Jonathan Brown and Abdur-Rahman Abou Almajd in dialog about how should the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) be introduced to the West?
Q: Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, it is excellent introduction to the life of Muhammad, well balanced between elements of faith and rational discussions, 144 pages, it’s very Short Introduction, What do you want to add?
Dr. Brown: I wish I could have added more about Qawwali music. I would have liked to have been able to convey to the reader a sense of the intoxicating effect of listening to it and the way in which it can communicate and elevate religious devotion. I would have liked to talk about Ibn Sina’s Mirajname, a book in which he examines the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) ascension to heaven from a philosophical perspective. I wish I had mentioned how the Prophet sent food and allowed food to be sent to Mecca during a famine in the later years of the conflict between Medina and Mecca – even during a time of war and conflict he was a humanitarian figure. I wish I had been able to discuss the Sira al-Halabiyya, a very influential late medieval Siraof the Prophet. There are so many things I would have liked to add, but I think that I forgot most of them as a psychological device for suppressing my regret.
Q: The furor surrounding the Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoon crisis reminded the world of the tremendous importance of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, How should the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) be introduced to the west?
Dr. Brown: This is a very good question to which I think there is no one answers. The West is not a monolith. Some non-Muslims in the US and Europe relate better to a ‘Protestant’ vision of the Prophet: a mere vehicle of revelation and an admirable leader. For these people, reading a sira like the Life of the Prophet by Muhammad Husayn Haykal is probably the best introduction. Others in the West are affected deeply by the Prophet as a holy man, as a locus of Baraka, as a miracle worker, as a focus of devotion. For these people, the Burda poem or the Kitab al-Shifa or even some Mawlid manuals might be a good way to communicate to them about the Prophet. Others really want to feel like they’re learning about him as a historical figure, in which case something like Karen Armstrong’s book on Muhammad or other such books might be the best way.
Q: The West’s Approach to Prophet Muhammad differs from Prophet Muhammad according to Islamic Tradition, how can we near Prophet Muhammad according to Islamic Tradition to them?
Dr. Brown: I think that often people have to have direct experience with devotion to the Prophet. Attending a Mawlid celebration, a Sufi Dhikr or even seeing how the Prophet is mentioned during a Jum`ah Khutbah would be useful.
Q: The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith, Could you elaborate on that?
Dr. Brown: This book was a result of my dissertation at the University of Chicago. For years I had wondered how the Sahihayn became ‘the Sahihayn‘. I was interested in how and why these two books attained their station, and what their various roles have been in Islamic civilization. I was also interested in debates over whether or not the books had been or could be criticized.
Q: Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World is a great introduction into the science of Hadith, and focuses on Hadiths, their collection and their criticism, early Hadith scholars focused on the Isnad , the Isnad’s quality, the quality of the Matn,
what do you say about Hadith great scholars?
Dr. Brown: I would say that I’m in awe of their work and that I was greatly humbled by my studies of Hadith. Whether or not a person believes that the Sunni Hadith tradition has managed to capture the true teachings of the Prophet, it is an intellectual edifice that deserves to be studied and held in awe by scholars from my point of view.
Q: The Weak Hadith, Weak narrations are not necessarily lies, you rarely mentioned “weak” as one of the classifications of Hadith, why?
Dr. Brown: I think that I mentioned weak Hadiths a lot in my Hadith book. I’m not sure why you think I didn’t. There is a whole chart illustrating the various types of flaws from which a Hadith could suffer, and that makes it very clear that an outright forgery is only the farthest end of the spectrum of weak Hadiths. I also recently wrote an article in the journal Islamic Law and Society entitled “Even if it’s Not True it’s True: the Use of Unreliable Hadiths in Sunni Islam“, which also makes it clear that Sunni Muslim scholars would never defend using a Hadith that they knew was a forgery.
Q: What do you say about “the genocidal Hadith” that mentioned by Robert Spencer to Fitzgerald?
Dr. Brown: I assume you’re asking about the Hadith about the End of Time when (satuqatilun al-yahud…) and even the rock saying that there is a Jew behind me? This Hadith is interesting; it’s in the Sahihayn, but in general in chapters on Malahim(Apocalyptic events and signs) chapters or by the same Isnad in a jihad chapter. From the perspective of Sunni Hadith criticism, the Hadith is Sahih. But it is also possible that, since Muslim scholars from the time of `Abdul-Rahman bin Mahdi (d. 197) onward treated Hadiths dealing with Malahim with much less critical rigor than Hadiths on law, that this Hadith might still be unreliable but was approved by Sunni critics because they did not see it as having any great import. To look at things from that perspective, you would have to step outside the science of Sunni Hadith criticism as it has generally been understood and take the position that all evaluations made by classical critics on Hadiths dealing with Adab,Malahim, and Tafsir should be treated as a separate tier of Hadiths. This degree of reevaluation would not be acceptable to many Sunni Hadith scholars today.
Q: You present Abdullah Al-Sa’d as a fellow “Traditional Salafi” of Al-Albani, what else would you like to present?
Dr. Brown: I would also add Muqbil bin Hadi al-Wadi’I, Abu Ishaq al-Huwayni, as well asHatim al-Awni.
Q: Is the demonization of political Islamism in Western Europe an overstatement?
Dr. Brown: I think the demonization of political Islam anywhere is an overstatement. One can disagree with a political stance or vision without considering at existential threat.Also, demonization blinds people to understanding the forces that motivate people to believe in a certain ideology and to try and achieve some degree of reconciliation.
Q:Islam is a religion of peace, yet many in the West remain suspicious that Islam is not at all a peaceful faith. Resolving this crisis of authority will take several generations , Could you elaborate on that?
Dr. Brown: People in the West need to realize that the Muslims who are engaged in acts of violence are a tiny, tiny fraction of Muslims worldwide… maybe .03%. The rest of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims lead normal lives as parents, children, friends, employees, people trying to get food to eat or make a living.
These people are all Muslims, and they are not violent. So clearly Islam does not cause violence. I would read Robert Pape’s latest book on the roots of suicide bombing on this.
Abdur-Rahman: Thank you, Jazakal-Lahu Khairan.