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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad
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on 5 May 2017
My sincere thanks to Lesley Hazleton for writing about the Prophet in a respectful way and explaining issues intelligently and within their context. This is such a departure from the mocking of the Prophet and Islam that many people indulge in taking information out of context to serve their own nafarious agendas. The narrative in this book is written with sensitivity. intelligence and reverence that is not often seen from most Western authors tackling this particular topic area.Ms. Hazleton deserves great credit for producing a lovely piece of historical narrative. Highly recommended.
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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 5 September 2017
very good lets you know what it is all about
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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 1 July 2016
Put in a style you'll either accept or find irksome. To classical Muslim understanding this is somewhat dismissive and almost pedestrian in its re-telling of the life of one of history's most important figures' but perhaps it is meant as such.
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on 12 November 2016
Subtitled, ‘The Story of Muhammad’, this scholarly and meticulously researched book provides answers to many common questions about the Islamic prophet. As an agnostic (It’s impossible for humanity ever to truly ‘know’ whether God exists or not, since such a power must, by definition, be far beyond our comprehension) I have an interest in the driving forces behind religion. This book gave me information I hadn’t previously accessed and repudiated certain rumours I’d heard, whilst portraying this man and the religion he represents in a way that both confirmed and illuminated some of my preformed impressions.
The author consulted many Muslim scholars and original works in order to come to some understanding of the man, his times and society, and the truths and myths surrounding his life and the subsequent compilation of the Qur’an. I’ve read the Qur’an, the Bible, and other religious tracts: I prefer to be informed.
This biography is well written and manages to keep a relatively neutral viewpoint most of the time. Writing about a man who has followers eager to kill anyone daring to disagree with their particular interpretation of the many myths, legends and facts is fraught with danger, so I applaud the author for her courage and her ability to present information without overt opinion, bias or fear of consequences.
This is a book everyone should read: believers in other religions, so they know why Islam is the way it is and thereby gain a greater understanding of how faith can be generated; Muslims of every variety, so they acquire knowledge of where their faith was born and how some of their brethren have entirely misinterpreted the original intentions of their prophet; Atheists and agnostics for the facts it contains that will undoubtedly strengthen their arguments against religion in general.
There are many clues about how original truths have been distorted and abused through the ages since Muhammad’s death, recorded as occurring on 8 June 632 using the Gregorian calendar. In common with the various Christian churches’ misappropriation and abuse of Jesus, the Islamic world has clearly taken facts, myths and what amount to fairy tales to mix various concoctions that, in many cases, completely counter the intentions of the originator of their religion. Power and the desire for control have ruled religion over aeons and this book demonstrates how much that unfortunate abuse of good intentions has distorted the original message of the prophet all Muslims claim to love. It also makes clear how the growth of power resulted in the inevitable growth of corruption: there’s a reason for the adage, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’; it’s called experience.
It’s a truly sad fact that worshipers will generally believe what they wish to believe regardless of facts, history and even the aims of the man they claim to worship. That all sacred texts, and especially the Qur’an, are open to interpretation, and therefore misinterpretation, only proves to the free-thinker that such works have nothing whatever to do with any supreme power called God, Allah, Buddha, Jehovah, Zeus, Brahma, Shiva, or any of the millions of other names ascribed to an ultimate power. And this book, read with an open mind, lends weight to that rational point of view.
It’s even sadder that believers will read this book and find in it evidence of the basis of their faith. People of other faiths may well see the underlying revelation of fundamental truths about the nature of religion, but will probably find it impossible to apply the same conclusions to their own faith.
Those who recognise faith as a human need that’s been badly served by religion will garner new evidence to support their suspicion and rejection of those organisations that have distorted spirituality into a means of controlling people in order to create a power base.
Read this book with an open mind and it just might startle you into a new realisation of the truth.
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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 June 2017
I knew next to nothing about muhammed when I picked up this book at the library. I'd HEARD a lot - almost worship from the muslims, a lot of very negative stuff from the Right Wing (violent, married a child...) So I was interested to find an even-handed report on his life from someone without an agenda.
This takes us right through mohammed's life: his father died before he was born; he was fostered out by Bedouins then - briefly- returned to his mother, who also soon died. Successful in the family caravan business in Mecca, and contentedly married to an older wife, I found myself unexpectedly warming to him, as he began adopting the life of a 'hanif', focussing on spirituality, meditation and a rejection of multiple gods. Lesley Hazelton uses contemporary sources to describe his first visitation, and the shock it inspired:

"Trembling, shuddering almost convulsively, he begged Khadija to hold him and hide him under her shawl. "Cover me, cover me", he pleaded, his head in her lap...Even as he still shook in Khadija's lap, Muhammad found his voice and the first revelation of ther Quran formed into words that another human being could hear."

Like a latter-day Christ, muhammed is reviled for his new ideas and flees to Medina with a group of followers. And still he seems a persuasive character, striving to engage with local Jews, holding resolutely to his beliefs.
But absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this reader's empathy for him swiftly started to evaporate as his consummate political nous turns him into a rather Machiavellian character. Launching raids on his foes in Mecca - less for religious reasons than to seize the luxury goods being transported in their caravan; turning cruelly on those same Jewish locals with whom he once was on friendly terms (much beheading); a handy divine revelation that reversed the prohibition on marrying the wife of an adopted son - just in time for him to do just that. The 'Satanic verses' (no, not the Rushdie book) in which muhammed pragmatically acknowledged the local goddesses (to the joy of the locals - but Allah bid him remove them) proved his fallibility. Also his decision to take nine wives - although the quran only allows four (and warns against that), divine revelation allowed the prophet as many as he wished (and concubines besides.) I increasingly disliked him, comparing his warmongering and political manoeuvring unfavourably with the first Christians. There wasn't even a steady purpose - after massacring one lot of Jews (miffed that they wouldnt accept him as 'prophet') he later instructs his followers to show tolerance for those who wouldn't convert!!

As I neared the end, I have to say my sympathies were with his arch-enemy, a woman named Hind, who urged the people to "kill that fat, greasy bladder of lard."
I think he did have some sort of visitation. But whether divine or satanic - the reader must decide.
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on 19 October 2017
This book is EXCELLENT, and very fair. I couldn't put it down. It is a historically accurate and non-biased account of Muhammed, anyone who gave it just 1 star is clearly miffed at the less than flattering parts of Muhammed's life that were (truthfully) mentioned in the book. I'm very impressed with the author's impartiality, there is absolutely nothing offensive about this book. She has been consistently fair through out including toward the Christian faith and Jesus. As a reader I want truth and truth is what I feel I got here, and it was also beautifully written, it was wonderful to 'journey' through seventh century Arabia. Muhammed's virtues were seen again and again as were the less savoury things he did. He was not a perfect man, nor did he claim to be, it's refreshing to see both sides of one of historys most influential figures. I highly recommend this book.
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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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