again and again the disillusioning clash between scripture and modernity acted out before me by individuals wondering how they should understand Islam today and what their relationship to the classical heritage of Islam should be. 
This candid admission of the catalyst behind the book explains why thehadiths and Qur’anic verses with which Brown engages are primarily the controversial ones. This is a risky strategy, since the reader might receive the false impression that most hadiths are provocative or contentious. However, given that Muslims today face far more scrutiny over hadiths about virgins in heaven than they do for hadiths about loving one’s neighbors here on earth, his focus on controversial hadiths makes sense. Such a choice also provides Brown with ample opportunities to compare Muslim interpretative choices with parallel challenges found in the European tradition. This is one of his strategies for achieving his second major objective: elevating the reader’s sympathy for the accomplishments of Sunni scholars, regardless of whether the reader is a Muslim.