"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thoughts on Muhammad & Stuff

The other day I went to the public library for the first time in a while.  You know what that means, right? Yup, a few more books ended up in my arms, checked out and in my pile to read. Those things just love jumping off the library shelves into my arms. I declare, it's such an amusing thing to behold!

So I'm reading a couple of those at the same time I'm reading a book I've owned for about three months, but just haven't taken the time to read yet.  It's No God but God by Reza Aslan.  I haven't gotten too far in it, but I like what he's said in the pages I have read.  I've enjoyed learning some of the background of the pre-Islamic Arab world and life in the tribes.  I found it interesting to see how Muhammad was afraid he was becoming one of those guys who heard from the gods and spoke in rhyming couplets. He dreaded being one of those Kahin and vowed to throw himself off the mountain (pg. 37) before the Quraysh could say that about him.  He didn't want to be one of those "reprehensible charlatans."

I enjoyed reading the jobs of the sheikhs in the tribal society and also how the Quraysh rose to power in Mecca.  That Qusayy guy was quite visionary.

I read a brief account of the circumstances concerning  Muhammad's first revelation and was struck - not for the first time - with how this spirit treated Muhammad.  I was trying to recall biblical accounts of how people were treated by angels or in visions of God and don't recall them being quite like this.  This is how Reza Aslan described it:

He sat alone in a cave, deep in meditation. Suddenly an invisible presence crushed him in its embrace. He struggled to break free but could not move. He was overwhelmed by darkness.  The pressure in his chest increased until he could no longer breathe.  He felt he was dying.  As he surrendered his final breath, light and a terrifying voice washed over him "like the break of dawn."

"Recite!" the voice commanded.

"What shall I recite?" Muhammad gasped.

The invisible presence tightened its embrace.  "Recite!"

"What shall I recite?" Muhammad asked again, his chest caving in.

Once more the presence tightened its grip and once more the voice repeated its command. Finally, at the moment when he thought he could bear no more, the pressure in his chest stopped, and in the silence that engulfed the cave, Muhammad felt these words stamped upon his heart.  (pg. 34)

Do you recall other ways God or angels or spirits came to people?  I recall Isaiah felt quite unclean in God's holy presence, but his guilt was taken away by a live coal being placed on his lips (see Isaiah 6).  Moses was told to remove his shoes.  The angels that appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth told them not to be afraid. 

Also of note was the author's view that Muhammad wasn't illiterate. As a superb trader, Muhammad would have known how to write receipts and the author believes Muhammad probably even knew basic Aramaic since he often dealt with Jews in his business dealings.  Mr. Aslan said a more correct translation would be that Muhammad was a prophet to the unlettered people meaning he brought a book to people - the Arabs - who previously did not have a sacred book as did the Jews and Christians.

Also I'm reading Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler. He's an American Jew who grew up in the South. I will share some more about that book later.  The other book I've barely started. It's Growing Up bin Laden by Osama's first wife and fourth son along with Jean Sasson.

I think I'll learn a lot about various aspects of the Middle East in these books!


Sarah said...

I really enjoyed that book. There were quite a few eye-openers in it! ;o)

Hijabis On Ranting Tour. said...

is the guy who wrote that book a Muslim?, the Prophet being literate is news to me, even in the quran it says quiete clearly he was illiterate so the coming to a unlettered people thing, seems to a personal non backed up view of the author as a trader he couldve had someone write for him, during those times it wasnt unusual to have someone write things for illiterate people say letters, btw about the words stamped on the heart thats news 2 me too, again during the Final time the angel repeating Iqra bismi rabikal 3adeem , loosely translates us, Read in the name of your lord,and the prophet just repeated that again, and finally rushed home saying "zamilooni" which means cover me, because he thought something was wrong but finally understood that he received a divine revelation, lol maybe itd be better to read another book about Muhammad(pbuh), 2nd i dont really know how many middleasterners or whatever can relate to "growing up bin laden" but oh well, if it teaches you something worthwhile why not :) just in my opinion i find jean sassons books a bit strange or self contradictory, but the growing up bin laden book received high praise maybe ill read it one day
take care
naz @ somalianarab.blogspot.com

Amber said...

It's been a while since I read this one, but I recall it being quite good. And the author is indeed a Muslim. Here's the wiki page but it has links to his official page and some other pages about him as well:


As I recall, angels speaking to humans were never cruel or abusive to them. The people were afraid, but the angels always said something along the lines of 'Don't be afraid' to calm them down (that's when the people realized they were talking to angels, and the angels weren't disguised as humans...) Not that the angels were fluffy puppies or anything. Remember Zachariah was struck dumb for laughing at the angel who announced the coming of St. John the Forerunner?

Wafa said...

i have read before about the idea that Prophet Muhammad was not illiterate but not in detail. And though it's strange but fascinating too . Will defiently look for that book to read more about that and many more.

Jean Sasson's books remind me of tabloid magazine, so i don't think i will be interested in reading this one and the topic is not interesting too. Maybe because people in Saudi Arabia have already read many more about Bin Laden.The thought of his first wife and son involvement in the book is what makes it a tiny interesting.

And waiting for your posts about "walking the Bible" book.Hope it will be fun.

Qusay said...

And now u know who I was named after :)

sarah said...

Susanne, I think Reza Aslan is using poetic license to describe the event to make the book more readable. It sounds more like this was how he imagined it to occur. But certainly it is reported the Muhammad was unsettled by the event.

There are lots of other encounters of Muhammad with Angels reported and certainly he had no fear of them then.

As for being unlettered - it is always stated that he was illiterate. If he in fact could write I think that there would have been some reports of him doing that and also Muslims would have preserved his writings with great love and reverence. There is no evidence to suggest he could or did write and no benefit in claiming he couldn't if he was actually literate.

I haven't read the Bin Laden book but take Sasson's other Saudi books with a pinch of salt!

Happy reading.

Achelois said...

I read No God but God exactly around this time last year and LOVED it. It is such a refreshing book. I can’t stop quoting Aslan.

I don’t agree with everything he says, but Aslan is certainly not the only one or the first one to claim that the Prophet was not illiterate. There has always been a difference of opinion amongst people about his literacy.

For example, with reference to 7:158, Arberry writes, “…Believe then in God, and in His Messenger, the Prophet of the *common* folk, who believes in God…” Similarly, Shabbir Ahmed translates it as “…So, believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Prophet to whose people no Scripture was given before…”. Both Shabbir and Arberry translate verse 157 similarly.

Even Karen Armstrong thinks he was literate.

I don’t recall where I read it a long time ago but it was explained that in the earliest scripts the words written are “alnabiyyi l’ummi” rather than “alnabiyyi al-ummi” (only one alif ‘ا’ is missing). Even today when the text is recited (in whatever rendition) it is recited as “alnabiyyil’–ummi.”

In Arabic Al is the definite article ‘the’ so al-nabiyyi is ‘the Prophet’ (nabi is the nawi of Hebrew). Ummi means unlettered (or gentile or without scripture). However, l’ummi means FOR the unlettered and al-ummi means ‘the unlettered.’ Hence the difference.

Personally from a linguistic pov I tend to think it is “alnnabiyyi l’ummi” (“So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Prophet of those without Scripture”) since otherwise the verse would read as “So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the Prophet, the Unlettered…” That would be using two definite articles simultaneously. And it has happened like in “In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful”, but in this case Compassionate and Merciful are Allah’s titles whereas Ummi was never the Prophet’s title.

I think later Muslims felt threatened when non-Muslims claimed that the Prophet may have copied texts from the Torah and the Bible and felt the need to say that he was unlettered. That argument is moot since if he had ever wanted to copy anything he didn’t have to be literate to copy it, and secondly nothing in the Quran is exactly as it occurs in the Bible or the Torah.

The Prophet’s account of the first revelation is even more colourful in his earliest and very Muslim biographies :)

Aslan is definitely Muslim and a Muslim scholar. He is Muslim against his parents’ wishes (does that make him a greater Muslim? :D j/k).

Don't like Sasson. Won't recommend her. But her books are very juicy :D

Lat said...

It's possible for people to have different experiences on meeting angels.When one is deeply meditating strange things can happen so I've heard and read. I think that's why the Prophet was afraid..in the beginning.Even Sufis have a way of their own to how they 'handle' this 'union' with God.So I don't think anything is wrong about the way the angel is reported to have approached him.

People will say many things in the hadiths.It's afterall the opinions of people who lived in their respective eras commenting about the Prophet, not his own actual words.Therefore I take them with a biiiig pinch of salt esp those about the unseen and his life.Universal truths normally don't go wrong so I accept them wherever they are even if it's in Sikhism.

Susanne said...

Sarah, I'm glad to know it was one you enjoyed. It was recommended so I bought it and am enjoying it much better than I thought I would. :)

Susanne said...

Naz, thanks for your thoughts! Of course I've read the usual Muslim view so I guess this is why Mr. Aslan's differing view made me take notice. :) But, yes, he's a Muslim from Iran.

Hmmm, interesting thoughts on Jean Sasson's book. I've not read anything from her before and this book was on the "new books" shelf. I almost didn't get it, but some of the stuff looked interesting especially since it was co-authored with OBL's first wife and a son. I'll see how it is and let y'all know. :)

Thanks for your comment!

Susanne said...

Amber, fluffy puppies...ha! You made me smile! :)

Thanks for the link to Reza Aslan. I just checked it out myself.

Yeah, I remember how the angel didn't like Zachariah's doubt..true!

Thanks for adding your thoughts!

Susanne said...

Wafa', yeah, I'm sure bin Laden news makes you yawn! Ha, ha! I typically don't go for books like this, but I'll read some of it and see if it seems interesting enough to finish. So far Najwa is talking about her early years in Latakia, Syria and how her cousin Osama would come visit. And then how they married when she was almost 16 and he was 17. Actually I started reading the book to Samer and he exclaimed over the fact that they married in 1974 and Osama didn't even finish high school until 1976! Samer said he can't imagine marrying when he was still in school! :-D

I didn't realize Sasson's books were like tabloids. I'll keep that in mind. This book is written in first person like Najwa or Omar are telling the stories themselves. Jean makes a point of separating her own additions to what they share. So maybe this book is different. I don't know since I've read none other from her.

Thanks for adding your thoughts. :)

Susanne said...

Qusay, aha! I am thrilled to know that because I, of course, thought of YOU when I read about him! :)

Susanne said...

sarah, good to see you again. I hope you are well and enjoying a great Ramadan!

Thank you for your thoughts on what I wrote. I sincerely appreciate the feedback. Boy, now I am all paranoid about reading Jean Sasson's books! :-D

Susanne said...

Achelois, thanks for your interesting comment! I did wonder why it was such a big deal that Muhammad was illiterate. Usually that's not something people brag about, but now I recall it has something to do with how great the Quran is and how could a man who couldn't read or write create something this wonderful. That's the explanation I've always heard. Didn't hear the one about accusations of him copying. As you said (or maybe you didn't..ha) the stories may be somewhat similar, but few of them are exact. That's something I noticed for myself when I read the Quran earlier this year and compared its versions of things with the Bible's accounts.

I enjoyed the linguistic information - thanks much for sharing all that.

Really enjoyed what you had to say and I see another warning about Sasson's books. Yikes! :)

Susanne said...

Lat, yeah, maybe the angels just treated Arabs differently than Jews. Or maybe the Jewish writers just described them differently for whatever reason.

Good point about taking the hadith with a grain of salt. :)

Thank you all for your comments. Enjoyed them!

Hijabis On Ranting Tour. said...

Hey Sussane maybe once you read the books you could do a review? id love that and itd be interesting to see what you thought in more detail
take care