This is both enlightening and important in our current context, as Islam is seen as a religion predicated on violence and conquest. Cole breaks down these preconceived notions throughout the book ... It is interesting to see the ways that Islam has changed since Muhammad, and Cole spends the conclusion of Muhammad detailing these changes as compared to Muhammad’s teachings. As a historical argument, it is highly compelling ... [Cole] approaches the topics without partiality and using historical documentation responsibly to make his points. He also is very upfront on the similarities between Muhammad’s teachings, Judaism, and Christianity. Muhammad often paraphrases parts of the Talmud or the Bible, and Cole points out a plethora of examples ... Pluralism and inclusivism also provide major themes ... His analysis of Muhammad’s religion on these grounds is enthralling ... highly illuminating and thought-provoking.
Cole’s book...is not just eruditely informative, but also ambitiously revisionist, with two unorthodox arguments he keenly advances throughout the book ... Some of Cole’s well-intentioned hypotheses, clearly aimed at challenging Islamophobia, may never be proved. But he is demonstrably right in concluding that Islamic orthodoxy deviated from its foundations by 'abrogating' the peaceful and tolerant verses of the Quran, by reserving salvation only to Muslims, or by adopting some cruel practices like stoning. Beneath this thick layer of what became Islamic tradition, there is a more uplifting image of the Prophet Muhammad, waiting to be discovered not just by non-Muslims, but also many Muslims themselves.
This biography and social history is exhaustively researched: appendix and notes comprise nearly a third of the book. While Cole’s scholarship clearly confirms authority, general audiences won’t find this an easy read, given the number of unfamiliar places, people, and events. However, it’s an essential read in a turbulent, dangerous time.