I had my doubts as to whether I should review a book on such a sensitive topic, but seeing as how the author wrote an entire volume on it, I thought I owed the attempt at least this much.
The book is, in a nutshell, an admirable effort, notwithstanding its few shortcomings.
Good things first. It’s a very sympathetic and non-condescending account of Muhammed’s life. It’s obviously very informative especially to most non-Muslims who might have, at best, a very sketchy idea about the life and times of the founder of Islam. The author chooses, rightly in my opinion, to focus on the man that was Muhammed, not on the legend that the Prophet became.
Like a true biographer, she tries to get into the mind of the object of her study and tries to both understand and explain his actions and his motives. The author doesn’t try to portray Muhammed as infallible, something she repeatedly says he himself never claimed to be, but still portrays him in a positive light, faults and all.
Both the miraculous and the mundane are presented with equal weight accorded to them. Little, it seems, has been omitted. The humanisation of Muhammed, as opposed to his deification, makes him all the more appealing and accessible, again something she claims he himself wanted as a part of his legacy.
But, at the same time, the author tries to gloss over and doesn’t focus on the supernatural aspects of Muhammed’s story. While she does recount many of them, she doesn’t seek to go into them events and at major, supernatural turning points refuses to even discuss whether they actually occurred or not.
She, likewise, refuses to be drawn into the question of many, rather suspiciously well timed prophecies. She also fails to criticise or at least leave open to question some rather unflattering incidents. All this makes this a rather biased account which becomes at times self-contradictory and at others apologist.
That said, the book is still a very commendable attempt at humanizing and making more accessible a man whose life has had, and continues to have, such a profound impact on pretty much every human life on the surface of this planet. She manages to present the man, the First Muslim, separate from Islam, from the Sunna, from the Hadith. For this alone, the book deserves to be read.
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