Book Reviews

Ali Sina’s “Understanding Muhammad: A Psychobiography”

Ali Sina Understanding Muhammad

For those who are familiar with the extremist Islamophobic website called “Faithfreedom International”, the name of its founder Ali Sina (a pseudonym) is synonymous with the bigotry and vile rhetoric often displayed against Muslims and Islam. This was a person who openly advocated for the atomic bomb to be used on Muslim populations and have many times declared that he will “wipe out” Islam within 30 years.

Book Reviews

Jimmy Carter, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid”

palestine peace not apartheid

Following his #1 New York Times bestseller, Our Endangered Values, the former President, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, offers an assessment of what must be done to bring permanent peace to Israel with dignity and justice to Palestine in his latest work, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon and Schuster, 2006).

President Carter, who was able to negotiate peace between Israel and Egypt, has remained deeply involved in Middle East affairs since leaving the White House. He has stayed in touch with the major players from all sides in the conflict and has made numerous trips to the Holy Land, most recently as an observer in the Palestinian elections of 2005 and 2006.

In this book President Carter shares his intimate knowledge of the history of the Middle East and his personal experiences with the principal actors, and he addresses sensitive political issues many American officials avoid. Pulling no punches, Carter prescribes steps that must be taken for the two states to share the Holy Land without a system of apartheid or the constant fear of terrorism.

Below some of Carter’s key statements are reproduced.

Book Reviews Polemical Rebuttals

Hagarism: The Story Of A Book Written By Infidels For Infidels

The book titled Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World questions just about everything Muslims believe as historical truths. It challenges the common belief that the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad over a period of 22 years (610-632) in Mecca and Medina. Instead, the book contends that the Qur’an was composed, possibly in Syria or Iraq, more than fifty years after the Prophet’s death, projected back in time, and attributed to the Prophet. The Qur’an, according to the book, was fabricated during the reign of Caliph Abdul Malik (685-705 C.E.) to legitimize an expanding empire.

The book also contends that the word “Muslim” was invented in the 8th century to replace the word Muhajirun (immigrants), which was the original name of the Arab community that conquered Palestine and built the Dome of the Rock. The book itself prescribes a new name for early Muslims. It calls them Hagarenes, that is, the biological descendants of Abraham by Hagar. This racial naming of early Muslims is employed to distinguish them from Jews, who are the descendants of Abraham by Sarah. Hagarism, the book’s title, is a quasi-pejorative, and possibly a racist, label to describe the historical phenomenon of early Muslims.

In the authors’ own words, the book is written “by infidels for infidels.” Attacks on the Quran’s authenticity, the Prophet’s integrity, or Islamic history are not new. The Quran itself acknowledges similar attacks the unbelievers made while the Quran was being revealed. For more than a thousand years, Western scholarship has been determined to expose what it considers to be the “fraudulent foundation” of Islam. In this sense, Hagarism is yet another book in the large dump of attack literature.

However, what distinguishes this book is the fact that its authors, Michael Cook and Patricia Crone, no longer subscribe to its critical findings. On April 3, 2006, I had a phone conversation with Michael Cook and we talked about Hagarism. He said to me the following, which he later confirmed by means of an email: “The central thesis of that book was, I now think, mistaken. Over the years, I have gradually come to think that the evidence we had to support the thesis was not sufficient or internally consistent enough.” On April 6, 2006, I interviewed Patricia Crone, as well, to see what she now thinks about the book. She was even more candid in repudiating the central thesis of the book. She agrees with the critics that the book was “a graduate essay.” The book was published in 1977 when the authors lived in England. “We were young, and we did not know anything. The book was just a hypothesis, not a conclusive finding,” said Crone. “I do not think that the book’s thesis is valid.”

Many Western scholars, Christians and Jews, have dismissed Hagarism as a “thin argument” rather than “credible research.” One historian who appears to admire the book is Daniel Pipes, who has taught at Chicago and Harvard universities. Pipes, an embittered Zionist known for his ugly utterings against Islam and Muslims, argues that while Western scholars like Crone and Cook “in the role of termites” are eating away at the magnificent Islamic edifice, Muslims are “acting as though the beams and joints were as strong as ever.” Even Pipes, however, describes the book as “wild.” Notwithstanding scholarly repudiations, Internet websites continue to rely on the book to malign Islam, assuming that the book’s thesis is derived from credible research.

Even online Wikipedia features the book, citing a large quotation from Daniel Pipes. The article concludes: “Although this line of research is discounted by Islamic traditionalists, Western scholars have generally applauded Crone and Cook’s advances in tracing the origins of Islam.” When I insisted that Wikipedia provide a source to support the above conclusion, the editor added “citation needed” to the conclusion. As of today, no citation to support the conclusion has been furnished.

Part of the confusion arises from the fact that Cook and Crone have made no manifest effort to repudiate their juvenile findings in the book. The authors admitted to me that they had not done it and cater no plans to do so. Repudiating scholarly work is not easy because sometimes errors are intertwined with valid findings. No scholar is obligated to rewrite books to correct errors. Scholarly decency, however, demands that the authors officially repudiate a scandalous thesis, one in which they no longer believe and one that maligns the faith of more than a billion people.

It appears however that the authors do not wish to discount a book that launched their careers and brought to them contacts and fortune. Patricia Crone teaches at the Institute for Advanced Studies, the academic home of Albert Einstein, an institute that proclaims itself as “one of the world’s leading centres for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry.” Michael Cook is a chaired professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, who in 2002 (a few months after 9/11 terrorist attacks) received a $1.5 million Distinguished Achievement Award from the Mellon Foundation “for significant contribution to humanities research.”

One needs no brains to write against Islam in the Western world. After 9/11, anti-Islamic literature has become a big business that even acclaimed academics have generously exploited for self-promotion. In this milieu, repudiating even a false anti-Islamic book will be condemned as apostasy. We need not burn the book. Crone and Cook themselves must muster the courage and put out the brushfire they started three decades ago, albeit in youthful excitement.

Dr. Ali Khan is a professor of law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. This excerpt is taken from his forthcoming law article, “The Externalist Scholarship on Islamic Law”, which will be published in Michigan State Law Review.
Book Reviews

A Jewel It’s Not: Review of “The Jewel of Medina: A Novel” by Sherry Jones

Journalist Sherry Jones, the Montana and Idaho correspondent for the international news agency the Bureau of National Affairs, maintains that she envisioned The Jewel of Medina, her fictionalized account of A’isha Abi Bakr, the child bride of Muhammad, as a “bridge builder.” But even before it was published, the novel became a casualty of the clash of civilizations.

After Denise Spellberg, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas, assessed the manuscript as “a very ugly, stupid, piece of work” which turned sacred history into soft-core pornography and warned that publication could provoke violence, Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, consulted with security experts and then negotiated an agreement with Jones to terminate their $100,000 two-book contract.

Amid allegations of self-censorship and the suppression of free speech, two publishing houses – Beaufort Books in the US (whose list includes O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It) and Gibson Square in Great Britain – announced they would rush the novel into print. On September 27, the home of Martin Rynja, publisher of Gibson Square, was fire-bombed. Nonetheless, The Jewel of Medina has been – or will be – published in at least 15 countries.

The novel isn’t worth the attention it’s getting. As reliable, historically, as Disney’s Aladdin and the King of Thieves, The Jewel of Medina is a “chick lit” feminist tract, painted in purple prose. Then — and now — Jones’s A’isha claims, centuries after her death, “girls turn away because they don’t know the truth… That none of us is ever alive until we can shape our destinies. Until we can choose.”

Not your typical seventh-century Muslim maiden, A’isha begins her crusade against marital rape before she’s 10. She vows never to be “the poor girl underneath,” enduring “a woman’s life” with “downcast eyes and nary a whimper of complaint.” She’ll fight back — and if her husband doesn’t like it, “he could divorce me and I wouldn’t care. I’d rather be a lone lioness, roaring and free, than a caged bird without even a name to call my own.”

Then Jones goes phallic. Summoned to meet the prophet, A’isha hesitates, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath: “My future awaited on the other side – a fate chosen by others, as though I were a sheep or a goat fatted for this day.” Her mother pulls the curtain away: “What are you waiting for? Ramadan?”

“No more fighting with sticks,” Muhammad tells her, in a bedroom filled with wooden soldiers, dolls, a jump rope and a sword. “I will teach you how to use the real thing.” As the prophet’s eyes changed, “as if catching flame,” the little girl waited for “the scuttling hands, the stinging tail… Soon I would be lying on my bed beneath, squashed like the scarab beetle, flailing and sobbing while he slammed himself against me. He would not want to hurt me, but how could he help it?”

Jones believes that The Jewel of Medina portrays Islam as, at bottom, an “egalitarian religion” and Muhammad as a “gentle, wise and compassionate” leader, who respected women, especially his wives. Thanks to the prophet, A’isha suggests, women could “inherit property, testify in hearings and write provisions for divorce into their wedding contracts.”

But the gender politics of the novel is, at best, confused. And Jones’s Muhammad has feet of clay. A man of physical passion, he is seduced by power, making strategic alliances through marriage. Muhammad changes Allah’s law at will and whim. Intent on marrying the wife of his adopted son, he declares that “we have been in error all these years.” Since Zayd does not carry his blood in his veins, “why should I hesitate?” In another self-indulgent about-face, he annuls the edict limiting a harem to four wives. And by ordering females to cover their faces, A’isha concludes, the prophet transforms himself “from a liberator of women into an oppressor of them.”

The Jewel of Medina is a platform for the propositions of the politically correct, circa 2008. An unmarried woman in Medina in 625 “with no family to support her and no skills,” A’isha claims, had only two prospects: begging and prostitution. As she walks through a tent city with the mother of the poor, the child-bride chides herself for moping while people struggled to survive. She drapes her wrapper around the shoulders and head of a child in tattered clothing to protect her “tender face” from the sun. “From now on,” A’isha concludes, “when I heard others denigrate the tent people as I’d once done, I’d make sure to tell them of their pride and dignity.”

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. As she confesses in the “afterword” – and demonstrates in the novel with asides about gowns that “plunge down to the navel” and off-shoulder garments “that burst open like springtime” when the wearer dismounts a camel – Sherry Jones doesn’t know what it was like to be alive and a woman in seventh-century Arabia. She may have “huge respect and regard for the Muslim faith,” but she doesn’t display much knowledge about Islam, either. It’s an outrage that publication of this book – or any book – was held hostage to threats of violence. But as a work of historical fiction The Jewel of Medina is a non-precious stone that ought to be allowed to sink without a trace.

The writer is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.
Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "A Jewel It’s Not: Review of “The Jewel of Medina: A Novel” by Sherry Jones," in Bismika Allahuma, November 30, 2008, last accessed September 25, 2022,
Book Reviews Islam Jesus

Tarif Khalidi, “The Muslim Jesus”

The following is a synopsis of Tarif Khalidi’s book entitled: “The Muslim Jesus”, which might lead people to learn more about Islam. Tarif Khalidi is Sir Thomas Adams’ Professor of Arabic, Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge.

Here is a cross-section of book reviews from a variety of sources:

    The Muslim Jesus
    Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature
    Ed. and Trans. Tarif Khalidi

    The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Convergences: Inventories of the Present)

    Jesus figures prominently in Islam. Alongside the hadiths, the stories of the Prophet’s sayings and actions, appear stories of Jesus’ sayings and actions, 303 of which Tarif Khalidi has collected and translated to produce, for the first time, a Muslim gospel. Some of the sayings reflect certain of Jesus’ sayings in the Christian gospels, while others probably derive from pre-Islamic ascetics and heroes…Khalidi’s efforts bring a…[great] diversity of Muslim beliefs about Jesus into the book. To each story, Khalidi appends astute analysis, and a lengthy general introduction provides a historical and functional overview of the Muslim understanding of Jesus. An unique and important addition to the corpus of writings about Jesus. — John Green, Booklist

    Tarif Kahlidi brings together Islamic primary sources about Jesus from the eighth to eighteenth centuries. Included are mystical works, historical texts about prophets and saints and, of course, the foundational words about Jesus in the Qur’an…the literary quality of the texts and the role “the Muslim Jesus” has played in both Muslim piety and Muslim-Christian
    — Publishers Weekly

Book Reviews Qur'anic Studies

Criticism of Arthur Jeffery’s “Materials For The History Of The Text Of The Qur’an: The Old Codices”

An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan, pp. 384-388 (1999) , Al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution. Compiled by Usman Sheikh

Jeffery’s own work is an almost four hundred pages long compilation of the different recitations of certain Companions and Successors who were known to have written mus-hafs. He compiled information regarding fifteen codexes from the Companions, and thirteen from the Successors. By a ‘codex’ he meant mus-haf. He lists all the readings in these mus-hafs that do not conform to the present day mus-haf (although in reality many of them do conform with the mus-haf of `Uthmaan; they are merely different from the mus-haf written in the qiraa’a of Hafs).

Jeffery divides the work based on each codex, and under each codex, he lists, in order, all the verses where a different recitation occurs. The most important and longest of them are the codexes of Ibn Mas’ood and Ubay ibn Ka’ab.

Jeffery compiled this information from over thirty classical Islaamic texts, some authentic and some not. The sources range from classical lexicons, to the famous works of tafseer, to the works on the qira’aat. Unfortunately, for each variant recitation, he did not list the exact reference work that it was obtained from.

To give an example of what Jeffery compiled, we will quote from Ibn Mas’ood’s Soorah Faatihah. He read, according to Jeffery, with the following differences

1) ‘malik‘ as ‘maalik

2) ‘ihdina as-siraat al-mustaqeem‘ as ‘arshidna as-siraat al-mustaqeem

3) ‘siraat alladheena an’amta ‘alayhim‘ as ‘siraat man an’amta ‘alayhim

4) ‘ghayril maghdoobi‘ as ‘ghayral maghdoobi

Jeffery continues in a similar manner for the rest of the Qur’aan. Obviously, what Jeffery is trying to prove is that there are variant readings to the Qur’aan which were not preserved. He writes, “…it is quite clear that the text which Uthmaan canonised was only one out of many rival texts…”; therefore the purpose of Jeffery’s book is to, “..investigate what went before the canonical texts.” 813 His supposition is that the ‘original’ text was tampered with by the Companions, and only one chosen.

There are three points to be made concerning this.

1) On the supposition that Jeffery’s theory is absolutely correct — that the text of the Qur’aan as `Uthmaan preserved it was chosen by him from amongst many variant texts — what are the implications of this from Jeffery’s work? Even if we allow for all these readings that Jeffery compiled to be authentic, and representing legitimate variants from the text of Uthmaan, not a single reading actually contradicts another one in meaning. No verse is added, no ruling contradicted, no law repealed. There are literally thousands of differences mentioned in this book, each one of which merely rephrases a certain verse of the Qur’aan. 814 Therefore, the question must be asked, what is gained by substantiating these ‘variant’ texts? Agreed, if what Jeffery claims is true, this would imply that the actual text of the Qur’aan that is present is only one of a number of authentic texts, but what presumption or theory can be advanced based on this claim? Of course, this is supposing that Jeffery’s basic premise is true, and to this we do not agree.

2) More importantly – and this is the greatest flaw of the book – the authenticity of these recitations has to be established. In other words, how can the reader be assured that these recitations were actually recited? Jeffery himself admits, “The question arises, of course, as to the authenticity of the readings ascribed to these old Codices. In some cases it must be confessed that there is a suspicion of readings later invented by the grammarians and theologians being fathered on these early authorities in order to gain prestige of their name. The suspicion is perhaps strongest in the case of distinctly Shee’ite readings…” 815

From a Muslim standpoint, we have recourse to the isnaad. Jeffery, however, believes the isnaads to hold very little, if any, value. Due to this opinion, he does not quote isnaads for each variant reading. Therefore, in order to find out the authenticity of a certain reading, it is neccessary to go back to the thirty works from which Jeffery compiled his work, verify which one of them mentions this reading, and then check its isnaad for authenticity. (This is supposing that the original work even mentions an isnaad, for some of these recitations are merely referenced in later works without any isnaad).

However, from Jeffery’s own position on the concept and reliability of isnaad, he contradicts himself. If he does not believe in the authenticity of the isnaad system, then from where are all these readings obtained? After all, it is through isnaads that all of the readings of the Companions and Successors has been handed down to us. If Jeffery were to apply his standards and implement his belief of the isnaad system, all of these readings should be doubted, just like their hadeeth counterparts! But, not surprisingly, Jeffery concludes, “On the whole, however, one may feel confident that the majority of readings quoted from any reader really go back to the early authority.” 816 This clear double standard on Jeffery’s part is not surprising; whenever an orientalist finds some information that he feels can be used to discredit Islaam and cast doubts on it, then he will use it, no matter what the context, authenticity or actual implications of the texts may be. As Jeffery so clearly and unabashedly states, “Much of the material given by Ibn Abee Daawood regarding the history of the text of the Qur’aan, though extremely unorthodox, yet agrees so closely with conclusions one had reached from quite other directions that one feels confident in making use of it, however weak orthodoxy may consider its isnaad to be.” 817 Therefore the reason that these narrations are authentic, according to Jeffery, is because they agree with preconceived conclusions that were arrived at from ‘quite other directions’; unnamed and unknown directions, it should be pointed out!

3) The question obviously arises as to the valid interpretation of these variant readings. After all, Jeffery compiled these readings from various books of tafseer and qira’aat. How, then, are they to be explained?

The explanation of these variant readings is very simple, and relies upon the understanding of the ahruf and qira’aat of the Qur’aan, as was explained previously. It is noticed that many of these variant readings are found in the qira’aat of today – the saheeh, da’eef and shaadh ones. If anything, this actually further strenghtens the belief of the Muslims regarding the qira’aat, since these differences have come down to this generation from the Companions, who all learnt from the Prophet(P). The existence of the saheeh qir’aat at the time of the Companions is something that does not need to be proven, but in doing so, Jeffery has ‘confirmed’ that the ten qira’aat originated from the Companions (and hence the Prophet(P)) and not from the latter authorities. An example of this is Ibn Mas’ood’s recitation of ‘maliki’ as ‘maaliki’. As was quoted earlier, this difference is still existent in the authentic qira’aat, thus merely proving their origin. As for those variants which are considered da’eef qira’aat, they cannot be accepted as the Qur’aan, and as such there is no use in quoting such material as ‘variant’ to the text of the Qur’aan, since the authenticity of these da’eef qira’aat is not established. As for the shaadh qira’aat, they used to be recited by the Companions before their recitation had been abrogated. These cannot be considered as part of the Qur’aan anymore, as was mentioned earlier, and thus to quote them as having been left out of the Qur’aan is true, but they were left out at the command of the Prophet(P). Likewise, those recitations that are shown to be authentic but are not a part of the qira’aat, such as Ibn Mas’ood’s reading of ‘ihdina’ as ‘arshidna’, are only examples of the ahruf of the Qur’aan that were not preserved by the command of the Prophet(P).

In conclusion, from a Muslim’s prespective, Jeffery’s collection is only useful insofar as it lists many of the variant readings – the authentic and the inauthentic ones. A critical analysis of the authenticity of each and every variant reading must be established before the book can be of any great value. Also, the variant readings quoted in Jeffery’s book (at least the authentic ones) are all part of the ahruf of the Qur’aan, some of which still exist in the qira’aat, and some of which have been abrogated by the Prophet(P)). Obviously, Jeffery absolutely ignores the concept of the ahruf and qira’aat, for if he were to take this into account, then these readings would be explained without recourse to the theory that the Qur’aan is incomplete. In other words, Jeffery’s work is an example of an Orientalist taking a concept (the concept of ahruf and qira’aat), distorting it, and then presenting it in a sinister light in order to cast doubts upon Islaam. Had he only understood the correct interpretation of this concept – an interpretation that is claimed by him to be “largely ficticious” 818 without any explanation why – it would have saved him the trouble of compiling his work.

The second book in Jeffery’s collection is his editing of ‘Abdullaah Ibn Abee Daawood’s (d. 316 A.H.) Kitaab al-Masaahif. The author is none other that the son of the famous collector of the Sunan, Aboo Daawood as-Sijistaani (d. 275 A.H.). However, he did not enjoy the same prestige as his father, and he has mixed reviews from the scholars of hadeeth. Nonetheless, the book is an excellent reference, and it contains the neccessary isnaads for each narration, so the authenticity of each narration may be ascertained. It deals, as its title indicates, with the mus-haf; it discusses the writing of the wahy, the various mus-hafs of the Companions and their differences; the writing of the mus-haf, and certain aspects of fiqh related to the mus-haf.