Knight (Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing, 2013, etc.) traverses the scenic highways of Islamic history, seeking paths that connect him to Muhammad.
Beginning as it does with the author tripping on hallucinogenic drugs, it quickly becomes clear that this is not the apologia for fundamentalist religion that the title might suggest. As the author writes, “some would find the comparison distasteful, but when it comes to manipulating reality, texts and drugs might not be so far removed from each other.” Erudite, introspective, and relentlessly provocative, the author interrogates the traditions of Islamic historiography, Quranic exegesis, and hadith verification, elucidating how participating in the life of the Muslim community inevitably shapes, alters, and re-creates that community. Even when believers, in a Salafi vein, seek to do only that which was permissible to the Companions of the Prophet themselves, their actions and the justifications for those actions cannot help but be thoroughly modern, and the search for the ultimate origins becomes a hall of mirrors obscured by fog. In every reading of the Quran, writes Knight, “ideas that did not exist for the earliest Muslim community sneak [in]…find homes for themselves in the words, and give the appearance of having always been there.” The author’s humor and generosity of spirit shine through, but much will remain opaque to readers without a background in Islamic studies. The author is intimately familiar with obscure theological points from a dizzying array of traditions orthodox and heretical (or both at once), but he has curiously and uncharacteristically little to say about the lived experience of being Muslim and interacting with other Muslims.
A vigorous treatment of how the sacred, in all its multifarious forms, continues to exercise power, even if sometimes it just feels like “we’re arguing over what the mystery god intended to say in his address to a mystic in a cave some fifteen centuries ago.”