Contemporary historians have searched for the historical Muhammad along many paths. In Muhammad and the Empires of Faith: The Making of the Prophet of Islam (University of California Press, 2020), Sean Anthony, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University, recommends employing non-Muslim and Muslim sources in tandem in order to view a fuller landscape of Late Antiquity. Anthony revisits the earliest Arabic materials, including the Qur’an, epigraphic and archeological evidence, as well as contemporaneous non-Muslim sources, and accounts preserved in the sira-maghazi literature. These make up the four cardinal sources for his historical and philological method. Anthony’s book both introduces a comprehensive portrait of the sources available for understanding Muhammad in his time period, as well as demonstrates how we can arrive at new insights through a “lateral” reading across the Late Antique period. In our conversation we discuss the earliest evidence mentioning Muhammad, non-Muslim testimonies, narratives of Muhammad under the Umayyads, reinvestigating Muhammad as a merchant, the role of the scholarly tradition in recording biographical accounts, the sira of Ibn Ishaq, how Abbasid imperial discourses shaped biographical narratives, literary conventions and cultural aesthetics of the late antique hagiographical writings, comparative readings across Late Antiquity, and future directions for historians.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.