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Who Is Muhammad by Michael Muhammad Knight

Book Review: ‘Who is Muhammad?’ By Michael Muhammad Knight

In Who Is Muhammad Michael Muhammad Knight tackles the complex, and seemingly impossible job, of describing and defining the prophet Muhammed. The problem faced by Knight, and anybody else attempting a task of this magnitude, would be how do you define or describe a person who has long since transcended normal human existence. 

Aside from all the practical problems associated with the job; Muhammed lived over a thousand years ago and definitive descriptions of his life are hard to come by, there’s the fact he is a prophet. How the heck can you even begin to define all that term means, and the many different ways people see the man and the position, within the simple confines of a biography.

While The New Testament gives Christians something of a life history of Jesus Christ, The Quran, doesn’t serve the same function. So how do you re relate the life of Muhammad? Well Knight has created his picture of the prophet from a variety of different perspectives. First he provides readers with the history of the what we now call the Middle East when Muhammad lived.

Petty kingdoms rose and fell all around the region – some swallowed by the Byzantine Empire – others by the Persians. It was in the midst of this turmoil that Muhammad began to amass his followers and become a force. Knight paints a clear picture of the Prophet’s rise from oppressed outsider to a leader of a military power and a new religion.

However, as Knight points out Muhammad is much more than just a historical figure. He is the spiritual father to probably close to a billion people. Of course like so many families Islam isn’t a homogenous entity. From Sunni to Sufi, the Nation of Islam and the 5 percenters, each of them have their own definition of the Prophet. Yet Knight insists no matter what lens he is seen through there is a common denominator which prevents one’s view from being completely subjective.

For no matter if you attend a mosque where a woman leads the prayers or you attend services where men and women are segregated, live in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or the United States, Muhammad is the core upon which your belief system is built. He is the reason diverse groups of people can find unity. Objectively speaking without Muhammad Islam wouldn’t exist.

Of course Knight is far more subtle and analytical of his subject than such a bald statement as the one I’ve just made above. He takes us on deep dives into the closest thing there are to original sources  of Muhammad’s words, The Hadith. While there are obviously problems with relying on words that have been passed on orally before being written down and collected, these reports by the Prophets companions are still the best resource for someone wishing to gain an clearer understanding of Muhammad. 

While taking pains to show how the personal prejudices of certain transmitters- those who passed the words along to the next generation – may have coloured what was recorded, Knight manages to show us how The Hadith are still a valuable source to help us understand Muhammad. Especially when they are used as one piece of a very large and complex puzzle.

On the surface the question of Who Is Muhammad may look like a fairly straightforward question. However, the more we look at the question and the variety of sources required to even attempt to come up with an answer, the more we realize just how complex the it really is. In fact by refusing to accept a simplistic answer to this question Knight makes readers understand the depths and nuances inherent in Islam and in fact any religion.

Who Is Muhammad by Michael Muhammad Knight is a fascinating and intriguing study of the Prophet Muhammad. While it may not provide any definitive answers to the question in the title, it will give you a deeper appreciation for the depth and complexity of Islam. This book is Knight at his analytical best and should be a must read for anyone intrigued by Islam and Muhammad.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of three books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion" and "Introduction to Greek Mythology For Kids". Aside from Blogcritics he contributes to Qantara.de and his work has appeared in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and has been translated into numerous languages in multiple publications.

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