Who is the AT?

The Accidental Theologist

I never meant for this to happen.  I’m a psychologist by training, a Middle East reporter by experience, an agnostic fascinated by the vast and often terrifying arena in which politics and religion intersect.   And as a result, an accidental theologist.
Perhaps the thirteen years I lived and worked in Jerusalem have a lot to do with it — a city where politics and religion are at their most incendiary.  Or my childhood as the only Jew in a Catholic convent school, which somehow left me with a deep sense of mystery but no affinity for organized religion.    Or the fact that I’ve spent the past fifteen years writing on the roots of conflict in the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
What this means is that my life, like my head, is full of anomalies, a fact that both bemuses and intrigues me.  It makes things interesting.  Whether as agnostic, as psychologist, or as writer, I’m always asking questions — not to find “answers,” but to see where the questions lead.  Dead ends sometimes?  That’s fine.  New directions?  Interesting.  Great insights?  Over-ambitious.  A glimpse here and there?  Perfect.
So you’ll find none of the comfort of received opinion here. No claim to truth, let alone Truth (that capital T always makes me nervous).  None of that astounding confidence (aka hubris) that cloaks ignorance and prejudice.  The aim is to question, to explore, to keep my mind — and yours — open, raise some sparks, and see what happens.
Looking forward to the conversation — Lesley

Email: accidentaltheologist [at] gmail [dot] com

Comments policy:  see here.

HOME: Seattle — a houseboat, aka a floating home.
PROFESSION: Writer.
ACCENT: Mid-Atlantic (British if you’re American, American if you’re British).
EXPERTISE: Politics and religion, especially in the Middle East.
CITIZENSHIP: Dual: USA and UK.
POETS: T.S.Eliot, William Tyndale
PAINTERS: El Greco, Mark Rothko, Anselm Kiefer
HARDEST EARNED POSSESSION: Pilot’s license.

TED talks: here and here.

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266 Responses

  1. congratulations on this blog! looking forward to following your posts.

    • Hi Lesley,

      I’m a fan. Can’t wait for your book about Muhammad PBUH. Your TED talks very enlightening. I always wondered why the first word that came to the Prophet was Iqro — “to recite”.. and not “to read”. You help me to understand now that Qur’an was meant to be a poetry, not a prose — which require different way to appreciate and understand it.

      Thanks again, your insight really awakening.

      Wish you luck for the writing!

      • Thank you Leslie for your thoughtful and thought provoking posts and replies. ;
        I am facinated by reading the AT and by seeing your replies and comments. Do you accept invitations to be the keynote speaker?
        How should we go about contacting you to schedule and event?

        • Hind, thank you — In principle, yes, but am saying “rain check” to all further invitations to speak this year, since I have to finish the new book. If you’re interested in 2012, however, that’s very possible. My email is on the ‘Who is the AT’ page in anti-robot style (accidentaltheologist [at] gmail [dot] com).

    • I am so overwhelmed by your thoughts…. simply in awe…. Not only because i am a Muslim and i hear such logical and soul soothing feelings coming from someone, so charming.

      i am a Quran alone Muslim,, i see Islam only through Qur’an and by Allah, i am so happy to know you.

  2. Ahhhhhh. At last. An honest woman.
    Signed, A “regular” in the fray.

  3. Great website. It made me smile and say, YES!

  4. lovely, Leslie. I will pay attention and learn.

  5. Accidental or not, I have to wonder why you name yourself a Theologist if in fact you are equally interested – or more, if we count your books – in Goddesses!
    (Doesn´t matter: your writing is magnificent anyway.)

    • Maybe I’m a theologista! — Lesley

      • what u think about islam ? r u agree with words of quraan? if u agree with quraan then why r u following other religion ? if u r not agree with quraan, tell me why ?

      • I heard of you through a video on TED where you talk about the Koran. Thank you so much for that, for explaining that the Koran is flexible, explaining about the term Houri and Paradise.
        I so believe too that the aim is to ask questions, to explore and to keep an open mind. Many people have what you experience too, an uncomfortable feeling when coming upon the word Truth spelled by a capital T. But what if it is like a many facetted diamond, what if it is like it says in the Koran, that God is very subtle and so nobody, no human being, can know the full truth, encompass it, like we cannot encompass all the facets of a diamond all at once, because there are always some facets that are hidden from our view. What if human beings have the capacity, each and all, to discover Truth but maybe not all of its facets all at once? And that in the past we made the mistake to think that we could, or at least the learned, the clergy if you wish, could? What if we as humanity might leave our hubris and accept and embrace that we cannot as individuals encompass the whole of Truth, but each of us can encompass several facets of it, or at least one facet? Would we not then listen more eagerly to one another? Would we not then let go of some prejudices?

      • Hi Lesley with due respect to what you are, I would like to ask you when will the spirit of inquiry will get settle. I think it has to settle and it has to find a halt that would give a meaning to life. Don’t you think the quest of inquiry alone will not give peace in the inner mind but the answer to such inquiry will give meaning to life drive us to contribute, beyond inquiry, to the humanity as a whole.

        • Ah, Firdows, I hope the spirit of inquiry will never settle. And if I ever claim to have found either the meaning of life or inner peace, you hereby have license to call me one huge giant fraud.

      • Hi Lesley. Wonderful saying // I ever claim to have found either the meaning of life or inner peace, you hereby have license to call me one huge giant fraud.//. Your answer motivates me to question you further.

        I agree with you that losing the spirit of inquiry will end the rationality within human being.

        However the spirit of inquiry will not deny or abstain from reaching about the meaning of life though but it might change the assumed one meaning to another.

        In this sense can I assume the agnostic position of a holder of Spirit of Inquiry as a temporary halt in a journey of life rather than the settling itself in doubt forever?

        I would like to hear your say on this regard.

        • Firdows — I’ll start blogging again very soon and will take up both these comments of yours and respond in more depth. For now: since all of life is surely temporary, and a journey, I think I can say that I actually hope never to find certainty! I think I’d be a poor creature without doubt — that is, without thought, and questioning, and wrestling with issues and ideas. I don’t see this as “settling” into doubt — surely it’s certainty that one settles into. Let me never feel too settled! — L.

  6. All this — and a pilot too! Lordy how, I got to get to know you. Me? A sociologist by family tradition, an appreciator of all things human, an ignorant student of religion, a guy who belongs to every church on the planet and who sings in the choir with atheists too… atheists of all ilk, whose nuances are undiagnosed still. I’m a being to whom I want all adjectives to apply. Friends I make, enemies I hold dear, contradictions I call ‘truths,’ what’s ‘real’ to me is ‘the whole of what exists ever’ — including our thoughts. Accept, appreciate, understand, try to grow myself… that’s my work load, that’s my joy. Thank you for inviting me to step aboard your ship. I’ll look forward to some rocky times and to some smooth sailing with you. There is sense in being more than me.

    • Welcome, fellow lover of paradox (“contradictions I call truths”).
      “Accept, appreciate, understand” — ah, but it’s the “accept” part that’s hard
      for me.
      So here’s to rocky times and smooth sailing both. Life that was all smooth
      sailing would feel insufferably bland.

      • If you ‘accept’ the veil will be revealed!! You are almost there, just let go, and you will see Him.
        Please you have come such a long way!!

  7. Here’s to sturm und drang.

  8. Your site and your posts (and your pic) are intriguing, provoking, small c catholic, and brilliant. and your evolution as a theologist is only accidental in retrospect; from thinking about becoming a rabbi to writing about Mary, revealing Elijah’s role in Jezebel’s persecution (thereby making me unset his traditional place at the Seder), and explaining the Sunni-Shia split. Makes me wonder if it all began with getting the pilot’s license in order to check out whether there’s really a heaven up there.

  9. I very much appreciate the “analytical openness” in your writing regarding your life experiences and their apparent irony. Obviously you’re a complicated personality…

    “What this means is that my life, like my head, is full of anomalies, a fact that both bemuses and intrigues me. It makes things interesting. Whether as agnostic, as psychologist, or as writer, I’m always asking questions — not to find “answers,” but to see where the questions lead. ”

    After I read this I remembered what you said about being asked if you were happy.
    It’s about the journey isn’t it? admitting happiness is like saying “I’ve arrived” I agree! Somethings are just so much better left un-said!

    I love your writing style, how you convey your thoughts so simply!

    wishing you a pleasant journey, Jeff

  10. Scratch that last line…instead,

    I wish you an interesting journey!

  11. Was delighted to just stumble upon your blog. I read “Israeli Women” a zillion years ago, and think we may have a friend in common (Nomi Sharron?).

    I will add you to the list of blogs on my own site at http://midlifebatmitzvah.wordpress.com

    Best wishes,
    Ilana DeBare

    • Welcome, Ilana — good stumble! Accidental reconnections all part of the whole, and yes, Israelis still call me “that one” (as in “that one that wrote that book”), no matter how many books, moons, and countries ago.

  12. Lesley,

    What a breath of fresh air you are. Being an ex-evangelical, writing a book (Confessions of a Bible Thumper), and having lived with African Muslims for 7 years, I feel a kinship with you and your “accidental theology.” Would love to meet. I’m in Seattle too.

    Best,
    Michael Camp

  13. I was reading your review of “The 10th Parallel”, telling myself it was the best (intelligent, informative, concise and “writerly”) book review I have come across in a long time. Then….arriving at the end and discovering that you are an author – shoulda’ known! Soooooo, I discovered three treasures today – a book to add to the list, a wonderful blog, YOUR books to add to my list and another person who’s brain/heart finds paradoxical concepts perfectly acceptable. Umm, that’s 4. If I keep thinking about this the list is going to get longer ;-). Thanks a lot. If you ever have public events I’d love to know about them.

  14. Do you have a twitter account?

  15. Nice blog, as someone here says before well written.
    To be spread around friends and relatives. Trust the eye is now ok, can’t have you like Lord Nelson.
    all the best
    Rosy and Huw Price

  16. Great TED-x video, really enjoyed listening to you. Will look for your books in Dubai… Hope to find them here

  17. Procrastination + a few clicks here and there = The Accidental Theologist blog.

    I’ve enjoyed the snippets I’ve seen so far. Look forward to reading/watching more.

    Waiting to have 3 weeks going on 3 months to do a little enquiring myself…

    Regards,
    Safiyya.

  18. i wish there were more people like this Lady
    in this world,FOR BETTER UNDERSTANDING
    BETWEEN PEOPLE OF RACES,FAITH

  19. I was so happy to hear a reasoned voice giving such an insightful description to the Quran in these days of everyone afraid of their own shadows when it comes to the “Menace of Islam”.

    Looking forward to reading your blog regularly.

    Haqtalab

  20. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, this is the most unselfish thing to do to the human beings. to the wise this is the only thing to do.

  21. Enjoyed going through your blog; looking forward to reading your books now!!
    Hope to meet you in the future
    Wishing you all the best in your search

  22. I will be buying your books, thats for sure.

  23. Dear Lesley,
    I just viewed your talk on Koran on YouTube.
    Excellent perspective. We in the west need that
    clarity as it comes thru in your talk.
    Sincerely, Sultan.

  24. Dear Lesley,

    How refreshing it is to come across your subtle and good-humored reading of the Koran! We – meaning Here, There, and in between- are in need of such informed and sympathetic alternatives to ‘the highlighter version- favored by Muslim fundamentalists and Islamophobes, alike.’

    Briefly, I’m an Egyptian poet based in the US. As a token of my appreciation, I should like to share with you a copy of my latest book: “Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly Dancing.” Also situated at the intersection of culture & faith (as well as literature) I suspect that we both face the same direction: that is to say, testing the elasticity of our imagination & compassion.

    Thank you, for being out there, and I do hope to hear from you.

    Warmly,
    Yahia

    http://www.pw.org/content/yahia_lababidi

  25. I am curious about the ecological aspect of the Koran. You are talking about that in your TED speak. I am engaged in a project, where we use a story from 971 from Basra – The Case of the Animals vs Man before the King of Jinn – are you familiar with that? The project is a storytelling Olympiad trying to make companies aware of their obligations to this world.

    Interesting journey – I would like to wish you that as well.

  26. I know you love poems..Can you evaluate my below poem :
    THE GHOST OF GOLDA MEIR MAY COME OUT,
    OF THE GRAVE, HEARING THIS ESTIMATE,
    THIS NUMBER IN THE WORLD REPORT,
    ABOUT GAZA CITY ON HER HIGHEST BIRTH RATE.

    SLEEPLESS IN HER GRAVE LIES MEIR,
    ONE CHILD EACH SECOND AND THE COUNTLESS SONS
    BEING ADDED TO THE JIHAD’S HEIR
    AS CHILDREN DEFY THE ZIONIST GUNS [....]

    THE WORLD ALONG WITH THE JEWS SCREAMS…
    HERE IS A TERRORIST! ! ..A..THREAT TO PEACE! !
    THE MEDIA CHURNS OUT ITS REAMS
    SINGING TO THE SAME BEAT, JERKING ITS KNEES

  27. I ordered for your book through Amazon.com

  28. Dear Lesley Hazleton:
    When and Where will you be doing any public appearances? I would love to hear you speak in person.

  29. I appreciate that.. it is NOT an easy job!!
    Writing articles is difficult enough for me!!

  30. Every time that I think that I am beyond needing, (not necessarily not wanting), anything…. I come across persons such as your self that leave me inspired and in good spirits. Thanks for the great insights that you revealed during your talk on TED. I see now that persons such as yourself that have a worthwhile point of view in the forest and the ability to express said views are, and forever will be, an absolute necessity as I continue on.

  31. [...] one that was made considerable more bearable by playing TED talks in the background. This talk, by Lesley Hazelton on the Koran, really struck me. What first struck me was her voice; her deep, amazingly sonorous, [...]

  32. great ted talk. I think people in the comments section confuse islam with muslim or people with religion. anyway why no facebook page? :(

  33. Dear Lesley,

    Thanks

    Here is Your great ted talk. with Arabic subtitle.

    محاضرة ليزلى هازليتون عن قرأتها للقرآن الكريم مع ترجمة باللغة العربية

    http://www.youtube.com/user/keyvidplus#p/u/0/EDVXi513JTo

  34. Dear Lesley,

    I was impressed with your talk on TED. I respect your intelligence and experience. Therefore I would like to ask you this question: Can you please give up to 3 reasons of why you have not become a Muslim?

    • An agnostic: she who places her faith in inquiry, not belief.

      • My understanding is that Islamic faith does not prevent inquiry, in fact there is no “true” belief if not led by inquiry. If inquiry is satisfied in any field of life (e.g. science) then belief inevitably follows

  35. But the word ‘belief’ itself surely begs the question. What we know and what we believe are not the same. We need to believe only when we do not really know. And science, as I wrote in my post The Truth Problem, can also be a matter of belief rather than knowledge.

    • Thank you for replying. OK, so let me put the question to you in another way: Do you think (does your inquiry lead you to think) that the Quran is the word of man or the word of God?

      • Your question is about faith and belief, and you can only be utterly frustrated by an agnostic answer. You might, however, consider the source of the word ‘inspired’ — literally, breathed in.

  36. You are correct. I am frustrated by your agnostic answer :-) the reason is that I don’t fully understand it. I do “believe” that there is more to the human mind than purely knowledge. Ah..I am starting to get it now! However, how hard it is to really live without belief (in anything not just religion). In fact I think it is impossible. Do you really NOT believe in ANYTHING?

  37. No I didn’t mean that at all and apologies if my post was misunderstood. I was just expressing that I find the concept of not believing hard to grasp. I find it hard to grasp that someone would not ask him or herself the question whether the Quran is from God or written by man when reading it in the obviously thorough way that you did. It is probably due to my limited mind that I cannot comprehend this! As I said I respect your writings, hence I am interested in what you think

  38. Dear Lesley,

    This is just to say that I found your recent TED talk (and by linked discovery, this website!) deeply inspiring. I am 18 and have found it immensely difficult to express my strong feelings about religion and philosophy without ridicule for it’s lack of clarity or clear faith…

    One of the most exciting elements of your talk was the focus on the language of the Quran – the unique and untranslatable quality of such expression. Does this mean though, that this language is a barrier to the true meaning of the text? I would love with all my heart to be able to learn such a complex language (and hope I may be able to in my life) but it feels as if the ‘key’ to this language will always allude me.

    Clearly translation causes problems for how the messages of the holy books are conveyed in quote form, but do you think there is a deeper problem for someone trying to understand and appreciate these already abstracted ideas, if they have not (or cannot) delve fully into learning the language?

    Thank you so much for your blog and your work, I will be following it with much intrigue :)

    Kai

    • Good question. Let’s put it like this: language carries meaning. It carries culture. It resonates. So “lost in translation” isn’t just a phrase — it means that there is always some degree of loss when you translate from one language to another. A good translation of a work of literature, for example, is not the most literal word-for-word version, but one that has a feel for the original, for its rhythm and pattern and depth, and tries to find a way of conveying that in another language and culture. Or it may be something else altogether. The most interesting case I know of is the King James bible, which is a masterpiece in its own right, but is a very different creature both culturally and literally from the original Hebrew. That is, it’s William Tyndale’s idea of what a holy book should be — and thus still the Anglophone one today.

  39. To describe what I meant earlier in a better way, here are some verses by Imam Ali (pbuh). Unfortunately, it is so hard for me to translate them into English. I cannot possibly do them justice, which illustrates your point above about the language. You may have better translation resources than me! :-)

    العجز عن درك الإدراك إدراك
    والبحث عن سرّ ذات السرّ إشراك
    وفي سرائر همّات الورى همم
    عن دركها عجزت جنّ وأملاكُ

  40. Acknowledging ignorance as the beginning of knowledge?

    Any volunteers?

  41. I am very curious to know when “The First Muslim, a new look at the life of Muhammad.” will hit the stands? Where can I pre-order?
    Thanks.

  42. I found your site after watching your TED talk, that massive round of applause was greatly deserved!

    I’m 16 and live in UK, and through your site I just found out about the GYBO- thank you so much!

    Can I ask a question, and it’s going to sound pretty silly I guess, but what do you think is the best way to get my peers to look at things like GYBO and new ideas about religion without seeming… biased towards my own faith or even just pushy (most kids my age don’t really want to think about these things)???

    Thanks for your blog and all your hard work!

    • Noor, that’s not a silly question at all. It’s an excellent one, and I only wish I had an excellent answer to it. The indifference of others to issues that deeply concern you can make you feel very alone. The Gaza Youth Manifesto (http://accidentaltheologist.com/2011/01/02/gaza-youth-manifesto-fuck-them-all/) used a deliberately provocative first line in an attempt to break through that indifference, but it was still read only by those already interested.

      You’re right, you can’t force people to think or to pay attention; in fact often, the louder you yell, the less they’re likely to listen. What you can do, I think, is be true to yourself, and to speak up when the occasion arises rather than try to force the occasion. I can’t quite believe that I seem to be telling you to have patience; I know I had none when I was 16 (and am not sure I have that much more now). It’s a lousy answer, but for now — until you get to university and meet more like-minded people — it’s the only honest one I have.

      • Thanks for replying to me, and thanks for the sound advice! What you’ve said makes a lot of sense now that I think about it, and although, like you said, it’s frustrating, I reckon some patience will help.
        Thanks again, Noor.

        • Sound advice? Maybe. Easy? No. (I can only imagine your impatience at seeing that dread word ‘patience’…) So Noor, if you feel the need to erupt/persuade/bewail/protest/whatever and feel for whatever reason that you can’t do it where you are, feel free to do it here on the AT. — Lesley

  43. Dear Leslie:
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    You are a refreshing voice.
    I found you on TED, and look forward to reading your blog and works. Your talk on the Koran was wonderful.

  44. I came across your TED talk last week and love your blog! I’m an ex-theist and Arabic student in Seattle, and I’ve spent some time in the Middle East. I’d love to share a bottle of wine and talk about faith and politics if you have a chance!

  45. Dear Leslie

    Would only like to say one thing – I live in Cyprus so it is near the middle East, if you ever come to this part of the world, please do contact me would love to meet you. May have an interesting person for you to meet.

  46. Dear Leslie,

    I’m a Muslim, and if I were to divide my Quraanic life, there will be “me and the quran” before watching your talk on TED and “me and the quran” after watching.
    let me tell u a little about my indescribable feelings/thoughts, while listening to u:

    1.how different it is when I put myself in a non-Arabic speaking person’s place, the perspective is very different, actually outstanding and surprising.

    2.I used to be confused by the misconceptions spread about the quraan, I couldn’t even understand why those people can’t see it’s beauty and ponder it’s unprecedented perfection, only now I understand that translation could convey the meaning but cannot reflect the picture of the meaning.

    3.I translated your talk into Arabic because I wanted it to be spread amongst people I know, and while doing that I paused at the phrase “God is Subtle”
    which refers to the word “Khabeer” in Arabic, and went like “SHOCKED” at how heavy is the word “khabeer” and how many meanings it carries that the word subtle can convey only a tiny little part of what it really reflects in my mind.

    4.I felt deeply stupid, that I know Arabic, have the culture and Know how to “chant it out” and didn’t spend my whole life enjoying this treasure between my hands, that u needed 4 translations, transliteration and 3 months to read.

    5.after your talk I opened my book and started reading enjoying the sound, meaning and reflection of every letter, bearing in mind to ensure the idea that even though, It is subtle and implies much more than what I might get.

    Thanks for your talk, u can’t imagine how it affected me.

  47. Dear Leslie,

    I think u might find this a helpful website http://corpus.quran.com/ ….I hope It will help u understand the Quraan better.

  48. Salaam Leslie,
    I have seen your TED talk and liked it very much. I am from India.
    Since you are psychologist as well, have you worked on/planning to work on psychological impacts of Quranic revelations/laws?
    That would be great to hear from you as we Muslims think Quran does have this huge impact.

    World needs people of understanding like you to bridge the gaps. As a young person working for internet firm, I can say there is huge impact of social networking websites on younger generation (13-25 age group). Small information from you can impact large people for whom the next generation belongs. Hoping that similar bigotry and pre-judice does not pass on to them as we have now, steps like these would be very useful. :)

    Regards.

    • Thanks Karim — and by way of an answer: I suspect once a psychologist, always a psychologist. That is, my psychology background informs the way I see things, planned or not.

  49. Thanks for the nice speech. Its looks like you are looking for a apple tree which produces best apple in terms of sweetness & color in the whole world. You are giving your whole life in searching for that. Finally, you found it from the history & other people’s experience. But, you won’t feel real taste unless you taste it by yourself. I wish, soon you will feel that why I will believe only others feelings & experience though I have power & consciousness to taste in it, feel it & experience it before its too late.

  50. Dear Lesley,

    I very much enjoyed your TED speech and am amazed of the effort you put to understand the meaning of the Quran. Thank You.

    I must say though that I am surprised by the announced title of your next book “The First Muslim, a new look at the life of Muhammad”. Please understand (and I am sure you already do) that the general conception among Muslims is that Muhammad was not the creator of a new religion. He simply restored the original monotheistic faith of the preceding prophets. Thus the first muslim is Adam.

    Kind Regards

    • It’s a working title, but for now, let’s say he was the first Muslim with a capital M. He’s called the first Muslim in the Quran, and is instantly identifiable to non-Muslims as such.

  51. Dear Lesley I have arrived here after clicking on a TED vedeo of yours on facebook. You mentioned you will not be checking facebook much but i had already posted some ‘stuff.’ Part of that is in this link. I hope you read it and enjoy and tell me what you think.

    http://www.applyingislam.com/blogs/nabi/a-post-i-wrote-on-lesley-hazletons-facebook-wall-d

    -Nabi

  52. I, too, am here via yr TED talk, struck first by your unusually rich and embodied voice and then by your generous spirit and much-needed insight. We seem to have been born in the same year. I’m an agnostic Jew as well (thanks so much for your illuminating reflections on what seem to be agnosticism’s naturally numinous or spiritual aspect).

    I’ve noticed over the years that within and between our three “mainstream” Western religions, the most volatile tensions seem to occur between those who take their foundational texts literally, whether it’s the Torah, the Gospels or the Quran and those who view them metaphorically. Metaphor depends on imagination (a faculty that I have no trouble seeing as a possible meeting place of the “human” and the “divine”) and imagination supports empathy. Empathy is where compassion begins. I know that these words, “imagination,” “empathy,” “compassion,” can devolve into empty abstractions, but, when clothed in lived experience — story — they can connect us across apparently vast differences of religion, ethnicity or culture. Historically, there have been, in various eras, Christian mystics, Sufis and Hasidim who xstudied and prayed together. There are apocryphal accounts of the 18th century visionary tzaddik (something like a Jewish bodhisattva), Nakhman of Bratzlav, meeting with Muslims during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

    Thank you, Lesley, for making a safe and inclusive place of real inquiry. I’m buoyed by the many comments here that reflect a tolerance of difference and a willingness to not know *the* answer.

    “The word moves a bit of air and that bit of air moves another bit of air until it reaches the ear of the who hears and is awakened!”
    -Nakhman of Bratzlav in “The Last Yiddish Poet”
    a play by Traveling Jewish Theatre, (1980)

  53. Loved the video on your nine minute talk “On Reading the Koran)” (notice different spelling from Qur’an.
    I had not known of your books before and I am intrigued to read them.
    I wonder if you have investigated the life of Tahirih, (Arabic: طاهره‎ “The Pure One”) or Qurratu’l-`Ayn (Arabic: قرة العين‎ “Solace/Consolation of the Eyes”) – a Persian poet, a learned scholar of the Quran and the traditions, who was murdered in 1852, her body thrown down a well, for her radical beliefs and for removing her veil, proclaiming herself a free woman? She is historically the world’s first woman’s liberation heroine.
    Please let me know if you have written about her.
    Thank you.
    Maureen Page

  54. interesting.. I just put your TED video link in my FB page Madam,..I am an Indonesian skeptic muslim, well anyway.. according to G-d.. Faith requires Reason (IMHO) just read Sura 17:36 and sura 10:100

    your video is inspiring..

  55. I just read that array of comments of above….is it possible that you have convinced muslims to be muslims again…. if you catch my drift…

  56. Hi Lesley,

    In only came across your website as i was intrigued to hear more about you after watching your “refreshing” intake on the quran. As a muslim, you wont find many scholars in my community who can express such an insight in such a captivating light. As a result, your video was circulated quickly throughout the community. Your blogs have further intrigued me with your view on the world, and whether your notions and ‘revelations” are accidental or not.

    From an “accidental” reader

    Rana

  57. Lesley!
    A friend sent me a link to a Ted talk,
    I followed it, and suddenly saw your name!
    What a surprise, how are you?
    You have regards, or course, from Rafi
    and Roni & Ilana, all from TLV.
    Lehitraot
    Shlomo

  58. Your interests greatly mirror my own: I’m very interested in Islam, Christianity, and the Middle East. For a long time I’ve wanted to go into journalism or writing in some form. If you have any guidance for me at this early stage in my education and career (I’m a sophomore in college), I would be much appreciated.

    I write about similar issues of religion, politics, and culture on my own blog, Witness: http://www.jordandenari.com.

    Thank you for doing the work that needs to be done in terms of educating Westerners about Islam. As someone dedicated to that as well, I am always happy to find others who share in my passion and mission. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Jordan — hey, you’re well on your way. Best I can say is just keep on doing what you’re doing:
      Write. Inquire. And never be afraid to say you don’t know — that’s what leads you to find out!

      (PS: please give my best to Jonathan Brown there at Georgetown. He’s missed here in Seattle.)

  59. Hi Lesley Hazleton,

    I saw your talk on reading the quran,

    immediately after listening to you i realized, it took long years to me to get the same idea what you get in very less time..

    I really love you and believe that you already become a muslim (slave of Allah/God).if not then I pray to GOD to give you hidaya, Please please turn to your creator as you inspired many.

  60. I pray and hope u read the shahadah we need ppl like you,

  61. “Verily! You (O Muhammad SAW) guide not whom you like, but Allâh guides whom He wills. And He knows best those who are the guided.”
    [Quran Chapter 28: Verse 56]

    Allah revealed this verse of the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when he was in grief over Abu Talib’s refusal to accept Islam even when Muhammad (pbuh) offered him his ear so that Abu Talib may secretly whisper the Sahada in Prophet (pbuh) ear before he died.

    What an excellent Messenger was the Prophet (pbuh) and how close and dear was Abu Talib to him yet he died as a non-muslim.

    Because its does not matter whether you are Lesley Hazleton or some Prophet’s relative.

    Let’s raise the standards a little, whether you are American President’s relative or as a matter of fact American President himself.

    You are solely responsible for your destiny and you will be accounted and you will be reminded. You were made to seek God and serve God. Not the other way round.

    Say: “Death, from which you are fleeing, will certainly catch up with you. then you will be returned to the knower of the unseen and the visible and he will inform you about what you did.” [Quran Chapter 62: Verse 8]

    “Then whosoever wills, let him believe; and whosoever wills, let him disbelieve” [Quran Chapter 18: Verse 29]

    Love and Peace,
    Aamir.

    • @Mohammad: It is completely uncorroborated that Abu Talib died as a non-muslim. To be fair, there is a fair amount of islamic literature on Abu Talib being a Muslim. So, please do not rely on a one-sided Islamic history about Abu Talib. At best, it can safely be said that Abu Talib may have died a Muslim.

  62. P.S: If the name of your new book is “The First Muslim, A new look at the life of Muhammad(pbuh)”

    Then I’m sorry to say but your book is wrong from its very cover. Its not my opinion its a fact.

    • Salaamu’Alaikum Muhammad. Your comments on here saddened me and also made me laugh. You are a bit harsh on Lesley accusing her of a grave sin but at the same time you bid her love and peace. In Islam we are taught that anyone who we deem of acquiring a grave sin does not deserve our love or peace, but you where contradicting your message. As you bid her love and peace, with love and peace you should have explained your views, not with such harshness.

      What do you expect of Lesley? That she should become muslim? Or that she would write a book as if she is a muslim? Well her being muslim or not has nothing to do w/ you or me but rather a personal relationship between her and her Creator. [...]

      Regarding her book. She is entitled to her opinion. [....] The Islam that most recognize is the formal complete phase of God’s monotheism we know started some 1400 years ago. And in this sense Lesley would not even err calling Muhammad (pbuh) the first muslim of the final phase of monotheism.

      I hope that clears some misunderstandings. Again it all comes down to what opinion Lesley is entitled to. She is not claiming to be muslim and write on behalf of muslims but rather what she has learned in her studies of Islam. I think at the least it is noble so long as she is respectful, which appears that she is.

      -Thanks

      • – @ Rabia Khan: My opinions regarding Life, Death, Good ,Bad and Muhammad (pbuh) and God are parallel with the Holy Quran. Which I believe to be the word of God and its fine with me if other don’t think so. Everybody is free to form their opinion, have their own belief, their own faith, their own philosophy, their own religion. “There is no compulsion in religion; truth stands alone from error.” [Quran Chapter 2: Verse 256].

        — @ Nabi: Walaikum as salaam. I do admire Lesley actually I can’t help but admire Lesley but I can’t let my admiration taint my opinion. Hence:

        1. I want her to know that at the END of day it doesn’t matter what I or you or all Muslims or the whole world thinks about her work. She is like Abu Talib: every Muslim loves him [....] and the story of Islam is incomplete without him, yet what is his Fate? [..... Salvation] is if you ask God for forgiveness, not Jesus(pbuh) or Muhammad (pbuh) or a Blue color Man with several hands with a flute in his mouth. Neither will being an Agnostic help you!

        2. I can write anything and get away with it. One or two people might read it then forget it. But Lesley is a writer with an audience which includes not only Non-Muslims but many Muslims as well. And the problem is, most of her readers will read ONLY her opinion and research. [....] So the Title “First Muslim” is very misleading [since] ‘Muslim’ is an Arabic word used for a person who submits his will to God and acquires peace [and many Muslims thus consider Adam to be the first Muslim].

        In short Lesley’s opinion matters so I expect her to do justice to Muhammad’s (pbuh) message by not calling him the 1st Muslim. Please pardon any/many errors. Again Love, Peace and lots of best wishes to Lesley.
        Aamir.

  63. “……and how close and dear was Abu Talib to him yet he died as a non-muslim”
    Brother, you have quoted Quran to convey what you call as a ‘fact’ but it seems to be your own rigid ‘opinion’.
    And
    ” …your book is wrong from its very cover. Its not my opinion its a fact.” It would make sense if you write this comment after reading the book.
    Looking forward to reading Lasley’s comment on it.

    • Mohammad, Nabi, Rabia — thank you all, and in response, Rabia, here goes:

      I agree with Nabi that part of the problem here is one of tone, but Mohammad’s objection to the title also requires a bit more explanation from me.

      Clearly, Mohammad, you speak as a deeply believing Muslim, and from a conservative viewpoint. Where you focus on the letter of the Quran, I focus, as Nabi notes, on the spirit of it. As a consequence, we would be having a similar difference of opinion (note: opinion, not fact — in my opinion, at least!) if you were an orthodox Jew or a fundamentalist Christian and we were talking about the Bible (perhaps see other posts on this blog, like ‘Believing in Peace,’ ‘An Agnostic Manifesto,’ and ‘The 100th Post’ for why). You believe in Truth and Error, while I explore the vast world in between those two poles. For you it’s “simple”; for me, immensely complex.

      That said, your point about the title of the new book, ‘The First Muslim,’ is well taken. In fact many Muslims have pointed out the same problem with it, if in somewhat gentler tones.

      It’s a working title — i.e. not set in stone — chosen because it instantly identifies Muhammad for non-Muslim readers. But since many Muslims identify either Adam or Abraham as the first Muslim (in fact in English we should make that ‘muslim’ with a lower-case ‘m,’ to distinguish it from the Muslim religion — a difference well described by Nabi), I am indeed thinking about an alternative title. First things first, though — the book needs to be finished, and that will take the rest of this year.
      ———–
      (And a quick P.S. — Though I appreciate the intent of the comparisons with Abu Talib and Barack Obama (that is, presumably, his father), please, some sense of proportion here, Mohammad — hey, this is just me.)

      • Thanks Lesley. Although I find myself in the same spiritual position as Muhammad (the commenter), I try to stay focused the context of the action. The title of the book works for me for two reason, one you are not stating it as a spiritual fact and second you are not stating it as a muslim. Therefore you can say anything you want respectfully, as required by us the same.

        An example, you obviously say (believe) Muhammad (saw) was not a prophet but it would not (and should not) irk us. For any aspect of religion we peacefully disagree on, we merely part just as peacefully with ‘lakum keenakum walyadeen’ – To me my religion to you your religion. Also the knowledge of Muhammad (pbuh) being a prophet is a taught knowledge and not an innate knowledge like the sense that God exists or that to know the difference between right and wrong.

        Its like we should hound on every non-Muslim 24/7 for not believing in Islam because they directly or indirectly state false things about Islam. That just will not get us anywhere. Another good example is when westerners define Islam as a religion ‘founded by Muhammad (pbuh).’ That too is in the same boat as the identity of the first muslim, wouldn’t you think?

        • Nabi — good question, and I can imagine the gently ironic smile behind it. Both Muhammad as the first Muslim and the idea of him ‘founding’ Islam are a kind of non-Muslim shorthand, the question then being the one raised by Mohammed Aamir: do I use that shorthand? Something for me to muse on.

          By the way, I have no problem with the idea of Muhammad as a prophet. What I’m trying to do is get closer to who he was rather than what he was.

      • Yea distinguishing between who and what anyone is would be a task, specially defining what ‘who’ and ‘what’ means as a persons attribute. But I see your point because what he was is what seems to be in peoples mind, his status. Where muslims say HE WAS a prophet and non muslims disagree. Whereas ‘who’ he was could be more like what he believed in and achieved which everyone could agree on.

  64. Lesley. Thanks for your level perspective. And studied patience.

  65. Understood. Meant that with peaceful and kind regard.

  66. First of all I want to apologize to Lesley for the tone of my comment. You deserve my respect from all aspects. More than anything because you are my elder. I’m sincerely sorry for sounding rude but my only purpose was to be frank.

    You wrote: “Abu Talib and Barack Obama (that is, presumably, his father).” By what I understand you are supposing Abu Talib to be Muhammad’s (pbuh) father which would be quite amusing because you have already written a book on Muslim history. Anyway.

    Abu Talib was Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) Uncle (his father’s brother) and father of Ali (ra). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) father’s name was “Abdullah” who passed away before his birth. Abu Talib took guardianship of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) when he was 8 years old.

    However may I know why you decided to write about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)?

    • Apology accepted, but oh my, we have misunderstandings piling up here. My father reference was to Barack Obama’s father, of course, since you brought him up. And I’m astonished you’d assume that I don’t know who Abu Talib was. As for why I’m writing the book, I’m equally astonished you’d ask. Hopefully, the book will make it clear. And now I have to get back to working on it.

  67. Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements. And don’ t forget your sunscreen.

  68. BTW, I’m loving the discussion above. Well argued from different viewpoints. And of course it’s complicated because you have two very, very different audiences for your forthcoming book (as you well know): the muslim community, and the non-muslim community–one very knowledgeable about the religion, the other incredibly ignorant (in the authentic sense of the word). I know it was my ideal in Ayat Jamilah, Beautiful Signs, my book on Islam for “children and parents” to make a book that would appeal to each audience. All I can say is that it is sooooo much easier when it comes to stories for children! I wrote it with a muslim, Dr. Freda Crane, the children’s book reviewer for ISNA, so that we could always bridge that divide. I look forward to more discussion. Thanks

  69. Lesley, a topic that will come up, if it has not yet. How will you tackle the place of the Hadith (Muhammad’s [pbuh] actions and sayings) in your studies and resulting book? I am sure you are aware of the ever presence and authority of the hadith in Islamic life. The blog/study on the Quran I am planning to do is intended to only have the Quranic text but I cannot figure out how I can avoid quoting from the Hadith w/o seeming to underestimate the importance of the hadith.

    • I’m working primarily from earlier sources, which of course do include material that was later included in hadith collections. But clearly, am writing as an outsider, using my experience in Middle East studies, history, psychology, political science, and comparative religion to decide where to focus. — L.

      • Good deal Lesley. Nothing wrong as an outsider (or insider) to see what message the Quran on its own gives.

        One thing I thought of as we talk about this topic is that most people don’t know that a unique difference between Islamic text and that of biblical text is Islamic text clearly and deliberately keep the words of God (Quran) and those of the prophet (Hadith) and even later scholars (opinions and religious rulings) in 3 different collections. This would make it much clear for anyone to know what is claimed to be divine, what is by a prophet and what was scholars said post prophetic period.

        That is something for other readers on this blog to keep in mind just incase they where unfamiliar w/ the nature of monotheistic doctrines.

  70. Hi Lesley
    I am glad to join your fan club.
    You have given some religious dimensions to Agnosticism, I think a new word may be invented to fit your persona since we know Einstein as last well known Agnostic.
    I learn to know you through a mail sent by friend.
    What interest me is your quest for curiosity and your fear of fulfillment…..curiosity is your life…what’s left in life when we are no longer curious?
    Known Universe is huge…one may die with bewilderment.
    I respect your new research on Quran.
    I am sending you an excerpt from 2:124 By Ayatullah(Grand) Tabatabai from his exeges Tafsir Al Mizan. If Tabari has inspired you then Tabatabai will spin your heart. [....]

    Thanks, I feel lucky to be talking to you
    Aijaz

  71. I see someone questioning the faith of Abu Talib because allegedly he did not recite verbal pledge required to become Muslim. The first Hadith of Bukhari is “Actions are dependent or reflective of intentions.” [....]

    The status of Abu Talib in Islam was the same as that of “Mumin min ali Firawn” (a believer from among the people of Firawn) mentioned in verses 28 to 45 of al Mumin who had concealed his faith to protect Musa – an instructive parallelism between Muhunmad and Musa. The enemies of Ali fabricated false traditions to give the impression that his father had not embraced Islam [....].

    • To shed a bit of light for non-Muslims wondering what this is all about: there’s a very wide range of deeply held opinion within Islam, and you’re seeing some of that range right here. — Lesley

      • Lesley you are right and thanks for your comments.
        Islam is rich with deeply held opinions and its diversity.
        Some narrow minded find it hard to digest, Lesley writes in favor of something and not believe in its import…unfortunately this is also one of the deeply held opinion but miserable and root cause of all the problems

  72. Salaam, Shalom, And May God’s Blessings be on you,

    I have gone through your posts and and love them. Searching for the truth. I too searched for it in spite of being born in Pakistan and when I found Islam “again” the perception was totally different.
    Today I am writing on a sadly different subject. One of your blog topics mentioned Bahrain. Bahrain is not Egypt, nor Tunis, nor Libya. People here are not hungry and the Government is not ignorant.
    The Shias here do not want democracy. They have used democracy to rouse the West. They , if they are in Government will do one thing, join Iran. And if they join Iran, the local Sunni population knows the consequences. [....] I request you not to mention Bahrain in the same line as Egypt and Tunis.
    Today Shias attacked peaceful local Sunni Female and male students and destroyed the University campus, where by the way, they are in majority.
    Unfortunately, the Shias do not want equality, they want dominance. In democracy and in Islam, everybody is equal.
    The Shias in Bahrain already discriminate where they hold power, for e.g. in the Ministry of Batelco( telecommunications), in ministries of Electricity and Water. In Salmaniya Hospital, Sunni patients, doctors especially non local Sunnis are discriminated against, even in their treatment.
    I am sorry that my introduction to you website was on this subject, Otherwise I too once searched for the Truth.

    Wasallaam

    • @Musaafir: Glad to see someone who actually knows the reality.

      @Aijaz: The name is Mohammad Aamir Jamal. Thats it. Thats all you deserve to know from me. [....]

      • Mohammed, Musaafir, Aijaz —

        Cool it, guys. This is a place to go beyond the “us” and “you” thing.

      • @Amir
        What religion do you follow
        Sunni also believe in Imam Mehdi
        Who will be nothing but son of Fatima and Ali.
        Unfortunately no such respite is in store for son of Mauwiah and Abu Sufiyan and Hindah

    • What Musafir is saying if true then bad.
      But apparently he is slandering.
      Slandering has no place in rational dialogue.
      A person can not be bad because
      He is shia,sunni,jew, christian,Hindu etc etc though people are bad in every religion and race.

  73. @Aamir Jamal, brother what an intolerant ‘Muslim’ you have proved to be; who wants a non-Muslim to become a Muslim but who can not tolerate what other Muslim’s believe?
    I wonder if Lasely accept your invitation to become a Muslim; would you be happy if she become a shia Muslim? well I am not sure….

  74. Just read your piece on “anti-semitism = islamophobia”. I appreciate the sentiment but c’mon, Lesley, really? From a person who deems her area of ‘EXPERTISE’ to be “politics and religion, especially in the middle east”, I would expect some intellectual honesty. I don’t see how anyone with a thorough understanding of Judeo-Christian values, teachings and practices, and an equally thorough grasp on Islamic teachings, values and practices, could begin to draw such a comparison. Do you truly understand the goals, objectives and plans of political-Islam for the Western world? More importantly, are you aware of the advancements & and progress thus far:
    ¤ in every level of our government offices
    ¤ homeland security departments
    ¤ law enforcement agencies
    ¤ legal syystems
    ¤ academia

    Are you aware of the teachings in madrassah and many mosques, not according to the ‘mouthpieces’ who are allowed to paint a rosey picture, thanks to our ever so accommodating media, but according to extensively well-documented actual teachings? There are endless reports and evidence from:
    ¤ investigators & authors with extensive backgrounds in security and intelligence
    ¤ various law enforcement agencies
    ¤ moderate Muslims
    ¤ former Muslims

    I have a Muslim friends from Morrocco and Ethiopia who won’t even attend Seattle mosques anymore because of the “hateful”, “bigoted” teachings [....] Are these particular mosques representative of all Seattle mosques? Of course not but they are representative of a disturbing number (and growing) across the country. Many Imams and highly-revered clerics make no bones about their agenda, in their books, on their websites and in their mosques.

    Have you met Nonie Darwish? Wafa Sultan?

    • Yup, it’s all a plot to take over the world — damn, I thought it was us Jews who were plotting to do that — and I’ve been totally deceived by all those decoy peaceful Muslims. So has The Onion:

      • Hi Lesley
        Thanks for the prompt reply. Regardless of what you think of Sultan’s message… whether you thing she’s a wacky conspiracy theorist or a liar or, everyone’s favorite term, “islamophobe”… how is it that she deserves death threats? And if there was nothing to her message, why would there be death threats?

        Why are her experiences, having grown up Muslim in Syria, any less real or valid than those experiences of any other Muslim anywhere?

        What about the experiences of my Ethiopian and Morroccon Muslim friends? Are they also “delusional”? “Dishonest”? “Islamophobic”? “Invalid”?

        • Who said her experience is invalid? The name-calling is yours, not mine. The problem here is violent fundamentalism, whatever its rationale — Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or any other.

          It might help if you actually looked at that 50-minute video http://accidentaltheologist.com/2011/03/12/the-50-minute-video/ then clicked on ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘ugliness’ in the ‘cloud’ on the upper right-hand corner of the blog and read through those posts too. Fundamentalism is the curse we all have to struggle against, whether we’re religious or secular or anywhere in between.

      • Whoah… I haven’t done any name-calling. The terms I used are terms I hear/see parrot’d quite frequently, hence the quotation marks.

        Your seemingly sarcastic reply, presented along with the video of Wafa Sultan, certainly suggested, to me, that you might dismiss her concerns and experiences as invalid.

        And yes, I understand full well the problem of violent fundamentalism. I have read a bzillion books, watched countless debates, speeches, etc… with varying perspectives and views. It is my observation that, collectively, there is concentrated effort to discredit, defame and bash anyone who dares to speak of violent fundamentalism within Islam. Such authors, scholars and just people-with-personal stories are accused of bigotry toward all Muslims [.....]

        There seems to be a nonwritten rule-of-etiquette that it is acceptable to speak critically of any ideology/religion except Islam. [....] So many people say they want open, honest dialogue but their actions and words indicate they only want “open dialogue” when it is in agreement with their own views and observations. I see this in books, articles, debates, interviews… all over the media… and up-close-n-personal in real life, including among my many co-workers.
        I think you would enjoy interviewing my aforementioned Ethiopian Muslim friend.

        • A bzillion books? You’re way ahead of me. But if you won’t give me the courtesy of reading what I write, as I suggested, let alone checking out that video (did you really think that was Wafa Sultan?), then why should I give you the courtesy of a reply?

      • Yes, a bzillion books and a bzillion more on my list of books to read.

        Yes, I did think that was Wafa Sultan. Clearly, I didn’t watch the video. I saw the short, dark hair along your quip of a relply… and just assumed it was her. I didn’t even look at her face until your latest quip.

        However, I have been trying to watch your video. My service/connectivity is slow today and it keeps freezing up on me. I’ve restarted it 3 times and intend to try again. I’ve also read some of the discussion and will finish that, as well. I’m not sure why you assumed that I would not.

        I’ll stop posting here if you like. I gathered from your intro that varying views, experiences and questions are welcome. Perhaps I misunderstood that too, in addition to having mistaken an image of a woman for Wafa S.

        • I have a secret for you, Angie. You know that infiltration of Muslims “in every level of our government offices, homeland security departments, law enforcement agencies, legal systems, and academia” that you bullet-listed in your first comment? Don’t tell anyone, but Jews have already infiltrated all those and more. All the way to the top. Including even this blog.

          Next thing you know, Christians will start doing it too…

      • so, ….I could be mistaken for a decoy?
        by anybody in the street?

        What’s the difference of this sexy lady with Al-Queda?
        I am very happy and greatful that majority of the people in the world are more sane than this honey bunch.

        Why is it called onion news?
        smell of it?

        I love onion by the way.
        I eat them raw or fried, …

  75. Edit: sorry, I accidently posted before I was finished. I was trying to say (toward the end of my loooong post) that I don’t understand why so many “liberals” and “conservatives” alike are so quick to buy into the whitewashed version of theo-political-Islam, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence which is available to anyone who is willing to read (with their eyes open).

    Nonie Darwish and Wafa Sultan are not rebels without a cause. Their personal stories are not isolated, rare instances. They just happen to tell their stories well, and are courageous enough to do so. They each have had ‘fatwas’ issued calling for their deaths… as do many expose’ authors. Is that not very telling, in and of itself???? A colleague/friend of Wafa Sultan’s was murdered in Arizona for daring to tell the truth, as have many others been silenced in the same brutal fassion. Is that not telling??? Do not such threats and efforts to silence all the expose’ authors suggest that they are actually exposing things? Things that somebody doesn’t want exposed?? Good flippin’ grief! When is the West going to wake-the-heck up?? You can’t make this stuff up.

    Thank you for listening

    • Angie, your subsequent comments later today went so far into Fox News loon-land that I’ve removed them.

      Fundamentalist religion does an incredible of damage, to believers as well as to nonbelievers — a subject I’ll address more as time goes on. But not by ranting.

      • Alright, Ms. Open-mindedness
        I won’t bother you again. Its clear that I’m not welcome here. And frankly, I don’t want to be here. I’ve had enough of the rudeness. It is clear that there is no interest in open, honest discussion. Valid questions are greeted with contempt, mockery, sarcasm and ad hominem attacks. I return a little sarcasm in one post: deleted. I ask sincere, probing questions in another: evaded and deleted.

        So, if your goal was to get rid of me, congrats. But first….

        “Fox News loon-land” ?? First of all, there wasn’t a single statement in my post that isn’t supported by tons of conclusive evidence and, in some cases, irrefutable proof. There wasn’t a single question that didn’t warrant an answer.

        And UNLIKE “FOX News”, I don’t sweep the truth under the rug. Most Fox pundits avoid the topic of political-Islam and Islamic supremacy like the plague, for fear of being deemed “Islamophobic”. They give a little lip-service to the topic, because of viewer demand… and you know, they must appear “fair & balanced”. In most debates, such as CAIR Rep -VS- Famous “Islamophobe”, Fox gives more face-time (and the last word) to the CAIR Rep. Are there exceptions? Sure, but overall they are walking on eggshells and sucking up to CAIR, especially certain pundits. [....]

        Thanks for your hospitality and “open, honest ” dicussion. Its been very enlightening. I’ll be sure to share it with the friend, I’d mentioned.

  76. Angie Estrada:

    1. The word ‘Muslim’ means ‘one who acquires peace by submitting his will to God’.

    2. A Muslim name and country doesn’t necessarily makes somebody a Muslim.

    3. Don’t judge1/5 of humanity simply by the experiences of the few unfortunate.

    4. Judge Islam by its best follower, whom all the Muslims are commanded to follower. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

    5. Wait till 2012 and even Lezley will come out with a book on Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

    Peace for Angie.
    Love for Lesley.

    • Thank you sir

      I know what Muslim means. And, in no way, at any place or time, have I suggested that all Muslims are alike. No way, have I tried to hold any one person, or any group of people accountable for the actions of others. Muslim or not.

      I have never been so dense to ever believe that all people from any given group are alike. If you read that in any post, you misread. Don’t read between the lines. There are no hidden messages.

      And clearly, I am misrepresented in one of Lesley’s posts as having made a blanket statement about “Muslims”. Honest mistake or intentional dishonesty? I have no idea.

      However, she deleted my reply, wherein I had defended myself. Apparently, returning sarcasm, and asking questions about actual events is unwelcome and deems me a “loony tune” “islamophobe”.

  77. @ Angie Estrada: Ok. I read in one of your post the few Masjids in US or anywhere else preach hatred against Non-Muslims and you have Ex-Muslim friends as proves.

    If you can post whatever your friends say I’ll be very glad to clarify you doubts or whatsoever.

    And don’t about your post been deleted, even my post got deleted and I dun knw why but its her blog and she has all right to do so.

    • Actually, Mohammed, second-hand anecdotes from an angrily prejudiced source are not welcome. But if Angie’s friends would like to speak for themselves, they will be very welcome.

    • Mohammad
      My friends are not “Ex-Muslim. They are Muslim. Life-long Muslims.

      Where did you get the idea that I would assume a person’s faith based on his name and country? I know my friends are Muslim because they openly share that information. The only reason I mentioned their countries, is that they offer interesting perspectives from their experiences, having been born & raised Muslim in their respective countries… and their more recent experiences as Muslims living here, in my area.

      And thank you. I appreciate the offer but I don’t see how you could possibly clarify anything my friends had shared with me. They are perfectly capable of articulating themselves, and I am perfectly capable of comprehending our conversations [.....]

      As for your suggestion that I shouldn’t judge 1/5 of the population on the experiences of a few… I’m not judging anybody. I have simply expressed concerns about a very real and apparently escalating extreme sector. I realize this sector doesn’t represent the entire Muslim population… that it is only a small percentage. I don’t see where/when I had suggested otherwise [....]

      And thanks for the book suggestion but my list of books to read is already too long to finish in my lifetime. I’ve read a few books about Mohammed. Another one would be nowhere near the top of my list. But I hope you enjoy Lesley’s book.

  78. To all readers: the “Angie thread” may have been entertaining at first, but quickly went to extremes I found unacceptable and thus deleted. I will continue to delete any further comments from her or addressed to her. To mix religious metaphors, the whole thing began to feel like really bad karma.

    That said, if the friend she mentioned would like to comment, she will be most welcome.

  79. “The recent seizure of the Salmaniyah Hospital in Manama, Bahrain, and the ongoing incursion of Saud-led GCC forces in the country are of great concern to IHRC (Islamic Human Rights Commission). These actions have been in violation of international law, and have coincided with an ever growing number of civilian casualties. This has included an assault on doctors and hospital staff, and the deliberate prevention of the wounded receiving medical treatment. IHRC is calling for an immediate response to actions by Bahraini and Saudi security forces in Bahrain.

    “On Wednesday 16th March, security forces seized the Salmaniyah Hospital in Manama, beating doctors and other members of staff, and preventing the treatment of demonstrators. They have denied relatives of the victims, members of staff, medics and ambulances from entering or leaving the hospital; having encircled the hospital with tanks and troops. This is in clear violation of Protocol II, Articles 9, 10, 11, and 13 of the Geneva Convention. The seizure of the Salmaniyah Hospital thus sets a shocking precedent for the conduct of security forces in Bahrain, and should be stopped immediately.

    “Elsewhere in the capital, around a thousand foreign troops from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been deployed with orders to suppress peaceful demonstrators against the al-Khalifa monarchy and regime. Eye witness testimonies and video footage have confirmed the shooting of protestors at point-blank range, and the bloody dispersal of protestors housed in the Pearl Roundabout.”

  80. Thank you.

    May Allah guide us and bless us all.

  81. Your blog is about a sincere inquiry into human faith , and not dirty politics. However I must respond to the blatant lies posted by AJ.
    First of all, it was the so called “Protesters” who had turned Salmaniya from a Civil Hospital into the Central Terror Control Centre. How do I know? I was part of the volunteer doctors who set up a hospital in a Health Centre so that patients could be treated.
    These so called Peace Protesters employed at Salmaniya stopped their work at the Hospital , leading to confirmed patient deaths. The Dialysis centre was abandoned by these so called protestors, so patients did not get dialysed.
    The doctor attacked, Dr. Jassim Al Ekri orchestrated the mayhem at the Hospital. He is a plastic surgeon who got ALL his training on the expense of THIS government. At the final stage he tried to hide in the OR by pretending to be continuously scrubbed. How do these so called protesters treat others? One of the volunteer doctors was continuously called a racist term ” Mujanis” during his intern ship, although he was an arab. The Salmaniya employees set up tents in front of the ER, where injuries were faked. One of my friends, who returned to Salmaiya found fake ID’s and laptops hidden in the ceiling. King Hamad and his son, have handled this crisis in the best manner. These so called protesters held the whole country hostage.
    If the KIng had not called in Saudi troops, there would have been Iranian troops here. This was not a fight for democracy. It was a dirty Political War disguised in the name of Democracy.

  82. Dear Ms. Leslley,

    Please visit the face book pages “”We are Bahrain” and ” We are with you Bahrain”. These protesters recently sliced the tounge off a Banglsdeshi Imam , he is now in the local Military Hopsital.
    Maam, they orchestrated the media war. These protests were not spontaneous like those in Egypt and Tunisia. These were extensively preplanned.
    One of their leaders Ali Salman, openly declared that he would get Iran involved.
    They bought 4 Pakistani wounded into Salmaniya and instead of treating them hit them and beat them. They are now conducting door to door harrasments of expats especially Pakistanis and injuring them. I myself saw 10 such patients. The local Arab Sunni Popultaion has moved out of their areas. Our people were forced to set up barricades to defend our neighbourhood.
    These protesters had the maximum MP’s (18) in the parliament.

  83. They could get any demand they wanted. They started in the guise of Democracy. They tried to provoke the government. They attacked innocent Bahraini Arab University students. The Salamaniya Hospital Ambulance was used to deliver the weapons to the University. These” Peace Protesters” killed a policeman and repeatedly drove vehilcles over him. How do I know? His funeral was held in the area of our “Modified MASH” unit.

  84. @mussafir

    I don’t have to lie
    I do lie but usually not.
    What I posted was supported by news in mainstream media.

    In your posts a word “THEY” is repeated many times.
    Could you elaborate who and what are “THEY”
    If “they” are 70% shia of Bahrain then you don’t have to write these posts in the first place.

    Apologize to Bahraini people for slandering against them.

  85. hm.. i did not agree with some things, however i did liked the post overall… this article was actually recommended to me by a friend at myspace and she was right. quite good read! Regards, Resa

    • But which post were you commenting on? Not ‘Who is the AT’, I think.

      • Hiiiii =)))))

        i really do respect you Lesley and actually i do adopt alot of your ideas , you really showed the world how beautiful the Qur’an its just beautiful with no meanings with alot of mysteries and i think its just because sometimes mystery makes things beautiful but its not necessarily makes things true or correct, speaking as an ex-muslim who left Islam a year ago and become an agnostic. I really can’t find the Qur’an the words of god becuase why such a powerful god can not make a book that has the same beautiful meanings in all languages why only Arabic?.And why there is so much mystery in the Qur’an?, if god really want us to worship him ? why can not he make things more clear for people to understand and follow?? besides there is many mistakes in Islam that against humanity such as the following :
        -making love before marriage is forbidden
        -homosexuals must be killed
        -a man can marry 4 women while the women can’t do the same (why not? does the women has no feelings?)
        -marring under age girls is allowed even if she is 5 years old and he is 50 years old
        …. etc
        and so on and so forth

        i really don’t hate Islam, but i can’t find it the true religion and i can’t deny that there is a creator but its not necessarily “Allah”.

        i decide to go with the answer: “I Do Not Know”

        • An honorable answer in my book, and one of integrity.
          Am on leave from blogging right now, but will continue what was intended to be a series of posts on agnosticism when I return (towards the end of the year). — L.

  86. Oh the Saudi and Bahraini kings!

    ****************************

    Oh the Saudi and Bahraini kings !,

    Please, touch the earth under your feet;

    You will find something unusual there,

    I think , the volcano is emitting its heat.

    Try to be sane and wise before it erupts,

    Still you have time to make it quiet;

    I tell you , it is taking a furious shape,

    It can not be stifled with a sectarian treat.

    If its ashes emerge, it will be too late for you,

    I know, it is not easy to leave the palatial seat;

    But for the sake of your life, and your people,

    Give up this greed , come out clean and neat.!

    Dr. Mustafa Kamal Sherwani,LL.D.

    Lucknow , U.P.India

    sherwanimk@yahoo.com

  87. Hey there
    Guess what, you’re the first ever person I have added to my list of inspirational people, know why? because been a while I am dreaming to be what you’re today. I share the same interests, except for the fact that I got a very demanding career, removing the misconceptions, increasing harmony, getting muslims back to the teachings of the quran, long story short, do you have a biography or something? I wanna know where and how did you start, learning so many languages? so many religions? reading so many books? Well, must have cost you a lot, how did you manage? who paid for all of your learning expenses? what did you have to sacrifice to be what you’re today? not just in monetary terms but otherwise too.
    and one more request: if possible, please do try and publish urdu language versions of your talks and books.

    P.S. All you guys bugging this woman to convert, come on you guys, God has said in the quran that He can forgive anything and everything except for associating things, people or other gods with Him, so He might as well be okay with agnosticism, so just cut the crap you guys already.

    • Salma — I am honored, but everyone finds their own way in their own fashion, as you are already doing, so no life lessons here. My one general principle: saying yes (to life, experience, possibility) instead of no. Does it always ‘work’? No. But it’s always interesting!

      Re Urdu translation, you might be interested in translating that TED talk yourself. Check out TED’s Open Translation Project: http://www.ted.com/OpenTranslationProject

  88. Not to many are bugging her to convert.
    Not so are to bug her about her financial background.

  89. Hello Lesley,
    I watched your TED speech. It was interesting,
    As you described about the real and correct Quran meaning, If you like to experience, feel and understand SHIA, should visit either Karbala or , Najaf or Tehran at Ashura, otherwise meaning of Shia is just few words.
    Thanks

    • You might want to take a look at ‘After the Prophet’ — http://www.aftertheprophet.com

    • Theres a danger here
      As she is clean minded she may easily get inspired in Karbala or Najaf.
      Quran says ” don’t even think shaheed are dead, they are getting Rizq (sustenance) from their Lord but you know not.” and thats Rizq-e-Hasana.
      Quran also say about quality of Rizq-e-Hasana those who rcvd it distribute it , does not keep it to themselves.
      Once there she may get some of the distributions and I am afraid a shia Lesley may have become more meaningful but less voiced and less receptive.

  90. Hi Lesley, i was wondering if i may send you an email, i would like to ask some questions relating to agnosticism

  91. Lez, I have a question, which I rather ask on open forum.

    Is Creation perceived accidental or well planned ????

    • The question assumes there was such a thing as Creation. Maybe think of it as a metaphor for evolution. Or for chaos theory. Or as a means of denying the far grander concept of infinity. Meanwhile, and of far greater concern, at least to me, is the incredibly bad planning of what we’re creating today with emissions: global climate change. Nothing accidental about that.

      • We can not make an accidental computer chip.
        It takes months and years to design a prototype chip with well organized data then millions of copies are made….all but with same specific data.
        .
        Sperms are the source of creation
        If they are the chips then far more complexed and complicated than human made chip.
        Every sperm has unique data unlike million of copies of single prototype.
        Zillions of these complicated chips are wasted every hour and zillions of zillions sperm banks are walking on this earth since creation of humankind.

        We may be to smart because we have designed a computer chip but still lagging far far behind even to understand the human chip.

        Things can not be Accidental just because we failed to comprehend.
        Until and unless we know the truth about them we have to take them on face value.
        And the face value is…these human chips are well designed…
        Someone must have designed them…until and unless we know the other than this known truth

  92. From what I have read/heard in your book ‘After the prophet…’ and your speech on Koran etc.. I believe you are a future Ayatuallah, an enlightened one that is!
    I am very eagerly awaiting you book on the Prophet..

    May the Truth guide me forward.

  93. Lesley i wanted to ask you something, i was wondering when you refer to yourself as an agnostic Jew, do you mean Jew in terms of ethnicity as some people refer to themselves (like atheist Jew i suppose) or Jew as religion, like agnostic theist?

    • Good question, which I meant to answer far earlier but is still more than I can handle right now. In fact it’ll be the subject of my next book, but all that’s premature since I have yet to finish this one, let alone absorb the fact that I’ve written it (that also takes time). For now, enough to say that I mean it when I say I’m no good at belief. And that I think of myself nonetheless as very much in the Jewish tradition, not merely by an accident of birth. — L.

  94. I from China.Like your TED speech about Koran,it’s so wise and grace!Waiting for your new and more works!

  95. 1. There is no electricity bill in Libya; electricity is free for all its citizens.
    2. There is no interest on loans, banks in Libya are state-owned and loans given to all its citizens at 0% interest by law.
    3. Home considered a human right in Libya – Gaddafi vowed that his parents would not get a house until everyone in Libya had a home. Gaddafi’s father has died while him, his wife and his mother are still living in a tent.
    4. All newlyweds in Libya receive $60,000 Dinar (US$50,000) by the government to buy their first apartment so to help start up the family.
    5. Education and medical treatments are free in Libya. Before Gaddafi only 25% of Libyans are literate. Today the figure is 83%.
    6. Should Libyans want to take up farming career, they would receive farming land, a farming house, equipments, seeds and livestock to kick-start their farms – all for free.
    7. If Libyans cannot find the education or medical facilities they need in Libya, the government funds them to go abroad for it – not only free but they get US$2,300/mth accommodation and car allowance.
    8. In Libyan, if a Libyan buys a car, the government subsidized 50% of the price.
    9. The price of petrol in Libya is $0.14 per liter.
    10. Libya has no external debt and its reserves amount to $150 billion – now frozen globally.
    Great Man-Made River project in Libya… $27 billion
    11. If a Libyan is unable to get employment after graduation the state would pay the average salary of the profession as if he or she is employed until employment is found.
    12. A portion of Libyan oil sale is, credited directly to the bank accounts of all Libyan citizens.
    13. A mother who gave birth to a child receive US$5,000
    14. 40 loaves of bread in Libya costs $ 0.15
    15. 25% of Libyans have a university degree
    16. Gaddafi carried out the world’s largest irrigation project, known as the Great Man-Made River project, to make water readily available throughout the desert country.

    Which other dictator has done so much good for his people?

    • Freedom is better then free electricity and free food, libya had become the graveyard of intellectualls and good leadership, A donkey will remain donkey even if you serve his meals in golden plate.

      • I guess every morning Libyans leave for work with prior permission of Qaddafi.
        Freedom is a hypocritic term invented and used by world’s top hypocrites.
        If our calls are taped…its strengthening our freedom because security is mother of all the freedoms
        no security no freedom.

        We never heard Qaddafi taping calls of its citizens…had he been taping calls…that would be real crime because we decide whats crime and whats for the safety and good of people.

        Free education and encouraging higher education in Libya and abroad on state expenses is lot more than feeding a Donkey to keep him a Donkey.

        I tell him whats a donkey and keeping him a donkey.

        A donkey who can call stone throwing palestinian kid a terrorist is qualified and had passed the test to become human being.

        A donkey who can question why an Israeli kid is worth more than 1000 Palestinian kidz must remain a donkey.

        Its not donkeys job to think..no matter they are fed on silver or golden plate.

  96. Lesley…Lesley…Lesley. . . I am capable of waiting this out, but finish your book on the prophet (pbuh) already! Gosh. How many more times must I visit – itching for a post of an early release date or somethin?

    Love the website and links. You’re Awesome!

    • Thanks, Q — How’d you know? Am getting the itch to post just about every day, but resisting, limiting myself to the occasional squib on Twitter (@accidentaltheo) and Facebook. Another few weeks, and I’ll have a full draft. And then I’ll stop resisting!

  97. Mrs Hazleton.

    I’m deeply moved to tears as i am watching your words on the prophet Muhammad pbuh. it takes subtlety to notice subtlety and you are most definitely awe inspiring in the way you express words into an almost living speech. I wish your pen never gets tired and the beauty in your words become as vibrant as sunrise aaaaaaaaand that your beautiful smile never fades away. :) :) :)

    Peaaaaaaaaaaaaaace

  98. Dear Lesley
    What’s up
    seen the Ted (several times) good show
    read some of your recent books (supplied by Esther)
    thought you may wanna “rest” on some wine & food talk in my blog wine4soul.com
    Varda says Hi
    Love
    Amir

  99. Why when all big religions are preaching love, compassion and tolerance, I still see many of their followers being so rigid and intolerant against one another? If God is one for all of us, why are people investing so much energy in trying to make one religion dominant against the other? Why not accept the right of anyone to believe in whatever he/she wants, even with ones who don’t believe there is a God, and live in peace and content with his/hers own believes? In this way, this world would be a much better place.

  100. Its innate in people to excel each other in all regards including their associations.
    Religion is no exception.

    • AJ — First, I think there’s nothing innate in it. Second, it’s way past time to stop! Wasn’t it Muhammad who said “to you your religion, to me mine”?

  101. Lez
    I guess what we do not know can not be !!!!!!!!
    We still believe in morals but can not define conscience.
    We still believe in spirituality but do not know the spirit.

    What Mohammad(saw) said infact prove the existence of innate.

    Mohammad(saw) was a Teacher…This teaching is to fight against whats innate in us.
    Innate could be positive or negative.

  102. January?! 24th?! 2013?!

    I fibbed on that earlier post of mine because ‘I cannot wait!’ Ever sense that Ted video…

    Congratulations, Lesley!

    Happy Ramadan Everyone!

    I’m so hungry :^P

  103. .
    10 days ago I watched your TED video , since that I just question my
    self ” If you don’t beleive in Allah and you are not Muslim whether Christian Why do you waste your time in such a research about religion ?
    thank you

  104. Waste of time has its own relevance.

    For some earn ur living is absolute utilization of time
    For some passtime entertainment is wastage of time.

    Good deeds which are beneficial to wo-mankind…universally not wastage of time.

  105. As I eagerly await the upcoming Mohammad biography, please allow me to congratulate and thank you for your refreshing and hopeful take on Islam.

    Thank goodness for flexible minds!!

  106. Embracing Islam lies within the heart . It’s a gift from Allah. Knowing all or a lot about Islam does not mean embracing it, nor does it necessarily lead to embracing it. Only believers those who submitted to the will of Allah feel the difference between the state of belief and that of unbelief. The prophetic traditions says : “Allah gives life and its bounties whomever he loves and to whomever he does not, but he gives faith only to whomever he loves.”
    Ask any Muslim and he will reply understanding Islam is a light from Allah sent into the heart of the believer. When the heart is unwilling to accept, the mind fails to lead you to faith. The first believers among them the companions of the prophet and many more embraced Islam with a very little knowledge of the religion and the Quran . They did not know much of what we know now, but they gained the highest ranks of belief.

  107. I cannot understand how a commenter can think that Lesley’s research on religion is a waste of time just because she is an agnostic Jew.

    I think it is EXCELLENT that Lesley has conducted this research on Islam, the Quran and the life of prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

    In this way, Islam and notably the Quran can be discussed unbiasedly by an ‘outside party’ and from the videos I’ve seen of Lesley’s lectures, she has managed to capture the essence of the meaning and truth of the Quran, even though she herself is not a Muslim.

    Lesley has been respectful of Islam and the Quran in her lectures. In fact her lectures commends and speaks highly of the verses within the Quran.

    I am pleasantly surprised by the depth of knowledge she has on Islam, the suraahs & its context in history, and how she defends Islam from those who seek to find only negativity about the faith.

    Knowledge is NEVER a waste of time and I thank you Lesley for researching Islam and the Quran … because from your work, I can see that more muslims are regaining their faith by listening to your lectures and more non-muslims are learning that Islam does NOT equate with terror or oppression.

    For those who kept on commenting “why Lesley didn’t convert to Islam yet” … remember that …

    1.. “He gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding.” – (Al-Baqarah, 2:269)

    2. “Let there be no compulsion in religion” – (Al-Baqarah, 2:256)

    I cannot articulate my words as well as Lesley can, but I am glad that she did this research and the video lectures because I find my faith in Islam and the Quran has strengthen.

    So to all muslim brothers & sisters out there, the point is NOT about Lesley’s faith or non-faith …
    but the point is that OUR FAITH has been strengthened by the fact that someone has dedicated her time to study the Quran and described the suraahs and ayaats in such beautiful words and depth.

    Lesley, I hope you finish your book soon! :)

    • Thank you — the point is indeed not about me. In fact, that will be one of the points of the TEDx talk I’ll be giving November 10, which I’ll post as soon as it’s available in video (it takes them a few weeks to get it online).

  108. I do not like my comments to be held
    Either they are printed or I am out of here

  109. Hi,
    I hope you’re fine, I just want to thank you for your work and wanted to ask you a question : do you have the results of your work about studying Quran in some book ?

    Thank you for your answer.

    Ps ; I think it’s time to add a new tab for FAQ in your website, so people can find informations about your work easily.

    • Check out the right-hand side of the Accidental Theologist page for recent books — and for ‘The First Muslim,’ due out in January (careful reading of the Quran was of course part of the research for this book). Click on the books, and you’ll get to more info.
      Re a FAQ page, thanks for suggesting it — will give it some thought. Or else perhaps a detailed bio, with links. — L.

  110. Hi Leslie,

    Like everyone else, I am super impressed by you TED talk about the Quran. I would love to take the approach you took to reading it. Could you please list the books/translations/resources you used in your 3 months of learning? I would love to follow your way of learning it as it still is difficult for me to read the Quran from cover to cover (despite Arabic being my mother tongue. and despite my learning it through school from childhood to high school) . I feel like I need to know the circumstances of when the verses were revealed, and then I would more easily understand what they mean. I am sure there must have been so many resources, so if you don’t have a full list, maybe your top 5? I remember you mentioned you read 3 different translations of the Quran, which ones? Also, how did you research about the Shia and Sunni split? I cannot wait to read that book, and the newer one coming out in January. I am skimming the excerpt right now. I also noticed that you responded to almost everyone, and I do appreciate that you take your time to respond to your fans and their random (or not so random) questions and comments.

    Kindest Regards.
    Joyce

    • Hi Joyce:
      First, re research on the Shia-Sunni split: the Sources section at the back of ‘After the Prophet’ contains descriptions of the major sources and a fairly extensive bibliography.
      Second, re Quran translations/interpretations: the three I find I use most (I have several — as many in fact as I have Bibles!) are A.J.Arberry’s ‘The Koran Interpreted,’ Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s ‘The Holy Qur’an,’ which places the original Arabic and a transliteration alongside the translation, and M.A.S. Abdel Haleem’s ‘The Quran: a new translation.’ Plus Laleh Bakhtiat’s ‘The Sublime Quran’ is the only translation I know of by a woman. Someone just recommended a newly published translation — ‘The Gracious Quran: a modern English interpretation’ by Ahmed Hammad, which includes extensive notes and annotation — but I haven’t looked at it yet so can’t comment on it.
      And yes, you’re right, the Quran is especially hard to follow without a sense of history and context. Best start to gain that is maybe Guillaume’s translation of the eighth-century work of ibn-Ishaq, published as ‘The Life of Muhammad’ — or, come January, ‘The First Muslim.’

  111. [...] Lesley Hazleton, one of our favorite “anti-Loons” describes herself as the “Accidental Theologist” by which she means that even though she is an agnostic Jew she is fascinated by religion, theology and faith. Her fascination with religion has led her in recent years to be consumed by a study of Islam, particularly the Quran and the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad. [...]

  112. Theres nothing like Quran alone Muslim.
    A Muslim had to be Mohammadan, the focal point of Islam.
    Quran is a Guide, Mohammad is elaboration.

    • .
      Ms Hazleton. There are some 500 verses that encourage the hatred, torture and murder of non-Muslims in the Koran, so why did you not talk about any of those?

      What about the verses that encourage boiling water to be poured over the heads of non-Muslims? Is that not worthy of your analysis?

      Why is your sugar-coated version of Islam so divided from reality?

      • Really? You want to play the highlighter quotation game? I presume you have not done a count of the (countless) verses in the Bible advocating genocide, mass rape, enslavement, torture, and even worse mayhem. Rivers of blood and all that. (In fact, valleys full of it.) If you want to use the highlighter version of the Quran, then you should use the highlighter version of the Bible too, and generalize from that to all Jews and all Christians. In fact the Quran is a pussycat beside Deuteronomy, Judges, Samuel and of course the most blood-drenched sacred text ever written: Revelation.

      • You are commenting on Quran without reading single word of it.

        Wheres verses about boiling water ????
        What have you been reading??????

  113. .
    Ah, so you do admit that the Koran is full of hatred and violence. In fact, as you well know, you cannot turn a page in the Koran without an unbeliever being tortured or killed. So how does that square with your ‘sweetness and light’ talk’?

    But you cannot compare the Koran with the Bible.

    Firstly, the Bible does not mention an extant people that you should hate, whereas the Koran mentions Jews and Christians by name – in addition to condemning all non-Muslims to hell or death. See 5:51.

    Secondly, the biblical New Covenant contains almost no hatred whatsoever, and frequently professes love and humility (I am not a Christian by the way). That is, after all, why Emperor Vespasian promoted this creed, in preference to Judaism.

    Thirdly, very few Jews or Christians that I have spoken to, take their books as the literal word of god, to be followed by every letter. Not even Orthodox Jews do that, otherwise they would be killing friends and family left right and center.

    Conversely, every Muslim I have spoken to believes the Koran is the absolute word of god and the last testament and wisdom of that god (even though I still cannot find the koranic chapter on aeronautical engineering). And if they do not adhere to every koranic pronouncement, they believe they are no longer Muslim. This is what they say. Thus many are frustrated that they cannot carry out god’s command [....]

    .

  114. .

    >>AJ
    >>You are commenting on Quran without reading single word of it.
    >>Wheres verses about boiling water ????

    Have you never read the Koran? How do you not know this?

    Quote:
    For the unbelievers god has prepared a fire which will encompass them like the walls of a pavilion. When they cry out for help they shall be showered with water as hot as molten brass, which will scald their faces. Evil shall be their drink, evil will be their resting place. 18:29

    Quote:
    Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. Scalding water will be poured upon their heads to melt their skins and that which is in their bellies; and they shall be lashed with rods of ireon. If they try to escape, they shall be dragged back and told, ‘taste the torment and the Fires’. 22:19

    There are another 500 odd verses like this in the Koran. I shall quote them, if Ms Hazleton allows.

    .

    • Sir this is about punishment in hereafter….if you don’t believe in herafter then don’t believe in its punishments.
      You are ready to believe in parts of Quran just to criticze.
      And you are misleading too…Quran does not advocate pouring boiling water over non Mumslims head…its a punishment whose sole Judge is God only in hereafter, not Muslims over non Muslims in this world….and whats encouraging, is creation of your demented mind.

    • Ms Hazleton has a 250-word limit on comments. Ms Hazleton also suggests that you read the Bible. And as AJ points out, that you actually read the Quran too.

  115. Dear Ms. Hazelton,

    If you are coming to New York City for your new book, The City College of New York would be very honored to host a reading by you. There, of course, would be an honorarium.

    Yours,

    Brandon Judell
    Coordinator
    The Simon H. Rifkind Center
    The City College of New York

  116. Listen to one of your talks on Islam, suggesting Whabbi, Salafi, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbolla etc are not the majority and not taking over. After texting with muslims for 3 years, I would suggest you are wrong, Islam in its simple, true blood form is Saudi or Iran. Brutal law leads to brutal leaders, simplistic blind obediance without conscience leads to murder of innocents. Where is you hope?

  117. Thank you for the crisp TED talk n enviously well written First Muslim.
    You engulf with light so many thoughts I churn around with.

  118. Hello Lesley,

    Thanks to your Twitter feed, I had the good fortune to discover your site: http://accidentaltheologist.com/.  Brilliant!  Thank you for all your hard work in this common effort of ours.

    Allow me to take this opportunity to introduce myself and say hello. My name is Richard Wagner.  I’m a psychotherapist and sex therapist here in Seattle. I am the author of the newly published — The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life. 

    I’ve been working with sick, senior, elder, and dying people, in hospital, hospice and home settings for over 30 years.  I facilitate support groups for care-providers and clinical personnel as well as provide grief counseling for survivors both individually and in groups settings.  I was honored with the prestigious UCSF Chancellor’s Award for Public Service back in 1999 for this very work.

    I design, develop, and produce long and short term in-service training seminars for helping and healing professionals.  And I am the founder of the nonprofit organization, PARADIGM; Enhancing Life Near Death.

    At any rate, I just wanted to say hello and thanks.  Hey, perhaps there’d be an opportunity to collaborate at some point.

    For more information about my new book see:  http://theamateursguide.com/?p=83  

    Thanks for taking the time to read this.

    All the best,
    Richard

    Richard Wagner, M.Div., Ph.D., ACS
    richard@theamateursguide.com

    http://theamateursguide.com

    https://twitter.com/amateursguide

  119. thank you for taking the time to respond, Lesley. i do know of death over dinner. i reached out to them months ago, but never got a reply. I would love to participate, but don’t know how. i don’t know how to reach Michael. there is not contact information listed for him on the http://deathoverdinner.org site.

  120. I have recently learned about you and am loving what I have read and heard so far! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I set out a few years ago to find Truth (with a capital T….scary I know!) and have found myself on a wonderful journey of unanswered questions. An agnostic now (to the shock and dismay of many and the understanding of some) I welcome new insight as it comes through all avenues that life offers me. You seem one such avenue. I look forward to continuing to look in on your blog. Thank you.:)

    • Thank you, RF. But an avenue, not a boulevard?! No, seriously: more like a meandering lane. But one I really enjoy traveling. (And if some would say it’s an off-road trail, that’s fine: I love those too.)

  121. Hi Lesley,

    I have a sneaky feeling you are not going to appreciate anyone nominating you for simple blogging awards! Yet, I have ventured to do so, for two essentially very good reasons:

    1) I think you are cat’s whiskers!
    2) I’d like to expose my ‘community’ to you, with the hope that someone may see the light…

    Please excuse me for awarding you with all sincerity:

    Most Influential Blogger Award
    Best Moment Award
    Inner Peace Award

    You don’t have to accept the awards if it’s not your cuppa tea, but please accept my heartfelt appreciation of your work.

    Do drop by if you have the time and check it out here: http://middlepathofmoderation.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/winning-awards-rules/

    Your presence would be greatly appreciated.

    May Allah (God) bless you! :)
    Sona

  122. Greetings, ms hazleton my name is Ahmed ElAssaad , i am 14 years old from lebanon and i recently started to read your book “after the prophet” ,Much appreciation for such a book with this amount of details and information ….. As a student i would like someday to make a small conversation ,asking some questions that would make a small research, i would present it after summer to my school inshallah …. it would be a great honor if you accept to make this small conversation someday through emails,facebook,or your blog …

    Best Regards.

  123. Greetings:
    Please excuse me, Lesley, if this has been covered, as I haven’t quite managed to read through every email here. But I am wondering if you have been interrogated as thoroughly (credentials, etc.) by the “western media” regarding your book on the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) as heavily as Reza Aslan has on his book on (the prophet) Jesus (alayhi wa sallam). It occurred to me to ask this, having read and found certainly thought-provoking your fine book on the Shi’a split, and on Muhammad.

  124. I’m pasting this comment where it belongs, Lesley, after your review of Zealot itself!

  125. Hello Lesley,

    Your insights in your book as well as the TED talks are truly amazing and I happen to be a fan of your work :). I have similar interests and hope to someday become a writer and thinker like you. For my part, I have started a blog on the same (nashzoltano.blogspot.com). Would love for you to take a look at it and comment

    Nash

  126. Dear Lesley, Just heard your Ted Talk about faith and doubt in relation to the seerah of Muhammad ~ you are a gem and your ideas were so refreshing to hear in such an eloquent fashion! Looking forward to reading your biography on Muhammad.

  127. Dear Lesley,
    I have not yet bought and read your New Book based on The Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) “The First Muslim”
    If you have and are claiming Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) as The First Muslim
    Then in my full knowledge on Islam
    Is contradicting very seriously and is telling me that you have either Not
    Done Down Deep research neither on Islam nor on The Beloved, Last Prophet
    Of the both worlds. As mentioned earlier Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) was the Last Prophet in Islam and certainly NOT THE FIRST MUSLIM as you have claimed the title of your publication.
    The First Muslim Prophet was Father of all Fathers non but “Adam”.
    I rest case and certainly looking forward to read your book ,if only I can find one
    Here in my town book shop.
    I might be wrong in my comments as I have Not yet read your book,As they say ,” You can Not Judge the book from it’s Cover or Title”
    Thank you.
    Kind Regards,
    Ali.

    • As you say, Ali, always best to read first.
      In this case, Quran 6:14, 6:163, 39:12: “Muhammad, say, ‘I am the first Muslim.'”
      Tradition and original sources do not always agree.

  128. 10:15 This is amazing verse, Quran giving new dimension to unbelievers.
    So far we thought those who do not believe in Allah are Kafir but alas look at the demands of kuffar.
    They ready to believe in Allah, ready to believe in Prophethood of Mohammad(saw)….even ready to believe in Quran if its changed to common likings.
    They are offering Prophet to add few things of His choice and few things of theirs, so make it a common Quran acceptable to all.
    Whats there in Quran not acceptable to them causing a great fear…whats in Quran making them panic.
    This is faith in hereafter which is pivotal.
    So give some breathing space to Lesley, she doesn’t have to become Muslim formally for just believing in virtues of Prophet of Islam or not doubting his Prophethood.
    Comprehensive package of Islam essentially includes pivotal difference i.e. faith in hereafter as described in Quran.

  129. Lesley if this moderation policy continues, let me know, I will quit posting here.

  130. Wow. I’m reading Jezebel. I’m only on page 63 but I had to stop right now and type you a message telling you thank you. Page 62-63 are especially marvelous and insightful, not only into the past but into myself. You have a true gift for calmly telling a story and getting the point across so effortlessly that the reader forgets how much they are learning. Brilliant. I feel you are the mentor I never had. I look forward to following you further and reading the rest of your books.

  131. Leslie I just saw your two videos on TED and they’re an eye opener for me. I am a musician, and like many other muslim musicians I am fed up of muslims calling music as haram, although every listens and enjoys music to a great extent. I can’t understand how such an essential part of life could be made forbidden. I’m sure it is a misunderstanding, what are your views….

    • Yes, I’m always struck by the grimness and joylessness of fundamentalism, whether Muslim or Christian, Jewish or Hindu. What a denial of spirit to live without music — from Bach to Nusrat Ali Khan, ragas to trance music. You are kind to call banning music a misunderstanding. I see it as a gross perversion imposed by stunted souls.

  132. Hello Lesley,

    I’m curious – why accidental theologist (and not theologian)? I didn’t even know it was a word :)

    Cheers,

    Lux

    • The word ‘theologian’ brings to mind — my mind, in any case — the image of a gaunt medieval monk stooped over his manuscripts in a dark, dank, stone cell. It’s the only one of the ‘ologies’ that insists on this usage for its practitioners, and seems to me to build a somewhat forbidding wall around the whole field of inquiry. I mean, I’m a psychologist, not a psychologian. And if I called myself the latter, you’d rightly accuse me of being an obscurantist (or should that be obscurantian?). So I took advantage of my accidental status to revise the usage — a gentle nudge for theology to catch up with the twenty-first century.

  133. […] I read the book Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother by journalist and author Lesley Hazleton that I began to wonder if maybe the Holy Mother might not have been that different from me as a […]

  134. Hello, Miss Hazleton! I just wanted to thank you, ever so much, for your beautiful and heartwarming talk ‘On Reading the Koran’ on ted.com.
    I’m a fourteen year old Muslim girl from Pakistan, and it hurts me everyday to see so many outsiders misjudge both my religion and my country. Also, contrary to what others think, I do wear normal pants and shirts when I’m out and about, I am a feminist, and I do believe in and love God. I do not, however, run amok waving guns with bombs strapped around my waist in the name of Jihad.
    Once again, thank you for bringing to light the beauty in Islam. I wish others would see what you have seen. God bless you.

  135. Miss Hazleton, first to begin i want to say thank you. Your TED talk has made me aware that my doubt is not a lack of faith but the single thing that provides me with faith. Your words in your TED talk are so profound, eloquent, insightful and just beautiful. I confess I have been listening to your TED talk on loop for an entire morning. I look forward to reading your books and to more of your TED talks. At 22 i constantly have this urge to contribute and do my little part to help and you have inspired me beyond words. Thank you Miss Hazleton for your sheer brilliance and insatiable curiosity.

  136. Thank you. Exploring the unconscious and implicit is always valuable.

  137. Agnosticism=Moral Flexibilty

  138. Hello MS. Hazelton.

    101% on your efforts – Thanks.

    A quick question : What criteria you used, to pick Ibn Ishaq as your source of research? , also did you discuss/consult any other school(s) of thought in the process of your research.

  139. Dear Lesley, such a great job you did with your books, I just finished “The 1st Muslim” and ordered the following volume. From your brief bio on this page I can see that you are a coolest person with a particular life path, best&sincerest regards to you!

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