Here is a brief but positive review of The Truth About Muhammad by David Thompson in, of all places, Britain’s Observer. (Thanks to all who sent this in, most of whom seemed as surprised to see it as I was.)
In Islam and the West, Bernard Lewis argued: ‘We live in a time when… governments and religious movements are busy rewriting history as they would wish it to have been, as they would like their followers to believe that it was.’ This urge to sanitise unflattering facts is nowhere more obvious than in biographies of Muhammad, of which Karen Armstrong’s ubiquitous contributions are perhaps the least reliable.
In The Truth About Muhammad, Robert Spencer provides a detailed and timely riposte to common misconceptions, outlining the mismatch between belief and historical reality and documenting the ways in which Muhammad’s own deeds and purported revelations are used verbatim to mandate intolerance, xenophobia and homicidal ‘martyrdom’. As the subtitle of this ‘sceptical biography’ makes clear, Spencer has written a provocative book likely to arouse passions. But the arguments he presents are rigorous, and the evidence compelling, if disquieting. Spencer argues that at present it is the jihadists, not moderates, who have the stronger theological argument.
Read it all. And then you can read still more, as it turns out that The Observer edited this piece quite heavily. There is an unedited version at David Thompson’s website, including this that The Observer left out:
Spencer explains why Muhammad, as described in the Qur’an and Sunnah and other Islamic texts, is of enormous political importance and central to the phenomenon of 21st century jihad: “If Muhammad was indeed a man of peace, one may reasonably hope that his example would become the linchpin of reform efforts in the Islamic world that would eventually roll back the influence of jihad terrorists”¦ But if the terrorists are correct in invoking his example to justify their deeds, then Islamic reformers will need to initiate a respectful but searching re-evaluation of the place Muhammad occupies within Islam — a vastly more difficult undertaking.”
Indeed, Spencer argues that, at present, it is the terrorists, not moderates and reformers, who have the stronger theological argument: “If peaceful Muslims can mount no comeback when jihadists point to Muhammad’s example to justify violence, their ranks will always remain vulnerable to recruitment from jihadists who present themselves as the exponents of “˜pure Islam”, faithfully following Muhammad’s example.”