Muhammad's Body: Baraka Networks and the Prophetic Assemblage by Michael Muhammad Knight (UNC Press, 2020) joins the emerging subfield of literature in Islamic Studies exploring embodiment and materiality as concepts for making sense of the spatial and temporal developments of Muslim subjectivities. Knight’s monograph is the first to delve into these themes as it concerns the Prophet Muhammad’s body and its functions, relationships, representations, symbolism, and postmortem contestations within Islamic literature. Knight analyzes Sunni hadith and sira texts from the eighth through the eleventh centuries CE to understand how conceptions of the Prophet’s body—from its physical features to its metaphysical qualities—shaped constructions of masculinity, authority, and power for the Prophet’s Companions as well as for those who followed in the centuries after them. By foregrounding his analysis in the Islamic concept of baraka—a kind of beneficent force of divine origin—and drawing from contemporary theoretical insights, Knight illuminates how the Prophetic body functioned as a crucial site of legitimation for his followers from the Prophet’s time until the present day. Muhammad’s Body is a welcome addition to the subject of embodiment in Islamic Studies.
Asad Dandia is a graduate student of Islamic Studies at Columbia University.