The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad

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I just read the review of the book, “The First Muslim: The Story 
of Muhammad,”   I could not wait to share with ya’ll. There are thousands of biographies written about the Prophet, but there are two that have appealed to me the most,  and I will share the reason for it. Continued:

During the lunch today, my friend said, “everyone is born as a Muslim, that is the human nature (fitra) and then they will change as they grow” my immediate response was, “that is what the Hindus say, that everyone is born a Hindu, and Christians would say the same.” My friend could not resist,” “Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that, and that is the truth” – I asked, absolute truth? He said yes! And I responded, “that is the truth for Muslims, not the others.” Indeed, Prophet has made a point to respect the otherness of others without having to agree with the other, one of the greatest models in building great societies.

During my teen years, I chose to walk away from Islam, and held the same view of Islam as the Neocons did, because I read the same falsified translations as they did.

Like most teens I wanted to know the wisdom behind our beliefs, and not what Allah or Prophet said so.  In the late Nineties, I read a few passages from Bhagvad Gita that inspired me to seek the truth and among a few others things, it was Karen Armstrong’s book Muhammad that made me choose Islam as my religion. Since then I have gone on to do extensive research on Quran and the Prophet and love being a Muslim without negating any other religion.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is one of my models and mentors in building cohesive societies where no human has to live in fear of the other.  I find ample guidance in his wisdom, and give a full talk on “Prophet the Peace maker” from a secular point of view.  When People hear about Muhammad as a wise man, rather than a religious person, they tend to respect that without prejudice, and want to consider emulating his examples, quote him as they would quote Jesus, Gandhi, MLK and other great peacemakers. This is the message I would like to share with traditional Muslim speakers who are used to addressing Muslims, but not non-Muslims, and how they can relate with Muhammad.

Prophet Muhammad is not a divine figure to me, he was a human, as he said he was, and I can relate with him in his decision making process with a singular objective – how do we create harmony and peace in the society?  Karen Armstrong’s book did that to me, and she knows that she is partially responsible for me being a Muslim. Once you un-divine the prophet, you will genuinely respect him and his wisdom, and perhaps scream like me, he is the mercy to mankind, instead of simply believing that he was.

In the following review, I was awe-struck with this statement from Leslie Hazelton, “I wanted to be able to see Muhammad as a complex, multidimensional human being, instead of the two-dimensional figure created by reverence on the one hand and prejudice on the other. I wanted the vibrancy and vitality of a real life lived.”

Ever since Ibn Hasham wrote Prophet Muhammad’s Seerat (biography), more and more people have written about it.  But the books written by non-Muslims have a dimension that Muslims ought to cherish. Insha Allah, I will write a book on the Prophet in similar light as Karen Armstrong and Leslie Hazelton have. This is the book I wanted to write, and I will do that if life permits me.  A Christian, Hindu, Jews, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian or any one should relate with the prophet’s wisdom. 

We need to make a good list of the books to read about the Prophet, that others can relate, I have not read the book yet, but I have seen a few videos of Ms. Hazelton and appreciated her perspective. Here is one of her speech on TED available at – and here is the link:

Mike Ghouse

Read on!
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad
By Lesley Hazleton
Riverhead Books, 2013

What inspired you to write The First Muslim?

Basically, frustration! I’d read several biographies of Muhammad as background for my previous book, After the Prophet, but though they seemed to tell me a lot about him, they left me with little real sense of the man himself. There was a certain dutiful aspect to them, and this made them kind of… soporific. Which seemed to me a terrible thing to do to such a remarkable life?

There was a terrific story to be told here: the journey from neglected orphan to acclaimed leader—from marginalized outsider to the ultimate insider—made all the more dramatic by the tension between idealism and pragmatism, faith, and politics. I wanted to be able to see Muhammad as a complex, multidimensional human being, instead of the two-dimensional figure created by reverence on the one hand and prejudice on the other. I wanted the vibrancy and vitality of a real life lived.

But of course I was also impelled by certain dismay at how little most of us in the West know about Muhammad, especially when Islam is so often in the headlines and there are so many competing claims to “the truth about Islam.” This one man radically changed his world—indeed he’s still changing ours—so it seemed to me vitally important that we be able to get beyond stereotypes and see who he really was.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about Muhammad?

Let’s take just the two most obvious stereotypes: the lecherous polygamist, and the sword-wielding warmonger. In fact Muhammad’s first marriage, to Khadija, was a loving, monogamous relationship that lasted 24 years, until her death. The nine late-life marriages were mainly diplomatic ones—means of sealing alliances, as was standard for any leader at the time. And it’s striking that while he had five children with Khadija—four daughters and a son who died in infancy—he had none with any of the late-life wives.

As for the warmonger image, Muhammad maintained a downright Gandhian stance of passive, nonviolent resistance to both verbal and physical assaults for 12 years, until he was driven into exile from his home in Mecca. The psychology of exile thus played a large role in the armed conflict over the subsequent eight years, until Mecca finally accepted his leadership in a negotiated surrender, with strong emphasis on avoiding bloodshed.
Is there anything you had to leave out?

I know there’s a tendency to elide certain issues of Muhammad’s life, not least among them the rapid deterioration of his relations with the Jews of Medina, which was especially hard for me, as a Jew, to write about. But to evade such issues seems to me to demonstrate a certain lack of respect for your subject. A biographer’s task is surely to create as full a portrait as possible. If you truly respect your subject, you need to do him justice by according him the integrity of reality.

What alternative title would you give the book?

Perhaps, “Seeing Muhammad Whole.” Or “A Man in Full.” But since Muhammad is told three times in the Qur’an to call himself the first Muslim, I knew early on that this would be the title.

Did you have a specific audience in mind?

It kind of hurts to think of intelligent, open-minded readers as a specific audience…
Are you hoping to just inform readers? Give them pleasure? Piss them off?

Far more than inform! The pleasure for me lies in the “aha!” of understanding, of grasping the richness of reality, with all its uncertainties and dilemmas. It’s in the practice of empathy—not sympathy, but empathy, which is the good-faith attempt to understand someone else’s experience. Those who nurture images of Muhammad as the epitome of either all evil or all good may well be disconcerted, but then that’s the point: empathy trumps stereotype any time.

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

The First Muslim isn’t a “message” book. If anything, since I’m agnostic, you might call it an agnostic biography. But I think many readers may be surprised at Muhammad’s deep commitment to social justice, his radical protest against greed and corruption, and his impassioned engagement with the idea of unity, both human and divine—major factors that help explain the appeal of Islam.

How do you feel about the cover?

I loved it the minute I saw it. Riverhead brilliantly avoided all the usual obvious images—domes, minarets, crescent moons, camels, and so on—and opted instead for the understated elegance of this classic “knot” tile design.

Is there a book out there you wish you’d written?

On Muhammad? No, and that’s exactly why I wrote The First Muslim. The book I wish someone else had written didn’t exist—one that brought psychological and political context to the historical and religious record, and one I actually wanted to read instead of feeling that I should.

What’s your next book?
I’m thinking it’s time to explore exactly what I mean by being an agnostic, and how this informs my ongoing fascination with the vast and volatile arena in which religion and politics intersect.
Lesley Hazleton reported on the Middle East from Jerusalem for more than a dozen years, and has written for Time, the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and Harper’s, among other publications. Her last book, After the Prophet, was a finalist for the PEN-USA book Award. Hazleton lives in Seattle.


Criticism of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and free speech


—-Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place and standing up for others as an activist. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at Mike has a strong presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News, fortnightly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site indexes everything you want to know about him.

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