Book Review: “And Muhammad is His Messenger” by Annemarie Schimmel
Annemarie Schimmel was one of the first orientalist scholars in western academia who was respected by both Muslim and non-Muslim thinkers. This book is arguably her most famous work, where she collects together and discusses the veneration of the Prophet (ﷺ) in different Muslim traditions.
In her work Schimmel seems to present a dichotomy between what she defines as “orthodox” Islam and Sufism, the latter being the main bulk of material on which the book is based on. I suppose it begs the argument of what defines ‘orthodoxy’, particularly within the religion of Islam, but it would seem ‘orthodox’ in the context of this book is interchangeable with ‘conservative’ or ‘puritan’. Another point worth mentioning, though I suppose it is to be expected from a western academic, is the author’s assertion that certain ideas or practices within the religion of Islam only became official in a sense at the time they have been recorded as being first written down. So for example a hadith in Bukhari can only be deemed to be valid at the point in time Bukhari wrote it down, thereby either dismissing, or at the leas,t having a hint of scepticism at the idea of a legitimate oral tradition within Islam.
Aside from these criticisms Schimmel presents a well researched and exhaustive work. For myself it showed the importance of Ibn Arabi to the spread of the idea of the Muhammadan Reality, and also highlighted some of the more extreme esoteric and unorthodox opinions that have been espoused about the Prophet (ﷺ), even mentioning briefly a claim the Prophet (ﷺ) was Allah (ﷻ), which I always thought never existed in our history. Despite the reservedness of German culture which stop Schimmel from really expressing her passion for the subjects of Sufism and Islamic spirituality, her delight and interest in the topic is clear for the reader to see. Of course as a western academic she must remain impartial, but even she cannot resist expressing her admiration for certain lines of poetry or anecdotes of spiritual devotion.
Poignantly Schimmel ends her work with a chapter on Iqbal and his relationship with the Prophet (ﷺ). Iqbal’s work being another field of expertise that she excelled in, and arguably it was due to her his work was presented to a more western audience. For myself Iqbal represents the bridge between antiquity and modernity, his thoughts and insights provide a way for us to go into the future by keeping in mind our past, and not having to sacrifice one for the other, (which is what many “movements” have ended up doing since his time until today). And this is no different with regards to his thoughts of the Prophet (ﷺ), he refuses to reimagine the importance of the Prophet (ﷺ) within the Islamic tradition that many modernists had done (as has been discussed by Schimmel), he accepts the classical veneration of the Prophet (ﷺ) and refused to see it as some sort of folk tradition or collected forms of archaic practice, but rather saw love of the Prophet (ﷺ) as a means for Muslims to go forward and use that emotion and passion to improve themselves. For myself that ended the book in a way that was very personal to me as a Muslim today in the west, a means to conceptualise and understand what the Prophet (ﷺ) means to us in our day and age and how we can go forward by taking on what was left behind for us by those who came before.