New book

Muhammad as Prophet of Peace
My new book

Dear Friends:   My new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires, is out Tuesday Oct. 9.  I thought you would enjoy this review of it, which is enthusiastic and comes from a perspective I hadn’t expected, of an Evangelical World History teacher!

cheers,   Juan Cole

Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires — Juan Cole

An illuminating and balanced exploration of the life of Muhammad and his original teachings

In his new release, Juan Cole tackles the life and times of Muhammad and the founding of Islam. His argument, expertly made throughout the book, is that Muhammad promoted peace when Arabia was in the midst of war. The Roman Empire (in the form of what we now call the Byzantine Empire) and the Sasanian Empire were in constant battle, and the Arabs were pressured to align with one or the other. Muhammad, in contrast, taught the principles of peace he saw in the Bible and other sources in order to shape his new religion.

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.

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