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Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  692 ratings  ·  111 reviews
Few things provoke controversy in the modern world like the religion brought by Muhammad. Modern media are replete with alarm over jihad, underage marriage and the threat of amputation or stoning under Shariah law. Sometimes rumor, sometimes based in fact and often misunderstood, the tenets of Islamic law and dogma were not set in the religion’s founding moments. They were ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 7th 2014 by Oneworld Publications
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Alex Linschoten
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had the money, I'd buy copies of this book for all my English-speaking friends and colleagues. Such a fascinating account of hadith scholarship and the ways in which Islam's scholars and intellectual apparatus have sought to come to terms with their scripture. Brown uses key moments of debate and controversy over the Qur'an and hadith/sunna to illuminate features of the scriptural interpretative tradition. I realise that makes it sound fairly dry/dull, but Brown takes care to make the text ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is probably one of the most timely and necessary books I've read on the question of Islam and its continued vitality in the face of modernity. Starting with an examination of the tools of Islamic legal exegesis - a hugely expansive field - the author demonstrates the means by which it has traditionally been determined what "Islam" is in any particular area, or even region.

Particularly, as a scholar of hadith, he shows how hadith have come to be transmitted by various means and most interest
The concepts of tradition and authenticity and the intermingling of the two are constant themes in my own spiritual path. The search for truth leads one to seek stability through solid foundations that have been proven in the course of time, but also to a desire to sweep away the elements that look, sound and feel like human interpretation. What speaks to us most deeply through the clutter of life? What themes do we see ever-present in all things that speak to a universal truth? For me, they are ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a book! It's definitely not for the faint of heart, as Dr. Brown breaks down a lot of concepts within Islam with very eloquent, professorial language. I found myself having to google a lot of the words he used. We need more books like this: books that aren't afraid to bluntly express the pros and cons of early hadith criticism without taking on a Qur'anist "They're all crap!" approach. Dr. Brown is well-known for his previous writings and lectures on Islam and ahadith in particular, so ...more
Dennis Fischman
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
You have in front of you an ancient text that people you respect have assured you contains all the wisdom of the world. But you have a hard time understanding it. It uses the language of a different time, and poetically at that, and it's hard to know what it means or how you should act upon it. Worse, there are particular passages that seem to contradict what you think you know for sure, or command you to do something you believe you know is wrong. How do you make sense of it, and how do you liv ...more
Shaimaa Ali
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I just came across this book through many readers here in Goodreads, some even rate it with a very high praise that once I found it I started reading it. However, it was an exhausting read!. Although the writer has profoundly discussed so many claims and accusations, but it sounded a bit repetitive & almost with no proper conclusion. (That was my main concern about it).

The author ( Prof. Brown) started his book by discussing Islam, its sources (Quran & Hadith), different Shariah schools (for exa
Jan 20, 2015 rated it really liked it

Dr. Jonathan Brown present's a very readable and complex discussion surrounding the complexities involved in and challenges presented by Tradition in general and the Islamic Tradition in particular in relation to prevalent Western worldview. The discussions are varied and parallels are continually drawn with Western religious and secular traditions throughout the text, allowing the lay western reader to be continually engaged and with an aid to somewhat understanding the Islamic tradition. Thoug
Azzam To'meh
Sep 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
The book details how the Islamic (not Muslim) intellectual tradition formed and how scholars (and pseudo-scholars) interacted with the world throughout the Muslim history. It delineates, fairly accurately, the reason why Muslims react in certain ways under conditions of intellectual and political inferiority; and posits the scholarly professional critical framework of dealing with problematic hadiths and approaches. It is an amazing book that any Muslim attempting to interact with the modern wor ...more
Razi Shaikh
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant book to get the hang of hadith, the history, breadth and the issues associated with it. Brown’s style is accessible, yet marked by a respectful academic rigour. Suggest the book to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars - a seriously impressive work of scholarship. A wide variety of people would likely find reading this book extremely useful, whether a casual reader or someone digging a bit deeper.
Jonathan Brown
This book is a tricky one to evaluate. Jonathan A.C. Brown's primary objective seems to have been to show that the Islamic intellectual tradition is potent, diverse, rich, and worthy of serious study in its own right (none of which I've ever doubted - so am I part of the target audience, or not?). He has perhaps the best treatment I've yet seen of the origins of, and practical and theoretical differences between, the major jurisprudential schools (madhahib). In a sweeping, engaging, and detail-r ...more
Zubair Habib
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was incredibly well done. The aim of the book is to give an outline of how Islamic theology developed. There is particular emphasis on the evolution of the four legal schools that are followed and specific discussion on some contentious topics .

The author has an incredible depth and breadth on the topic, but what I found most reliable was the lack of personal voice in his presentation. It is almost encyclopedic in tone, only towards the last bits of the book does some of his own voice
Michal Lipták
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating journey. Jonathan A. C. Brown is himself a convert, follower of Hanbali madhhab (or so wiki teaches me) and, one can say, a conservative - indeed, it's the combination of his breathtaking erudition in (not only) Islamic philosophy, history and jurisprudence with the eloquence of a Western conservative and familiarity with Western conservative mindset and themes that makes his arguments not only revealing, but also immensely readable and relatively easy to follow.

Miss Susan
May 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: islam, non-fiction
picked this up after trying to contact a shaykh about a sahih bukhari hadith that struck me as impossible to be true from it's surface reading -- was there context i was missing? am i misunderstanding its classification? how did bukhari evaluate the validity of hadiths anyways, i know about isnad evaluations but did he also look at content?

i didn't get a response but being blessed with money i figured i'd see how far i got by buying some books on the topic. pretty far it turns out! brown's clea
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I have never read a book so comprehensive, elucidating, and rich in its content and style about the Islamic tradition. This book is an eye opener for us Muslims who have become unnecessarily apologetic and helpless since the advent of modernity and western sensibilities. It fully explores the details and nuances of Muslim interpretive tradition; and how it is very different from the prevalent common notions about it in the everyday life. The very foundation of Muslim interpretive tradition is th ...more
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants a deeper understanding of Islam
Shelves: 5-star-books, owned
An essential insightful academic examination of the history and evolution of Islam, particularly the impact and evaluation of the various levels of hadith (a saying or action of the Prophet, based primarily on the establishment of a verifiable line of transmission), the role of ulama (religious scholars) and Shariah courts in interpretation, and the variety of external impacts on the religion throughout its history, particularly in the modern age. I came away with a much deeper understanding of ...more
Mohamad Ballan
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
An enlightening read. Dr. Jonathan Brown has written an important and highly relevant work which needs to be read (and re-read) carefully in order to be truly appreciated. The work is essentially an insightful mapping out of the (Sunni) Muslim interpretive tradition and a detailed discussion of the various aspects of scriptural hermeneutics in the modern world. Dr. Brown seeks to demonstrate his point by taking a set of case studies--including issues as varied as apostasy rulings, domestic abuse ...more
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, islam
It is an amazing book with respect to its content and writing style. It has provided me with a framework to think reasonably about the collection& interpretation of Hadith and related literature. The book summarizes the history of collection of Hadith, Establishment and evolution of different sects (Sunni, Shia, Salafi, Mutazillah, Qaramtah), efforts of different Jurists/Imams to understand religion, Quran and Saying of the Prophet (PBUH) in their times, challenges to interpretations like philos ...more
Sagheer Afzal
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I had the pleasure of meeting the author at Princeton a couple of years ago and he struck me as a very erudite and personable scholar. This book bears ample testimony to his erudition.

In the UK; despite the abundance of indigenous scholars there is never any discussion on the authenticity of the hadith which they liberally dispense from the pulpit. In this eloquently penned book; Professor Brown has done an admirable job in exposing numerous false hadith which have over time embedded themselves
Hassan Ahmed
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing book!!! It deals with almost all contemporary issues that Muslims and Westerns see as puzzling in Islam. I wish to read it again and assimilate everything written in it. I recommend everyone to read it!
Umar Shaikh
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: islam
An extremely informative and very readable book that I would recommend to anyone looking to learn more about Sunni Muslim thought.
Daniel Diaz
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-islam-muslims
A Colorful, Vivid and Cohesive Narrative of the Struggle of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy

Dr. Brown provides a fascinating look at the way in which Prophet Muhammad's legacy was preserved in the hadith literature (a vast collection of his words and deeds), then discusses how this literature was formalized into the four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam with its incredible diversity of opinions, reasonings, and interpretations of the Prophet's sayings.

Then, he discusses the ways in whic
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
The most important things from this book are:
1) Quran and hadith science is absolutely complex and you can't just interpret hadith without knowing context.
2) Hadith status is not just sahih and da'if (
3) Context is EXTREMELY important and of course scholars have different approach to different people. Scholars won't treat the educated same as uneducated ones, and there is a difference between what Quran/hadith says and what the scholars approach to the same
Peter Last
Dec 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Interesting perspective on some of the controversial aspects of Islam such as indiscriminate killings, 'wife beatings' and some other bizarre concepts attributed to Islam. The author explains that the modern crisis of Islam derives from it's adherents deviation from traditional interpretation of Koran and Hadith (Muhammad's sayings), mainly due to Islam's encounter with the modern age. He masterly explains some of the misunderstandings about Islam's teachings and indirectly tries to show that Is ...more
Fardeem Munir
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was always a fan of Dr. Jonathan Brown's work and he does a fantastic job highlighting the varying levels of complexity in the hadith tradition. Recommended to anyone wishing to get a basic overview on how the tradition works and how the scholars have historically dealt with controversial material. ...more
Azmar Khan
Jun 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've read a lot of books but even the best of them get a 4 star. This is the only book that deserves a five star from me. Highly recommended.
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, islamic
A good book. If you are a Muslim, you probably need to read this.
Shuaib  Choudhry
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Superb book which recounts the Islamic tradition and how an Islamic society is built through it's derivation of laws and customs in line with theological doctrine. It's an excellent basic introduction to hadith and fiqh and provides a good base for further exploration of these topics. He covers the burning questions many modern Muslims have in regards to aspects of their faith particularly when it comes to supposedly problematic hadiths or quotes from the Quran, examples being, the 'Wife beating ...more
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When I initially picked up this book I assumed it would contain refutations to the claims made by Islam’s opposition. It is so much more than that. The author takes you to classical Ulama settings such as Damascus and Cairo. He then revives the contemporary debates at those times that are not so far from the ones today. The book delves into the methodological approach to the four schools of sunni schools of thought, in addition to discussing the philosophical approaches of the mu'tazila and the ...more
Breinholt Dorrough
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
An incredible book for a serious student of Islam who already had a moderate grasp on the religion. The scholarship here is levels above and beyond what I was expecting, and I'm thoroughly pleased with the result. Most admirable is how Brown maintains neutrality throughout the entire work, establishing excellent ethos. For real - Brown could be anywhere on the religious spectrum, and you couldn't tell. He aptly argues using Western philosophies from ancient Greece to today, Buddhist thought, Chr ...more
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Jonathan Andrew Cleveland Brown is an American scholar of Islamic studies. Since 2012, he has been associate professor at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He holds the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University.

He has authored several books including Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy

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41 likes · 25 comments
“Many Americans and Western Europeans proudly trumpet the diversity of cosmopolises like London and New York without realizing that cosmopolitanism does not mean people of different skin colors all sitting around over wine at a bistro table complaining about organized religion. It means people who hold profoundly different, even mutually exclusive, beliefs and cultural norms functioning in a shared space based on toleration of disagreement.” 15 likes
“It is simplistic and naive to explain jihadism merely as an inevitable growth from Islam’s ‘violent’ scripture, or as no more than a miscarried interpretation triggered solely by some tragic misreading. It cannot be separated from economic discontent, the enveloping context of US global power, America’s influence and military actions in the Muslim world and, most of all, the gaping sore of the Israel–Palestine conflict.” 3 likes
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