A longtime reporter on the Middle East, Hazleton (After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam, 2009, etc.) carefully delineates the great events in the life of the “first Muslim,” who, like the Christian prophet Jesus, was chosen as the “translator” of God’s message to mankind.
The author sifts through and synthesizes many differing and conflicting sources for a gently reverential and ultimately winning study of a humble soul in search of his identity. Hazleton effectively fleshes out the iconic events of the messenger’s life. Left fatherless as a baby, shunted to a wet nurse who cared for him and brought him up in the Bedouin ways, Muhammad grew into a capable, hardworking caravan agent for his uncle in Mecca before making an advantageous match with a wealthy widow 16 years his elder, Khadija, who would prove a steady companion and his first convert. Muhammad first made a name for himself as the arbitrator in the collective repair of the damaged sacred sanctuary of Kaaba; his altered state atop Mount Hira at age 40 was an experience of “poetic faith,” Hazleton explains, resulting in beautiful verses flowing from his lips. He spoke urgently of social justice and reform, and he spoke in Arabic. Exiled from Mecca by the ruling elite, he again proved a natural, masterly negotiator among tribes in Medina, appealing to a higher authority to solve their disputes and drawing up a binding contract of monotheism. Hazleton explains that he resorted to violence only after a passive resistance got him nowhere—the troublesome precedent of jihad. The author writes poignantly of the evolution of the public messenger from the private man.
A levelheaded, elegant look at the life of the prophet amid the making of a legend.