Those who want to learn more about Muhammad’s life usually have to choose between Islamic sources and Islamophobia. With Muslims, the Prophet could not err. Their opponents will use the young age of Aisha, one of Muhammad’s wives, to support their claim that Islam is no good.
So it is gratifying that journalist and former diplomat Robert Van Lanchot, known for books and stories about places as diverse as Somalia, Libya, the Balkans, and trouble spots in the Netherlands, in his new book age of the prophet Muhammad is considered a relatively impartial observer. About the real Muhammad, about his life – all that can be found about her. Van Lanchot blends this autobiography with his research on antiquities: from the tooth in the book’s title, which the Prophet was said to have lost on the battlefield, to the many hairs collected by his followers during his lifetime.
Of course it is always doubtful whether the beloved gem is real. But at least they make great stories. If Van Lanchot wanted to know where Muhammad was with a caravan in modern-day Syria, he would simply travel there, just like Kandahar in Afghanistan. In Jerusalem he “discovered” a small mosque built almost into the Western Wall, very important to the Jews. And in India, he himself became the center of a (social) battle over the media over the authenticity of some of the Prophet’s poetry. It is also subtly written: “The Mongol invasion, with its devastation effect, may have led to the greatest loss of poetry in history.”
In describing the life of Muhammad, Van Lanchot relies heavily, he admits, on Biography of the Messenger of God – Biography of Ibn Ishaq, the Messenger of God from the eighth century: “Eight hundred printed pages.” Still the fascinating story of a somewhat failed preacher at first who had to sit and watch the Kaaba in his native city of Mecca, which is now the central shrine of Islam, is distorted in his eyes by only naked or shabby pagans performing their rituals there..only when he deviates to Medina, five hundred kilometers to the north, the debate begins to turn in his favour. And even then, according to tradition, he needed a thousand angels to defeat the Meccan pagans at Badr in 623. But within a century, the Islamic empire and its creed extended to France and India.
It is to van Lanchot’s credit that he paid special attention to the (many) women in Muhammad’s life, whose fate has traditionally been of little concern. He does this without lifting a finger, although he does mention in his introduction to make sure that certain situations are not acceptable from a contemporary perspective. It seems to me that this is really the best approach: you certainly do not have to justify that Aisha was nine years old when Muhammad married her, but leave the judgment to the reader. Stories about (sexual) violence are sometimes difficult to absorb; For example, when his struggle for succession was underway at the end of Muhammad’s life, his potential successor, Ali, was accused of assaulting a concubine from Muhammad’s share of the spoils of war. Not bad, according to the prophet: Ali had so many advantages that he could grab more girls from the loot.
Van Lanchot pays attention to details. He noted, for example, that Ibn Ishaq included in his primitive autobiography what at first glance seemed a useless story about a girl who was allowed to sit on the back of a camel during a campaign with Muhammad and then was surprised to notice that her first turn had left blood on the saddle. Apparently, Van Lanchot wrote, Ibn Ishaq believed that this story deserved to be included in the autobiography. why? Van Lanchot can only think of one reason: “He had to say, not categorically, that the Prophet was fascinated by the girls who were in that fragile transition period where the girl was no longer a girl, but not yet—she is already a complete woman. Eligibility.
And indeed, besides Aisha, there were a lot of other girls whom Muhammad was watching. This indicates the added value of the non-Muslim as an author. Van Lanchot writes that Muslim scholars often say that the Prophet of God cast the net in order to connect several Arab tribes through marriage. Oh yes? Why, then, were six of his wives belonging to his own Quraish tribe? With his marriage to Jewish slaves Safiya and Rehana, he also did not intend to ally with the Jewish community. Van Lanchot: “The real reason for many of these marriages is that the Prophet loved women so much.” Or take, for example, what the author said about the wife of Muhammad Maymoona: “She is said to be very pious. To a good listener, that basically means she wasn’t very pretty. Whether he’s stepping on his toes or not, Van Lanschot makes a trustworthy attempt to explain these kinds of sensitive matters.
As much as the author refrains from judging Muhammad, his opinions on many other matters are deeply disturbing. For example, a certain prayer “their style is not very strong”, a building in Abu Dhabi is “ugly”, and an old house in Kandahar is “unfortunately modernized in the wrong way”. Van Lanchot also regularly allocates himself a disturbing role as a storyteller in a situation, for example when he learns of a young Hindu couple in Kerala about the similarities between the Qur’an and the narration. Hundred Years of Solitude Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This interpretation does not comply with copyright law Show up, don’t tell† But for the rest, Van Lanchot manages to take the reader on his quest in an infectious way.
Read also: This review is for a book on the Western image of Muhammad