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Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet Paperback – September 10, 1993

3.6 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Paperback, September 10, 1993
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a meticulous quest for the historical Muhammad, Armstrong first traces the West's long history of hostility toward Islam, which it has stigmatized as a "religion of the sword." This sympathetic, engrossing biography portrays Muhammad (ca. 570-632) as a passionate, complex, fallible human being--a charismatic leader possessed of political as well as spiritual gifts, and a prophet whose monotheistic vision intuitively answered the deepest longings of his people. Armstrong ( The Gospel According to Woman ) refutes the Western image of Muhammad as an impostor who used religion as a means to power, an attitude encapsulated in a psychotic dream episode in Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Denying that Islam preaches total intransigence, she finds in the Prophet's teachings a theology of peace and tolerance. The "holy war" urged by the Koran, in Armstrong's reading, alludes to each Muslim's duty to fight for a just, decent society. She draws significant parallels between the spiritual aspirations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This portrayal of the prophet of Islam and the setting from which he emerged will captivate and enlighten general readers with a newfound understanding of modern events in the Middle East. Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun, has shown much insight and sensitivity in her well-researched biography. She interweaves sections on the Western response to Islam and the controversy over Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses ( LJ 12/88) within her detailed account of Muhammad and the monumental, unifying religion that he introduced to the backward tribal Arabia of the seventh century. The book was first published in Great Britain in 1991 under the title Muhammad: A Western Attempt To Understand Islam . Highly recommended.
- Paula I. Nielson, Loyola Marymount Univ. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (September 10, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062508865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062508867
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs-including A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation-and two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. She has addressed members of the U.S. Congress on three occasions; lectured to policy makers at the U.S. State Department; participated in the World Economic Forum in New York, Jordan, and Davos; addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and New York; is increasingly invited to speak in Muslim countries; and is now an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In February 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and is currently working with TED on a major international project to launch and propagate a Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public and crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, to be signed in the fall of 2009 by a thousand religious and secular leaders. She lives in London.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Armstrong has written what is likely the most accessible biography of Muhammad available today. It gives an intriguing account of not only Mohammed's life, but also the historical context under which Islam emerged. The book provides a sound introduction to how and why the Muslim world came to be, as well as glimpse into why it has evolved into its current state.
One negative aspect of the novel is that Armstrong often painstakingly tries to justify many of the Prophet's actions, likely out of fear that Western readers will simply write these actions of as barbaric and primitive. There is no need to do this, and the downside is that Armstrong often comes off sounding biased. Armstrong already gives us a clear understanding of the harsh and violent society which plagued 6th century Arabia. Based on this, why the Prophet took many of the actions he did should be understandable to the reader.
This however is only a minor criticism and it by no means mars this fascinating book. One only wishes Muslim writers could offer such enriching accounts of their Prophet rather than blindly praising him to no end and offering little valuable insight into the complexities of the man.
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Format: Paperback
While this book is definately an excellent introduction to the life of Mohammed, Karen Armstrong clearly doesn't have the knowledge required to write an in-depth and more accurate biography of the prophet. The sources armstrong uses are mostly western and whilst she does depend on many early islamic sources, she does not do so critically. Tabari, a scholar that she quotes several times in a book, recounts different versions of early islamic history side by side (she mentions this point in the book) however she only uses those versions that are in lui with the mainstream interpretation of islamic history. Ismaili's, Shi'ites, Sufis, kharijites and other minority sects have different interpretations of the early history of islam, and whilst I am by no means saying that their versions of history are truer than the mainstream sunni version, I believe that is important to also give their viewpoints. For example, Armstrong give a rosy picture of the Caliphite period which came after the death of the prophet, whilst minority sects are more critical of this period. She also gives little importance to the members of the prophets family like ali and fatima whilst in shiite islam they are considered central figures who were persecuted by Abu Bakr, Omar and Aisha. She calls Fatima the daughter of the prophet a weak figure whilst in reality she is a very strong women who went to the mosque after the prophets death, and in front of an audience of mostly men, demanded her inheritance which was taken from her from abu bakr. Although muslims disagree on whether it was right for abu bakr to take her inheritance from her, it is important to note that not all muslims see abu bakr as a good persons and many shia portray both him and omar as cunning and deceiving.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This book may be a good starting point for a Westerner who knows little or nothing about Islam and its prophet. The book is fairly easy to read, as it is not saturated with excessive details or citations, but the tone does get monotonous quickly. Armstrong may have been very interested in the subject, but if that's the case, her passion and interest do not really come through and fail to make a deep impression on the reader. At times, I felt bored. The title is a bit misleading, too. This is not really a biography of Muhammad, but a kind of interpretation of Islam, its origins, and the character of the prophet--all intertwined in a single book.
The sources for the book are English-language secondary sources, and the author was relatively new to Islam at the time of writing. I give it a generous four stars, but strictly speaking this is not really a biography of the prophet, nor a particularly gripping account of the rise of Islam. For a secular interpretation of Muhammad, you may want to see Rodinson's book, and for the faithful, perhaps Martin Lings'. Armstrong's book is best for those who are curious about Islam but afraid to wade in with both feet. Also, the book has an absolutely beautiful cover.
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Karen Armstrong scored big with Muhammad. Having read her History of God, I read her biography of the Prophet believing I would be treated to some genuine insight, and I was not disappointed. I highly recommend this, especially to Western readers!
Muhammad, his story, his religion, and his people are among the least understood elements of world history to your average Westerner. The information we are bombarded with today portrays Muslims as terrorists, anti-western, blood-thirsty savages. This book endeavors to release the Western mind from the bonds of ignorance and the blinders of propaganda, and reveal a Prophet, and a people, with a real, sometimes tragic and sometimes triumphant history, with a conclusion of remarkable success. Whether you agree with Muhammad or not, you will finish this book appreciating his genius, his faith, his leadership, and his accomplishments.
Most importantly, you will read the story elegantly portrayed within the context of the cultural dynamics of the Arabia of Muhammad's day. Without that context, it is easy to cast Muhammad's actions as barbaric. Additionally, Armstrong does a fine job of demonstrating the demise of much of Muhammad's most original thinking by zealous, but culturally constrained leaders who followed him (most notably the emancipation of women).
Because most Western Christians don't read Arabic, we will never understand nor appreciate the Koran, Muhammad's crowning achievement. But with the help of Karen Armstrong, we can gain an appreciation of the origin of that great work, and the meaning it has in the lives of nearly a billion people in the world today.
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