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Gabriel Said Reynolds

Muhammad Through Christian Eyes

Demonic charlatan or moral exemplar? The church's mixed response to Islam's prophet.

Those who have discovered C.S. Lewis's enchanted universe of Narnia might recollect its terrible Empire of the South: Calormen. There, beyond the Great Desert, dwell a "wise, wealthy, courteous, cruel" people, who pray to Tash, a bloodthirsty god. Tash, "the inexorable, the irresistible," is represented on Earth by the cruel Calormene ruler, the Tisroc, who once ordered the death of a cook for his indigestion. While not deified, the Tisroc is so revered by the Calormenes that a mention of his name is never heard without the added: "May he live forever."

Like so many Narnian figures, the Tisroc is not Lewis's invention but a parody. For the Tisroc is part Ottoman sultan and part Muhammad, "blessings and peace be upon him," the prophet of Allah, "the Merciful, the Benevolent." He is but one representation in the colorful corpus of Christian writings on Muhammad, the prophet who has intrigued and terrified the West since the rise of Islam in the seventh century. Western Christian writers have repeatedly redrawn his figure, now as a demoniac, then as a bloodthirsty, sex-crazed barbarian or as a noble rationalist.

Indeed, Muhammad is one of those figures whose legend has grown so greatly that his historical person seems entirely overshadowed. Partly as a consequence of this, Christian scholars today seem utterly at odds with one another over who this man was and how we should regard him, while the vast majority of Christians are almost entirely ignorant about Muhammad, his life and teachings. At a time when a deeper understanding of the world's one billion Muslims has taken on a new urgency, it is no sensationalism, I believe, to maintain that it behooves every Christian today to encounter for himself the man regarded by Muslims as the final prophet of God, Chief of the Messengers.

Medieval Depictions:
"This Machomet, this cursid
fals man … "

Muhammad first appears in the Western canon from the pen of an intriguing ninth-century activist, Eulogius of Cordova. Eulogius lived under ...

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