chapter  1
The Scholarly Dream of Following Muhammad’s Footsteps
Pages 24

The years since 9/11 have witnessed the publication of a plethora of works examining the life and times of Muhammad, Islam’s prophet. Many of these books, with titles designed to inspire reverence in their readers, such as Memories of Muhammad and In the Footsteps of Muhammad, are less interested in the historical Muhammad and the methodological difficulties associated with reconstructing the early centuries of Islam than they are in writing hagiographies of a seventh-century individual and showing his relevance to contemporary concerns. To legitimate their reconstructions of Muhammad, all of the authors lay claim, in one way or another, to historical accuracy and textual fidelity. However, because they are largely uninterested in the philological or redactional problems associated with creating a, let alone the, historical Muhammad, many of these works present later and problematic sources as eyewitness accounts. In and of itself this might not be a problem: people are free to portray Muhammad in whatsoever ways they see fit (indeed, this is something that Muslims have been doing since Muhammad’s death in 632 ce). What concerns me is that virtually all of the authors of these books implicitly derive their authority from the academic discipline of Islamic Religious Studies and, concomitantly, they imply that those who do not share their views are biased or somehow lack adequate training.