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Muhammad has been a contested figure since he lived a millennium and a half ago. His life story has been by both Muslims and non-Muslims, in myriad ways.
Muslim praise has highlighted different aspects of his persona, from spiritual luminosity to diplomatic skill, as time and context demanded. Non-Muslims criticisms have been deeply shaped by preoccupations closer to home: Muhammad has been, variously, a pagan, an arch-heretic, an antichrist, and an imposter. Yet over the last two centuries, hagiographic and polemical writings have merged into a single, contentious, story, usually devoting substantial attention to Muhammad’s relationships with women, especially his first wife, Khadija, and his young favorite, Aisha. Modern Muslim accounts of these marriages arose in tandem and in tension with Western depictions, and were shaped by new ideas about religion, sexuality, and marriage.
Exploring these contested images of Muhammad as a husband illuminates key forces in contemporary Muslim thought, illustrates connections between Muslim and Western views of the Prophet, and shatters the illusion of timelessness in ideas about Muhammad.
Kecia Ali is Professor of Religion at Boston University. In addition to her most recent book, Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in J. D. Robb’s Novels (Baylor 2017), she is the author of several books about Islam. In Sexual Ethics and Islam (2nd ed. Oneworld 2016), The Lives of Muhammad (Harvard 2014), and other publications, she explores the complex intertwining of Muslim and Western norms about gender, sexuality, and marriage. Her current projects include an introductory book on Women
in Muslim Traditions. You can read more about her at www.keciaali.com.
Co-sponsors: Center for Ethics, Gender Violence Education and Support, Global Studies