Jonathan E. Brockopp (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad

Haunting the West

Irfan Ahmad


The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad
edited by Jonathan E. Brockopp
Cambridge University Press, $55 pb, 325 pp, 9780521713726


In A Fundamental Fear (1997), Bobby Sayyid wrote about the spectre of Islam haunting the West. Important to this ‘hauntology’ is Muhammad: the last prophet of Islam. From the English chronicler Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, and Martin Luther to the Pentagon’s defence intelligence secretary, William Boykin, many have depicted Muhammad as the obverse of everything the West and Christianity regards as good. In Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas wrote that Muhammad ‘gave free rein to carnal desire’ and ‘those who believed in him from the outset were … beastlike men’. Striking is the parallel drawn by Luther: ‘The coarse and filthy Muhammad takes all women and therefore has no wife. The chaste pope does not take any wife and yet has all women.’ In TheChurch and the Political Problem of our Day (1939), Karl Barth, regarded as ‘the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas’ by Pope Pius XII, made a peculiar observation: ‘It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s prophet.’ To the American evangelicals, he is a ‘demon-possessed paedophile’ (all unreferenced quotes from Frederick Quinn’s The Sum of All Heresies, 2008). The latest example is The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion (2007) by Robert Spencer.

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Published in March 2011 no. 329
Irfan Ahmad

Irfan Ahmad

Irfan Ahmad is an anthropologist and lecturer at Monash University, where he also helps lead The Centre for Islam and the Modern World. Before joining Monash (in 2009), Irfan taught at Utrecht University and University of Amsterdam from where he earned his Doctorate.  He won the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research’s (NWO) prestigious Rubicon fellowship to complete his post-doctorate at Leiden University. He is the author of Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of the Jamaat-e-Islami (Princeton University Press) which was short-listed for the ICAS (International Convention of Asian Scholars) Book Prize, 2011, and was published to wide acclaim in 2009. Irfan is on the Editorial Board of South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies and is Associate Editor of the journal Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations. He has held visiting fellowship at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Gottingen, Germany. Irfan also contributes to debates in media – print and visual. Along with English, his interviews have appeared in Dutch, Hindi, Turkish, and Urdu (BBC) media.


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