The Emergence of Islam

The study of Islam is an important issue in plural Britain. Islam is additionally a significant factor for Christians, given the contemporary challenge that Islam brings to the Christian claim to be the hope of the world, and the need for accuracy in understanding Islam.

Reynolds, a young American academic, very helpfully traces the beginnings of Islam and avoids the stereotypes of Islam as a faith that arrives in a vacuum, primarily spreads by the sword and is a unified faith. While it would have been helpful if Reynolds had given more consideration to the pre-Islamic faith of the Quraishi community and the place of monotheism prior to Muhammad [something Asma Afsaruddi ‘The First Muslims’ (Oxford: One World, 2008) does very well], this book very helpfully looks at the emergence of Islam within the context of existing Judaism and Christianity. Rather than seeing the Qu’ran as the text that comes from Islam, Reynolds looks at the emergence of Islam from the lens of the Qu’ran.

Textual and historical scholarship is used to investigate the traditional understanding of the emergence of Islam and Reynolds avoids the twin errors of seeking to present the life of Muhammad in a way that is particularly palatable or unpalatable to a western perspective. No history of early Islam can be entirely objective, but Reynolds declared bias of re-reading the story through the Qu’ran brings a fresh perspective. His use of significant historical data and evidence in well referenced chapters with questions, glossary and annotated bibliography allows the serious student to go further on this journey.

MET readers with an interest in Islam will find this a very useful text as it dispels some of the somewhat jaundiced Christian interpretations on Muhammad but equally challenges the uncritical Islamic tradition. In particular the competing Islamic traditions are ably discussed and good historical and textual scholarship helps to open up the story. It would be optimistic to say the authentic emergence of Islam is found here, but at the very least helpful pointers are indicated.