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41 of 46 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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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Oct 2010 04:37:07 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Dec 2010 01:49:56 GMT
Dear John B. Leith

May the blessings of God be with you. I would like to recommend you a couple of biographical accounts of the life of prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The one that you have read is not authentic, the ones i will recommend you to read are 100% authentic as they contain authentic Ahadith's aka teachings, sayings and events which took part in Prophet Muhammads life. One of these book was published in 'Macca Madina' the very place where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born. Please see below.

NAME: The Sealed Nectar, Biography of the Noble Prophet: Written By: Saifur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri (Islamic University Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah). I have provided you a web link below which sells it, there are many other website which also sells it.

The other one is written by 'S.M Hassan Al-Banna' who wrote it using a more simple and effective way in providing the biographical account of the prophet. This one also contains authentic Ahadith's. To purchase please use the website link below.

Ahadith's are important as they were recorded by the very companions of the Prophet Muhammad. These Ahadith can be dated back 1400 years back, back in the time of the prophet and you will know the name of the followers (May the peace and blessings of Allah SWT be upon them all) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who learnt from his teaching and example.

I hope you buy and read this 'InshaAllah' especially if you wish to understand the true biographical account of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Take Care

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jan 2011 16:17:26 GMT
Last edited by the author on 28 Jan 2011 16:21:45 GMT
Penguin Egg says:
Not exactly drawing upon unbiased accounts, are you? A question for you: If Muhammad was born today and did what he did then, today - could he be tried as a war criminal? I am referring to the massacre of Medinna, as you have probably already guessed. Another question: If Muhammad was born today and did what he did then, today - could he be tried as a child molester? I am talking about the rape of the 9 year old Aisha, of course.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Jul 2011 22:30:30 BDT
Thank you for these additional references. I feel that you are unhappy with Rogerson's biography of the prophet. Could you say why? I am going to read Rogerson's book, and would appreciate your comments. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Jul 2011 02:36:09 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Aug 2011 07:05:55 BDT
Mr Tea-Mole says:
Penguin Egg

You totally miss the point.

Question 1 - answer: NO. The tribe of Qurayzah were guilty of high treason in a time of war - punishable by death in most modern democracies. Besides they were judged according to their own law by a third party arbitrator appointed by Muhammad (s) - he did not make the final decision.

Question 2 - Get your facts right. There was no rape. If you want to wilfully distort facts then I'm not willing to bang my head on a brick wall. It was a consensual marriage which did not raise a single eyebrow in the Arabian society of the time. Whether she was 9 or 19 is a matter of debate within the Muslim scholarly community. Either way you, my dear Penguin Egg, spectacularly miss the point.

If Muhammad was born today he would have acted in accordance with the norms and customs of the society he lived in. Which is why one of the foundational principles of anthropology is to resist the temptation to judge another society (often in a vastly different geographical and historical setting) by your own values. This is usually unfair and betrays a lack of nuance on the part of the observer. Why on earth would Muhammad, in seventh century Arabia, have lived by our 21st century modern Western values? This just does not make any sense.

You need to learn to differentiate between the universal aspects of Muhammad's message - which transcend time and place and appeal to the bulk of humanity - and those aspects which occurred as a result of socio-historic setting. The former constitute his message and religion, the latter the human manifestation of his life in a particular time and place. The propensity for such intelligent discernment is presumed as a given for anybody who wants to have a meaningful encounter with the life of a man who lived in the deserts of Arabia fourteen centuries ago - yet, my dear Penguin Egg, this does rather seem to be something you haven't quite twigged on to yet.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Jul 2011 16:54:30 BDT
im sorry, i didnt realise that there were a couple of responses made in regards to my comment. I'd like to thank Mr Tea Mole for his statement which is very true, thank you and may the bessings of Allah(SWT) always be with you.

To Mr W browning. My reason for not agreeing with Rogerson's biography is only because it is based more on his thoughts and perception which comes from a more critical analysis on either what he's heard about the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH), the little reading he done from unauthemtic sources and fonally what he thinks and understand to be true. I believe that Rogerson has not read the the authentic Biography of the prophet Muhammad(PBUH) which i have refrenced in my previous comment. Can i advise you to read the Authentic bigraphy which come from true historical sources which have been recorded since 1432 years ago. Only then can you understand the life of Prohpet Muhammad(PBUH) and how he lived.

Ms Penguin Egg, i am not bothered to respond to your comment. You come across like a biased individual and like to see things from your own narrow point of view without having any factual knowledge about the Prophet(PBUH). If you would like to discuss this further then i'd recommend that you read the Prophet(PBUH) Authentic biography first. Only then will i be willing to have a thorough and critical discussion with you.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Jul 2011 21:35:56 BDT
Penguin Egg says:
Dear Mr Tea-Mole,
I realise that you judge people by the values of the times that they live in, and if you judge Muhammed by those values, he comes over as a rather humane man. However, we are not talking about just anyone here, but the Messenger of God. That being the case, then his behaviour should be exemplary at all times in all places, and this is the problem that I have with Muhammed. In my eyes he comes over as a man very much rooted in his time and place. One way of looking at Islam is to see it as an attempt to unite the feuding tribes of Arabia under one God. The one God idea was borrowed from Judaism and Christianity, with which he was familar from his travels. Islam talks about humanity as being one, but it seems to me very rooted in 7th century Arabia, and it is it's inablity to transcend that which convinces me that the Koran is not the word of God. Incidentaly, I dont believe in God, which is another reason why I dont believe Muhammed was Allah's messenger. He was his own messenger and his ideas, although progressive, were of their time. Yes, child brides were not uncommon in ancient times, but the marriage was not consummed until 14 at the earliest. For a girl to have sex at 9 is rape - pure and simple. Of course, it may not have happened, but that so many Muslims through the ages have defended Muhammed's act suggests that it may well have been a genuine occurance.

In reply to an earlier post on 31 Jul 2011 21:40:37 BDT
Penguin Egg says:
I do have knowledge about Muhammed's life and the times he lived in, but I do not believe that he was a messenger of a god who I believe does not exist. Muhammed was his own messenger. I might be wrong. I don't know. but neither do you.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Aug 2011 04:09:24 BDT
Don't know what made you think that i don't know anything but if thats what you think then so be it. I've already made the judgement that speaking to you would be like speaking to a wall, no offence. But im gonna try anyways.

Do you have a thirst for knowldege? if you do then read the Translation of the Qu'ran(not Koran) by Abdullah Yusuf Ali or Mohammed Pickthall, atleast then you might understand what muslims believe in. These translations are regarded as two of the best in the world.

So today your alive, tomorrow you might die and then you become nothing? is that what you really believe?
Everyone lives for a purpose, nature has a purpose(tress, plants, sea etc), every creature has a purpose watch the geography channel or them animal shows. Even the lion king cartoon film shows that. Every soul has a connection with the earth and in the end the earth is where they end up, but is that it?? Does it all stop there. What happens to that magnifucent brain of yours? Your heart? The people you'd give your life for (mum, dad, son, daughter, friend, husband) Do you really believe in nothing!! or is that just you being being ignorant and giving peace to your mind because you don't know any better and haven't found the true answers?

As humans we have a tendency to ask questions and seek for answers to define our purpose in life and i think that you haven't asked the right questions or seeked hard enough. Try this, open your heart and mind, pray and ask the creator that if he is there then he should guide you and TRUST me read the Qu'ran translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali or Mohammed Pickthall.

I wish you all the best.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Aug 2011 09:01:47 BDT
Last edited by the author on 1 Aug 2011 09:05:28 BDT
Penguin Egg says:
I never said that you didn't know anything. I said that you didn't know if Muhammed was the messenger of god or not. You believe that he was, but you don't really know.

As for my non-belief in god, the reason for my existing, may I quote you a passage by Ian McEwan: "The primitive thinking of the supernaturally inclined amounts to what [psychiatrists] call a problem, or an idea, of reference. An excess of the subjective, the ordering of the world in line with your needs, an inabliity to contemplate your own unimportance..... such reasoning belongs on a spectrum at whose far end, rearing like an abandoned temple, lies psychosis."

Sums it up for me. I think people who believe in god are deluded and those who think they have an understanding with god are especially deluded. I think for a person to realise his own unimportance is an important step towards intellectual maturity. Science has shown us how the universe was created and how we, as a speices, evolved. No need for a god. Once we realise our place in the universe, then we can use our intellect to realise our connection with every living thing, our common biological ancestry, and use that as a basis for enlightenment. Science aims to answer all our cosmological questions and ethics on how to lead or life. Religion is not needed. It is indeed an impediment to our development as enlightened human beings.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Aug 2011 16:59:24 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Aug 2011 07:05:17 BDT
Mr Tea-Mole says:
Dear Penguin Egg

Thanks for your response - for brevity I'll restrict my comments to the post you addressed to me specifically.

"One way of looking at Islam is to see it as an attempt to unite the feuding tribes of Arabia under one God. The one God idea was borrowed from Judaism and Christianity, with which he was familiar from his travels."

This represents the archetypal Orientalist view of Islam through much of recorded history - and there has been a lot of hostility as well as downright misrepresentation in the depiction of the figure of Muhammad (s). If we preclude the possibility of a genuine revelatory experience (which many Christian writers did), we're left with the task of explaining Islam in purely empirical terms. A useful chapter is 'Muhammad the Enemy' in Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet. Yes - this is certainly "one way of looking at Islam" but equally it isn't the only way. I prefer the view that "it was as though a crack had opened in the carapace which encloses this world, so that he had seen and heard things which make the ordinary life of mankind appear unbearably narrow and suffocating..." (from Islam and the Destiny of Man by Charles Le Gai Eaton, p.119), quite similar to the experience of the escaped prisoner in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Of course that is my prerogative. It is also interesting to note that serious Western scholarship has become somewhat more benign recently in terms of its view of Muhammad - generally accepting his sincerity and even acceding the possibility of some kind of a genuine revelatory experience. I would recommend reading Hans Kung or Karen Armstrong if you are so inclined.

"...this is the problem that I have with Muhammed. In my eyes he comes over as a man very much rooted in his time and place. ... Islam talks about humanity as being one, but it seems to me very rooted in 7th century Arabia, and it is it's inability to transcend that which convinces me that the Koran is not the word of God."

I disagree with your assertion that Islam is inextricably rooted in 7th century Arabia. If this was the case, it could never have survived and flourished as a successful, thriving global civilisation for well-nigh a millennium. To quote an American Muslim scholar, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah:

"For centuries, Islamic civilization harmonized indigenous forms of cultural expression with the universal norms of its sacred law. It struck a balance between temporal beauty and ageless truth and fanned a brilliant peacock's tail of unity in diversity from the heart of China to the shores of the Atlantic. Islamic jurisprudence helped facilitate this creative genius. In history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but-having no color of their own-reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African. Sustained cultural relevance to distinct peoples, diverse places, and different times underlay Islam's long success as a global civilization. The religion became not only functional and familiar at the local level but dynamically engaging, fostering stable indigenous Muslim identities and allowing Muslims to put down deep roots and make lasting contributions wherever they went."
(see 'Islam and the Cultural Imperative' published by the Nawawi Foundation -

A cursory glance at the historical manifestation of Islam in a myriad of diverse cultural settings proves its inherent malleability and its rootedness in universal principles.

"Incidentaly, I dont believe in God, which is another reason why I dont believe Muhammed was Allah's messenger"

That's fine and entirely your prerogative which I respect. I would add that to a large extent I can understand why many people in the West have a hard time with any type of religious faith. Most religious people aren't exactly the best adverts for their faiths. Couple this with the sustained intellectual dismantling religion has been subject to in the West over the past few centuries (which has shown no signs of letting up in recent times!) and its little wonder many people see religion as nothing more than a quaint cultural phenomenon fit only for the rubbish tip of history. Science, after all, has revealed the workings of the universe in unparalleled splendour and God has been declared useless and redundant. You may find my review of Richard Dawkin's best-seller The God Delusion interesting -

In terms of the age of Muhammad's wife, Aisha, this will probably continue to fester as a sore in terms of how Islam is perceived in the West - especially as some vocal parties are bent on painting the picture in the most lurid of colours. The greatest proof to me that no type of 'misdemeanour' took place (quite aside from the belief that he was genuinely the Messenger of God) is the figure of the Lady Aisha herself. What an awesome woman. Erudite, feisty, fiercely independent, intelligent and outspoken - she is the exact antithesis of today's stereotype of the 'oppressed Muslim woman'. Many of the senior male ulema (religious scholars) of Medina went to her as students after the demise of the Prophet and it is a recorded historical fact that, unhappy with the political status quo of her time, she wielded enough power to lead an army into battle. That's aside from the massive charitable endowments she administered throughout her life. Clearly this is not the life of an abused, scarred schoolgirl. Her father was a man of the most impeccable comport and character and so was her husband. I think an objective survey would rank her as one of the most remarkable women of pre-modern times - not least because her life unfolded in that critical crucible of history which inspired such change in the total human story that me and you still feel the reverberations to this day.
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