John V. Tolan is a historian of religious and cultural relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages. He is a professor at the University of Nantes, a member of the Academia Europaea, and the author of Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination and Saint Frances and the Sultan.
In Faces of Muhammad, Tolan offers portrayals of the prophet of Islam from twelfth century to twenty-first century Europe. Mahomet (a deformation of the name Muhammad) has been portrayed as an idol, an imposter, and a heresiarch — for a variety of reasons — to justify the wars of Christian kings and the conquest of Muslim territories, to defend Christianity, to justify a lesser legal status to conquered Muslims, to attack Christians with different theological views, etc.
Muhammad has also been portrayed as a reformer, lawgiver, visionary, and model general. Tolan offers the historical context for these positive and negative portrayals, demonstrating the complexity of European views of Muhammad and Islam over time. The comprehensiveness of these varied images shows that these Western conceptions serve primarily as “a mirror for European writers, expressing their fears, hopes, and ambitions” rather than as accurate depictions of the religion of Islam or its prophet.