Great pre-publication review of The First Muslim in the current issue of Publishers Weekly (alas it’s subscriber-only, so I can’t link to it):
Despite Islam’s position at the forefront of the American consciousness, the general public knows little of its founder and prophet beyond platitudes and condemnations. Hazleton (After the Prophet) attempts to rectify this imbalance with her vivid and engaging narrative of Muhammad’s life. The author portrays her subject as an unlikely and unsuspecting vehicle for the divine, “painfully aware that too many nights in solitary meditation might have driven him over the edge.” Sympathetic but not hagiographic, her work draws liberally from a long tradition of Islamic biographical literature about the prophet; the nuanced portrait that emerges is less that of an infallible saint than of a loving family man, a devoted leader of his people, an introspective and philosophical thinker who reluctantly accepted the burden of conveying the word of God, and a calculating political strategist. Hazleton writes not as a historian but as a cultural interpreter, reconstructing Muhammad’s identity and personality from the spiritual revolution that he sparked and the stories that his followers passed down. While the speculation is sometimes off-putting (as when Muhammad’s final illness is confidently diagnosed as bacterial meningitis), the result is a fluid and captivating introduction that will be invaluable for those seeking a greater understanding of Islam’s message and its messenger.
I love the idea of being less a historian than a cultural interpreter. If I don’t quite see the problem with the bacterial meningitis issue, no matter. Roll on January 24.
couldn’t agree more!
I pre-ordered mine months ago – I grow even more excited in anticipation! “Cultural Interpreter” is something I’d put on a business card!
Have you any plans for a tour in conjunction with the publication?
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on O2
It is wrong and unacceptable by the trend in the Torah to describe Muhammad Rasulullah as the First Muslim. This description implies denying the Torah, an issue Muhammad Rasulullah came to explain and disapprove. Indeed he was the last of the prophets and the leader (an Imam) of the messengers. The closest causes of Muhammad’s death was not bacterial meningitis, but rather cerebral bleeding. His convulsions and high temperature closely resembles pontine bleeding.
The book available in website:sbpra.com//allamadrsanisalihmustapha is worth musing. It is the only literature if read carefully that will balance the influence of al-Qaeeda and Taliban.
I went with the Quran, which tells Muhammad three times (6:14, 6:163, 39:12) “Say: I am the first Muslim.”
Sorry Hazleton. That is not the intended meaning! The meaning is what I gave you. Understand that Muhammad is mentioned in Madinan verses only. No reason given, But the reason is that he was depicted in the position of Moses for Moses was the one who saved the then polite and beloved by G-d the Children of Israel. Therefore, Allah G-d of Abraham is saying: O Levis, Here is Muhammad for whom you migrated to Madina. Are you going to deny him? Remember the favors I did to you under Moses. Moses gave them the law after the exodus and not while in Egypt. Muhammad has escaped the tyrants in Makka and therefore should be given the Law. Please look for your friends to neutralize Taliban and al-Qaeeda.
Islam means total submission to the will of Allah In this sense all creatures in the heavens and on the earth, willingly or unwillingly, have submitted to His will, accepted Islam, according to verse 83 of Ali Irnran; and in verse 93 of Maryam the word abdiyat also refers to total submission of all creatures to the beneficent Lord of the worlds.
The Holy Prophet was the first abid (worshipper of Allah) among all His creation, therefore it is wrong to say that he was the first convert, which implies that before that he was not a Muslim. “If Allah had a son, I would be the first to worship”, in Zukhruf : 81, proves the fact that the Holy Prophet was the first worshipper of Allah among all His creation.
Like I’ve said before, AJ, I went with the source: 6:14, 6:163, and 39:12 of the Quran, where Muhammad is told “Say, I am the first Muslim.”
Again you are free to read the Qur’an. But the correct interpretation is what Muhammad said and not what you or anyone conjectures. Please take our explanation and interpretation. We are like the Jewish rabbis who listen to their sages and say ‘no’ when they do not know. Please remember and go back to your past..
Lesley theres no complain what you understood of the verse but then say “thats what I understood” do not say “thats what the verse says”.
The same Quran says the very first man(Adam) submit…so he could be first Muslim…then this is Abrahimic religion…so Ibrahim could be first Muslim.
You disregard the gist of Quran and try to understand “First Muslim” through a secluded verse…though literal in meanings BUT Quran has a temperament and its parables and illustrations ought to be understood in the spirit of whole Book regardless you are Muslim or Non Muslim.
This verse was revealed when the pagans of Makka asked the Holy Prophet as to why he was preaching a new religion opposed to idolatry and making his followers suffer persecution and miseries.
A verse starting with “Qul” always has a context and a reference.
There are many addressee of Quran but kuffar and wrong doers were never addressed directly…they were addressed through Prophet by “Say”.
Not in the order of conversion of the Makkans, but the Holy Prophet was the first Muslim in the order of whole creation, mentioned in Ali Imran: 184.
Plus I think it should be clear that ‘The First Muslim’ is not theology, but narrative history. The way I tell the story and think of it is obviously very different from the way you tell it and think of it. You speak as a believing Muslim, I speak as a non-Muslim, writing with respect but not reverence. I respect your point of view even if I do not accept it; perhaps you could do the same with mine.
Sorry my dear Lesley. Muhammad does not recognize you as a non-muslim. You are a muslim as far as he is concerned. Whatever be your faith, you are bound to report and quote Muhammad and not to say something contrary to what is revealed to him. There is no compulsion in Islam. Lesley, do you reject the diagnosis and prescription of your doctor?
My dear Lesley.
Please do not be tired. I am just reading a Tafsir. Qur’an 2:131 is an address to our Patriach Ibrahim. Where was Muhammad then? Secondly when Adam was cast down to earth, Gabriel came to him (in India) and made a call to the prayer. In it is the name of Muhammad. He asked Gabriel who is that Muhammad. Gabriel replied: He is the last prophet among your children.
Please my dear Lesley, forget about what the followers of Muhammad are telling you. They are misdirecting you (West) and misleading you distorting the teaching of Muhammad. They will then turn and accuse you of that. Please when reading the Qur’an for each verse make reference with 10 commentaries. The beast thing is not to read the Qur’an but to read the life history of Muhammad. Please regard me as your sincere adviser for I have great respect for the Jews although you are now a Christian.
The correct interpretation in all these instances is “Say: I am the first Muslim (among you)”. The “among you” is the key since the clear understanding is that all Prophets and their true followers were in the state of submission to the One Lord, hence Muslim by definition.
Huzzah! Another child is born and we look forward to sharing the joys and kinks of its story unfolding. Can’t imagine what the bacterial meningitis issue might be with the reviewer above unless the dis-ease makes him vincible and human and infectible by bugs.
I don’t know anything about the actual symptoms of his illness nor the historical or medical basis of making a diagnosis after fifteen centuries. But come on, a poisoning or some other exotic death is more appropriate to a religious leader as compared to a mundane meningitis which can afflict any Tom, Dick and his grandfather.
Sorry Sohail. The history ruled out all that you are saying. Yes, Muhammad was attempted to be poisoned but was told by Gabriel. The woman confessed that she did attempt to poison him to prove his claim that he is indeed sent by Allah. I do not think that an Israelite prophet was ever poisoned.
Dear Hazleton, congratulations for a great book on the messenger of peace, I m your regular follower and like your postings.
I would like to say about ‘First Muslim’, of course Quran mentioned the prophet first musilm but it must be taken on the context of the prophet, like I am the first among you(audience of the prophet) who submitted his well to Allah!…it should be taken as among the people of mecca at the time of prophet.
I think the first muslim on the earth is Aadam and all messengers like Ibrahim, issac, jacob, moses, jesus peace be upon all of him were mentioned as musilm in Quran.
All prophets are equal on the status.
Dear M Irfan
Muslim is derived from root word “Silm” means acceptance and submisson, the first Man who submits could be Adam but Ms Hazelton is talking about Muslim, a term used in Quran and thats specific with follower of Mohammad(saw) because none of the previous Muslims were following perfected Deen as per Quran.
And you are also wrong to say all prophets are equal in status, Quran says some are superior to others in status.
AJ — I’ve been thinking recently that a better English word than ‘submission’ might be ‘surrender’ — as in surrendering oneself to beauty, or to joy. i.e. an opening of heart and soul. As you say, a willing (and willed) acceptance. What do you think?
Lesley….I could be wrong but I think “surrender” is used with circumstances and aspects like you said to “Beauty”
Surrender commonly used for forced submission.
In Arabic word is “Tasleem” which is integral of same derivative “silm” and predominant meanings of Tasleem is acceptance then submission.
IMO Submit is more comprehensive and absolute.
AJ — It’s that absoluteness that goes against my agnostic soul. ‘Acceptance’ much better than ‘submission’ to my mind, since submission seems to have an even stronger connotation of force, implying that it’s against one’s will. ‘Surrender’? I surrender myself to the moment, say. I surrender control. But yes, it does also have that military implication. I think I used the phrase “willed and willing acceptance” in the book. Will keep puzzling at it.
My dear Lesley.
The Muslims have fallen into the trap of understanding the Message sent to Muhammad through its Latinized and Greek translations. Islam means one who submits in obedience to the Command of the G-d of Abraham. You cannot truncate submission from obedience and command. That is the organic whole of the meaning of Islam.
Lesley, you know better than any one of us the strictness of the G-d of Abraham on what He commands.
On the contrary, Sani, I can, and I do, and I will continue to do so. I have never been any good at taking commands, and do not intend to start now!
My dear Lesley.
It is now apparent that you are making your own interpretation of the Qur’an that has nothing to do with what Muhammad your assumed first Muslim taught, explained and demonstrated. This is a form of extremism accepted by Western civilization.
A first! I’ve never been accused of extremism before.
But the misinterpretation of the Qur’an is responsible for extremism among the followers of Muhammad. They cannot be accused of that and you escape that. If the West want arrest extremism, the influence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban then the actual and accepted translation of the Qur’an must be accepted by the west and to challenge those of his followers distorting it. That is a better weapon in winning extremism. I am not accusing you in your person, but your knowledge. The West translates Jihad to mean a follower of Muhammad fighting and killing a follower of a prophet before Muhammad, while it means to strive hard to achieve a goal according to the command of the G-d of Abraham. […]
Sani, you seem to be entirely unacquainted with my work. May I suggest reading through this blog, and then reading http://www.TheFirstMuslim.com, before you comment again? You might even try reading ‘The First Muslim’ and ‘After the Prophet.’
The second I read the “not as a historian but as a cultural interpreter” bit, I thought — spot on. That’s Lesley’s gift.
Accusing Lesley of extremism itself is worst kind of extremism.
Lesley I understand your difficulty with absoluteness but religion is all about God and an imperfect God is beyond possibilities.
An imperfect being could be anything but God.
have a good day,
I just popped up your book, so happy, began searching bout it. I remember did listen your tedspeak, i admired n impressed your workin on qoran (never understood why they so laughing in ted about) but unfortunately forgot your cuz not to took note on you. Nevermind, i found u again and going to read carefully.
There are some conversation bout the being ‘first’.
the mentioned sentences,sorahs,saying that ‘you are the first who practice our words to your people’ . So not just say and wait another to practice our words. You must be the leader, first doer, live by our words. Not be as hodjas or teachers . (they say in eastern societies ‘do what the teacher say do not what the teacher do’ and that is dissingenious)
In islam or qoran, all the prophets have the same message but live in different times n places. So all the prophets got the islamic spirit or understanding. Matter of facts, all the humanbeing are capable of being understand that logic, being truely human BUT you can see if you look at Satan, knowing is not enough to do the right things. Satan knows the Allah, that is the main point. The important thing is ‘Will’. you ough to want to be a good person at the beginning and end of the day.
So qoran is the last book, mohammed is the last prophet. Allah Says everything via his lots of prophets before but evil didnt stop maybe wont stop, they use the words their advantages, killed the messenger etc.
i just wanted to add these comments, thanks for your works.
Lesley…when you submit you do not surrender control on the contrary you gain control.
Submission to Al-Mighty is lot different from all other submissions…you submit to One you become indifferent to all.
We must understand founding philosophy of Islam and all the Abrahimic religions…We are property of God and we returned unto Him this world is testing abode and its stay is temporary.
Had there be no Judgment Day, God would be guilty of all these inequalities and suffering in this world.
Those who thinks theres no God but they have to agree all these prophets whom they think are genius, had well protected the Justice of God.
Theres no good but justice and theres no crime but injustice.
I would rather follow a genius than idiot….in this world scientifically we are not sure of hereafter but then why take a chance about something we don’t know.
AJ — I’ll start thinking of you as Pascal! (Pascal’s wager: no loss if you’re wrong, big gain if you’re right. Trouble is, I can never figure out if he wrote it tongue-in-cheek or seriously).
Lesley…neither its tongue in cheek nor its serious.
I tried to get in the shoes of materialist.
Either things are concluded materially or spiritually…in case former is true then materialist gaining everything…if later is true then materialist should not be in loss….its all a business of gain n loss and who could be better business wo-man than materialist.
yea! ur right…and almighty allah says in the quran the sole purpose of our creation is to worship him!!…so y not give ourselves to the one who has created us and enjoy the eteral bliss he has promised us.
lesley i just hope u dont remain agnostic all ur life!! u need to accept the truth someday hopefully before ur time has come 🙂
ps: sorry for my bad english.
Shah — I appreciate your motivation, but you know, respect goes both ways. As the Quran says, to you your religion, to me mine. I remain firmly agnostic, with no expectation of eternal anything.
I listened to your short Tedx talks which intrigued me to your openness and neutrality and that is exactly the kind of openness and neutrality that I expected when I read your book The First Muslim.
The fact is the book is full of large volumes of bias. You make it very clear that this book was written by a Agnostic Jew. Agnostic is clear from your avoidance of all miracles or extraordinary happenings that happened to the Prophet, you question and dwell on the story of Bahira – how come he was named Bahira since he lived in the desert etc. and not about what is the story actually about?.
Your Jewish bias is very clear
– in the story of the Banu Quynaynah, largely accepted fact is that the muslim girl (which curiously becomes a beduin girl) was insulted; then you question how could she be wearing the veil? Rather than acknowledge that perhaps the younsters were indeed insulting her.
-You also try to prove that the punishment on Bani Qurayza was because they were Jewish and not because they broke the alliance. If the criteria for punishment was that then Bani Quynaynah/Nadir/Khaybar would not have been spared.
You are very terse in aspects where the Prophet showed incredible Mercy such as the episode of Khaybar and on the return journey from Khaybar also the conquest of Mecca where the expectation was there would be no mercy. Rather you dwell on Qurayza over and over again.
The reviewer is absolutely right you are not providing history or care about providing a neutral view, you are just interpreting things from your own understanding and bias. I expected better from you!
Interesting — re miracles, the Quran makes it very clear that no miracles are necessary.
I gather I have not written the book you would have written, and that what particularly irks you is the analysis of what happened with the Jewish tribes of Medina. How exactly this translates into “Jewish bias” is not clear to me. Especially since I nowhere argued that what happened to the Qurayza was “because they were Jewish.” — L.
Well, no one is asking to embellish on miracles. Just state the fact and move on, there is no need to explain miracles and pull a la Reza Aslan (in his book). People are smart enough to make their own judgements (after all we do witness the tevalangelists power of healing and toasts with image of Jesus).
In my opinion, you have not written a book you would have written. Your style in part 1 is very matter of fact and by the last part you are freely making assumptions and drawing conclusions about everything and anything (bacterial meningitis – really?)
The bias is very clear to anyone reading the last parts carefully, your emphasis on certain events and supression of others is very obvious.
I dont much relish the biography of the Prophet written by Karen Armstrong or you for that matter since both are wrapped in their own agenda (whatever that is for you).