First there was Buddha, then there was Jesus. Now there's Muhammad. Mind-body guru Deepak Chopra has been interested in the spiritual nature of life since his first book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, published in 1993. The best-selling author and founder of The Chopra Center has a brand new book, published in September of 2010, Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet.
For many reasons, it seemed like the right time to read this book. Lately there have been several Muslim-related issues in the news. Should NYC build an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero? How do we stop Pastor Terry Jones, the leader of a small church in Florida, from burning copies of the Koran because he believes that it's evil and incites violent behavior amongst Muslims? Is President Barack Obama really a Muslim (a recurring question)? I hadn't studied Islam since my high school social studies classes, and was eager to learn more about this religion and Muhammad.
The first thing I learned (or relearned) in Muhammad is that the word "Islam" means "peace", and September 21 happens to be the International Day of Peace. In Chopra's book, which is a historical novel, different narrators recount the story of Muhammad, who was born in 570 CE, such as his wet nurse, daughters, a beggar, an enemy, a believer, and various others. I was afraid that the multiple perspectives might make the book confusing, but the author makes it easy to follow by providing the names and descriptions of each character as the title of each chapter. Numerous times Deepak Chopra states that Muhammad was an ordinary man, and through the eyes of others, Muhammad is depicted as such--he couldn't even read nor write--yet he was commanded to recite ("to recite" is the root word of Koran). I couldn't help but think that Muhammad really wasn't that ordinary. Even as a child he possessed wisdom and restraint in speech beyond his years; he was visited by angels, and as he matured he developed an unwavering faith, in spite of the fact that he lost both of his sons.
Although I've read and enjoyed several books by Deepak Chopra, including Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, which is a brilliant book, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this particular book, because of it's fictional nature. But I did enjoy it, and I learned about Muhammad, who brought monotheism to replace the polytheism of the Arabs. I found myself highlighting countless lines in the book, something I don't usually do. It's not a biography of his life but an imaginative novel, but it does seem to capture the light and essence of this man who changed the history of the Arabs, who came to believe in one all-powerful God, Allah. What I got out of this book is an understanding of Muhammad that I don't think I'd have garnered from a traditional, factual biography. I got to know a Muhammad who was human and down-to-earth, yet also divine.
Special thanks to Trish from TLC for the opportunity to review an advance copy of this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's Muhammad book tour.