The cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo leaves me speechless, in a good way. And in tears too. (And yes, it is indeed deeply Islamic in spirit.)
The cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo leaves me speechless, in a good way. And in tears too. (And yes, it is indeed deeply Islamic in spirit.)
I don’t believe in omens, though I confess I’m sometimes tempted to.
Like when I realized just three weeks ago that The First Muslim was being published on the day on which Muhammad’s birthday falls this year.* I wish I could say that this was the result of careful planning on my part, or on that of my publishers. In fact it’s either a wonderful coincidence, or…
You see what I mean about omens?
That was just about the time the first finished copy of the book arrived in the mail. Since it came straight from the printers, I didn’t recognize the return address, so wasn’t sure what was in the padded envelope until I opened it.
And went “Oh my God!”
I think I might have mentioned somewhere that the cover was elegantly understated. Perhaps even a tad overly under-stated. I do remember suggesting to the publishers that they increase the color values just a little – a slightly more saturated yellow as in the photo in the right-hand column, for instance. “We’ll see what we can do,” my editor said.
She didn’t get back to me on that, and I hadn’t expected her to. So I had no idea that the yellow had been transformed into gold! Thus the “oh my God,” repeated several more times as I traced the raised pattern of it with my fingers.
This had to be a special author’s copy, I thought. It’s been many years since publishers commemorated a book’s publication by ordering up such a one-off copy for the author (usually leather-bound, with gold leaf on the edges). It was a token of appreciation, and a lovely one, but they’d stopped doing it because of the expense. Now Penguin’s Riverhead Books imprint had clearly resuscitated the practice.
I called my editor immediately to thank her for ordering such a beautiful author’s copy, and then came the best surprise of all:
“Oh no,” she said, “this isn’t just for you. All the books are like that.”
So I’m still kind of amazed at the physical existence of my own book. Is this stunning production really the same creature as the innumerable drafts of much-scrawled-on typescript pages strewn around my study for years? It’s as though with publication it’s achieved a separate existence. Like a teenager leaving home, it will now make its way in the world on its own terms, an independent agent only tangentially related to me. All I can do is wish it well, cheer it on, defend it when it needs defense — and trust that others will agree that it lives up to the sheer elegance of its cover.
[*Re Muhammad’s birthday: the traditional Islamic date is the 12th of the month of Rabi al-Awwal, which falls this year on January 24. The Christian date changes each year since the Islamic calendar is lunar, which means that the Islamic year is eleven days shorter than the Christian one. To further complicate matters, the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal is the Sunni date; Shia celebrate the birthday, known as mawlid, five days later. And one more complication: not all Sunnis approve of the idea of celebrating the birthday. Observance of it is banned in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, for instance, whose dour Wahhabi version of Islam seems ever suspicious of joy and festivity.]
The book looks beautiful, Lesley – and I think these are GOOD omens!
Lesley- I couldnt wait to read this so I cheated and ordered in on Kindle…the gold looks unbelievably good! I cant wait to get my hands on the book itself!!!! Thank you!
Many congratulations, and i want to say about omens that you are a very lucky person that you write the biography of my beloved Prophet and it gets published on the date of Prophet’s birthday i want to congratulate you for this again and from deep of my hearts, I’m no authority yet as a believer I think your books got praise from heavens. I want to buy the first copy.
I love this story, and revel in your awe of your publication! Congratulations. Can’t wait to get my copy.
Thank you for sharing the exquisite beauty of your new book.
I saw the photo and read your comments including the significance of the Publication Date. To me, this was a good omen to purchase “The First Muslim” immediately, which I just did along with “After The Prophet”.
How exciting to be alive in these times that such writing is available to enlighten the general public!
Advance Kudos for all your effort to birth this book!
I had realised this coincidence a few weeks ago when I first saw your blog and saw the date of release as 24th. I thought you had timed it that way on purpose, but even if you haven’t I think this’accident’ is just one of the many signs of Allah endorsing your work and the amazing effort you put into all your books. I have just finished reading ‘After the Prophet’ for the second time and enjoyed it even more than the first. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
CONGRATULATIONS! Lesley, on the birth of this ‘baby’. The radiant ‘gold’ has the magical quality to it, peering from behind the green with such blazing energy and power. The first look sent shivers down my spine out of sheer excitement. It definitely looks much better than the yellow colour previously chosen. You must be so proud of your creation. May you enjoy the many-fold rewards each day as long as you live. May the success of this project give you the thrust to create more masterpieces.
Waiting impatiently to get this book in my hands!
This post brought tears to my eyes. I could ‘feel’ with you, on this issue. My people already know of me as a ‘Leslie addict’. I know I will I have to wait longer than the others to hold my own copy, until it reaches my destination in India. But having read the excerpts online, my enthusiasm is already whetted.
About omens…..it’s a feel good factor actually, but for such a momentous event everything is acceptable.
More luck to you,
I loved this post. It’s so encouraging to me that authors — some of them, anyway — are still touched and amazed that something they created becomes its own thing, takes on its own life. That even after publishing so many books, the joy and amazement are there, and at least this author is not trying to play it cool by submerging the expression of it all.
“It’s as though with publication it’s achieved a separate existence.” Because it HAS, don’t you see?
[…] anyone who loves books, I strongly recommend reading the original blog post in its entirety, on her blog, The Accidental […]
My dear Lesley.
I pray and hope that you will never be tired with my comments. In the first instance, Muhammad the last messenger never envisaged you to say something about him that is not correct. You are on your own to know and discern the truth and say it on his behalf. The other who believe in him will support you and give you any honor you want. No one knows the exact date of Muhammad except that his birth was related to the event in which the elephants of the Ethiopian king was destroyed. Muhammad never celebrated his birthday and no one among his family or his companions ever did that. I doubt if it was a custom of the Quraysh to celebrate birth days. This is one of the confusions in his followers[…]
Lesley, I’ve just started reading on my Kindle. Wonderful! Congratulations. I love my Kindle, but your blog makes me covetous of a hardcover…. I’m so glad they gave you a delicious cover.
Just got yr new book after reading AFTER THE PROPHET which I really loved and thought so well written! Yes, great cov for the new book for which I immediately placed the dj in a Bro-dart Mylar cov as I did with AFTER… dj which book I obtained in the STRAND bookstore here in NYC, second-hand but new. I got the NEW book at Union Square B&N ’cause I wished a new fresh copy and not a reviewer’s copy at the STRAND. Hope you’ll be presenting/reading in NYC some time soon. Great scholarship and great read! Thanks for all your effort!
I just reading my copy of your book now and here’s another omen. I started reading “The First Muslim” while I was in the middle of reading Thomas Moore’s “Dark Nights of the Soul. When I came across the term “dark night of the soul” in your book to describe Muhammad’s experience, I almost had goosebumps. It was as though your book was conversing with the other book to explain to me what a “dark night” is – a very rich learning experience with both books that is for sure!
Do you have a speaking schedule/tour for 2013? I would love to see you speak if you’re ever in the area!
Lovely synchronicity, Salama! Thanks for sharing.
Speaking schedule is still in formation, but I’ll post dates and locations as they firm up, if not here than at http://www.TheFirstMuslim.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Where are you located?
Excellent, I’ll keep checking the website. I’m in Cleveland, Ohio!
I became a great fan of yours since I heard you in TED lecture on ‘quran’ few years ago. Then I loved you so much I watched all of your youtube videos I could find and finally this week I saw your TED lecture on Muhammad, and I was convinced to buy your latest book the “First Muslim”.
But I am now reading your “After the Prophet book”. I lost my respect for you, because you wrote about Umm Al-Mu’menin Hazrat Ayesha RA :
“Al-Mubra’a, the Exonerated, Sunnis still call her, but
some Shia would use a different title for her, one that by no
coincidence rhymes with her name: Al-Fahisha, the Whore.”
I am very disappointed. Unless you disclose the source of this passage and prove that it’s not your attribution, you simply quoted a Shia materials, I’ll start blogging against you.
Check the end notes. The note for this says “This usage is discussed in Spelling, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past, and noted in Fischer, Iran: from religious dispute to revolution.” Both books are, of course, included in the Bibliography.
I waited for the book to arrive because I was sure of it being a good read from the Ted talk I had heard which was the reason I bought it in the first place.
I am still reading it for the last 3 weeks, slowly imbibing it’s message and marveling the language.
I can feel the considered sensitivity, the carefully chosen language and the experience of a psychological training in almost every phrase.
Objective analysis of decisions as taken by Mohammad SAWW is almost pure. Yet it is only human to diverge from it at times and sometimes I feel the bias has been allowed. For example in the detailed explanation of what is a munafiq and then to explicitly mention the paralytic situation at Hudabiya leaves room for the author to maybe take a deeper longer look at the concept in revision of it.
It has opened many avenues for those who read to think about some of the situations, Muslim or otherwise alike.
On the whole I have enjoyed the text,material,explanations, and the sensitive effort by the author.
Thank you for writing this.
Thanks for the kind words, Sobia — and for the generous acknowledgment that even where we differ in how we see things, we do so in good faith. — L.
That’s the fittest reply expected….
Despite the calumny of depiction, the spirit of its presentation should be into account. Muslims should salute this one….
How many people cried when these sick Taliban shot and burned 124 young students and teachers in Peshawar last month. I think our tears are also selective.
Some of us did cry for those students and teachers in Peshawar…and for the café manager and customer who were shot in Sydney…and again for the staff assassinated at Hebdo.
Some even cried harder when people stood up and said (in essence), ‘This stops now. We will not be cowed by the Taliban, or ISIS or anyone who would use their faith to destroy innocent lives.’
A strong Light.
Yesterday I found a video from you on the web about Islam.
I searched for other video’s.
I am impressed about your way of thinking.
it’s not your topic that attracted me but the way you see it, the way you aproche it, and how you phrase it.
I believe that all beings are part of the Light.
Th same Light who created the Big Bang, the same Light that created the first atoms in the belly of the stars, the same Light that made life as we know possible on earth.
As Light is our source, we are attracted by it.
As there are stars who radiate more light then other stars,
Some humans radiate more Light then others (as is above so is below)
And vary rarely there were and are and will be people who shine like a star (Mozes, Jesus, Mohamed, Boedha, Gandi, Marten l King,…)
Light can bring love, understanding, awareness,…
Light can ‘open’ eyes.
As written in the Bible, Jesus’ (Light) made a blindman ‘see’.
Ms. Hazleton, you are a strong Light. Keep on radiating.
Thanks to you people can perhabs see better, further, wider, deeper,…
Ps. Love your idea of ‘doubt’
I can only say Thank you…
No religion preaches violence. It is the misguided elements who bring a bad name and reputation to their respective religions, due to their misunderstood beliefs!
This comment appears to have been dropped by WordPress — I have no idea why, but it happens, as it does on Facebook — but the writer emailed me about it, so am taking the liberty of printing it here together with my reply:
Did you read the comment in Time magazine saying that the
“Editor-in-chief Gérard Biard, who made their intent clear on a French radio program saying: “It is we who forgive, not Muhammad,” referring to the speculation by some that the cover was a message about the paper being forgiven for publishing an image of the Prophet, an act that many Islamic leaders deem sacrilegious.”
It was quite a misleading cover, and could harbour unwarranted repercussions. Hope sanity prevails on both sides.
That’s the thing with art, high or (as in this case) low — the viewer reads into it, and it is (as are words) always open to multiple readings. Perhaps we each choose the reading we want.
And there are so many ways of reading.
I never thought the cover meant that the editors were saying that Muhammad was forgiving them — rather that first, forgiveness was central to Islam, and second, that they forgave. How sincere this was on their part is of course another question. But since I believe it to be true that Muhammad would indeed be in tears at all this, I went with that first meaning.
There are other levels of meaning I can think of. One that occurred to me was that the surviving cartoonists, being a left-wing intellectual crowd despite their affinity for the childishly grotesque, were thinking of the last line of The Myth of Sisyphus (by that French Algerian, Camus) — “Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux” — and from there arrived at “Mahomet malheureux.”
Professor Hazleton, I have been visiting your blog on and off, but I just want to thank you. I was a little ashamed when I saw your video ‘on reading the quran’ because you appeared to experience the book in a manner that I (as a muslim) had not done. I also read your biography of the prophet (pbuh) in a single day, because it give me a more meaningful connection with his personality.
I also share your idea of doubt, because I read somewhere (i think in the works of Rumi) that doubt and faith are like two wings that keep the bird in the air and if either one is missing, the bird cannot fly.
Keeping that in mind, Im not sure if youve heard of the man, but you would find great pleasure in reading books my Imam Al-Ghazzali. He was one of the giants of Islam and his influence on christianity is also tremendous. He also chose the ways of skepticism and doubt. Im sure you would find great pleasure in reading the following books:
1) Deliverance from error
2) Niche for lights
Lastly. Keep up the good work 🙂
Thank you. I met a dear friend at a coffee shop the other day. I was carrying a novel by Ali Smith; she was carrying al-Ghazzali. We had a wonderful conversation about the difference between artificial light and natural light.
mrs hazleten ı am a medical student and ı read your books and watch your videos . ı dont know how should ı say but did you heard anythıng about asa-ı musa book from risaleinur collection.ALso in there there is something about agnostizm .ı thınk thıs is valuable to think in a different side.ı know ıt ıs not my business but just a suggestion and ıam thinking for a months about it
Thank you. I’m currently working on the last chapter of an agnostic manifesto, to be published in early 2016.
Hello Prof Hazleton,
I don’t know from where to start. I can’t speak on behalf of the Muslim population here in Pakistan but I’m sure there are quite a number who will agree with me.
As Wahab said, faith and doubt goes hand in hand with each other. And yes, I do have doubts. And by searching for answers, it leads me to faith, closer with every search.
Your book, The First Muslim, opened a sacred door inside me. Before reading this, to be honest, I really didn’t knew Muhammad. Here, in our textbooks and our grandmothers` stories, Muhammad is being pictured as an Angel rather than a human. So we cannot relate to him like we do with another fellow human. We couldn’t feel his pain, neither we could see the essence of his life as a man, prophet and a leader. But thanks to your words, I finally met him, as a human above all. 🙂
I am humbled, privileged, and grateful. Thank you.
Dear Professor Hazleton,
I have only recently come across your work, and have just ordered your two books (The First Muslim and After the Prophet). As a British born Muslim, I initially retreated from Islam in my youth, and engaged with eastern enlightenment teachings and meditation. I’m now circling back to Islam to review my inherited religion and integrate the different paths of understanding and experience that I’ve now accumulated.
I am curious to know whether you have explored/engaged with any thinkers that take an ‘integral’ perspective on religion/spirituality. I’m thinking of the likes of integral philosopher, Ken Wilber and Steve McIntosh? McIntosh recently published a paper, entitled “Fostering Evolution in Islamic Culture.”
I am looking forward to diving into your books.
Thanks, Aterah — will check them out. — L.