Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book: Muhammed - Done

Okay, so I finished it.

It's a really easy read and I enjoyed it. I enjoy Armstrong's older works, clearly.

However, the major problem with the book is that Armstrong's bias toward Islam and Mohammed in particular makes it impossible for her to write a balanced book. She writes Mohammed as a man who only wanted the best for everyone and who was forced to compromise his vision because of the baseness of his companions.

I think she's taken her old Catholic belief in Christ and His perfection and begun to project it onto the founder of a religion that she finds more palatable since she rejected her roots and lost her faith in Christianity. That being said, so far as I know Ms. Armstrong remains an agnostic.

Nothing bad that ever happened while Mohammed was alive was ever the fault of his not seeing the consequences of his actions. It was always everyone else who took something wrong or couldn't stand the social reforms that Mohammed was trying to implement.

Don't get me wrong - I don't subscribe to the view that Mohammed was this blood thirsty pedophile that I see him portrayed as by some people. I see him, as I have said as a typical man of the era. Perhaps because of his own background he was more sympathetic toward certain segments of the population (women, orphans, the poor and dispossessed) than others. He may have even believed that his social reforms were necessary for the survival of his people. It's well evident that the old tribal ways were not going to ensure the tribes survival over the long term - not in any significant way.

Some of the stories were interesting - I found the description of the building of the mosque in Medina fascinating as well as the fact that it wasn't only a place of worship but actually where Mohammed and his wives lived. And that the wives didn't have fabulous accommodations - their huts were so small, apparently, that most people couldn't stand up straight in them.

Armstrong does mention conflicts in Mohammed's life, including the strife amongst the wives caused by jealousy. But she glosses over or ignores some of the more questionable actions by Mohammed. You know, not even 'questionable' but things that make him less kind and gentle and perfect as she seems to see him and more like a leader who has to do things (or order them done) that don't sit well with modern sensibilities. And she completely leaves out the assassinations of the two poets that Mohammed if not directly ordered then implicitly did and then brushed off as if they were nothing. Because that doesn't fit with the fluffy Mohammed that Armstrong imagines.

So, all in all, interesting but not, in my opinion a very realistic image of Mohammed.

My next book is also an Armstrong book The Battle for God.


  1. Nice summary. I agree. Wasn't this the book where Allah was the one OK with women being beaten by their husbands, but Muhammad had a problem with it? I think Muhammad was more moral than God to Karen Armstrong. Maybe this is why she is agnostic.

  2. Susanne,

    I don't think she phrased it exactly that way, but basically yes. Mohammed was very upset about the verses that said men could beat their wives, but since God said it was okay...*shrug*. The revelations timing was convenient, of course.

    But then, if you're only getting revelations when you ask questions then of course the timing would seem convenient. They have to be the answers to your questions.

    I think Armstrong feels that she was burned before while she was a Catholic nun and she's very wary of being burned again, as it were.


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