The Lives of Muhammad
Kecia Ali Harvard University Press, 2014 Library of Congress BP75.3.A454 2014 | Dewey Decimal 297.63092
Recent outbursts sparked by a viral video and controversial cartoons powerfully illustrate the passions and sensitivities that continue to surround the depiction of the seventh-century founder of Islam. The Lives of Muhammad delves into the many ways the Prophet’s life story has been told from the earliest days of Islam to the present, by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Emphasizing the major transformations since the nineteenth century, Kecia Ali shows that far from being mutually opposed, these various perspectives have become increasingly interdependent.
Since the nineteenth century, two separate streams of writing, one hagiographic and the other polemical, have merged into a single, contentious story about the life of Muhammad. Protestant missionaries, European Orientalists, Indian and Egyptian modernists, and American voices across the spectrum, including preachers, scholars, Islamophobes, journalists, academics, and new-age gurus, debated Muhammad’s character and the facts of his life. In the process, texts written symbolically came to be read literally. Muhammad’s accomplishments as a religious and political leader, his military encounters with Meccans and Medinan Jews, and—a subject of perennial interest—his relationships with women, including his young wife Aisha, are among the key subjects writers engaged, repurposing early materials for new circumstances.
Many of the ideas about Muhammad that Muslims embrace today—Muhammad the social reformer, Muhammad the consummate leader, Muhammad the ideal husband—arose in tandem and in tension with Western depictions. These were in turn shaped by new ideas about religion, sexuality, and human accomplishments.
What did it mean to be a wife, woman, or slave in a society in which a land-owning woman was forbidden to lay with her male slave but the same slave might be allowed to take concubines? Jurists of the nascent Maliki, Hanafi, and Shafi‘i legal schools frequently compared marriage to purchase and divorce to manumission. Juggling scripture, precedent, and custom on one hand, and the requirements of logical consistency on the other, legal scholars engaged in vigorous debate. The emerging consensus demonstrated a self-perpetuating analogy between a husband’s status as master and a wife’s as slave, even as jurists insisted on the dignity of free women and, increasingly, the masculine rights of enslaved husbands.
Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam presents the first systematic analysis of how these jurists conceptualized marriage—its rights and obligations—using the same rhetoric of ownership used to describe slavery. Kecia Ali explores parallels between marriage and concubinage that legitimized sex and legitimated offspring using eighth- through tenth-century legal texts. As the jurists discussed claims spouses could make on each other—including dower, sex, obedience, and companionship–they returned repeatedly to issues of legal status: wife and concubine, slave and free, male and female.
Complementing the growing body of scholarship on Islamic marital and family law, Ali boldly contributes to the ongoing debates over feminism, sexuality, and reform in Islam.