Juan Cole's book about Muhammad is a work of fantasy. "Cole offers an ambitiously revisionist picture of the father of Islam, replacing the idea of a militant leader with one of a peacemaker who wanted only to preach his monotheism freely and even sought 'multicultural' harmony."
Great, except Muhammad wasn't really a seeker after "multicultural" harmony at all. He preached and established a society in which non-Muslims had an inferior second-class status. But even if this were true, how does Cole explain why so very many Muslims around the world misunderstand the founder of their own religion, and think of him more as a "militant leader" rather than one who "sought 'multicultural' harmony"?
Discover what the earliest Islamic texts say that Muhammad said and did, and see just how far he was from a seeker after "multicultural harmony," in the first chapter of The History of Jihad, and more fully in The Truth About Muhammad.
What the Muslim "reformer" Mustafa Akyol says is also interesting: he says Cole is "demonstrably right in concluding that Islamic orthodoxy deviated from its foundations by 'abrogating' the peaceful and tolerant verses of the Quran."
But this idea goes back to the second Islamic century. Muhammad's earliest biographer, an eighth-century Muslim named Ibn Ishaq, explains the progression of Qur'anic revelation about warfare. First, he explains, Allah allowed Muslims to wage defensive warfare. But that was not Allah's last word on the circumstances in which Muslims should fight. Ibn Ishaq explains offensive jihad by invoking a Qur'anic verse: "Then God sent down to him: 'Fight them so that there be no more seduction,' i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. 'And the religion is God's', i.e. Until God alone is worshipped." The Qur'an verse Ibn Ishaq quotes here (2:193) commands much more than defensive warfare: Muslims must fight until "the religion is God's" — that is, until Allah alone is worshipped. Ibn Ishaq gives no hint that that command died with the seventh century.
So Akyol would have us believe that "Islamic orthodoxy" went wrong in the eighth century and hasn't been right since. Now at last Mustafa Akyol has come along to give us the true Islam, and not a moment too soon.
"11 New Books We Recommend This Week," New York Times, January 3, 2019:
MUHAMMAD: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, by Juan Cole. (Nation, $28.) Cole offers an ambitiously revisionist picture of the father of Islam, replacing the idea of a militant leader with one of a peacemaker who wanted only to preach his monotheism freely and even sought "multicultural" harmony. Writing in the Book Review, Mustafa Akyol calls it "eruditely informative" and says Cole is "demonstrably right in concluding that Islamic orthodoxy deviated from its foundations by 'abrogating' the peaceful and tolerant verses of the Quran."