Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book review: Muhammad: A story of the Last Prophet

Author: Deepak Chopra
Publisher: Harper One (Harper Collins)
Pages: 267
Price: Rs 623

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 04:10:08 PM

Since the 9/11 attacks, Islam has come under the scrutiny of governments, scholars, filmmakers, commentators, journalists and authors. Universities now offer courses in Middle East and Islam studies. Bookstores are stacked with both fiction and non-fiction works on Islam, many of which make it to the bestsellers' lists published in magazines and newspapers. Deepak Chopra's Muhammad is one such book.

In Muhammad, Chopra attempts to tell the story of the most revered and much-misunderstood seventh-century Prophet who brought to the world a new religion that means peace. Muhammad is not a biography. Chopra makes this clear at the beginning. It is a collection of stories told by fictional characters drifting in and out of Muhammad's life. Chopra uses the accounts of Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet's grandfather, Halimah, the wet-nurse, Waraqah, the monotheist, Barakah, the African slave, Khadijah, the Prophet's wife, Ruqayah and Fatimah, his daughters, Abu Bakr, the merchant, Umar, the companion and Abu Sufayan, the enemy, to tell the story of an orphan boy who grew up to become a successful businessman and finally the "Last Prophet".

Unlike Jesus and Moses, Chopra notes that there are many marks of humanity in Muhammad's transformation. "Jesus is being exalted when he is called the Son of Man; Muhammad deliberately blends in when he calls himself "a man among men". He could neither read nor write, but that was common enough, even among the well-to-do. He had four daughters who survived birth and two sons who died in infancy. Doing without an heir was unthinkable, and so he took the unusual step of adopting a freed slave boy, Zayd, as his son. Otherwise, it is inexplicable that God should reach down into a settled husband and father's life to speak through him. The most remarkable fact about Muhammad is that he is so much like us, until destiny provided one of the greatest shocks in history," the author writes.

Blending myth, magic and mysticism, Muhammad makes for a compassionate tale of the Prophet's life. While you may skeptically dismiss the instance where angel Gabriel grabs hold of Muhammad in a cave and asks him to recite the Koran, you sympathise with him as he reluctantly comes to terms with his fate of becoming a Prophet. You are outraged when he orders all the male Jews in Medina to be killed for not cooperating with him in war. But then you get inspired by his determination to unite the many hostile tribes of Arabia by praying to one God. Islam was born to bring peace. Muhammad comes across as a soldier of faith, a mujahid. He struggled hard to maintain his own faith in God. He struggled to improve the society he lived in and he struggled hard to defend his followers from hostile enemies of his faith. 

Chopra's portrayal of life in seventh-century Mecca as the city in the middle of the desert that thrived on trade, pilgrims and water, is brilliant. He also introduces to the readers the significance of the well of Zamzam and the Kaaba, which is the holiest place in Islam, the Hadith or narrations concerning the words and deeds of the Prophet and the concept of jihad or the holy war. A skilled storyteller, Chopra doesn’t dwell on debate. He lets you read, interpret, understand and decide for yourself. In the afterword, he writes, "Muhammad can be judged by the worst of his followers or the best. He can be blamed for planting the seeds of fanaticism and jihad or praised for bringing the word of God to a wasteland. In my walk with Muhammad I found that every preconception was unfair. What the Prophet bequeathed to the world is entangled with the best and worst in all of us."

Muhammad gives you the opportunity to learn about culture, religion and history. The more open your mind is, the more you will learn.


Alimudeen Abdul Wahid said...

Review well written. Good one

Vineetha said...

i need to get my hands on this book!!