Jonathan A. C. BrownMisquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy

Oneworld Publications, 2014

by Kristian Petersen on October 30, 2014

Jonathan A. C. Brown

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Many people have described Muslims modernities as being fundamentally disrupted by individual and civilizational encounters with western society. Wether rejecting or accepting alternative modes of thinking Muslims have responded to these new challenges with increasing regularity for over 200 years. Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy (Oneworld Publications, 2014) focuses on one of the central tasks for Muslims in the contemporary period, namely the interpretation of scripture and tradition. Jonathan A. C. Brown, Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, carefully maps out multiple Muslim interpretive strategies in order to reveal the links and legacies between the pre-modern and contemporary periods. After a detailed explanation of pre-modern schools of thought, attitudes towards scripture, and hermeneutical methods Brown tackles the fragile relationship between text, community, and reader in determining ‘Truth’ in changing circumstances. We see that very often the interpretive methods used to deal with contradictions or discerning boundaries of permissibility were the same but led to divergent answers. Brown interrogates these larger issues through numerous case studies and examples. In our conversation we only scratched the surface of this detailed book. We discussed changing norms by which scripture are judged, women led prayer, the noble lie, tradition betraying or redeeming scripture, Shah Wali Allah, the Arab Spring, Sheikh Muhammad al-Gahzali, authenticity and the use of dubious hadith, verse 4:34 and the role of courts, and the historical precedent  of saying “No” to scripture.

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