The first Muslim

The first muslim

The loss of short-term memory associated with dementia does things to you. It lowers your attention span and the ‘short-term’ of the short-term memory loss gets shorter as you age. When it falls below 7 minutes, you won’t even be able to achieve an orgasm. Imagine having a hard richard but not being able to remember exactly why it is hard in the first place. I am at 15 minutes and holding steady. I’m having ginseng pills. In my case, not being able to achieve an erection at all will probably occur first.

The same thing applies when it comes to writing reviews. By the time you’ve finished reading the book, you’ve forgotten what it was really about. Besides, half way through the book, you might decide that it sucks and throw it back through the book return chute outside the library. That’s why I always write reviews while I’m still reading the book.

Sometimes, the review I wrote has nothing whatsoever to do with the book. That’s because I get carried away (like here, with all that talk about dementia and erections). But I’ll try to get to the actual review in the next para.

Have you ever wondered about the man who started it all, standing awestruck on a mountain named Hira, outside Mecca, 1400 years back, having just been visited by the angel, Gabriel?

The movement this man founded would gradually be twisted and misinterpreted beyond recognition over time. In its name, it’s bastard child would, one September morning in 2001, lay waste to a landmark of the world’s richest and most modern city.

What was this man really like? How did he spend his childhood? How did he relate to others in the Qurayshi clan that dominated Meccan society of which his great grandfather, Qusay, was the founder and his grandfather, Abd al-Muttalib, the head when he was born? His love life, did he marry for love or for other societal reasons that governed life in 7th century Mecca? Who were his uncles, aunts and cousins and what did they believe in? Did he have a sense of humor, play pranks, laugh, as a child or was growing up a grim battle for survival?

Well, you’ll find the answers in the book that I’m reading with growing fascination, The First Muslim, by Leslie Hazleton. Any account of a human being who has been always made to look like a superman, can turn out to appear negative and so does this one, though it seems an unbiased one. The author does make Mohammad appear as if he is like a field office manager, with the angel Gabriel, the marketing chief and God, the CEO. The arrangement seems tenuous and if I’m guaranteed security against a fatwa, I’d venture to add that, frankly, a simple process of communication appears to have been made complicated beyond weird. Furthermore, how this complex process was made to suit events that have already occurred is graphically described by the author, one example especially standing out……

While in exile in Medina, Mohammad formed a rag-tag band of followers. Since they were essentially guests of the Medinians, as time passed,  Mohammad and his guys realized that they were wearing out their welcome real quick. So they took to raiding caravans of Meccan merchants in the desert, the understanding being that his men should only harass, not kill.  But one raid killed some innocent travelers. Mohammad was incensed. His Medinian hosts were even more pissed off,  Mecca being the main customer base for their milk and dates. The Medinians didn’t want to start a war with their biggest customer.

The regional manager( Mohammad) contacted the marketing chief (angel Gabriel) who consulted the CEO (God). And guess what? Killing those innocents was hastily deemed okay, because they happened to be Meccans who had sent Mohammad and his men into exile. So it was deemed okay to kill those innocents even though they had absolutely nothing personally to do with Mohammad being exiled and probably hadn’t even heard of anyone called Mohammad. Convenient.

Likewise, when the last remaining Jewish tribe in Medina refused to give up their faith and follow islam, which he was instituting by force all over the region, Mohammad ordered all their date palm orchards destroyed. In 7th century Arabia, a date orchard was the life of community, providing far more than just dates. Of course, I forgot. Before he started the mayhem, he did give the boss (archangel Gabriel) a call and soon the same ‘Quranic voice’ beamed down to him, stating quite conveniently that, hey, it was okay to burn down the date orchards of non-believers.  So what if innocents were left destitute in the process. ‘You’re doing great’ the ubiquitous ‘Quranic voice’ must have spoken,  ‘the CEO is mighty glad’.  As I continued to read the book, it became easier to understand why there is so much violent extremism in Islam.

Having said that, as you read, it becomes apparent that there is no question Hazrat Mohammad was a very special man. (The title ‘Hazrat’ is given in Islam to highly respected men). The author relates in an astonishingly lucid manner how Mohammad was first recognized to be someone special.

As an 8 year old camel-minder on a caravan that carried goods from Mecca to Damascus, he was first recognized for who he really was by a Christian monk named Bahira who lived in an abandoned fortress on the way.  Bahira had never before paid any attention to passing camel trains but when Mohammad’s caravan passed by, something made him he invite them in to rest and refresh themselves.

Being just a lowly camel-minder boy, Mohammad was left with the caravan to look after the camels and see that they were fed. The moment his guests entered, Bahira noticed that someone important was missing. He questioned the merchant, Abu-Talib, (who also happened to be his uncle) and he replied that, yes, there was that camel boy outside.

Bahira insisted that Mohammad be brought in and had him stand still while the Christian sage examined his torso. He was searching for some evidence of ‘prophethood’ foretold in a tome he had read earlier. A third nipple, a birthmark, something of which, there are varying accounts by historians since ancient times.

Whatever it was, the old Bahira found it. He turned to Mohammad’s uncle and said to him,” A great future lies before this nephew of yours.”

This book is meant for people who abhor the trappings that any religion has, of rituals, songs, psalms, shlokas and practices that are laid down for reasons other than stark spirituality and the quest for truth. It is a biography, plain and simple and a truly fascinating one. As an agnostic I have been able to appreciate the life and times of Hazrat Mohammad as a man and not a prophet, with an unbiased mind and I have loved every bit of it.

Another very interesting facet of the book is the way the author draws parallels between the prophets of Christianity and Hebrew and also how she weaves the shifting sands of the geopolitics of the region at the time, into the narrative. Hazrat Mohammad and Jesus Christ had many parallels. Both stood up for the oppressed and wanted to buck the system that had strayed from the basic tenets of true spirituality. The similarities however appear to have ended there for their followers have been at each other’s throats ever since and untold millions have died fighting to preserve their ‘faith’.

Jesus’s story has been, in that respect, equally fascinating. An Iranian-American named Reza Aslan attempted to put a face and a life on the man that was Jesus Christ in his book, Zealot – The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth and I couldn’t help myself. I found it equally fascinating and I wrote a review of it too. You’ll find it here:

Isn’t it just amazing? A Christian monk discovers Islam’s prophet and an Iranian shows you the man, Jesus Christ, with the hyperbole stripped off. We all know that Islam, Christianity and Jewism are connected and they share prophets. If there is a Stephen Hawking of spirituality somewhere, perhaps he will find the thread that connects all religions into a unified one and then maybe all conflict shall cease once and for all (Northrop Grumman won’t like that of course).

This would be an interesting read for a practicing Muslim, probably even an eye-openner. But if I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for any practicing Muslim to read it.

A ‘Practicing Muslim’ mind is likely to be a closed one.

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