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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rebalancing the account, 21 Dec 2006
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This review is from: The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography (Paperback)
The life of the Prophet Muhammad has always polarized opinion in the West. After 9/11 and 7/7 it has become increasingly difficult to find balanced accounts of Islam and its founder. Having read Robert Spencer's "The Truth About Muhammad", which was relentlessly hostile, I was looking for something rather more sympathetic about Muhammad's life. I found it in Barnaby Rogerson's book.

Rogerson is an excellent storyteller, a professional, in fact. In the preface, Rogerson tells how, when taking Western tourists around Roman sites in a Muslim country, he heard groups of men sitting around in cafes telling tales from the days of the Prophet as if they were fresh and new. "I was on the side of a good story," says Rogerson. "The life of the Prophet Muhammad is a story of overpowering pathos and beauty. It is history, tragedy and enlightenment compressed into one tale." And that's how Rogerson tells it.

He has the knack of taking the reader into the picture, of conjuring up the sights and sounds and smells of Arabia in the days of Muhammad. And he gives us a sense of the struggles that Muhammad and his early followers went through, of the Prophet's family, and of the harsh life of the Arabs in the desert. He tells it in the end as a tale of triumph over challenge, but never implies that victory was a foregone conclusion.

But - and it is a big but - I was conscious throughout that Rogerson had omitted much of the very difficult episodes of Muhammad's apparent cruelty that Spencer includes in his book. In fact, my first reaction to Rogerson's book was that he was a Romantic, that he had to some extent sentimentalized Muhammad's story and had evaded these difficult episodes. The problem with writing a biography of Muhammad that is accessible and readable for the non-scholarly Western, non-Muslim reader (which is what I am) is that the writer must inevitably abbreviate the story and cannot really acknowledge the difficulties that a historian would have with the very limited primary sources for the life of Muhammad.

This is not to say that Rogerson avoids reference to sources. In fact, he has included a useful note on sources, as well as a timeline, maps, profiles of the main characters in the story, and a glossary of the 99 Names of God. But the main issue, as with all historical material, is one of interpretation. What do the various episodes mean? What frame of reference do we wish to put on the story of Muhammad? Spencer starts with harshly negative assumptions and sets out to prove what he already believes about Muhammad. Rogerson, on the other hand, starts with positive assumptions and sets out to show the beauty and majesty of Muhammad's life.

I have to admit I was repelled by Spencer and beguiled by Rogerson. Beguiled, but always a tad suspicious that he was carried away with the story and not conscious enough of where there could be difficulties and different views of what he was asserting about Muhammad. Somehow, I heard the echoes of Fitzgerald's translations of the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam in Rogerson's voice.

Never mind, I shall now read Rogerson's "The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad" and move on to the next part of the story of Islam. It is essential that we understand Islam's history and try to avoid the hatred and prejudice that so many in the West accept as the "proper" reaction to Islam. However, we must also acknowledge that extremist voices have captured the attention of the media and, indeed, of the Muslim community. It is my belief that any form of religious extremism is, as Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith says, "a world-devouring fire".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written. Not too "scholarly". Easy to read., 12 Aug 2012
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Adil Hussain "adilson05uk" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography (Paperback)
I find it incredibly bizarre how few good, simple, well-written, easy-to-read biographies there are of the Prophet Muhammad in the English language. Martin Lings' biography is oft-cited by Muslims as the one to read but, truth be told, it doesn't read like a novel. A bit too scholarly - dry, overly detailed - I found it to be. In terms of language and readability, this one by Barnaby Rogerson is the best I have read so far. Not entirely brilliant but within it is a decent biography of the Prophet Muhammad. I recommend skipping - or skimming over - the second and third chapters on your first read as a lot of it is just boring, bloated, unnecessary history and geography about the old Arabia. The fourth chapter is where the biography really takes off. Sure the book is littered throughout with some strange claims but if you can get past that - and in the absence of other, better, biographies of the Prophet Muhammad in the English language - this is one of the easiest to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very readable insight into the birth of Islam, 14 July 2013
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This review is from: The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography (Paperback)
I wanted to get away from the bias and prejudice of the press and find a balanced account of where Islam comes from and what it is about. Barnaby Rogerson is a great story-teller and brings the story of Muhammad vividly to life. This is a must read for non-muslims who want to know more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great story, 14 July 2013
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This review is from: The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography (Paperback)
Great story. Very sympathetic to devotees of the Prophet. Some darker aspects were left out.

Worth reading by a great story teller
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid book, 5 July 2011
This review is from: The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography (Paperback)
A splendid book, rich in language and historical content. A thorough reading would do much to promote
world peace and a true understanding of Islam.
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The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography
The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography by Barnaby Rogerson (Paperback - 2 Sep 2004)
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