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Uncomfortable reading for Muslims
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.