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Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time (Eminent Lives) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 17, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

Muhammad was born in 570 CE, and over the following sixty years built a thriving spiritual community, laying the foundations of a religion that changed the course of world history. There is more historical data on his life than on that of the founder of any other major faith, and yet his story is little known.

Karen Armstrong's immaculately researched new biography of Muhammad will enable readers to understand the true origins and spirituality of a faith that is all too often misrepresented as cruel, intolerant, and inherently violent. An acclaimed authority on religious and spiritual issues, Armstrong offers a balanced, in-depth portrait, revealing the man at the heart of Islam by dismantling centuries of misconceptions. Armstrong demonstrates that Muhammad's life—a pivot point in history—has genuine relevance to the global crises we face today.

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Armstrong's second biography of Islam's prophet is lucid and stylish, never condescending. It puts the best face possible on its subject. The Muhammad it projects gave his followers "a mission: to create a just and decent society, in which all members were treated with respect." Moreover, Armstrong's Muhammad behaved justly and decently while he lived, though perhaps a bit according to the stringent standards of Arab culture at the time. He taught tolerance toward Jews and Christians. Never mind--Armstrong doesn't--about denials of civil equality to non-Muslims and fulminations about them as "infidels." The Jewish clan whose men were exterminated after a particular battle? It wasn't that they were Jews but that they were traitors, and it wasn't Muhammad who decided they should be executed. The fact that, after declaring that Muslim men could have no more than four wives, Muhammad himself exceeded the limit? Hey, a leader has to make alliances with other groups. A nicely written book, but don't let it be the only biography of Muhammad you read. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Series: Eminent Lives
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060598972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060598976
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,078 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

251 of 300 people found the following review helpful By Ed Lewis on November 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Karen Armstrong's book provides a brief introduction to the life of Mohammed. At the end she offers her motivation: "If we are to avoid catastrophe, Muslim and Christian worlds must learn not merely to tolerate but to appreciate one another."

I picked up this book as a lifelong atheist who has never had much sympathy for any religion, although I respect the rights of others to their beliefs. I was looking for information because I am disturbed at the prevalence in the media and elsewhere of hate propaganda against Muslims. If I'm being told I should hate something, I want to know why.

Armstrong traces the rise of Islam to an economic revolution that occurred in Arabia in the seventh century, largely due to the growing importance of trade in a nomadic grazing economy.

She looks briefly at the rise of monotheism in the newly emerging cities, particularly Mecca, and the emergence of Islam from that as Mohammed's revelations provided a body of scripture for Arab monotheism.

Mohammed and others considered his revelations divine, the word of god. In that, he's not alone, as many religions consider the thoughts of brilliant people among their founders to have been divinely inspired. The poetic nature of Mohammed's revelations and their relevance to the social situation of their time led to their survival, and later followers of Islam used them to understand their own social situations, down to the present time. In this Islam is no different to any other religion.

Armstrong describes the decade-long struggle between Mecca and Medina, which was an economic and political struggle that took religious form, and the eventual triumph of the Muslims of Medina.
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88 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Beckham on July 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
Karen Armstrong's Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time directly addresses the central conflict of our times, "Some Muslim thinkers regard the jihad against Mecca as the climax of Muhammad's career and fail to note that he eventually abjured warfare and adopted a nonviolent policy. Western critics also persist in seeing the Prophet of Islam as a man of war, and fail to see that from the very first he was opposed to the jahili arrogance and egotism that not only fueled the aggression of his time but is much in evidence in some leaders, Western and Muslim alike, today."

Karen goes out of her way to present a balanced and fair perspective on the life of Muhammad. She does this by basing her biography on the Prophet's response to al-Jahiliyah: commonly translated as "an Islamic concept of 'ignorance of divine guidance.'" Karen examinees more than Jahiliyah's theological significance, going into its practical impact on the culture of the Arabian peninsula. The dominant jahili spirit of the time was arrogant, quick to take a offense, warlike and vengeful. Islam, as practiced and taught by the Prophet, Karen makes clear, was a rejection of all of these traits - usually to the great consternation of his followers:

"And the servants of Allah, Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant (jahilun) address them, they say, `Peace!' " (Sura The Criterion 25:63 - translation from The Qur'an: Text, Translation & Commentary.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Willy Richardson on October 29, 2015
Format: Paperback
Karen Armstrong has written books on every world religion and many spiritual leaders, I wonder if she is the author of perhaps too many topics, and spread herself thin?

In her introduction she compares Muhammad to Gandhi without offering an explanation... Gandhi? Ghandhi was in a political disadvantage and used non-violence to bring about radical change. Later in Armstrong's book she states,"No radical social and political change has ever been achieved without bloodshed, and, because Muhammad was living in a period of confusion and disintegration, peace could be achieved only by the sword." This is one example of her many contradictions.

She often made statements that assumed her readers were brought up as Christians, and seemed to side with God in her claim that the enemies of Muhammad had perverted the true order. She also made mistakes that led me to question her reliability as a historian. For example, she inferred that the Qu'ran is written in chronological order! (The Qu'ran is ordered from longest to shortest chapters). I would have preferred more source quotes, more historical facts and less conjecture.

Her book shows Muhammad in a positive light, which is refreshing, but she seems to be defending his every move, including the historical accounts that are less than holy - the attacks Muhammad made on the Quraysh, Jews, and non-believers was portrayed by Armstrong as pro-active defensive measures...

I enjoyed a few passages when Armstrong's personal interludes were kept down to a minimum and the history of a fascinating man and time and place unfolded. It's quite an accomplishment for someone to carve a nation from warring tribes in a harsh and unyielding environment. But for the most part I felt like I had to read between the lines.

Definitely not a historical book. Falls into the category of polemics.
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