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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Muhammad: All That Matters
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Muhammad: All That Matters is a judicious and lucid account of the life of the founder of Islam by a leading Western academic and Islamic scholar. The dialectical style -- where Sardar first presents one case as strongly as he can, and then the counter-case, and finally a synthesis -- may be unfamiliar to many English readers (though those with a German background will recognise it immediately) which at times gives the impression that the author is telling us what to think. However, the balanced position that he comes to is nuanced and intelligent, though solidly Islamic.

This is the substance of his argument about the sources and reliability:
We know more about Muhammad than any other prophet, argues Sardar, asserting the mainstream Islamic view.
However, since none of the sources are contemporaneous, what we know is uncertain.
Nonetheless, to dismiss everything entirely, as some Western scholars have done, is unreasonable. Therefore the nuanced position is to tell the entire story, based on the best available materials, but to point out areas which seem to be doubtful or exaggerated.

From a Western scholarly point of view, this is giving an enormous amount of benefit of the doubt to the accounts. From an Islamic point of view, it is highly liberal. Ultimately, argues Sardar, it comes down to belief. However, to be informed of the life of Muhammad is not a matter of belief, but of information, and therefore the main bulk of the book is given to telling the story of his life.

From that point Sardar tells the story as accurately as he can, introducing key Islamic concepts as he goes. The book finishes with an assessment of the character of Muhammad and his key ideas.

If you are not a Muslim, then there will always be a sense reading this book of being an outsider looking in. There are things which Sardar suggests it is necessary to believe in order to make sense of Muhammad that are at odds with much of Western thought. However, this book gives us as good a window for looking in as I've ever seen. Even if you are unwilling -- in purely general terms -- to accept the underlying framework of God, prophets, angels, and so on, you come away with a much richer understanding of what Muslims believe, and a detailed narrative account of Muhammad's life.

Not all problems in the world will be solved by understanding each other, but the West's failure to comprehend and engage with the fundamental values of the Arab world has not helped matters. This book should be enough to give any interested but relatively uninformed reader a head start in understanding what is important to Muslims, and it does so in the least polemical way possible.
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VINE VOICEon 25 September 2012
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Several years ago, I had a very interesting discussion with a scholar of Arab history. He made the point that, when Islam was going through a particularly rough patch, the 'powers that be' cast their minds back to when the Muslims held sway in the world, and then tried to emulate what they did. Great idea, but instead of looking at the freedom of thought that led to the discoveries in science and medicine, they looked only at the rigid lifestyles, in such a way that gives Islam the reputation it seems to have now.

I had hoped that this book would re-examine Islam in a similar manner, going back to the sort of man that Muhammed actually way. We are, after all, talking about a man who spared the defeated inhabitants of Mecca, and proved his mercy.

Unfortunately, the author doesn't quite manage that because he seems to just want to espouse his own view. This could have been a book about any extremist in any religion. The 'evidence' is made to fit the view the author wishes to portray, rather than being balanced.

One day, someone will write a balanced book, but not yet.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 October 2012
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This book offers up the question 'Who Was The Real Muhammad' and it certainly succeeds in answering this question.

For anyone wanting an interesting and readable account of the life of Muhammad the man this book is highly recommended. Ziauddin Sardar,author of several best-selling books has returned to source texts to put together as authentic an account as possible.
Sensibly the book opens with an examination and confirmation of the validity of accounts of the life of Muhammad, and a very brief outline of his life and works.
Pre-Islamic Arabia is described, and following on from this, the life of Muhammad, before he became the prophet. The first revelations of what became the Qur'an are described; to the end of his life such revelations left Muhammad shaking and terrified.

This portrayal of him as a man of ordinary emotions has great impact.
Sardar's account continues through the pivotal points of Muhammad's life - his removal from Mecca to Medina, the plots against his life, and the battles he fought, through to a look at his wives. The main account culminates in a summary of the man and his character.

There are many fascinating facts in separate text boxes throughout the text, some of which serve to debunk myths surrounding the Islamic faith. These include a concise explanation of why blasphemy against Muhammad is not a crime,despite contemporary claims.

The final section of the book outlines '100 facts' about the life of Muhammad for further research and enlightenment - classical biographies, popular biographies, websites to investigate, films to watch. Finally 50 sayings of the prophet followed by a selected bibliography and a useful index.

For those who know little of the prophet or indeed Islam, beyond what they see in the media, this is an extremely informative, enlightening and very readable guide. Although written for adults, it could certainly be used for school studies by older (14+) children.
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on 24 September 2012
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Islam is perhaps one of the most wantonly misunderstood religions and culture in the West, and few outside of the religion I am sure, would know anything about the life and times of its greatest prophet Mohammad. I for one before I read this book, was certainly one of that ignorant mass.

So I am so much more educated now for reading this concise but nonetheless highly illuminating outline of the prophet Mohammad. It's the nature of these short introductory books that a lot of stuff seems at times airbrushed, but having said that, Ziauddin Sardar has done an admirable job at making the subject matter both immediately interesting as well as setting out enough intriguing points to encourage further investigation.

Coming at the subject matter with few preconceptions as, to be perfectly honest, I knew next to nothing about the life of Mohammad, I must say how struck I was by the overall 'humanity' of the man. Yes he was a warrior, yes he did take multiple wives, but he was very much a product of his time [as is any historical figure] and at the end of the day, one cannot help but be struck by the drive of the man to create a fairer, more tolerant society in a fractious Arabia full of not just Arab tribes, but active Jewish and Christian ones too, something else I hadn't appreciated about this period in Middle Eastern history.

There has been much criticism of Islam the past couple of centuries amongst the western intelligentsia- some of it I must say warranted, as you can see some of the germs of the contradictions inherent in the religion even in this small book- but as the author quite rightly points out, Christendom is in no position to cast stones. At the end of the day, the West seems obsessed with studiously misunderstanding what is clearly a religion based squarely in tolerance, social justice and love, and that is very much our loss. I hope small, accessible books like this can keep up the good work needed to change those mis-conceptions.
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VINE VOICEon 27 April 2013
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Ziauddin Sardar has produced a suprisingly detailed introduction to the prophet Muhammad and Islam. Although much of the book is drawn from academic rather than strictly religious references it is written in an accessible, easy to read way, which provides an understanding of the prophet as a man and a religious leader. He addresses many of the controversies about the prophet in a calm and factual manner which allows understanding within the historical context.It has a useful bibliography and a section which provides "100 ideas" to build one's knowledge. Recommended for anyone interested in the subject and looking for a more detailed introduction than "Introducing Islam: A Graphic Guide" by the same author.
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VINE VOICEon 26 April 2013
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I have been looking for some time for a good and short introduction to the life of Muhammad. As a non Muslim wishing to understand a little of how this important world faith began and the background to the founder.
This book is a readable and short biography of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

I have found it to be well written - the book does not assume any previous knowlege of the prophet which I have found really helpful. All the significant parts of Muhammed's life are in this book.

For someone who wants to read an brief introduction to Muhammed this book is perfect.
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VINE VOICEon 16 February 2013
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Although the blurb claims that this book will look at aspects of Muhammad's life 'which up to now have been largely ignored', I didn't read anything in this that I didn't already know, except that the Prophet was fond of cats and that he (like the Buddha) was firm about the fact that he was a man, not a god.
Anyone who watched Rageh Omar's excellent TV series on Muhammad will also not be surprised by anything in this book but it is still very well worth reading. With Islam so prominently on the rise and the varying interpretations of it, along with the huge potential for misunderstanding and intolerance, I would recommend everyone to read as much of this sort of balanced and scholarly material as possible.
I said 'careful' in my title because I get the impression that a vocal minority of those that practice Islam are very touchy about their religion and that there is little room for the kind of robust criticism that other religions take in their stride. Therefore, this author doesn't attempt to criticize either and is very careful to be completely respectful of Muhammad and Islam at all times.
Which is both rather a shame and fine if it is what he believes. A shame because I think every religion should be stout enough to hold its head above criticism whilst not stifling debate and I do get the impression that Islam is not open to debate or criticism even from within (I wonder if Salman Rushdie would agree?).
I was disappointed that Sardar didn't crush some of the myths that have grown up around modern Islam ie that women should be covered head to foot and/or be completely invisible. I am as sure as I can be that there is nothing specifying this in the Prophet's writings, but Sardar doesn't mention this very current and contentious issue.
It's a short book and I'm sure that a complete examination of Muhammad's life and the religion he inspired is the work of many lifetimes and much bigger volumes - but as a beginning or an introduction, it is well worth reading.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 29 July 2012
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There are some definite good aspects to this book:
a. It is a concise guide with critical recommendations for further reading (the author does show partiality at times with the BBC's series he wrote being described as 'highly acclaimed', where other's works are described as 'cynical')
b. The inclusion of basic maps, quotations etc. does aid understanding.
c. I enjoyed the sections on the sources of Islam, though the author underplays the problems of a lack of contemporary testimony.
d. Most importantly I finished knowing far more than when I started - surely the main point.

If looking for a basic guide this might be it, but there are some serious caveats:

a. Why has the author used Wikipedia in an apparently academically sourced text?
b. Explaining the violence of early Islam (p.88 for instance notes the extermination of al Aws) the author doesn't really get beyond saying that Christianity has also been violent (indeed, but lacking relevance?) and a retreat to moral relativism: perhaps(?) acceptable for purely historical figures, but surely not for founders of a revealed religion (the same is true of the child marriages). I was unsure why having raised this incident the author felt able to conclude that Compassion and Mercy were obvious. The same was true for the incident of Abu Sufyan and the rejected peace offer at Medina (p.104) being unquestioningly put alongside the bald statement that "if an enemy asks for peace the offer must be accepted" (p118). I'm not qualified to comment on the conclusions reached, but the chain of reasoning and the adduced evidence is often weak and occasionally fallacious: such statements need to be closely argued.
c. There are typos throughout the book: one does not ferment trouble, one foments it.
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on 25 December 2012
I have been reading quite widely around the topic of Islam and its discontents over the past few years, and have to say that this is an apologist's account. Although this claims to be 'All that Matters' much of Muhammad's life is not mentioned, and the political movements which made Islam a sensible choice (just as was Christianity for the Scandinavians 300-400 years later) to avoid war are not addressed. Claims are made about the mores of the time for men - but then no sources are given to support them. Surely there must be sources outside the Islamic tradition which describe the age for marriage, and some notions of consent to marriage?; (a child of 8 or 9 cannot have thought to be giving consent for her self, but rather being handed over by her parents or guardians for their own benefit) for example. Chaucer fell out, it is said, with a king because he would not wait to have sex with his very young wife until she had first menstruated - I would say that this suggests quite clear views about acceptability of sexual intercourse with a child in the English Middle Ages. I would expect at least some evidence of general behaviour to support claims about normal male behaviour in the common era 630.

If you know nothing about the life of the originator is Islam, then this might be useful to you - but I think it is misnamed.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 18 September 2012
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Muhammad All That Matters is written by Ziaddin Sardar, who is a well known author and academic within the Muslim world, having published numerous books on Islam and other contemporary issues.

This is a relatively short summary of what is known of the life of Muhammad both before and after the revelations which are the basis of the Islamic faith. I imagine that this is principally directed at the non Muslim reader to whom the facts as stated will not be so familiar. However, the author attempts to make this presentation in a balanced way and to question the evidence where appropriate. For example, the first chapter details the way in which, in a society that principally depended on verbal rather than written records, none of this history was committed to paper until approximately a century after the death of Muhammad and then relied to a large extent on a critical sifting of the multitude of hearsay evidence available at that time.

This is a useful summary, but is not an in depth consideration of the subject or of the main tenets of Islam. Whilst it gives a useful but brief grounding, it is likely to leave the more engaged reader in search of a more detailed and thorough examination of these issues.
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