Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires

Written by Juan Cole
Review by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Juan Cole, widely respected expert on the Middle East, presents Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, against the drumbeat of accusations and prejudices rife today. Cole leads the reader through Muhammad’s life with close readings of the Qur’an, demonstrating Muhammad’s call to peace, reconciliation, and social justice. While sometimes forced into conflict by regional turbulence, he never espoused “just war,” conversion by force, or codified sharia law. By “jihad,” Muhammad and his first followers intended a personal, spiritual struggle against sin, not a holy war. Cole argues that just as Christians have justified bloody conquests and conversion by the sword through skewed appropriations of the Bible, Muhammad’s teachings have been twisted by those finding a profit in war.

This biography and social history is exhaustively researched: appendix and notes comprise nearly a third of the book. While Cole’s scholarship clearly confirms authority, general audiences won’t find this an easy read, given the number of unfamiliar places, people, and events. However, it’s an essential read in a turbulent, dangerous time.