The extraordinary life of the man who founded Islam, and the world he inhabited—and remade.
Lesley Hazleton's new book, Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, is out now from Riverhead Books.
Muhammad’s was a life of almost unparalleled historical importance; yet for all the iconic power of his name, the intensely dramatic story of the prophet of Islam is not well known. In The First Muslim, Lesley Hazleton brings him vibrantly to life. Drawing on early eyewitness sources and on history, politics, religion, and psychology, she renders him as a man in full, in all his complexity and vitality.
Hazleton’s account follows the arc of Muhammad’s rise from powerlessness to power, from anonymity to renown, from insignificance to lasting significance. How did a child shunted to the margins end up revolutionizing his world? How did a merchant come to challenge the established order with a new vision of social justice? How did the pariah hounded out of Mecca turn exile into a new and victorious beginning? How did the outsider become the ultimate insider?
Impeccably researched and thrillingly readable, Hazleton’s narrative creates vivid insight into a man navigating between idealism and pragmatism, faith and politics, nonviolence and violence, rejection and acclaim. The First Muslim illuminates not only an immensely significant figure but his lastingly relevant legacy.
Despite Islam s position at the forefront of the American consciousness, the general public knows little of its founder and prophet beyond platitudes and condemnations. Hazleton (After the Prophet) attempts to rectify this imbalance with her vivid and engaging narrative of Muhammad s life. The author portrays her subject as an unlikely and unsuspecting vehicle for the divine, painfully aware that too many nights in solitary meditation might have driven him over the edge. Sympathetic but not hagiographic, her work draws liberally from a long tradition of Islamic biographical literature about the prophet; the nuanced portrait that emerges is less that of an infallible saint than of a loving family man, a devoted leader of his people, an introspective and philosophical thinker who reluctantly accepted the burden of conveying the word of God, and a calculating political strategist. Hazleton writes not as a historian but as a cultural interpreter, reconstructing Muhammad s identity and personality from the spiritual revolution that he sparked and the stories that his followers passed down. While the speculation is sometimes off-putting (as when Muhammad s final illness is confidently diagnosed as bacterial meningitis), the result is a fluid and captivating introduction that will be invaluable for those seeking a greater understanding of Islam s message and its messenger.
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fresh, new and insightful
Being a muslim, the Prophet (PBUH) is the role model for me and his life is simply the exemplary route for all muslims. The book talked about Mohammed the man rather than the prophet. While in some areas she shed some doubt on his motivations, it is this same doubt that dresses the prophet (PBUH) with the human traits that make him more glorious and more realistic. the book gave me a totally new perspective to Islam , although i practiced Islam all my life. The apparent weaknesses and the internal politics did not diminish the prophet (PBUH) value but rather amplified his stature and his ingenious mind. Being an agnostic Jewish, Lesley Hazleton was may be more objective and talked about the historical figure rather than the mystical prophet. This humanization and “realistic” approach- a;though sometimes might be biased- is really a fresh , new and vibrant approach to the great prophet’s personality and role. Great book, new perspective, while apparently it contradicts with some of the established facts, yet, it incarnates the same values and ethics...
Misleading and deceptive
Though I respect the author for her many just causes and view points in other matters, I find it disturbing that, in many events mentioned in the book, the author seems to be choosing certain versions of the story that may not serve good the authenticity of the biography. For instance, there are many one sided versions chosen which encourage thinking of the prophet as being politically, rather than spiritually, driven. A variety of events could've been told each in their different versions, for example, in the same book; in order to ensure its neutrality. Indeed, the author does so in few places here and there, but in general she fails in my opinion to show the whole picture.
She succeeds also in selecting terms that indicate criticizing the prophet and analyzing him just as any other political leader. Everyone has the right to believe or not in his prophecy. But if comparison is needed in regards of his actions and motives, it should in my opinion be with others of the same level such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham and the like. At the end of the day, was he mainly a political leader? Or much more than that.
I advise whoever intends to read this book to read several others as well about Muhammed in order to have the whole picture, as unfortunately I do not believe this one has it.
Lesley I appreciate your job. Nevertheless, u should revise what u have written. This is a Prophet not ordinary person