Archive for April, 2009

The Big Lie About Muslim Silence on Terrorism

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Today I had to refute yet again the Big Lie that hounds the Muslim community — that we fail to speak out and condemn terrorism.

I was being interviewed by the wonderful radio host Dr. Alvin Augustus Jones about my new novel Mother of the Believers. Dr. Jones is a deeply spiritual man whose show always features uplifting themes and speakers. And he went out of his way to make me feel welcome.

But as a good journalist, he had to ask the question he felt his audience wanted answered — “Why do mainstream Muslims fail to speak out against terrorism?

It is a question that I get almost every single day, and it leaves me flabbergasted. I often respond to that question with one of my own — “Why does the media fail to report on Muslims who condemn terrorism?”

Since before 2001, every single major Muslim group in the United States has been outspoken in their condemnation of terrorism and the murder of innocent people in the name of Islam. And yet the media ignores it. Every single time.

Don’t believe me?

Go to

That site lists links to dozens of major Muslims group and Islamic scholars who have condemned terrorism as a violation of the fundamental moral precepts of Islam.

Want more?

Here’s a compilation of Islamic fatwas against terrorism by Juan Cole, scholar of the Middle East and author of Engaging the Muslim World.

Cole’s list was compiled after Thomas Friedman wrote an outrageous column in The New York Times claiming that “no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama Bin Laden.”

Friedman knew (or should have known as an alleged Middle East expert) that what he was saying was a lie. But he chose to publish this garbage anyway, giving it the full credibility of the Times.

What was so shocking was that Friedman’s column was published on July 8, 2005. But three months before, on March 11, 2005, a group of Spanish imams issued a fatwa against Osama Bin Laden:

So what is going on here?

As one of the few Muslims who has worked inside Hollywood for the past 7 years as a writer and producer, I can only explain this shocking lie that has become a national meme as the product of an intentional media agenda.

There is a real political agenda inside the media itself to keep Islam as the enemy, and to portray mainstream Muslims as a fifth column inside America. The idea that your Muslim neighbors are silently supporting Bin Laden sells newspapers. It captures the attention of viewers of the nightly news. And it furthers the ambitions of politicians who need a rallying point to get votes.

As a Muslim and a patriot I don’t know what more to do except to keep telling the truth every time I get the opportunity.

But I ask my non-Muslim friends this question. How would you feel if your community was being falsely portrayed as being sympathetic to murderers by the media? How would you feel if every single thing you do to condemn and fight such criminals is intentionally ignored? What would you conclude about the character and motivation of people that continue to spread a lie against millions of your fellow human beings?

If you can take a moment to consider, you might get a sense of the true burden your Muslim neighbors carry. The world wants us to be the monsters. When we condemn and fight the monsters, no one notices or cares. It’s like the army telling a soldier who has just survived a hellish firefight that he was never in the war in the first place, and condemning him for his cowardice.

It would be a formula for despair for most people. And yet what is remarkable is that Muslim groups continue to patiently work against terrorism in accordance with their faith, even though they receive no credit for their deeds. They are secure that everything is in the hands of God. And, as the Holy Qur’an says, that the light of truth will never be put out by the mouths of liars.

Last year, I attended the Pilgrimage to Mecca, a powerful, life-changing event that I chronicled on my personal blog at

One of the most remarkable stories that I heard when I was there was the tale of Abraham, who Muslims believe founded the first settlement at Mecca with his son Ishmael. The Angel Gabriel appeared to him and told Abraham to climb a mountain and call mankind to God.

Abraham was incredulous, and responded that there was no one in the barren desert valley except him and his family. Who would hear the call?

And Gabriel smiled and said: “Just call mankind to the truth. God will make sure it is heard.”

Obama’s Handshake Diplomacy: What Would Prophet Muhammad Do?

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

There has been a great deal of outrage in right-wing circles over President Barack Obama’s very public handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and his efforts to thaw relations with Cuban President Raul Castro.  The hyper-nationalist crowd is predictably calling Obama a traitor who is sucking up to foreign dictators and endangering America’s interests.


Many people in the same chorus have also expressed suspicion about Obama’s Muslim ancestry, seeing him as some kind of Manchurian Candidate installed by the Great Islamic Conspiracy into the White House.  His efforts to reach out to world leaders like Chavez is seen as proof positive of Obama’s intent to undermine American power and move our capital from Washington D.C. to Mecca.


In the spirit of such interesting speculation, let me pose the question – what would Islam’s Prophet Muhammad do under the same circumstances?


The Prophet was not only a religious leader, but also a military general and statesman who transformed Arabia from a chaotic wasteland into a unified nation that, within a century of his death, had conquered half the known world.


Many people focus on Prophet Muhammad’s military activities as the primary basis for his success.  Indeed, his prowess on the battlefield is one of the most controversial aspects of the Prophet’s life.  Critics of Islam cite Muhammad’s role as a warrior to paint him, and the religion he founded, as inherently violent.  And it is sadly true that Muslim extremists look to the battles of the Prophet’s time as a justification for their own bloody activities today.


But neither the Muslim extremists nor their critics in the West truly understand the basis for Prophet Muhammad’s success.  While the Prophet did indeed engage in warfare against his opponents (as did Moses, Joshua and David in the Bible), he himself credited the final triumph of Islam to the single most unpopular act of his career – the peace treaty of Hudaybiya in 628 A.D. 


In my novel Mother of the Believers, I portray this remarkable moment in history.  Against the advice and sentiments of most of his followers, the Prophet made a surprise truce with his enemies in Mecca, ending the state of war that had been in effect since Muhammad had first challenged the oppressive pagan rulers of Arabia.  The truce was heavily one-sided in favor of the Prophet’s adversaries, requiring Muslims to return Meccan defectors, while exempting Mecca from a reciprocal obligation.


At the signing of the treaty, some of the most prominent Muslim leaders began to question the Prophet’s motivation, even his claim to divine inspiration.  Muhammad’s diplomacy was seen as selling out his followers, who had sacrificed everything in support of the Prophet’s vision.


But the Qur’an responded to Muhammad’s critics in Surah 48:1, saying: “Truly We have given you a great victory.”  The Prophet told his followers that history would show that the peace treaty was the moment that Islam won the decade-long conflict with the pagan Arab tribes who had sought to destroy the new religion.


And he was proven right.


Over the next two years, with the cessation of hostilities and the lifting of a trade boycott between the Muslims and their enemies, Islam spread rapidly among the Arab tribes.  Not through violence, but through dialogue and commerce.  Islamic scholars estimate that the amount of converts during that two-year period exceeded the entire size of the Muslim community in the two decades prior.


In the end, when the Meccans and their allies broke the treaty, the Prophet was able to raise an army of ten thousand in response, and a humbled Mecca surrendered peacefully.  By then, the Prophet had become the unquestioned leader of Arabia and he was free to exact revenge against his enemies without fear of consequences.  But he continued with his policy of diplomacy toward his adversaries and declared a general amnesty, pardoning even the Meccan queen Hind who had killed and cannibalized his beloved uncle Hamza.


And again, the Prophet’s foresight was rewarded.  The former opponents of Islam were now incorporated into the new order, and their energies were redirected to expanding the Islamic state they had once sought to destroy.  Within 30 years, the son of Muhammad’s greatest enemy in Mecca became the Caliph of Islam and ruled over an empire that stretched from North Africa to Central Asia.


Prophet Muhammad’s victory came from his preference for diplomacy over warfare, and it is a lesson that President Obama clearly understands as he navigates international waters that have been poisoned by the brutishness of his predecessor.  Obama’s willingness to take the high road with men like Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro does not show weakness, but strength. 


Like Prophet Muhammad, whose grandson Hussein inspired the President’s middle name, Obama has demonstrated that he is confident in his position and the values he represents.  President Obama understands that the best way to effect political change in other countries is through dialogue and trade.  And his willingness to show courtesy to his opponents gives him the moral high ground when dealing with them, as well as with his critics at home.


As Prophet Muhammad demonstrated, a handshake can shake up the world far more than a sword.

Why Muslims Left the Republican Party

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann recently gave a radio interview in San Francisco where she questioned the patriotism of her colleague Rep. Keith Ellison, the first American Muslim elected to Congress.  As a Muslim and a former Republican, I would like to respond.  Bachmann’s comments, where she derided Ellison for seeking to bring Muslims into the Obama Administration, reveal why Muslims like me left the Republican Party in droves over the past few years.


The fact that American Muslims historically identified and voted Republican will likely shock many people.  But it shouldn’t, if we remember what the Republican Party used to represent.  Growing up as an immigrant from Pakistan in Brooklyn, every Muslim I knew embraced the Republican brand of economic growth and family values.  We were entrepreneurs who left our countries to find a better life in America, and loved the Republican promise of free enterprise and social mobility.  As people of faith, we embraced the Republicans’ traditional values and social conservatism.  And we saw Republicans like President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker as statesmen who were sympathetic to Palestinian suffering and willing to work hard to bring peace between Arabs and Israelis.


And then something started to change within the party.  An ugly cancer of anti-Muslim bigotry began to reveal itself during the first Iraq War.  I was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, where the student body was perhaps the most conservative of the Ivy League schools.  At meetings of the College Republicans, I began to hear distressing venom against Muslims.  American Muslims were being openly talked of as a fifth column in the country, and my fellow students applauded rumors that internment camps were being set up in the Midwest for Muslim subversives.  I was shocked to see my friends suddenly speak of my faith as the enemy.  Our fight against Saddam had finally revealed the deeply held hatred for Islam among my fellow conservatives.


I watched in horror as Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson began to openly insult Prophet Muhammad at Republican gatherings.  And I became disgusted by the neo-conservative infiltration of the Party, as that political movement, with its dreams of conquering the Middle East to promote Israeli hegemony, decided that Republican hatred for Islam would be a friendly breeding ground.  Suddenly the party of small government, individual liberty, and caution in foreign affairs, became transformed into the party of a massive military-industrial complex, state control over people’s personal lives, and imperial hubris.  The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower, the party I loved, was dead.  So I walked away and registered as a Democrat – despite my deep disagreements with that party on many issues.  At least the Democrats were not openly promoting bigotry against my faith.


Unfortunately, most of my fellow Muslims weren’t savvy to these changing tides, and they enthusiastically voted for George W. Bush in 2000.  But after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, the Republican Party was finally in a position to reveal its new and ugly face.  The party line became one of domestic oppression and a foreign policy linked to End Times theology in which Muslims had to be fought as a precursor to Armageddon.  And Muslims recoiled and left the Republican Party in droves.


So here we are in 2009, with a new President who remarkably has a Muslim middle name and spent his youth in Indonesia, a Muslim country.  And while I rejoice at America’s ability to renew itself and grow past its fears, there are still people like Michele Bachmann who build their careers by stoking the fires of hate.


I had the great privilege of meeting Congressman Keith Ellison, whose patriotism Bachmann questioned, during the Pilgrimage to Mecca this past December.  Standing on the Arabian desert plain in pilgrim robes, Ellison became an instant celebrity.  Muslims from all over the world sought to meet the man who had broken through the barriers of prejudice and sworn his oath to the U.S. Constitution with his hand on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Holy Qur’an.


Ellison was away from the cameras and the press.  All he had were his fellow Muslims around him, most of who were not Americans and could not influence his political career.  He was free to say whatever he wanted to an incredibly sympathetic audience, many of whom expected Ellison to criticize America for its foreign and domestic policies against Muslims.  Instead, Ellison spoke movingly about how much he loved the United States, and how America represented the best values of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  I was brought to tears, and my faith in this wondrous country was revived.


And so I take great umbrage at people like Michele Bachmann, who represent the worst of what this country has to offer.  Her political career has been based on making outrageous comments meant to inflame crowds, without any care for the damage she is doing to the fabric of discourse in this country.  As one of the first Muslims to succeed in the entertainment industry, Bachmann reminds me of the caricature of celebrity excess that she and her ilk often decry.  Like those lost souls in Hollywood who base their lives on grabbing the spotlight at every opportunity, no matter how crass, Bachmann is a narcissist.  For all her claim to be a champion of Judeo-Christian values, she is nothing more than an attention seeker who seeks to fill the void in her heart with power and adulation.


In many ways, Bachmann reminds me of a character in my new novel, Mother of the Believers, which follows the birth of Islam from the perspective of the women around Prophet Muhammad.  Bachmann is remarkably like Hind bint Utbah, the arrogant queen of Mecca who led a twenty-year war against Islam, before finally being defeated and embracing the very religion she tried to destroy.  Like Hind, Michele Bachmann worships the false god of power.  And like Hind, I have no doubt that Bachmann will find that power is a desert mirage – it always betrays those who chase it.


It is a lesson that I hope my erstwhile colleagues in the Republican Party will remember.  God has humbled them in recent elections, and now they have a choice.  Continue down the path of exclusion, hate and self-destruction with leaders like Michele Bachman at the helm.  Or return to the vision of Lincoln and Eisenhower of a better America in which all are welcome and opportunity and freedom abounds.

Muslims Must Embrace the Power of Storytelling

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

With my new novel out in bookstores, people often ask whether I am worried that the book will generate controversy.  My response is that controversy is inevitable when it comes to writing about Prophet Muhammad, who has the distinction of being simultaneously the most beloved and hated man in world history.  Revered by his followers as God’s last messenger to humanity, and vilified by others as a false prophet, the founder of Islam has always been a figure that excites passionate emotions.  So in writing a novel that looks at his life from the perspective of the woman he loved most, I have no doubt that I will become the target of those feelings.


Some Muslims have already expressed concern that presenting the Prophet’s life in a work of literary fiction is potentially blasphemous.  As a believer myself, I wholeheartedly disagree. In 1977, the great filmmaker Moustapha Akkad made a wondrous movie about Prophet Muhammad called “The Message.”  Despite his efforts to do a respectful, indeed reverent, portrayal of the early Muslim community, Akkad was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists for having created a “blasphemous” work by daring to re-imagine sacred history as cinema.  And yet, thirty years later, his movie can be found on DVDs in Muslim homes throughout the world, and Akkad (who was murdered by terrorists in 2005) is remembered fondly as a visionary who spread the message of Islam through filmmaking.


Still, some scholars have raised objections to Akkad’s film, citing a list of historical inaccuracies, as I’m sure some will with regard to my novel.  But Akkad was not making a documentary – he was filming an epic movie, and he tailored the storyline according to the demands and limits of cinema.  I have done the same with my novel. It is impossible to tell the story of Islam’s birth in three hours of film, or in 500 pages of literature, without artistic license.  What Akkad sought, and what I seek, is to give millions of people who would never read a history book on Islam a sense of the magic and wonder around the Prophet’s life, and to provide insight into the powerful appeal of Islam through the centuries.


Indeed I would argue that Muslims have always engaged in this kind of artistic storytelling.  Many of the hadiths, the oral accounts about the Prophet’s life, are historically questionable (as are many of the Christian accounts about the life of Jesus), but they have been passed on for generations exactly because they are powerful stories that appeal to the human heart.  The Modern Library recently published “The Adventures of Amir Hamza,” a remarkable collection of legends and myths around the Prophet’s uncle Hamza (played by Anthony Quinn in Akkad’s movie).  These stories are clearly fictional, but they were used as wisdom tales throughout the Muslim world and were more widespread and beloved than The Arabian Nights.


Muslims have always understood that storytelling is a way to inspire faith and love for God and the Prophet.  Stories bridge the gap of centuries and make the magic of Islam’s birth feel as real today as it did for those present during those remarkable times.  Without that deep, joyous love at the center of one’s heart, religion becomes an empty shell of rules that can be easily twisted into fundamentalism and fanaticism.  Muslims of the past knew this instinctively, and embraced art as a way of igniting that love.  It has only been in recent years that a small but irritating minority has adopted a blanket anti-intellectualism regarding art and its purpose in Islamic civilization.  My novel seeks to remind Muslims that storytelling is their proud heritage, and that if their intentions are good, they can uplift the hearts of mankind with the power of the pen.


So I urge my fellow Muslims to read my novel before coming to a conclusion.  And if you hate what I have written, if you find it somehow blasphemous, then please, by all means, write your own books that will correct my flaws and mistakes.  If Mother of the Believers ends up spawning a hundred new books about the Prophet and the birth of Islam, then I will consider my efforts to have been successful, even if my own work is forgotten in the annals of time.

A martyr for Muslim women

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

The Taliban recently murdered Sitara Achakzai, Afghanistan’s leading activist for women’s rights.  She was gunned down in broad daylight by assassins in front of her house.  Ms. Achakzai was an instrumental figure in promoting women’s rights in the war torn country that has become the symbol of everything that is wrong with the Muslim world today.  Earlier this year, she led a nationwide sit-in of 11,000 Afghan women in seven provinces who gathered to pray for peace on International Women’s Day.


As a Muslim man, as a believer and as a voice in Hollywood and the media, I am here to say to her killers: you are evil, twisted men, and you will not escape the consequences of your crime against our Muslim sister, who stood for peace and justice.  Even if you flee into the protective arms of your Taliban sponsors, Allah is the Lord of justice, and you will never escape Him, in this world or the next.


And you will not succeed in destroying Ms. Achakzai’s legacy.  In fact, you have only given it greater power.  For you have made Sitara Achakzai a martyr.  She died for the same reason as the first martyr of Islam, a woman named Sumayya bint Khayyat, who was killed for speaking truth to power. 


In my novel, Mother of the Believers, I detail how Sumayya’s killer, the Meccan leader Abu Jahl, thought that the murder of an innocent woman would terrify the poor and weak followers of Prophet Muhammad into rejecting monotheism and returning to the idolatry of the Arabs.  Instead, Sumayya’s death ignited the fire of resistance that would one day topple the proud Meccan overlords who ruled Arabia with an iron fist.


Like Sumayya, Sitara’s death will only cause those of us who believe in an Islam of compassion, justice and human brotherhood to fight harder against those who would return us to the Days of Ignorance, as Arabia before Islam is called.  The tragedy we now face is that the enemies of Islam, those who wish to defame and destroy our great faith, no longer speak out against it.  Instead, they wrap themselves in its robes and proclaim themselves its leaders.  Somewhere in the depths of Hell I know that Abu Jahl is laughing.


In my novel, I show how Islam was born as a proto-feminist movement, with Prophet Muhammad championing the rights of women in a primitive and hostile world.  I portray incredible Muslim women, like the Prophet’s first wife Khadija, who was a wealthy businesswoman who hired young Muhammad and then proposed marriage to him.  I show Aisha, whom the Prophet married after Khadija died, and who went on to become a scholar, a statesman and a warrior who led armies.  I show Sumayya, who was killed in front of her son for refusing to worship idols.  I show Nusayba, the courageous housewife who defended the Prophet with a sword and a bow when he was nearly killed at the battle of Uhud.  I show Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, who would feed enemy prisoners of war with her own hands to make sure that they were treated with dignity. 


These are the true women of Islam, the women of courage and faith without whom our religion would have been stillborn in the desert wastes.  These are the women who inspired Sitara Achakzai and millions of other Muslim women to stand up against the forces of darkness and hold forth the torch of Islam.  Not Islam as the fundamentalists and the Islamophobes want it to be, a religion to oppress mankind, but as it truly is – a faith that lifts up the poor and the weak and brings human beings together in the bonds of love and justice.


The Taliban and those who share their twisted, primitive vision of Islam do not know the history of their own faith.  And as a result, they have become the very monsters that Islam was sent to destroy.  But as long as there are courageous Muslims like Sitara Achakzai who refuse to accept the false Islam that the extremists try to ram down our throats, the true message of Prophet Muhammad will never disappear from this earth.


The last thing the Prophet said in his famous final sermon before he died was that men and women have rights over each other, and that the Muslims would be judged by how well they treated women.   His words have come true, in a tragic way.  Islam, the religion that began as a women’s rights movement, is now seen by much of the world as a bastion of misogyny.  We have been judged, and we have been found wanting.


It will be up to Muslims like Sitara Achakzai, myself, and the millions of others like us who remember what Islam was meant to be, to put us back on track.


Why my novel might shock you

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

In April, Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books will publish my first novel “Mother of the Believers” which tells the story of the birth of Islam from the point of view of Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha.


A similarly themed book, “The Jewel of Medina” by Sherry Jones, was released last year under much controversy, after her initial publisher cancelled her contract for fear of inciting Muslim protests.  With my own novel coming out in a few days, it is inevitable that people ask whether I am worried that the book will generate controversy.  My response is that I have no doubt that the book will generate controversy and create a passionate debate among both Muslims and non-Muslims, as there are aspects of my novel that will shock people in both communities.


In “Mother of the Believers,” I attempt to bring to life the remarkable voice of Aisha, the Prophet’s youngest wife, who was a scholar, a politician and a military commander who led battles into Iraq.  Aisha’s life single-handedly challenges the prevalent stereotype of the oppressed and submissive Muslim woman, and she remains a role model for Muslim feminists today.


Aisha is revered throughout the Islamic community.  But in researching her life story, I found intriguing accounts that are probably unknown to many Muslims, stories that portray the early Muslims as deeply human and fallible.  My inclusion of such accounts may upset some.  I think one thing that might startle some Muslims is my suggestion that one of the main characters, Talha, an early follower of Prophet Muhammad, was in love with Aisha, even though it was unrequited.  Talha is a revered figure in Islam, but early Muslim sources suggest that he had feelings for Aisha, and he once even publicly suggested that he would marry her when the Prophet died – an incident I portray in the novel.  (See Imam Jalaladeen Suyuti’s commentary on the Holy Qur’an 33:53, where he explains that the verse prohibiting believers from marrying the wives of the Prophet after his death was revealed after Talha said that he would marry Aisha). 


Talha’s unwavering loyalty to Aisha led to his support for her military activities, and ultimately his death on the battlefield.  The idea that one of the most beloved figures of Islam might have had secret feelings for the Prophet’s wife would shock many modern Muslims, but the early Islamic historians did not seem to have any problem preserving such accounts.  Unfortunately, most Muslims today don’t know these stories, and some might be offended at my very human portrayal of the early Islamic community.


Some Muslims might also be uncomfortable with my (very light) treatment of sexuality in the story.  There are no graphic scenes, but there is an open discussion of sex, which is true to Islamic history.  Muslim historians had no problem talking openly about sex, even the Prophet’s sex life with his wives.  Traditionally Muslims had a very healthy attitude toward sex, as it was considered a normal part of daily life.  In modern day, under the heavy influence of British Victorian values left over from colonization, some Muslims might find even my light treatment of sexuality too much.


So there will be things in my book that surprise and shock some Muslims.  But there are many aspects of “Mother of the Believers” that will startle, and perhaps anger, non-Muslims as well.  The story is told from a Muslim point of view and directly addresses many of the critiques raised against Prophet Muhammad by non-Muslims.  The Prophet was a compelling spiritual figure who was famed for remarkable acts of generosity and compassion, and his words still ring true with wisdom today.  But he has also been maligned by Westerners for many aspects of his life. 


Specifically, non-Muslims critics point to the fact that Prophet Muhammad practiced polygamy, with a household of a dozen wives near the end of his life.  For many Christians, whose spiritual archetype is Jesus Christ, an apparently celibate man, this has always been shocking.  The Prophet is also criticized for engaging in military battles against his enemies.  Again, Jesus never raised a sword, so the Prophet’s battles are often decried as unworthy of a spiritual leader.  And he has been accused of anti-Semitism for his conflict with the Jewish tribes of Arabia, two of whom were expelled, and a third whose men were executed and the women and children sold as slaves.


Finally the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha itself has come under great criticism by non-Muslims, as some accounts suggest she was as young as nine years old when he consummated the wedding.  This has led to the inflammatory charge of pedophilia by some modern critics.


As a practicing Muslim, I felt it was my duty to directly address these attacks on Prophet Muhammad.  And in my novel, I endeavor to realistically portray the world in which he lived to give context to his actions.  The Prophet lived in seventh century Arabia, a world that was more like the savage days of the Old Testament prophets than the cosmopolitan Hellenistic society of Jesus in the Gospels.  Jesus Christ, a great prophet in Islam, lived in a world defined by the Pax Romana.  Roman soldiers kept order in the Holy Land, and courts of law functioned to address disputes between neighbors.  Jesus could travel in security and preach a message of love and non-violence, as he did not have to deal with creating basic social order first.  Christ did not have to establish a civilization from scratch while preaching the word of God.


But the birth of Islam was radically different.  The world that Prophet Muhammad confronted was the world of Abraham, Moses and David – a vicious wilderness where survival was questionable.  In such a world, life and death was the daily concern.  Polygamy was the normal lifestyle of the Biblical patriarchs and kings, as reproduction in a world with such low life expectancy was the primary concern for both men and women.  And harsh military action in the Bible was about survival in a world where an enemy could come upon you at any time and massacre your entire tribe.  


Similarly, Arabia at the time was in a state of chaos, with no central government, no police, no rules.  It was truly a Hobbesian state of war, with every man for himself.  The weak and the poor, particularly women and children, lived in a daily state of abject terror until the Prophet established order in this brutal world.  And to do so, he had no choice but to fight the armed thugs who had turned Arabia into a war zone.


But what of the Prophet’s treatment of the Jewish tribes of Arabia?  The truth was he initially allied with the Jewish tribes as fellow monotheists.  But his rising power threatened their leaders, who broke their treaty with the Muslims and joined the pagan Arabs to fight Islam.  The Prophet was thus forced to confront them militarily as well.  And I show in my novel that he dealt with them in a manner that came directly out of commandments of the Hebrew Bible.


In my novel, I go out of my way to explain the Jewish point of view about the Prophet and why the Jewish leaders decided to break their treaty with him.  But, in the end, the story is from a Muslim perspective and their actions are seen as treacherous.  This may be troubling for some Western readers.  In the post-Holocaust world, Jewish villains are perhaps uncommon in American literature due to fear of being labeled anti-Semitic.  Shakespeare’s evil Shylock is no longer a defensible archetype in Western literature.  So I realize that by portraying the Jewish tribes as wrongdoers in my novel, I am courting accusations of being anti-Semitic myself, but I am accurately portraying the realities of life and tribal politics in that world.


Polygamy was similarly a normal reality of life in a world where women outnumbered men due to the constant warfare between tribes.  In my novel, I show how the Prophet made women’s lives easier and was seen by women as a champion for their rights.  The issues that generate controversy today were part of a struggle for survival in a primitive world, a struggle which I vividly portray in my novel, and I think many non-Muslims will find my account eye opening.


But if the Prophet’s polygamy and battles can be understood historically, what of his marriage to young Aisha?  Accounts of Aisha’s age at her wedding range from the early teens to early twenties.  In my novel, I have chosen to directly face the controversy over Aisha’s age by using the most contentious account, that she was nine at the time she menstruated and consummated her wedding.  The reason I have done this is to show that it is foolish to project modern values onto another time and world.  In a desert environment where life expectancy was extremely low, early marriage was not a social issue – it was a matter of survival.   Modern Christian historians have no problem suggesting that Mary was around twelve years old when she became pregnant with Jesus, as that was the normal age for marriage and childbearing in first century Palestine (which was civilized compared to the Arabian wilderness).  Yet no one claims Mary’s youthful pregnancy was somehow perverse, because she lived in a world where reproduction took place immediately upon menstruation.


An interesting anthropological analysis of the onset of puberty in ancient and modern times can be found in the book “Mismatch” by Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson.  Their study shows that modern social norms have evolved in ways that conflict with evolutionary pressures for girls to menstruate and bear children at a young age.  These conflicts were less apparent in ancient times, where survival trumped other concerns.  Girls in many ancient cultures were considered adult women immediately upon the onset of their cycles.  To project modern social norms backwards into that environment is disingenuous and reflects a failure to understand history and human nature.  It is for that reason that I have chosen to use the most controversial account of Aisha’s age as a framework for my story.


All in all, there is enough in my novel to offend and outrage anyone who has a specific agenda regarding Islam.  Some non-Muslims will label me as an apologist for defending the Prophet and suggesting that their critiques are unfair and motivated by a bigoted agenda.  And some conservative Muslims will not like the book, because I show the early Muslims as fallible human beings, and their agenda is to portray Islam and its heroes in as perfect and pristine ways as possible.


But as a believing Muslim myself, I embrace the humanity of these people, as did the early Muslim historians.  There is nothing to learn from a plastic saint who does not share our foibles and weaknesses.  The point of “Mother of the Believers” is that if flawed, passionate, complex people like the founders of Islam could find spiritual enlightenment, maybe we can too.