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Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time (2006)

Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time (2006)

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4 of 5 Votes: 1
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0060598972 (ISBN13: 9780060598976)
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About book Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time (2006)

Instead of a review, I'll narrate an incident that occurred a couple of days ago which captures perfectly the way most Muslims might deal with this book. It's a conversation (sort of, perhaps a bit more dramatized now that I analyze it) between myself and another individual and it would summarize the gist of Karen Armstrong's handy work nicely.*Limited from severe time constrictions, I often brought this book to the university and the hospital to read through during the short-lived tea breaks. Once, it happened that I was indulged in this activity when a professor of mine, and an esteemed member of our medical society, halted by, picked the book from between my hands and said with a frown: "Why would you read the biography of our Holy Prophet, the most distinguished man on earth to our knowledge, written by a foreigner?"Ha? I had this sudden, excessive desire to laugh. I didn't, of course, otherwise I would have likely been arrested in detention of some sort (though, it just might have been worth it). The man was an able doctor and an equally skilled teacher. I respected him. This one question, though, pierced through my image of him like a hair brush flung unaware at the dressing table mirror. I mean, the guy is working towards his Membership of the Royal College of Physicians, London. What about that part isn't foreign? "Sir" I said, real polite and all. "Armstrong is a known historian on religions and spirituality. She's written this book after quite a lot of research.""Are you saying we don't have our own historians to research the matter?" he exclaimed."Of course not" said I. "But I'd wanted to read something neutral and free of sugar-coating for a while."Crap, I thought. I need to keep a lock on my mouth lest this polite discussion goes out of hand and climbs into a personal vendetta. Professors here, you know, can't have their students mouthing them, even if they are wrong. I was well aware of getting my grades into jeopardy."Hmm" came his verdict. "And what does this Armstrong woman has to say about the Prophet?""Well... pretty much every thing we have to say. I mean, she can't change the history, can she? All the facts remain hard, except this time she's presented them in a manner that isn't overqualified. And this book actually focuses on eradicating false Islamophobia from the West.""I see." He sat down opposite me. Shit."I'm sure she wouldn't have published anything without a thorough research" he continued, "But I highly doubt that a non-muslim of any kind would be able to do justice to the depth of the persona of our Prophet. Maybe just the glimpse of a star in a universe.""He was a great man, but he was still a man. His characteristics are particularly well known to those outside the religion. Armstrong hasn't tried to record the depth of his personality, just what was visible about him, and yes, that would be like a glimpse of a star in a universe. In fact, she has written the book in a manner that says she was rather fond of him."I was bordering reckless now, though he didn't seem angry at all. Just sat with a poker face going 'Hmm hmm'. What's a student to do but prattle with fluster? It was like a damned full-fledged viva in a cafeteria."Not a surprise. What of the 'sugar-free' parts though?""Not exactly sugar-free. She's just cited some of the minor mistakes that the Prophet had committed while trying to embrace his new responsibility. Mistakes to prevent the compromise of Islam itself, actually. Our textbooks kind of left out those parts... though, of course, all this was to signify that he was a human being as well. And, uh, yeah.""And uh?""No, just that the state of the Arabs before the beginning of Islam was pretty sorry. We weren't given the full image at school.""That's correct. It's still a bit sorry, actually."Finally. Some sign of recognition that he wouldn't have me suspended. Thank you, God. I was half in excitement and half in tears. Please go away now, Professor, I have enough of you during the tedious lectures.He got up. Yes!"You're not wrong, Komal."Wait, he knew me by name? Among 86 students? Shit. No wait, my coat damn it. My coat had my name plastered to it. Thank you, God."But" he said. "It seems to me that you're eager to throw away what some of our own people say. I acknowledge that most among us are unreliable, but Armstrong really can't catch the deeper essences of Islam and Muhammad if she doesn't practise it. I think you're looking in the wrong places for this topic. This book, like you said, is focused towards the non-Islamic nation. I can give you a few recommendations on Islamic authors that wouldn't track you off the legitimate things, keep the sugar away, all the while explaining the better intricacies of Islam that Armstrong can never hope to capture. While I admit that we're not the greatest society on earth, you should stop concluding that there are no credibly literate people to be found. There are plenty."He smiled at the end. Thank you, God. I'd almost pee'd my pants."Yes Sir. That would be great.""See you at the lecture." I picked up the mirror pieces and started gluing them together. Well, the mirror appears more stronger now.

I am a Muslim (so take my prejudice and also knowledge about my religion into account) whilst reading this review.Why I think you should read it? - The Number One Reason anybody should read this book is because it's written by a non-Muslim-WOMAN... Many misconceptions about the Islamic religion question the position of women, their status, their equality and freedom in Islam...And having a non-Muslim woman explain how kind Islam (as a religion - and not as its follower's actions) is to women, along with the context, stories and necessities behind it's rules - is sure to be more effective than a Muslim's attempts. THE TRICKY TITLE - Muhammad A Prophet Of Our Time - as a title is true to the book but not in the sense that the book's all about it. Rather the book is more-so a retelling of the prophet Muhammad's (may peace be upon him) life from an angle that when viewed in relation with the title - will make you consider how Muhammad's message and character - can actually have solutions for all our current day problems, and how he may actually be the prophet that we need in our current times. At-least that's the message - that seems be in it - for the non-muslim readers.As for the Muslim's who read this book - the title (even if it wasn't intended to be so) is more like a sweetener - seeing as Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to indeed be the last prophet and his teachings (unlike the other prophets that came before him) to be for the entire world and all of it's remaining future. This obviously helps Muslim reader to "positively-process" while reading the book, which makes it easily possible for him/her to then consider Armstrong's perspective on what and why the prophet did what he did - to be crystal. Basically what I realized this book was about (after reading the book and then matching it with the preface/introduction/author's note) is that its basically - 1) A message to Non-Muslims saying "Oi! They're cool... so chill out!"2) A message to the Muslims saying "Yo! yawl are supposed to be cool... so chill out!"What I didn't like about the book - I don't blame the author for this, seeing as i think this to be an unavoidable flaw (according to me) for the remaining goods (that I think the book had to offer) to exist perhaps. I guess sometimes you just need to be personally biased towards something or someone in order to try and understand it/them better...At one point in the book - she makes mention of the Rushdie's Satanic Verses incident - and even-though its debated as to whether the incident actually took place or not in the prophet's life (while there is substantial evidence to prove that it most probably didn't) ... she deliberately claims that it did actually happen, that too only on the strength of just one critical scholar on the prophet's life (quite overly critical of the prophet - mind you) - who she commonly quotes - which makes one wonder why she wouldn't quote the accounts of any of the hundreds of the many other scholars/companions of the prophet, with contrary views. Yet apart from that, I must say all in all as a muslim reader, Karen Armstrong's perspective on the prophet's life in the book - was a very very very very!!! - refreshing, different and important addition to my knowledge as a Muslim... and i think it a must-read by both Muslims and non-Muslims. This is my first Karen Armstrong book and I surely look forward to reading more from her.

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I would call this book a "good read," but I can't really say I liked or disliked it. The book is a biography of a man portrayed as a fallible and opportunistic moral visionary who was ahead of his time, but very much behind ours. This sentiment is encapsulated throughout the book, but nowhere as clearly as in the book's final passage:"... Muhammad: a complex man, who resists facile, ideologically driven categorization, who sometimes did things that were difficult or impossible for us to accept,but who had profound genius and founded a religion and cultural tradition that was not based on the sword but whose name - "Islam" - signified peace and reconciliation."I think for many people, the image of Islam portrayed in this book is much more peaceful than their preconceptions or the media's general coverage of Islam. But as a Muslim, I found the book troubling. Amrstrong titled her book, "Muhammad: A Prophet for our Time." But a central thesis of the book is that Muhammad was very much a product of HIS time - - a thesis that casts doubt on the Muslim belief that the Prophet carried a universal message for all times. Armstrong suggests, for example, that there are passages from the Qu'ran which did not match the Prophet's lofty ideals, but allowed actions the Prophet himself found reprehensible as a means of satisfying the more barbaric elements of Arab society - - an element of society symbolized in this book by Omar, who is portrayed as a chauvinistic meathead (which, in fairness, is actually how several books I have read portray him). In sum, I recommend this book. It's very easy to read, and it's very interesting. I think the author intended to write a fair book, and I very much appreciate that. The book does challenge the traditional Muslim conception of Muhammad, which is that of an infallible prophet. I found these challenges offensive - - not necessarily because the challenges are not warranted, but in the same way I would find offense in an insult to a family member. But the book has inspired me to read more about the Prophet's life, to read additional biographies, by authors both Muslim and non-Muslim, Shi'a and Sunni.
—Ali Tehrani

This was one of my first forays into the life of a man who has meant so much to so very many. Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time felt easily digestible to me, an outsider and an utterly ignorant one at that. Having lived about 500 years after Jesus, we seem to know more concrete information about the life of this prophet, thought by Islamists to be the last prophet, than we do of the Christians' "son of god". He came from Mecca and is the man who brought all of the Arabian nations under one religious umbrella. He was a fighter, who raised a Jihadist army that he turned upon his own hometown, in the name of god of course.Perhaps that sounded too snarky. I do not intend to belittle the man or his religion. My scorn is for all organized religions. However, I try to set aside my prejudices when reading non-fiction on religious matters or biographies regarding their saintly figures. For instance, some of Muhammad's deeds did not seem entirely honorable in hindsight, but that is hindsight, which is distorted by the distance of time. Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time is a nice primer, a good first step towards greater knowledge. During these difficult times, when many of us Americans do not readily accept the followers of Islam with open arms, getting to know the history of the people is an important step in realizing our overwhelming similarities as humans, the one and only tribe of man and woman that should truly matter.
—Jason Koivu

Karen Armstrong first came to my attention when she participated in a debate with Richard Dawkins, in the Wall Street Journal. She seemed to me to articulate a more complete understanding of religion than Dawkins did, and I’m currently waiting for A Case for Religion by Karen Armstrong to be returned to the library so that I can read it. She has written many books on the history of religion, especially fundamentalism, and also an autobiography, The Spiral Staircase.Her book on Muhammad is a lovely book, portraying the events of his life in a very human and appealing way. It is meticulously documented, with footnoted sources, several to a page, referring back to the Koran, to the early biographers of Muhammad, or to scholarly commentators.It portrays an inspired man, at times shy and hesitant, but always intensely devoted to his vision of God. He sometimes seems to waffle between the prevailing mores of vengeful desert tribes and a higher vision of desert hospitality raised to love and social justice. Muhammad, in this portrayal, is often struggling and confused, but always steadfast in trying to understand the will of God, and to lead his community toward a holy purposefulness.Muhammad’s interactions with Christians and Jews are many and varied. Even though illiterate, he shows an understanding of other traditions, works with them as allies, and among his many wives has a Jewish wife and a Christian wife. In this portrayal, he regards himself as at one with all Abrahamic religion.Armstrong’s book makes me sympathetic to the prophet and to his purposes, which I would not have expected before I read it. It also makes me deeply suspicious of the contemporary authoritarian interpreters who seem so out of synch with the faithful and conscientious character of the prophet.
—Jon Stout

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