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74 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The most accessible bio on the Prohpet available today.
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...
Published on August 30, 1999

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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but needs more thorough research
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...
Published on June 19, 2005 by Reeshiez


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74 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The most accessible bio on the Prohpet available today., August 30, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (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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96 of 122 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Starting Point, June 23, 2000
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (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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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but needs more thorough research, June 19, 2005
By 
Reeshiez (Bahrain/New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (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. I am not advocating the shi'ite version of history, but I believe that armstrong should have examined the discrepanies between the two versions (and also the other minority sects) thus giving a less biased viewpoint of early islamic history.

Another problem that I have with armstrong is her apparent lack of understanding when it comes to the arabic names of the biblical prophets. For example, she mentions that mohammed may have confused mary, the mother of jesus with miriam the sister of aaron because they are both called mariam in the quran. In fact Christian Arabs call Mary, Mariam also and they call Aarons sister Miriem (note the slight difference)

All in all though, it is an excellent biography and I highly recommend that you read it.
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154 of 204 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every Christian should read this!, April 18, 2000
By 
Missing in Action (Idaho Falls, Idaho USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Paperback)
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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19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fact over Fiction, February 21, 2006
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Paperback)
After 9-11 I thought it best for my perspective and thinking to read something about Islam. I did not want to be an ignorant propagandist responding emotionally to events without knowledge or insight. I wanted some fact less fiction.

Having read most of Ms. Armstrong's other work I felt comfortable with her objectivity and fairness dealing with sensative historical facts, fiction, and mythology as she does.

Muhammad is not about current affairs. It is not the story of the Muslims of the middle east today. It is not the story of the conservative Islamists of today. It is the story of Muhammad in the context of his day and his culture. As the story of Christ and Budda are best understood in the context of their day and their culture. All such stories of the Great Ones involve a certain amount of interpretation and conjecture but they are all relevent and meaningful.

This is a very good read for any person interested in the world's Third Great Book Religion.
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars readable and authentic enough, June 29, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Paperback)
Enough has already been said about how the book is easy to read and follow. So I won't add to that.
As a Muslim who has studied other biographies of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), I found the book to be authentic enough. What I mean is that there is some variation within Muslim biographers. Within the limit of that variability, the book is authentic enough.
However, I must add that anyone reading the book must read it with an open mind. This biography is what Armstrong thinks the life of the Holy Prophet, and Islam is. She has, at the narration of almost every incident, made her interpretations clear as to how she believes the world of religion works in general. Though not an atheistic view, her oppinions are certainly not in concert with orthodox monotheism either. I saw her on TV calling herself a "freelance monotheist". So the reverberation of her views on faith, religion, myth and divinity are all too strong in this book.
One thing that I would like to commend her about is that she has presented the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in such a way as to dispel the negative propaganda that has been hurled against him by the Christian and Jewish scholars of the past. In the chapter "Muhammad the enemy" she gives an elaborate history of hostile views of the West towards Islam and its founder, and also explains their views in light of the religious and political realities. At many points in the biography of the prophet where other western scholars have raised objections, she has analyzed the issues and the common objections, and has put them in perspective in the 7th century Arabia. She gives countless examples of the writings within the Jewish and Christian scriptures, in order to counter the negative views of some scholars that aim to denegrade Islam versus Christianity or Judaism. She also presents the blunt history of the Church to rebuke those who make useless revilements against the Prophet. She is not, however, an apologetic for the Prophet (sa) in the sense that she does not take on the robe of a Muslim scholar bent upon defending the Prophet through dogmatic argumentation. Rather, she asserts that the actions taken by the Prophet (sa) in the environment of the 7th century Arabia made those actions reasonable, if not righteous and justified.
A final critical note: she admits in the openning of the book that she has freely used Waqadi as one of her sources. Waqadi is one of the original sources of Islamic history and the life of the Prophet, but his contemporaries and later historians who scrutinized his work in tremendous detail, found him to lack integrity in giving preference to authenticity over his need to write prolific details. Many consider his word not worthy to be taken seriously since he does not make clear where the authentic narration of history from the source ends and where his imaginative mind gets out of control in concocting flowery details, something which the western biographers very tempting. Even at one point in the book, Armstrong says, regarding an incidence, that while other books of history dont mention it, but it is tempting to see what Waqadi writes.... Muslim historians don't like to take the word of Waqadi over others, and in the absence of narrations of other sources, they either reject Waqadi, or treat him very very cautiously! Some even say that his word should not be accepted at all since he cannot be trusted.
Suggestion: to complete your experience of the biography of the Prophet (sa), read a version by a Muslim biographer too. Unfortunately, there are few good ones in English so I can't make a suggestion. For Muslims, read this with open mind.
Another suggestion: For the shortest intro to Islam, read Islam: an introduction by Annemarie Schimmel. Very nice, to the point, and scholarly!
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28 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent !!!, October 23, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Paperback)
Being a Muslim, I find that there are some inaccuracies to the Islamic message in this book, but it it very thorough in the other 99% . This book is excellent for Muslims and non-Muslims alike in that Karen Armstrong's approach does not praise the prophet or even assume he was, but rather explains him in a very objective manner and brings to life his human side. For Americans and westerners in general, this book has a lot of comparitive religion insight. It lets the person ddecide for himself without any pro-Islamic doctrine or propaganda. Another excellent aspect of this book is that it is ordered chronologically, which for me was very important because I can now get a better picture of the context of Quranic Chapters. This is a must read. Hats off to Karen Armstrong.
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30 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Biography Not To Give Offense, April 7, 2002
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Paperback)
When writing a biography of Muhammad, the founder and prophet of Islam, a Western historian, such as Karen Armstrong, is wise, perhaps, in choosing the middle-road, striving for objectivity and avoiding critical comment. She certainly has done this, in her informative work, "Muhammad : A Biography of the Prophet".
For some readers, Ms. Armstrong's scrupulous toeing of the thin line of objectivity may seem too obvious, too much the bending backward to avoid giving offense. Certainly, there is enough in Muhammad's history: wars, raids, plundering, polygamy, misogyny, to warrant a critical aside now and then. But Ms. Armstong does not do this. Instead, she stays with what are -- in Islam -- considered the facts about the life of The Prophet. So, when Muhammad or his most ardent followers commit an act which offends Western sensibilities, Ms. Armstrong quickly points out that something similar or even more atrocious was committed in the name of Christianity.
I found her attempts at even-handedness mildly distracting but certainly not disruptive of her narrative. As I read, however, I did want to know the source of the detail of Muhammad's life. Was the incident from traditional tribal stories, from independent research or from the Koran itself? We are left to wonder.
A most interesting part of her book is the preface written by Ms. Armstrong in the edition published after September 11, 2001. Here she tells the need for Western people to learn to understand Muslims. True. But she does not raise the obvious counter question: is it not about time for Muslims to learn more about Western people?
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38 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for THIS Purpose, September 4, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Paperback)
As a High School Teacher of Seniors enrolled in a History of the Middle East Course, this book is perfect for placing the life and messages of Muhammad in a real-life historical perspective including influencial 6th century political and economic forces. Students reported that Armstrong cleared up numerous misconceptions, questions, and outright historical inaccuracies. The casual reader may find some passages regarding the 6th century clan conflicts & intrique dry, but they can skim that and still reap the well supported points Armstrong brings forth - including the history of seclusion/veil, the 5 pillars of Islam, the significance of Jerusalem for Muslims, and centuries of conflict bewteen Christiandom the Muslim world. She explains the controversy surrounding the "Satanic Verses" as well as the evolution of the religious concepts pertaining to "al-Llah." In short she weaves the ancient to make sense of the modern.
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27 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good intentions turned sour by bad history., February 7, 2009
This review is from: Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Paperback)
This book, in so many words, was AWFUL. In fact, while reading it my predominate feeling was outrage. I could rant forever about all the ways in which this book rubbed me the wrong way and what a disgrace it is to the genre of "history", but I will try to be brief.

While I will give credit to Karen Armstrong in that she is trying to tear down old, malicious stereotypes about Islam, the way in which she goes about it is appalling. In the process of trying to dispel stereotypes about Islam she ends up reinforcing and advocating stereotypes about Western society, which she assumes is entirely Christian. In her first chapter, "Muhammad the Enemy", she relates how Muhammad has been unjustly characterized as violent, licentious, and greedy. A worthy undertaking, to be sure, but instead of briefly laying out the misconceptions about Muhammad she instead embarks on a long, abusive discourse about Western society, citing the Middle Ages as a prime example of the West's intolerance and ignorance. Most of the "facts" that she presents about the Middle Ages are completely and utterly false, reiterating the usual stereotypes that provoked from me nothng but outrage. Her citation of sources is patchy, citing sources for her "facts" only when using direct quotations. In the very first chapter she comes across as a bad historian, and this makes the rest of the book hard to take seriously.

Her tone ranges from accusatory, to overly sentimental, to downright condescending, claiming that "we" as "Westerners" (again asserting that all Westerners are Christian) cannot properly comprehend the Qu'ran because it's style and tradition are over our heads, and we cannot appreciate it's beauty. I've read many excerpts from the Qu'ran, and I've found that I can both comprehend and appreciate the style, beauty, and content, as much as I could appreciate any other religious text. Her blanket assumptions about "we Westerners" are incredibly annoying and at most times insulting.

The texts she uses as sources for Muhammad's life are written 125 years after the death of the Prophet, and, while they certainly do attempt to portray Muhammad as human, as Armstrong claims, she seems to take everything they say as fact. She believes in every miraculous event related, despite her professed attempt to find the "historical" Muhammad. There is no critical component to her work. She clearly has an agenda and accepts anything that supports her agenda without giving it the objective, critical eye of a historian. And every chance she gets, she will pass moral judgment on "Western society" and its history, portraying it as this sinkhole of ignorance and depicting the world Muhammad created as this wonderful new land of enlightenment and total social justice. I am certainly not advocating for any of the malicious stereotypes that circulate about Muslim society; there can be no doubt that over the centuries it's vibrant culture has contributed greatly to world intellectual, social, and cultural innovations. I am merely asserting that no society in the history of the world has ever been "perfect", and Armstrong does not attempt to portray a balanced view of any of the events that she relates.

Thus, in my view, this book as a historical text is disgraceful. In saying this I am sure I come across as a snob, but I simply cannot give this book any kind of historical merit. This is not to say that Armstrong doesn't make valuable points about culture, bias, traditions, or religion. She most likely does. I commend her for attempting to dispel cultural and religious stereotypes surrounding Islam, something that certainly needs to be done in today's society. The problem is that her condescending tone and moral judgment of the culture and history of other nations, made mostly upon untrue historical fact, made it impossible for me to take anything she said seriously. I could not trust or respect her as a scholar.

In short, I recommend that anyone looking for an account of the historical Muhammad should spend their time and money elsewhere, on a book that is fully historically accurate and objective.
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Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet
Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong (Paperback - September 10, 1993)
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