Before Orthodoxy: The Satanic Verses in Early Islam

Shahab Ahmed. Harvard Univ., $49.95 (349p) ISBN 978-0-674-04742-6
In this in-depth examination of the history of interpretation of the so-called Satanic verses incident—the story that a few verses were supposedly revealed to the Prophet Mohammad by the devil, only to be later withdrawn after Allah’s intervention—the late Ahmed (What is Islam?) illustrates that early Muslims in the first two centuries of Islam accepted the story’s historicity and integrity as part of the prophetic biography. Meticulously combing over various retellings of the incident, Ahmed shows that there was nothing peculiar or problematic about this narrative in early Islam. By extension, Ahmed’s statement is not just about the Satanic verses: he undertakes a historical investigation into the origins of what he calls Islamic orthodoxy, a movement that seeks to wield power over certain sects and interpretive movements in the Muslim world. The battle over Islamic orthodoxy continues to rage on today, making this work of contemporary relevance. Unfortunately Ahmed died before he could complete a second volume that would have expanded on what is already a valuable piece of in-depth scholarship on the formation of the early Islamic community and its discourses about Muslim beliefs and practices. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/13/2017
Release date: 04/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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