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Muhammad in the Digital Age

Muhammad in the Digital Age

This remarkable collection of essays examines how Islam was introduced to the West through the Internet in an age of terrorism.

November 2015
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256 pages | 6 x 9 | 5 illustrations |

The early twenty-first century has experienced an unrivaled dissemination of information and misinformation about Islam, its prophet Muhammad, and its followers, largely facilitated by the fact that the tragedy of 9/11 roughly coincided with the advent of the digital age. In the first collection of its kind, Ruqayya Khan has compiled essays that treat Muhammad and the core elements of Islam as focal points in an exploration of how the digital era—including social media and other expressions—have both had an effect on and been affected by Islam.

Scholars from a variety of fields deal with topics such as the 2005 cartoon controversy in Denmark and the infamous 2012 movie trailer “Innocence of Muslims” that some believe sparked the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, as well as how the digitization of ancient texts have allowed the origins of Islam to be studied in new ways. Other essays examine how Muhammad’s wives have been represented in various online sources, including a web comic; the contrasting depictions of Muhammad as both a warrior and peacemaker; and how the widespread distribution of “the look” of Islamic terrorists has led to attacks on Sikhs, whose only point of resemblance to them may be a full beard. These findings illuminate the role of the Internet in forms of representation, advocacy, and engagement concerning Islam and Muslims in our world today.

  • Foreword by Randall Nadeau
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction (Ruqayya Yasmine Khan with Mashal Saif)
  • Chapter 1. Muhammad and the Debates on Islam's Origins in the Digital Age (Fred M. Donner)
  • Chapter 2. Muhammad the Peacemaker, Muhammad the Warrior: Visions of Islam's Prophet after 9/11 (Jonathan Brockopp)
  • Chapter 3. Art History and the Contemporary Politics of Depicting Muhammad: The Case of the Danish Cartoon Controversy (Jytte Klausen)
  • Chapter 4. Postmodern Politics: Manipulating Images of Islam in Contemporary Europe (Peter O'Brien)
  • Chapter 5. Of Cyber Muslimahs: Wives of the Prophet and Muslim Women in the Digital Age (Ruqayya Yasmine Khan)
  • Chapter 6. Behind Every Good Muslim Man: Fictional Representations of ʿAʾisha after 9/11 (Aysha Hidayatullah)
  • Chapter 7. Muslimophobia, Racialization, and Mistaken Identity: Understanding Anti-Sikh Hate Violence in Post-9/11 America (Simran Jeet Singh)
  • Chapter 8. Finding an Enemy: Islam and the New Atheism (Taner Edis)
  • Conclusion (Ruqayya Yasmine Khan)
  • References
  • Contributors
  • Index

Claremont, California

Khan is an associate professor of Islamic Studies at Claremont Graduate University. She is also the author of Self and Secrecy in Early Islam.



Ruqayya Yasmine Khan, with Mashal Saif

I grew up in an Indo-Pakistani Muslim family in the United States, a family in which three of the five children were named after members of the prophet Muhammad’s family. Reflecting on how the Prophet’s influence on my life seems to have been a matter more of style than of substance, I am reminded of the acclaimed Islamicist Seyyed H. Nasr’s musings:

A Chinese Muslim, although racially a Chinese, has a countenance, behavior, manner of walking and acting that resembles in certain ways those of a Muslim on the coast of the Atlantic. That is because both have for centuries copied the same model. Something of the soul of the Prophet is to be seen in both places.

I discern the soft contours of the soul of the Prophet present in myriad instances while I was a small girl. One such instance was when my mother would chastise or scold me and my siblings by deploying a well-known dictum (Hadith) of the Prophet: “Paradise lies under the feet of one’s mother.” Another example is when, as a young girl, I hid under my pillow tiny vials of Zamzam water that my father had brought back from the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. The Hajj—the fifth pillar of Islam and an amalgam of much older rituals put together by Muhammad—includes a number of practices that pay tribute to the patriarch Abraham and to Hagar, the mother of Ishmael. Something of the healing and magical qualities of the water from the Zamzam well (the miraculous well bestowed by God when Hagar was in search of water in the Meccan valley) no doubt had been communicated to me as a child. Last, but certainly not least, my maternal grandmother sat me on her knee when I was about five years old to teach me the recitation of the Arabic Qurʾan. The sweetness and intimacy of this childhood experience stayed with me well into my adult life.

As an adult, I admire and relate to the civilizational givens of Islam: its literatures and mysticism, philosophy, art, and architecture. A rich vein of these Islamic civilizational literatures consists of poetry. Consider the profoundly rich poetic corpus of the famous medieval Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi, or of the great premodern Indian Muslim poet, Muhammad Asadullah Ghalib. Islamic civilization literatures have always embraced internal critiques of mainstream Islam, sometimes satirizing or even lampooning clerics or mullahs who were perceived as knuckleheaded. “Mullah-bashing” has been part and parcel of diverse Islamic regional literatures throughout the more than fourteen centuries since the religion’s inception.

In the post-9/11 digital age, the opposing yet related phenomena of mullah-cults and Islam-bashing seem to prevail. An important trait of digital interactions is the capacity for anonymity, which markedly increases the potential for hate-mongering and for hate crimes in general. Since 9/11 these elements of bitter polemics, hate-mongering, and associated acts of violence have spiked significantly, embedded in a powerful and yet simplistic master narrative playing out in many parts of the world—the conflict between Islam and the West.

Integral to these phenomena is another set of twin phenomena that scholars of Islam term Islamophobia and Islamophilia. Islamophobes uncritically demonize or vilify Islam, Muslims, or Muhammad, while Islamophiles uncritically idealize the religion and yearn for its “Golden Age,” presenting Islam and its Prophet as a panacea to all problems. At the risk of oversimplification, mullah-cults and their devotees thrive on Islamophilia, while Islam-bashers subscribe to Islamophobia. Barack Hussein Obama weighed in on both of these phenomena in 2012 when he declared that “the future cannot belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam,” and in 2015 when he asserted that isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is a “brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism.” 

Many of the digital devotees, warriors, and polemicists of Islamophobia and Islamophilia maintain their anonymity while delivering their messages. These two competing polemical streams feed off of one another and grow in strength and numbers as mediatized images and ideological wars over Islam, Muslims, and Muhammad play out in the digital world.

These deadly polemics contributed to events in Paris in early 2015. Two brothers proclaiming to be “defenders of the Prophet” and citing support from Al-Qaida in Yemen gunned down a dozen people in the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the Parisian satirical magazine. The dozen included ten journalists and two police officers. One of the most charged and controversial Hebdo cartoons had graphically portrayed the Prophet kissing and necking with another man. The magazine’s cartoons lampooned and satirized what may be termed the conservative mullah-cults of Islam as much as they did the prophet Muhammad. Within a week after the shootings, thousands of “Je suis Charlie” banners, postings, and images sprang up in Paris and all over the Internet. A few people took to complementing “Je suis Charlie” with “Je suis Ahmed” to commemorate the French Muslim police officer who was killed on the premises of the Hebdo offices.

The past decade has witnessed an unrivaled volume of trafficking in and dissemination of information and misinformation about Islam, its Prophet, and its followers, largely facilitated by the fact that the tragedy of 9/11 coincided with the advent of the digital age, often dated to 2002. The digital age is marked by an explosion of new media, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit. Digital media have transformed how producers and users obtain, create, manipulate, and exchange information, images, services, and goods. Given the ubiquity of new media and its ease of use, everyone is an author,5 able to disseminate at the click of a button his or her own interpretation of Islam or representation of Muhammad.

With the advent of the digital age during the post-9/11 era, Muslimbaiting has become a popular global sport. A 2012 manifestation of this can be seen in a film trailer anonymously posted on YouTube that depicts Muhammad as a child molester and adulterer. Ostensibly as a result of the circulation of the film trailer, riots and demonstrations flared up in Cairo and Tripoli beginning on the infamous day of September 11, 2012. On that same day, the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and several other Americans were killed at the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Politics and polemics fiercely converged in the 2012 American presidential race as the Obama administration and the Romney campaign traded barbs over the cause of the Benghazi killings: circulation of the film trailer or an orchestrated terrorist attack by Al-Qaida affiliates in the region.

It is not a coincidence that the riots and killings happened on September 11, 2012, the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. Within days following the killings, the film trailer, titled “Innocence of Muslims” and originally posted by one Sam Bacile two months earlier, had garnered close to five million hits. Parts if not all of the trailer had been broadcast on Eg yptian television before September 11, 2012. According to a post in the Guardian:

Scenes showing Muhammad anointing a donkey as “the first Muslim animal” were shown, as were scenes implying the Koran was not divinely inspired, but drafted from verses plagiarised from the New Testament and Torah. Scenes with sexual references were not shown. Most of the clips circulating online are dubbed into Arabic.

Subsequently, YouTube (owned by Google) proceeded to take down the film trailer in a number of Muslim-majority countries, including Egypt, Libya, and Indonesia. Moreover, citing its “Community Guidelines,” YouTube appended a disclaimer to its posting of the trailer: “The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive or inappropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.”

Media personalities, political pundits, and scholars of Islam and the Middle East immediately began debating the role of the digital age in the tragic turn of events. Some, like Bruce Lawrence, a noted scholar of Islam, pointed out that our century is profoundly the century of the CyberKingdom, where nothing is off-limits, no matter how hateful or obscene, a century during which the Internet functions as an “equal-opportunity offender.” 9 Others, such as Fred Donner, a recognized scholar of early Islam and a contributor to this volume, decried the making of the video but asserted that “the solution (some kind of censorship) would almost surely be more dangerous than the problem we face.”10 Still others drew attention to the ease with which the film was disseminated: cnn media commentator Don Lemon pointed out on his show: “Anywhere, anyone, anytime, somebody can do this. . . . All one needs is a video camera, an internet connection. Literally it took two people to make and disseminate the film.”

Others who debated the tragic turn of events in Benghazi questioned whether this fiasco was just another example of “Muslim rage” or Muslim “religious sensitivity.”12 The latter phrase implies that there are traits or qualities intrinsic to Islam and its cultures that make it, in the words of novelist Salman Rushdie, “particularly susceptible to the rise of identity politics.” Rushdie described it thus to a New York Times op-ed commentator: “You define yourself by what offends you. You define yourself by what outrages you.”13 Farish Noor, a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist, has elsewhere described a “division between inside and outside, in-group and out-group” that characterizes modern notions of identity and belonging among Muslims.14 Yet others, such as Islam expert and academic Nancy Khalek, insisted on the necessity of going beyond the trope of Muslim religious sensitivity. She stated that “a productive way to talk about this latest [film trailer] issue is to talk about it in terms of Egypt and Libya in particular, not Islam and Muslims in general. This movie and the people behind it and things like it have existed for a long, long time.
. . . We have to ask ‘why now, why here, why that?’ ”

Precisely such questions were posed by Jytte Klausen, who emphasized the geopolitical dimensions of the tragic turn of events in Benghazi. Klausen, an expert on Islamist terrorist networks (and another contributor to this volume), declared:

For one thing, the “perfect storm” appears to be the result of the confluence of various independent vectors driving conflict: the ultra-Salafists in Eg ypt gaining space on TV due to liberalization (an ultra-Salafist TV station first showed excerpts from the infamous YouTube movie); Morsi and the [Muslim] Brotherhood are under severe pressure from the ultraSalafists and thought they could gain control of the situation; the jihadist networks preparing events to mark 9/11 and the droning of al-Libi, a high-ranking AQ core operative; the inability of the Libyan government to exercise any police power, etc.

But Klausen also pointed out that this series of events, like the infamous Danish cartoon controversy and its aftermath, acquired their global significance and notoriety primarily because of the Internet and the digital age. As she remarks in her chapter for this volume: “Manipulated ‘insults’ to the Muslim Prophet and, by extension, to all Muslims, and narratives about what Islam permits or disallows are used to mobilize supporters. Each side engages in a kind of virtual global stone-throwing with violent real-life repercussions.”

Amateurish, tasteless, and offensive though the film trailer or the Hebdo cartoons may be, their existence cries out for dialogue about difficult questions concerning the prophet Muhammad. The most difficult of these questions may be, Why is subjecting Muhammad to critique or satire off-limits? Muslim theologians and scholars recognize that certain events in Muhammad’s life, as represented in established Muslim sources, are problematic from a moral or ethical viewpoint. Examples include the connection between the Bedouin raid and Muhammad’s new community in Medina, especially during months when there was a recognized truce with Meccan tribes; his marriage to Zaynab, who had been the wife of his adopted son, Zayd; and the incident of the “Satanic” verses. Moreover, Muslim theologians and ethicists recognize that there exist serious and complex issues in various contemporary Muslim constituencies as a consequence of the “model” (or Sunnah) of Muhammad’s life. For instance, it could be asked to what degree militant Islamist groups ideologically justify their hatred of Jews by referring to what they perceive to be the Prophet’s own experiences with Jewish communities. While Muslim theologians and scholars grapple with these difficult questions and issues concerning Muhammad, history will continue to repeat itself—indeed, repeat itself as farce.

Muhammad is not off-limits. Muslim scholars and theologians, especially from diasporic Muslim communities, are increasingly tending to their own theological backyard. On the Internet there is a profusion of intra-Muslim debates on everything and anything pertaining to Muhammad, Islam, and Muslims. Defying regional and national boundaries, numerous virtual Muslim communities and new Muslim identities have been forged through the use of new media. In virtual communities formed via Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, there are many deliberations, debates, and contestations, and even acrimonious bickering, over normative interpretations of Islam, as well as over representations of Muhammad. Within these communities a new generation of Muslims of all types, especially self-identified progressive Muslims, feminist Muslims, secular Muslims, and ex-Muslims, is wrestling with aspects of Muhammad’s traditional biographical narratives that they deem problematic.

Islamic textual sources themselves, such as classical Islamic biographical narratives, transmit elements that are considered controversial in the contemporary era. Recent debates about these elements speak to the tradition’s vitality and capacity for self-critique. Modern Muslim theologians, Muslim intellectuals, and lay Muslims continue to subject elements of their religion to internal critique by tapping into this strength and vitality.

In the digital age traditional notions of Islamic or Muslim authority are increasingly being decentered. Traditionally established interpretations of the Qurʾan and narratives about Muhammad are facing competition and being challenged. The Sudanese blogger Amir Ahmad Nasr explains, “The digital revolution has given a voice to young Muslims. . . . It is allowing us to criticize the religious establishment and create our own interpretations.” He adds, “Digital media will be to Islam what the printing press was to Christianity, ultimately leading to a Reformation.”17 The veracity of Nasr’s claims is confirmed by my examination of contemporary Muslim women who engage in the production of digital representations of Muhammad’s wives and thus are virtually disseminating readings of the lives of Muhammad’s wives that are female-centered and in tune with the identities and experiences of Muslim women in the twenty-first century.

As a focal point of Islam, the figure of Muhammad commands interest for many reasons, not least the controversies over his relations with his wives. For instance, the 2012 film trailer contains caricatures concerning his interactions with his wives. It uses images of women, especially of the wives, to demonize Muhammad as well as Islam and Muslims generally. Most of these caricaturized scenarios deal not with Muhammad’s polygamy, but with the ethics of his conduct toward his spouses. As amateurish as the film trailer is, whoever made it demonstrates some familiarity with the Arabic-language classical narratives, enshrined in the early Islamic sources, that portray various domestic incidents in the Prophet’s household.

Though the film trailer makes offensive caricatures of these incidents— Muhammad groping Zaynab’s breasts, for example—this does not alter the fact that the relevant Islamic sources indicate that the incidents associated with these caricatures were controversial and charged at the time they occurred. For example, Muhammad’s infatuation with Zaynab and his subsequent marriage to her was as controversial in seventh-century Madinan society as it is now. This is so even though the current sensibilities and values that induce discomfort with some incidents in Muhammad’s personal life were nonissues in his seventh-century Arabian context.

Modern Muslim theologians and apologists have dealt with these issues in a number of ways. Some argue that these incidents showcase Muhammad’s humanity—that though he was a prophet, he is depicted with all his mortal weaknesses. Muslim theologians also seek to redeem Muhammad by asserting that his marriage to Zaynab displays a licit channeling of sexual desire. Specifically, Muhammad and Zaynab did not have an affair. Rather, the sources demonstrate that with the divorce and remarriage, the Prophet, Zayd, and other involved parties went out of their way to ensure that nothing illicit occurred.

A different, more critical, approach to this issue would be to ask, What about Zayd’s humanity? Zayd, who was raised by Muhammad as his adopted son, lost not only his wife but also his adopted father because just prior to his marriage to Zaynab, Muhammad repudiated both his relation to Zayd and the practice of adoption in general. Proponents of this critical approach would not be convinced by Muslims who suggest that what is negatively attributed to Muhammad can also be brought up with regard to other prophets and messengers of the ancient world. Can what Muhammad did with Zaynab (and to her husband Zayd) be excused any more than what David did with Bathsheba (and to her husband Uriah the Hittite)? The main issues here are ultimately ethical, not necessarily political or technological. And these ethical issues are propelling Muslim scholars and ethicists to increasingly tend to their own theological backyard.

This volume brings together two distinct objects of study—Muhammad and digital media—in an unprecedented imbrication of these two very important topics. In the post-9/11 period a number of trenchant studies have been published on modern Islamist subcultures19 and Muslim cultures at large,20 but in this age of information and technolog y, none of them take Muhammad and representations of him as their focus. This multidisciplinary volume fills this vital lacuna. It also stands apart from other scholarly examinations of Islam in the digital age that have taken as their point of inquiry debates over authority, identity formation, and the forging of Muslim cyber-communities;21 instead, it examines the impact of digital media on representations and understandings of Muhammad, Islam, and Muslims.

A different sort of works on Muslims in the digital age has emerged more recently. These works—both scholarly and journalistic—examine the power of new media to transform the Arab landscape.22 In particular, they examine “how young people literate in the use of new media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and cellular phones—essentially Internetbased tools that allow for the quick and relatively unregulated sharing of information—could confront a disproportionately advantaged opponent and even catch them off guard.” 23 They emphasize the ability of digital media in Muslim-majority cultures to create virtual communities that promote civic engagement and strengthen civil society. As some academic experts working on this topic note, the surge in the use of digital media for affecting social and political change in the Middle East can be traced back to the protests in Iran following the country’s 2009 presidential election—an event that has come to be remembered as Iran’s Twitter revolution. However, recently there has been greater interest in the Facebook revolution of the Arabic-speaking Middle East.

These disparate research foci are brought together in research projects such as Digital Islam, an academic project run primarily by scholars in Prague that analyzes websites, videos, and videogames to study the intersection of Islam, the Middle East, and digital media.24 An important academic resource associated with this research project is the journal CyberOrient: Online Journal of the Virtual Middle East. The articles in the journal range from studies of the Saudi blogosphere to examinations of the opportunities social media provide to Bahraini women.25 As digital media infiltrate virtually all facets of our lives, scholarly examinations of Islam and digital media now pepper a wide range of journals.

The advent of the digital age is an exciting period for scholars studying Islam, Muslims, and Muhammad also because digitization has made readily available ancient manuscripts and other early source texts, many of which were relatively unknown or unpublished some decades ago. Examination of these manuscripts has been mostly in the interest of textual history rather than material history. The searchability of digital manuscripts has greatly facilitated intertextual comparisons that would have been very laborious only two decades ago. The ease and pace of research on manuscripts and other early Islamic documentary sources have witnessed a remarkable increase in the past decade.

This book combines study of views and representations of Muhammad with perspectives from new media. It examines three main overlapping themes that frame Muhammad as a focal point: post-9/11 representations, analyses of conflict, and 9/11 and minority religions.

The post-9/11 representations featured in this book are not only of Muhammad, but also of his wives and of Muslims and Islam more generally. Some chapters prominently feature depictions of Muhammad’s wives by Muslim women, Muslim men, and non-Muslims. Other chapters engage with Islamophobic representations and the manner in which these affect the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims in the European and North American contexts. The chapters focus on a range of print discourses as well as digital representations.

All of the chapters touch on conflict in one way or another: intellectual conflicts among academics and scholars over the origins of Islam; conflicts over authority, normativity, and authenticity among Muslim feminists and traditional Muslim clerics; or ideological conflicts between Islamophobes and Islamophiles.

Two chapters are dedicated to assessing the impact of the 9/11 tragedy on minority religious communities in the United States. The two communities examined include Sikh Americans and the New Atheist movement. Male Sikh Americans have been the target of Islamophobic crimes since 9/11 in light of what is perceived to be their physical resemblance to the stereotypical image of the Muslim terrorist. New Atheists view the 9/11 tragedy as religiously motivated, and they essentialize Islam and construct it as an enemy of secularism and Enlightenment ideals.

Despite the diversity of chapters in this book, all of them logically cohere around the focus on Muhammad in the digital age while demonstrating that the 9/11 tragedy has prompted new questions, paradigms, and strategies. The collection is diverse on both disciplinary and methodological grounds. Contributors include Islam experts, historians, political scientists, social scientists, and scholars of international studies and Asian-American studies who together offer a balance of theoretical and empirical approaches.

In chapter 1 Fred Donner accomplishes two goals: first, he takes stock of the many scholarly issues and revisionist interpretations concerning the origins of Islam and offers his own position, and second, he assesses the impact of digital technologies on such work. Donner asserts that Islam began as a monotheistic, ecumenical believers’ movement that emphasized pietistic revival. Members of this movement initially included not only the early converts, but also righteous Jews, Christians, and other monotheists. Only about a century later did this believers’ movement begin to define itself more narrowly and to resemble “brand-name Islam” as we understand it today: a movement whose central features are primacy of the Qurʾan and of the prophet Muhammad. Donner also assesses how scholarship on the origins of Islam is being advanced by digital media, which facilitate digital enhancement, searches of relevant manuscripts, digital comparisons, and web-based dissemination of materials.

Jonathan Brockopp’s chapter engages with post-9/11 portrayals of Muhammad as both warrior and peacemaker. What for non-Muslim Westerners may appear to be contradictory or inconsistent facets of the Prophet are essential to the Islamic idea of Muhammad’s perfection and his status as the ideal human being. Among Brockopp’s most vital contributions is his historicization and contextualization of the terms and concepts of war and peace, especially his comparison of their meanings in early Islamic discourses with how they are broadly construed in the contemporary Western world. In sum, Brockopp maintains that in the narratives depicting the life of Muhammad, peacemaking did not imply avoiding war, but rather implied being engaged in the world, sometimes through war, in order to make it a better place. Such an understanding of war and peace in the Islamic tradition favors practicality and stands in contrast to the “messianic vision of the Christian Gospels.” Not surprisingly, many Islamophobes exploit these differences to further their polemical claims without accounting for the complex meanings of war and peace in the Islamic tradition.

Shifting to Islam in contemporary Europe, in chapter 3 Jytte Klausen assesses and critiques issues of censorship and Muslim artistic conventions as they relate to the Danish cartoon controversy. Klausen acknowledges that the cartoons acquired their global significance primarily because of the digital age; discusses the stances of key Muslim actors engaged in the cartoon controversy; and considers issues such as respect versus disrespect, formulations of religious blasphemy as they relate to the cartoon depictions of Muhammad, and tensions between secular and nonsecular approaches to dealing with the perceived offenses. According to Klausen, the Danish cartoons did not violate a general prohibition on representing Muhammad, given the centuries-old tradition of depictions of Muhammad by Muslim artists in diverse cultures. Rather, Klausen postulates, the problem was that the cartoon portraying Muhammad with a bomb in his turban—presumably the one most circulated on the Internet—violated deeply held theological prohibitions among Muslims.

Peter O’Brien asserts in chapter 4 that postmodern ideas regarding the constructed nature of truth and reality have deeply penetrated European public consciousness and often serve as launching pads for actors who participate in European debates on immigration. For example, to support their xenophobic stances, Islamophobes portray Muhammad and Islam as violent, antidemocratic, misog ynistic, and opposed to all European ideals. Conversely, Islamophiles—who are equally cognizant of the power of representation—assert the perfection of Islam and its Prophet while some among them simultaneously rail against the European West, terming it evil, immoral, and hedonistic. The dynamics of these competing ideologies evidence an erosion of ideas about fairness and objectivity and attest to a by-all-means-necessary approach to politics. O’Brien also identifies more constructive and humane approaches to prevailing European debates on immigration.

My own chapter examines contemporary Muslim women’s online discourses concerning the wives of Muhammad as they are featured in two online forums and one online comic. The study attests to the agency of digital-savvy Muslim women, who transport both normative and alternative versions of Islam into the global context. These digital authors posit alternative female-centered readings of the lives of the Prophet’s wives that further the cause of female empowerment through the dissemination of religious narratives that hold such values at their heart. In these online sources the wives are both celebrated and critically assessed for their intellectual, economic, and business acumen. The online comic in particular both humanizes and critiques certain practices associated with the wives of Muhammad, especially veiling and polygamy.

Chapter 6, by Aysha Hidayatullah, examines post-9/11 writings on the Prophet’s wives that meet the growing demand by the general public for literature on Muhammad and his wives. Such literature and other media use tropes about Muslim women, especially Muhammad’s wives, to either vilify or ennoble Islam, Muslims, and Muhammad. Hidayatullah focuses on Sherry Jones’s The Jewel of Medina and Kamran Pasha’s Mother of the Believers, both of which are narrated from the perspective of the Prophet’s wife ʿAʾisha. Hidayatullah asserts that the objective of both novels is to persuade their intended audiences of the egalitarian character of Islam and Muhammad, as well as to attribute twenty-first-century American feminist tendencies to Muhammad and ʿAʾisha—especially given how controversial the figure of ʿAʾisha is among both Muslims and non-Muslims. This is most effectively accomplished through the rhetorical device of having ʿAʾisha tell her own tale, which allows a Muslim woman to speak for herself in a world where Muslim women are almost always spoken for by Muslim men or non-Muslims. Hidayatullah also demonstrates that both novels are heavily influenced by the discourses of Islamophobia and Islamophilia.

In chapter 7 Simran Jeet Singh makes a case that the post-9/11 impact of Islamophobia has adversely affected Sikh-American communities, as well as Muslim Americans. Singh asserts that the perceived resemblance of Sikh-American men to media-disseminated images of Muslim terrorists should be understood as a racialization of religious identity. Singh explores how, despite public discourses in the United States that embrace diversity, there exists deep ambivalence about explicit and starkly visible expressions of religious identity, including hijabs, turbans, and kippas. He also examines the Sikh-American community’s reaction to what he terms Sikhophobia. In addition to detailing how Sikh-American coalitions and groups have become increasingly active since 9/11, Singh analyzes the horizontal linkages some have formed with Muslim-American groups to present a united front against Islamophobia and Sikhophobia.

The penultimate chapter, by Taner Edis, charts the rise of the New Atheist movement. Identifying 9/11 as an important catalyst for some members of this movement, Edis argues that New Atheist discourse engages with Islam in two distinct ways. First, New Atheists identify Islam as an extreme version of monotheism that is opposed to Enlightenment ideals and social progress. They tend to essentialize and stereotype Islam as unreformed, patriarchal, misog ynistic, and resistant to secularism and science. Second, New Atheist discourse is characterized by strains of Islamophobia that yield an uncritical demonization of Muslims in general as terrorists. Edis points out that such a demonization of Islam stands in contrast to New Atheists’ stated penchant for empirical accuracy. However, the relationship between Muslim Americans and New Atheists is not always strained: Edis highlights some potential shared interests, particularly with regard to support for minority rights and freedom of expression.


“With the explosion of Internet/cyber intrusions into every aspect of modern life, it is unsurprising that the prophet Muhammad should come under cyber-scrutiny. Very public events, such as the Danish cartoons and the YouTube video ‘Innocence of' Muslims’ have shown that representations of Muhammad and the story of Muhammad are both sensitive and a target for polemics. This book offers a number of different perspectives on this phenomenon, all related to the effect of new modern tools of engagement. Several essays are exceptional in their insights and fairness.”
Whitney S. Bodman, Associate Professor of Comparative Religion, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and author of The Poetics of Iblis: Narrative Theology in the Qur’an