Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Muhammad's Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Muhammad's Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society

Article excerpt

Muhammad's Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society. By Leor Halevi. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 400 pp. $38.

Western policymakers and academics often concern themselves with death in Islam only in the context of suicide terrorism. But the Islamic treatment of death is far more complicated. Halevi, professor of history at Vanderbilt University, has written a masterful, well-written work filled with original research that shows how Islamic notions of death coalesced in the first centuries of the new religion.

Well-organized by theme, the separate chapters in Muhammad's Grave (on such topics as cover tomb stones, the washing of corpses, shrouds, wailing, processions, and tomb construction) will primarily interest medievalists and theologians. At the same time, Halevi's work makes for interesting reading to all Middle Eastern experts.

Halevi is an expert linguist and, with training at Princeton, Yale, and Harvard, equally at ease with Muhammad bin Isma'il al-Bukhari's compilations of the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, with the Babylonian Talmud, or with the essays of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French and German scholars. Because Halevi has mastered such a breadth of sources, he is able - as is Qur'anic scholar Khaleel Mohammed at the University of California to provide the context to Islam's early years.2 Islam did not arise in a vacuum.

Classical Muslim scholarship - lost to a generation of modern scholars who have mastered neither language nor historiography - acknowledges how both Judaism and Christianity influenced Islam's development and the evolution of its rites more than some contemporary studies suggest. …

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