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Faces of Muhammad: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today

John Tolan

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Princeton University Press
01 July 2019
Religion & beliefs; Religion & politics; Religious intolerance, persecution & conflict; History of religion; Islam; Islamic theology
Heretic and impostor or reformer and statesman? The contradictory Western visions of Muhammad In European culture, Muhammad has been vilified as a heretic, an impostor, and a pagan idol. But these aren't the only images of the Prophet of Islam that emerge from Western history. Commentators have also portrayed Muhammad as a visionary reformer and an inspirational leader, statesman, and lawgiver. In Faces of Muhammad, John Tolan provides a comprehensive history of these changing, complex, and contradictory visions. Starting from the earliest calls to the faithful to join the Crusades against the Saracens, he traces the evolution of Western conceptions of Muhammad through the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and up to the present day.

Faces of Muhammad reveals a lengthy tradition of positive portrayals of Muhammad that many will find surprising. To Reformation polemicists, the spread of Islam attested to the corruption of the established Church, and prompted them to depict Muhammad as a champion of reform. In revolutionary England, writers on both sides of the conflict drew parallels between Muhammad and Oliver Cromwell, asking whether the prophet was a rebel against legitimate authority or the bringer of a new and just order. Voltaire first saw Muhammad as an archetypal religious fanatic but later claimed him as an enemy of superstition. To Napoleon, he was simply a role model: a brilliant general, orator, and leader.

The book shows that Muhammad wears so many faces in the West because he has always acted as a mirror for its writers, their portrayals revealing more about their own concerns than the historical realities of the founder of Islam.
By:   John Tolan
Imprint:   Princeton University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 229mm,  Width: 152mm, 
ISBN:   9780691167060
ISBN 10:   0691167060
Pages:   328
Publication Date:   01 July 2019
Audience:   College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  Primary ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

John Tolan is professor of history at the University of Nantes and a member of the Academia Europaea. His previous books include Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination and Saint Francis and the Sultan. Twitter @JohnVTolan

Reviews for Faces of Muhammad: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today

John Tolan sets aside the historical Muhammad and Muslim portraits of God's beloved Messenger to focus on Mahomet as European men have depicted him over the centuries. He shows how wildly varied versions of Islam's prophet emerge and how they make sense within their own social, intellectual, and theological contexts. Nuanced and fascinating, Faces of Muhammad is a terrific read. --Kecia Ali, author of The Lives of Muhammad A book of great interest, Faces of Muhammad makes utterly clear that there is no single, monolithic view of Muhammad in European culture but rather a wide spectrum of views. --Thomas E. Burman, University of Notre Dame John Tolan is the preeminent authority on European views of Islam. No living scholar is more qualified to attempt such an ambitious project. This book represents a milestone in the field. --Hussein Fancy, University of Michigan


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