The First Muslim

It took me a while to read The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad primarily because I didn't want to read it on airplanes (a sad commentary of the times we live in!).

I'd heard bits and pieces of Muhammad's story before, but did not know much about his life because there are few non-pious biographies of the founder of Islam. This is in contrast, of course, to other historical-religious figures such as Jesus or Buddha whose lives and teachings have received the once-over multiple times (p.s. an excellent Manga telling of the Buddha's life is Kapilavastu).

I was surprised by how dichotomous Muhammad's life was.  In Mecca, his story as an outsider, preaching non-violence and detachment, is similar to that of Jesus or Buddha. In many ways, it's the prototypical founder-of-religion story, and there is little there to offend anyone's sensibilities. But in Medina, however, his life turns into that of a strategic political figure. In some ways, it is as if Jesus, Paul and Constantine were rolled into one lifetime.  Or Buddha, An Shigo and Ashoka rolled into one.  So, you have Muhammad orchestrating a triple cross, divvying up resources from raids on caravans, ordering that an entire tribe be wiped out, etc.  Pretty gruesome stuff.  But during it all, you never lose total sympathy for the central figure.

It is a wonderful biography and well worth the read.  (Even if you have to hide the title of the book as you read it ...)

Another sad commentary of the times we live in: I went to Amazon to see what the reader reviews were like. There were several reviews by Muslims hoping fervently that their compatriots would not be offended by the secular view of their prophet's life.

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