There are two declarations of faith in Islam: That there is only one God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. In Memories of Muhammad, Omid Safi explores the ways in which Muhammad – both the historical and spiritual Muhammad – is remembered, commemorated, and contested by Muslims throughout the centuries. Safi focuses on the movements and moments in Muhammad’s life and after his death that for many Muslims best exemplify the teachings of Islam. He succeeds in opening up the dialogue to correct the negative portrayals of Muhammad and the religion of Islam, calling it a “Muhammad problem” in his introduction. Furthermore, he provides a book that is accessible and intelligible to both Muslims and non-Muslims, drawing from historical and spiritual sources, and addresses relevant issues contested between Muslims in relation to other religions, presenting Muhammad as a historical figure and one who is beloved by the Umma.
Before delving into the ways in which Muhammad is remembered, Safi begins by situating the “Muhammadi Revolution in the context of both pre-Islamic Arabia and the biblical tradition that preceded Muhammad” (51). He presents the themes and elements of the pre-Islamic society, including its tribal culture, economic culture, religious background, prominence of poetry (how the Qur’an situates itself in relation to the poetry of the “Jahileen”), and discusses gender issues (particularly infanticide of daughters). Moreover, he introduces the connection between Abraham and Muhammad which is identified as the “cornerstone to the Islamic tradition” (84), situating it relative to other monotheistic religions. Through these elements Safi notes that pre-Islamic Ar...
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...ting certain events and aspects of Islam that would not be universally acceptable by all Muslims (such as including images of the prophet, which the author acknowledges is a matter of contention) he broadens the popular presentation of Muhammad and allows the readers themselves to appreciate the love that all Muslims have for Muhammad.
Through this book, Safi reminds the reader that the “Islamic life is not usually black-and-white but rather takes on the full spectrum of color” (244). He successfully manages to present the contested memories of Muhammad and how Muhammad “has been received in the hearts of his community” (33) in a manner that is intelligible to multiple audiences. The reader comes to understand how Muhammad marks the path to God for all Muslims and remains “indispensable” (305) as his memories would continue to be “received today and tomorrow” (33).
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