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on 7 February 2015
As a Muslim I found the book a refreshing counter analysis to the impeccable version of history which is force fed to the Islamic community from birth. Muslims are only really allowed to absorb accounts which demand perfection from the prophet and all the other players in this narrative, including Aisha and ABu Bakr. But in her own words 'the purity of perfection denies the complexity or reality of a life lived', and thus 'to idealize someone in this way is to dehumanize him'. Which I can admit, is what we as a community have done. She really is an exquisite wordsmith. And she is bang on the mark in this respect. For the first time this book allowed me as a Muslim to view the arc of Islamic history in a different way, and to go out and study Ibn Ishaq's work (something that 99.99% would not be aware of let alone have read). With a 21st century critical head on, not completely devoid of emotion and spirituality, but without the blindness, with the same sane rationality that I would apply to every other area of my life.I found myself shocked and saying 'no,no' to the accounts revealed in the book. But the book also prompted me to research the unsavoury stuff for myself. To actually follow up on the questions that I have always harboured about the things that didn't make sense and which no one seem to have any real answers for. As I have read in other reviews, it's unforgivable to imply that her Jewishness coloured the entire narrative. Hazleton provides references for everything (all except the presumption of what was going through the prophets mind, which was sometimes over stretched even for artistic license). And if I were to point a criticism it would possibly be that there was considerable reliance on Ibn Ishaq as a source. But I don't have a real problem with that. Most Muslim scholars won't want anyone to refer to this even though this is the first documented source, but that's understandable considering what we find within it. Accounts of the early part of Islamic history which Ibn Hisham (the guy who pieced together Ibn Ishaq's work) had to leave out because he was too embarrassed to leave them in. But from a historical research perspective, Ibn Ishaq is gold. And it is there, scholars need to live with it and move on. So as a consequence this book is very uncomfortable reading for Muslims. But when you allow yourself to start to think, for just a minute, of all the protagonists as mere humans with emotional and political biases, the whole story of Islam takes on a different feel. Especially when you realise that many of the events are also backed up by the unversally accepted Bukhari Hadith narratives. But most Muslims will be blissfully unaware of these particular hadiths. We are only taught the good ones by our clerics.This book made me research everything she brought up and, as uncomfortable as it is, there is far more factual basis to the unsavoury episodes then most Muslims would like to even admit, let alone contemplate. Its clear from other comments (and no surprise) that most Muslims push readers to authors such as Armstrong whose more apologetic views sit more comfortably with their own a priori beliefs, biases and world view. Armstrong is as weak/strong as Hazleton from a historical accuracy perspective. She asserts from inference too. But for Muslims we WANT the Armstrong version to be the real one. It makes us feel that all is well with the world. Its a VERY painful process that makes anyone, let alone a Muslim, question the very foundation of everything they thought to be absolutely true. An opening up of the consciousness. And that process requires that a number of stars be in alignment. That the time is right, the place is right, and the data is readily available. None of my previous generations had an iota of the research capability I have, so why would they bother questioning what they were told. I needed to be a Muslim in the 21st Century, living in a free and open society where a Jewess was able to write freely about Islam, at a time when information was more readily researchable, with the IT tools that allowed it, and in a country in which I wouldn't be outcast for thinking certain thoughts. Not every Muslim generation is up to it. After all, you'd have to begin to declare that your Parents, your teachers, your Clerics, everyone you trusted were complicit in parsing a collective delusion. And that maybe all the accounts weren't as impeccable as we thought. Or, God forbid, that we Muslims actually don't have a monopoly on the Truth (with a capital T). But in a world where some factions within Islam do think they have the Truth, and are hell-bent on dragging us all back to a medieval Caliphate just so that the Universe makes more sense to them, maybe this is generation, Muslim, intellectual, critical thinking, can actually be brave enough to step back and open their consciousness by listening to what others have to say. Only read this book if you think your Imaan is strong enough to handle it.
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on 24 January 2014
A respectful (but not reverent) attempt to re-tell this story of a human being (not legend or saint) and capture the complexities innate in his "humanness". The author successfully manages to balance historical records, psychology, anthropology and a necessary application of imagination to paint a vivid picture and create a highly enjoyable reading experience. This book is especially recommended to all who have read her earlier book titled "After the Prophet".
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on 14 January 2015
This book is extremely well written, and well researched. Lesley Hazleton, says it best by taking an un-biased and demystified approach to the story of Muhammad (PBUH), it makes his story all the more amazing. The only trouble I have with this book is it is impossible to completely demystify something that would be beyond our understanding, and as must as she tries to give an unbiased account, hindsight and experiences do creeping, especially in the later chapters. In fairness there is no way to know many of these things so much of it has to be taken on faith, like how much of Muhammad's (PBUH) decisions were his doing and how much were part of the revelations.

The book is divided into 3 sections The Orphan focuses on the early history of the region, the clans the hereditary positioning and Muhammad's (PBUH) life just past the age of 40 when he started to receive his Revelations. The second is Exile, which deals with his the early reactions first trying to insult and ignore him to forcing him into exile, to raising an army of followers and his eventual return. The final section is The Leader, having returned as a conqueror but not accepting any of the accolades or comforts that go with the rank. Instead choosing benevolence and a sparse lifestyle till he left and his final days.

This is a great book for facts and dates but as I said something need to be taken on faith. There are things that are just explainable. E.g. how does a simple man with no formal education or even experience in the area outfox the top political and military minds of his time, or create the verses that out shine the greatest poets of the time. All in all a very informative book but something are just a matter of faith.
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on 22 May 2015
I bought this book because I wanted to know a bit more about Islam & Muhammad in particular, for obvious reasons. It's well-written and covers his life in a lot of detail, but is still very easy to read. Whether it's 100% accurate is hard to know, as I have very little to compare it to. Certainly there are some major events that are contentious (mainly the alleged massacre of Jews in Medina) and are disputed by other historians, as can be easily seen by a quick Google search. But the served its purpose for me.
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on 2 October 2014
I'm really suprised about the negatives reviews. I've read this book over two years ago and have read other islamic books ever since. But I find this book is really informative and hard to put down. I'm currently reading Martin lings book: Muhammad, which is highly recommended by Muslims and non Muslims and I can reassure you that this book is more or less similar just less in depth. Love this book! A must read for Muslims and non Muslims!
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on 17 May 2015
It started really great, adding psychological and historical dimensions to the prophet's upbringing, and questioned many things we took for granted. There were some minor parts I disagreed with or didn't think they were presented accurately, but overall, an interesting insightful read.
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on 27 April 2016
I have read many books about the Prophet Muhammad and I must say the writer Lesley Hazleton has described the Prophet and his life with respect, humour and based on historical facts. The writer has done lots of research to ensure veracity and authenticity of this study.
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on 1 April 2016
Extremely interesting and readable book, well-researched. Gives one an excellent background with which to read other books which are less readable. The best book on Islam for the average person out of the numerous books I've read on the topic.
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on 12 October 2015
I was interested in reading this book because it was written my a non-muslim. It started off fine, where she talks about the Prophet (peace be upon him), but later on in the book she frames parts of his life to make him seem to be at fault, especially when it comes to the jews of Medina. She does not give context, she fills in gaps in historical knowledge with her opinion of what happened, rather than referring to texts and accounts which are as true as the other stories she has mentioned, true in a sense of authenticity of the account/text. If one, muslim or non-muslim, would like a true account of the Prophets' life, then I have been recommended "When the moon split". I have read "The Sealed Nectar" which is written more as a historical book rather than a narrative, but it is fairy detailed.
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on 30 April 2013
Someone who believes in every 'suni sunai baat' (emotionally credulous believer of rumors of positive affirmation).

Now there is nothing wrong in being religious, showing a longing for a great tradition is something which I cherish and treasure myself, as long as I am illiterate to the narrative. For a learned person should be at least be able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. The issue is that it is almost impossible to break the shackles while being in the midst of propaganda protective dome. This is why works by non-Muslim academics is very important to establish incoherencies in the original narrative. These should be valued not castigated as unfortunately very few Muslim academics and so called Alims and Ulemas are brave enough to challenge the stereotypical status quo. Their apologist zeal end up creating myths and myths are unattainable and distant, eventually becoming obfusticated with age. Myths represent super human achievements which no humans can achieve in short. The Ulema in out of zeal or fear have managed to create the myth of Muhammad and stoked it regularly with constant and positive affirmation generation over generation, leading to the current state of Muslim perception as emotionally charged bigots ready to blow and riot at the slightest pretext. Lesley has for me challenged the Muhammad myth with Muhammad the person in flesh and bones, who suddenly becomes very interesting indeed, someone all Muslims can realistically hope to emulate.

What Lesley has done here is to point out the facts as narrated by the great Persian historian Ibn Tabari and Ibn Ishq, about the life of the first Muslim, Muhammad. There is nothing new here as all of the narrative exactly the same. Lesley's value add is the subtle focus on well established facts about Muhammad's life like the doubt which he experienced when first visited by Allah's angle of revelation Gabrail. He was terrified by the first encounter with the other world. Why? Because he was only human and terror was the only sane human response. He even tried to kill himself which seemed too human for some Ulema who tried to downplay the incident, thus lending weight to the Mythical Muhammad inadvertently. maybe such questions are not really relevant in Muslim majority agreeable cultures as opposed to a apologist Muslim cultures of Muslim minority cultures where a much more sustained and solid argument has to be made. For as Lesley points out, 'the purity of perfection denies the complexity of a lived life.'

Other questions worth pondering raised by Lesley are , how instrumental was Mohammad's foster upbringing critical in the concept of a later Ummah? What defines the meteoric rise of a mere trader to the heights of power among the very divisive Arabs? How did Muhammad's new religion rise to the top of the opposition among a number of similar rival movements? What was in his message which irked the Quraysh so much?

What sets Lesely apart is her very addictive story-telling style which is a gift. This art of story telling is highly valued in the East at least, which makes the book a very easy read.

A word of caution if you have read Lesley's earlier book on Shia and Sunni (After the Prophet) book though, as a few chapters have been cut paste into this book which is very cheeky indeed. I nearly had to take away one full star due to this gross misdemeanour, but fortunately not only does Lesley manage to portray Muhammad as a human but also does full justice to his very Arabic era. This is an invaluable book about history of the Arabs as well. A must read for all interested in Islam.
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