by Sahaja Carimokam
Xlibris Corporation, 568 pages, 2011, $36.99.
—Reviewed by Roy Oksnevad, director of Muslim Ministries, Wheaton College.
Sahaja Carimokam’s (pseudonym) Muhammad and the People of the Book is the best book I have read in a long time. Carimokam primarily addresses the question of Muhammad’s relationship with non-Muslims. Since significant portions of the Qur’an, Sira (history of Muhammad), and Hadith (Traditions) are devoted to non-Muslims, a study like this is very significant in understanding the Qur’an and Islamic early history.
Carimokam’s approach is not the traditional theological-historical perspective of some Western scholars, who confine their enquiries to Islamic literary sources and works from within the confines of traditional Muslim scholarship. Nor does he take the revisionist’s perspective of an a priori that assumes the historical traditional position based on Islamic primary sources to be false and seeks to deconstruct Islamic history.
Rather, Carimokam takes a serious, critical, dispassionate (i.e., non-polemical) search for knowledge, unconstrained by ecclesiastical institutional priorities. His concern is for the historical accounts from which he can reconstruct what actually happened. He writes not from a dry, scholarly perspective, but instead engages the reader on every page.
Carimokam brings the emic (insider) perspective, which includes scholars such as Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Kathir, and Al-Tabari from Islamic sources to modern commentators like Yusuf Ali. He incorporates the modern, Western scholarship of Watt, Wellhausen, Donner, and Lammens, and interacts with revisionist’s luminaries such as Wansbrough, Cook, and Crone. He also adds his voice to the discussion.
Each section breaks down the number of verses dealing with the particular topic. In Chapter 3 concerning the Middle Meccan period of 613-614 CE, Carimokam notes concerning God’s judgment, hellfire, and pleasures of heaven,
The content of the Qur’an also changes significantly…. The total for these three categories is now about 25 percent of the text, down from more than 50 percent of the earlier chapters. In contrast, Jewish and Christian apocryphal traditions, which were only 2 percent of the verses in the first 48 chapters now jump to 32 percent of the text or 540 verses.
He uses phrases such as, “Over time, the Prophet’s tone becomes more militant” or “An appeal to nationalistic or tribal linguistic sentiments is implicit.” The author gives his opinion concerning traditions (and early commentators) when the texts read back into the history of Islam to complete a phenomenon or explain a particular practice.
Carimokam adds his own informed commentary on the Qur’an. In explaining the Qur’anic story of the sacrifice of Isaac, he states, “It is ironic that the one time the Qur’an gets the story correct from a Jewish perspective, Muslims reject the clear implication of the text.” In so doing, the author artfully and seamlessly floats between the various perspectives, keeping a critical eye on the text, historical context, Islamic commentators, and Western scholarship in an effort to reconstruct what actually happened.
The footnotes also contain helpful insights. For instance, in footnote 855 on page 252, Carimokam explains Ibn Kathir’s remarks concerning the Qur’anic rendition of the companions of Musa (Moses), whom he considers unworthy for their unwillingness to pursue jihad.
Unfortunately, the last chapter, 14, breaks the normal, engaging style and seems to be an academic article, unedited for this publication and inserted at the end. It breaks the chronological and logical flow of the book and takes on a more polemic unveiling of sexual practices to non-Islamic minority women within the context of Islamic law.
This book is not for the casual reader wanting to understand Islam. It is for the serious student and scholar looking for a critical, dispassionate (non-polemical) search for knowledge, which seeks to reconstruct what actually happened, all the while bringing in multiple perspectives to each text.
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 122, 124. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.