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The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad Hardcover – January 24, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

It is surprising how little most people know about the life of the prophet Muhammad. Hazleton sets out to rectify that in this eminently readable biography. Relying on two biographies from the eighth and ninth centuries, as well as other sources, she presents Muhammad’s life as both history and story. It begins with a moving scene: Muhammad alone in the barren mountains, at night, praying and waiting. Who he is and how he came to be there are revealed in chapters that show him as an orphan in need of protection, as a young camel driver appreciated for his fairness, as a prophet touched by Allah, and as a political leader driven to bring the message to all those with ears to listen. The beauty of Hazleton’s book is that she portrays Muhammad throughout his life as a living, breathing man with the hopes, fears, struggles, and the monumental blessing and burden of knowing he has received divine knowledge. Does she delve into psychology to bring about a fully realized portrait? Yes, but respectfully so, posing more questions than she answers. A highly readable, insightful biography. --Ilene Cooper


"A rich biography… Those who read it will come away well prepared to understand the prophet whose message, 14 centuries later, is the creed of more than a billion and a half people.” –The San Francisco Chronicle

"This book offers a welcome chance to read [Muhammed's] life story in a more familiar and accessible form than the Islamic sources… The First Muslim succeeds. It makes its subject vivid and immediate." –Hari Kunzru, The New York Times Book Review

"Richly detailed and beautifully written... [Hazleton] is able to do with words what is almost never attempted in pictures... indispensable." –The Seattle Times

"Like her subject, Hazleton brilliantly navigates 'the vast and often terrifying arena in which politics and religion intersect,' revealing the deep humanity of faith." –More Magazine

"The book's focus is an effort to portray the prophet's unique circumstances and recognizable humanity… Hazleton's biography covers the broad strokes of his life with fairness—she doesn't gloss over his more fallible moments—and insight." –NPR

"Hazleton is both a good storyteller and writer. Here she has brought to life a man about whom much has been written and whom millions revere, yet about whose actual life very little is known… A very readable book." –The American Spectator

"This story is deep with details not only of Muhammad's life journey, but with historic information about the culture of the times in Arabia... filled with rich color of the locations, culture, and people; it is a book plentiful with tales of Muhammad's life that follow logically from orphan to religious leader, but more than that, it enriches us with the detail of a time and place in history." –The New York Journal of Books

“[A] humane, audacious biography… An elegant narrative crafted for open-minded readers… a vivid canvas of Arabian life in the early seventh century.” –Ha’aretz

"A genuine attempt to try to understand the human experience Muhammad went through…  Hazleton queries and questions in a way that will resonate with a non-academic audience trying to come to grips with the fastest growing religion on the planet. It is a welcome antidote to the barrage of hatred and distortion to which Islam has been subjected since the early Bush years, an opportunity for balance to be restored and for those of us who don’t subscribe to the extremes to regain the middle ground.” –Guernica

"Hazleton... is in the revelation business: She's out to consider Muhammad as a mortal human, a man who lived and died and was vulnerable... A world-class history teacher who contextualizes the realities of [his] far-off times... [she] can effortlessly distill years of research into a few conversational sentences." –The Stranger

"A strikingly nuanced portrait of how Muhammad the man—fallible and complex—became Muhammad the prophet… With the insight of a psychologist and the details of a historian, Hazleton portrays a Muhammad both divinely inspired and deeply human." –Spirituality and Health

"Vivid and engaging... a fluid and captivating introduction that will be invaluable for those seeking a greater understanding of Islam's message and its messenger." –Publishers Weekly

"Winning... a level-headed, elegant look at the life of the prophet amid the making of a legend." –Kirkus

“Beautifully written, The First Muslim respectfully humanizes the inimitable prophet of Islam and sees him whole." –Cornel West, Professor, Union Theological Seminary, and Professor Emeritus, Princeton University

“Hazleton sets her keen eye and her sculpted prose on one of the most fascinating and misunderstood figures in history. What she uncovers is a complex yet utterly relatable man whose personal trials and triumphs changed the course of history. This is a wonderful book.” –Reza Aslan, author of No God but God and How to Win a Cosmic War

"Hazleton has done the seemingly impossible: rendered into human proportions a man who is more often the subject of pious veneration or political vitriol. This is the most readable, engaging study of Muhammad I have ever come across." –G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen and The Butterfly Mosque

"The First Muslim tells the mostly unknown story of the prophet Muhammad in a masterful, accessible, and engaging way.  Hazleton's empathetic touch softens her rigorous scholarship and research as she crucially demystifies both the man himself and the birth of Islam. An absolute delight (and indispensable) for believers and non-believers alike." –Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and The Ayatollahs' Democracy

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (July 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487286
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487286
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #155,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book until I got to the middle, after the Battle of Uhud, and then the book really went off the rails in a disturbing way. Before then she did a great job of talking about Muhammad as a man in a particular social and psychological situation - an orphan in the Arabian peninsula - which was very effective especially in making him more real and relatable to a modern audience. She was also respectful of his spirituality being an agnostic Jew herself. But in describing the period of his being in Medina she started talking more and more about him being a manipulative politician, his labeling of people opposed to him in arbitrary ways, questioning whether certain historical events happened (not just "miracle" type events), and giving her own motivations for his actions - all of this without any evidence. As other reviewers have said, she tells his life in a very dramatic way but when her apparent prejudices get in the way she is just dramatizing her own opinions about his life.

The worst part which made me stop reading - is that she questioned Muhammad's treatment of the one Jewish tribe that had gone over to the enemy really suggesting that he and the Quran itself had some overall issue with all the Jews. There is plenty of evidence in Muhammad life and in the Quran that that is simply not the case. As another reviewer noted, there is evidence which she conveniently ignores that one of the Jewish was working against Muhammad and with his enemies for a long time even though they were part of the agreement he had worked out with all tribes on Medina. There were some other examples of this subjective, non-scholarly and actually offensive perspective of the author in the book. These points were contradicted in much better biographies of Muhammad by Karen Armstrong and Tariq Ramadans and contradict even-handed, non-Muslim teachers I have had on the subject.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I just finished Lesley's biography of Prophet Mohammed PBUH. It is a beautifully written book. I know some Muslims may have problems with few of the narratives. It took me good four months to finish this book because I took my time to check... other sources where I had problems with what she wrote. I come to a conclusion that history that is over 1400 years old has many versions. It is how you have been told and brought up... Is how you see things. In these troubled times of prophet's cartoons, videos and bigoted mentalities of Terry Jones and Daniel Pipes this book will be a ray of light. It shows our prophet in a very positive way. She calls him PBUH, the greatest man to walk the earth. I just hope the Muslim communities look at this book and read it with an open mind and heart. I know for sure non-Muslims will see him in an all new and positive way InshAllah. The book will officially be launched on January 22. Do go even out of your way (if you have to)... to read it! You will really enjoy it.

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The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The First Muslim is beautiful. It's sympathetic but not pious, elegant but not soporific, and honest but not incomplete. Lesley Hazleton has accomplished what she set out to do in this biography by, "seeing Muhammad whole." This is the first biography I have read of Muhammad (saw) that actually gets into what was probably, or at least possibly, in his head. By examining the night on Mt. Hira which created the Muhammad (saw) that we know today, she has uncovered the self-conscious personality of a "triply orphaned" prophet that radically changed his world. She explores his life through the personalities that surrounded him such as Khadijah who comforted the man who many venerate today after his experience with the angel on Mt. Hira. She is honest and does not ignore more controversial events of the prophet's (saw) life. She does not shy away from presenting alternative accounts of events in his life, which noone can be certain of one way or the other. In short, this should become THE standard biography of the man so misunderstood here in the West. It makes the sacred reachable, even relatable, and gives the reader the possibility of understanding this orphaned and widowed prophet without orthodox veneration or political slander.

After reading The First Muslim one should read her history of early Islam, After the Prophet. It continues the journey after his death and follows the lives of many of his companions until their deaths.
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Format: Hardcover
Lesley Hazleton, a self-professed agnostic Jew with an interest in the Abrahamic faiths (think a less spiritually-inclined Karen Armstrong with more focus on politics than piety), presents the most refreshing and possibly important take on Muhammad I have read to date. Quoting a British historian that to write well about an historical figure requires both empathy and imagination, Hazleton acknowledges reconstructing the life of a religious figure says as much about Muhammad as it does the author. Writers, historians, and theologians constantly create narratives (consciously or subconsciously) that strive to be informative and relevant to particular audiences and this book was no different.

By stripping Muhammad of the "purity of perfection" his followers have caged him in, Hazleton shows how we can better appreciate his value as arguably the most human and realistic of all the major religious figures. And what a story! Hazleton fully appreciates this is a riveting story of the meek overcoming the mighty, social justice overcoming tyranny, with drama and action to boot. Some details, particularly in Medina, I had never read before in such detail such as political relationships with Ibn Ubayy, the particular origin of the term "hypocrites"(munaafiq) and, during the siege of Medina, the triple cross Muhammad put into motion, a truly brilliant war tactic.

Muhammad as a politician and warrior may cut a different figure than Muhammad the preacher, but he is no less a fascinating figure. Hazleton avoids the dichotomy some historians (and even devoted Muslims) fall for, how a more docile preacher Muhammad at Mecca can be reconciled with political and military leader Muhammad at Medina.
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