I've read several biographies of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, but this one was unique. Karen is respectful and yet not reverential, and altI've read several biographies of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, but this one was unique. Karen is respectful and yet not reverential, and although she uses orthodox Muslim historical sources (Ibn Ishaq, Tabari, Muhammad Ibn Sa'd and al-Waqidi) her outsider approach produced some surprises in what I thought was a familiar topic.
She tries to rationalize several incidents, sometimes ignoring the sources in the search for a more credible explanation. An early example is that the army of Abraha the Abyssinian governor of southern Arabia which attempted to destroy the ka'bah on the year of the prophet's birth, relating that "at the very gates of the city it seems that his army was stricken by plague and forced to beat an ignominious defeat". This isn't a weakness though, as it provides historical context and forces an evaluation of the source - whether they could be romanticised, tweaked or exaggerated in retelling. She also strongly contextualizes many incidents, providing significant political background to the conflict with the Jewish tribes of Medina.
One of the most interesting things about the narrative by far was the attention paid to the socioeconomic situation in Arabia through the time period, explaining it from several generations before the prophet's birth to his death in more detail than the original sources or any secondary ones I've yet come across. This brings an understanding of the power dynamics in the community, how various factors interplay with the newly founded religion of Islam and the complex motivations of different characters. She claims that the tribal solidarity ethic of nomadic Arabs was ill-suited to more cosmopolitan life when Quraysh settled in Mecca, and discussed the slow dissolution of society as the first generation to be born without the daily risk of desert life became mercantile and obsessed with financial profit, neglecting the weak and creating a rapidly-growing wealth and class divide which was new to Arabs. The youth, who felt growing malaise and a lack of belonging in this new Arabia, were naturally among the first to be attracted to Islam, given that social solidarity was one of the first messages preached.
The main weaknesses of the book are poor transliteration and several infuriating contradictions of itself or its sources ("there is no evidence that Muhammad saw Islam as a universal religion" being one of the worst). But if you are already familiar with the source material, that isn't significantly detrimental to its enjoyability.
Ultimately it ends on a positive note, balancing the just war theology with the strong evidence for a complementary paradigm of peace evidenced from the treaty of Hudaybiyah, the opening of Mecca and the subsequent reconciliation with and forgiveness of Quraysh. Written at the time of the Rushdie crisis, the opening chapter discusses the modern climate of fear and hatred towards Islam and Muslims together with historical trends in Eastern-Western relations, and calls for an attempt to come to mutual understanding and fight Western media and academic bias against Islam. I think she succeeded in presenting a sympathetic, accessible portrayal which is greatly relevant to our modern times, and therefore I happily recommend it....more
Genius bridge-maker, shipbuilder, railway designer and almost almost polymath-like civil engineer extraordinaire, Brunel tried his hand at almost everGenius bridge-maker, shipbuilder, railway designer and almost almost polymath-like civil engineer extraordinaire, Brunel tried his hand at almost everything during his lifetime, achieving large amounts of success due to his extraordinary personal drive.
Brunel came second in a BBC poll on the 100 Greatest Britons for his achievements, but this account forces an examiantion of the definition of success. He took multiple large projects simultaneously, treating them as personal challenges, leading to spectacular results, but his perfectionism also led to his inability to meet deadlines, and to the massive financial losses incurred to shareholders; he often delivering major projects years left and several hundred percent over budget.
This biography is extremely critical, defying many of the claims made by Rolt in his book, and publishing letters showing him to be rude and arrogant, obsessed with his personal glory, a selfish lobbyist and obsessive micromanager with whom it was extremely difficult for anyone to work due to his demand for absolute control and credit over all aspects of any project, although this did not mean he would accept the blame for failures.
At times heavy for its focus on the technical aspects of his designs, describing numerous bridge structures, ship designs and rail mechanisms, but weaving the story of his life in well. All in all, a less than glowing review of his life, which uncovers unpleasant aspects of the man as well as the achievements he is usually remembered for. A reminder of what pure motivation can achieve, but also a remidner that great professional success often comes at great personal cost or sacrifice, including to his family life, health and relationships with the people around him....more
Good book. It was more of an abridged itinerary of Ibn Battuta's Rihla with commentary than an actual reproduction. I found parts of it hard to followGood book. It was more of an abridged itinerary of Ibn Battuta's Rihla with commentary than an actual reproduction. I found parts of it hard to follow because of the simplicity of the maps and the sheer number of places he visited, but it certainly improved my geographic knowledge. Alhough it was mostly patchy on descriptions of places (a fault of the original account, not the author of the book), it exposed me to a few historic empires that I hadn't heard of, and left me with a lot of future reading material.
It's quite well-referenced as well, which helps because a few of the journeys are regarded unplausible or fabricated by modern scholars due to many vagueries, ommissions and outright contradictions of dates in the original account.
Also, Ibn Battuta was a PLAYER! He seems to have been on a quest to get a wife or concubine from every corner of the world!...more
This is by far my favourite biography of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Tariq Ramadan overcomes the problem of different understandings of acThis is by far my favourite biography of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Tariq Ramadan overcomes the problem of different understandings of actions of the prophet by finding the transcendent moral lessons of his life, not only narrating what happened but detailing spiritual significance and moral implications that are relevant in all times.
It's also a thoroughly European text, by a European scholar, rather than a translation; it rarely uses Arabic words, all excerpts of the Quran are English translations, and is presented with a much more culturally relevant mindset whilst remaining faithful to the facts.The narration differs in minor aspects to other versions of the seerah that I've read before, but the author, as well as being a graduate of Al-Azhar, provides detailed references for each chapter, so I'm not concerned about the accuracy.
I don't often buy books but I'm going to get this one, to make sure I can absorb it fully over time and implement what I've learnt. It's also an ideal first book for a new Muslim, or someone looking to re-connect with the faith, and is guaranteed to make you love the prophet even more. To an outsider looking for an insight into Islam you will fully understand why 3 billion Muslims around the world repeat "May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him" every time his name is mentioned, to this day, 1400 years after his death....more