chapter  2
Another Painting on Islam’s Early Canvas
Pages 27

Despite the fact that the books described in the previous chapter claim, like Omid Safi, to present a Muhammad who “is authentic, real, and recognizable” (2009: 32), they reveal more about the authors themselves than they do about a seventh-century prophet. The end result is that we read about what Muhammad means to the lives of Muslim university professors of Islamic Religious Studies who teach in secular western universities. This is a Muhammad who, like them, is liberal, tolerant, egalitarian and, as such, the perfect symbol of the Muslim in the modern world. In presenting later accounts as if they were contemporaneous, these books gloss over the textual and chronological difficulties that face the scholar of early Islam. Invocations of ambiguous terms such as “memory” or “footsteps” mean that these authors largely eschew any of the problems that face scholars who actually work in this period, whose work they would prefer to remain, as Ernst claims, “safely buried in obscure academic journals” (2003: 97). Those interested in such problems can be written off as Islamophobic (“How dare they engage in source criticism that threatens to undermine Islam’s mythic origins”) at worse or as arcane at best.