Welcome to By the Chapter. This week’s featured book is Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam by Kamran Pasha. I am hosting By The Chapter this week with Marcia from The Printed Page. By the Chapter is a regular feature at The Printed Page, so stop over there to see the other good books Marcia will be discussing.
If you’re not familiar with Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam here’s a little background on the book from FSB Associates:
Deep in the desert of seventh century Arabia, a new prophet named Muhammad has arisen. After he beholds a beautiful woman in a vision and resolves to marry her, the girl’s father quickly arranges the wedding. Aisha becomes the youngest of Muhammad’s twelve wives and her feisty nature and fierce intelligence establishes her as his favorite. But when Aisha is accused of adultery by her rivals, she loses the Prophet’s favor—and must fight to prove her innocence.
Pardoned by her husband after a divine revelation clears her name, Aisha earns the reluctant respect of Muslim men when their settlement in Medina is attacked and she becomes a pivotal player on the battlefield. Muhammad’s religious movement sweeps through Arabia and unifies the warring tribes, transforming him from prophet to statesman. But soon after the height of her husband’s triumph—the conquest of the holy city of Mecca—Muhammad falls ill and dies in Aisha’s arms.
A widow at age nineteen, Aisha fights to create a role for herself in the new Muslim empire—becoming an advisor to the Caliph of Islam, a legislator advocating for the rights of women and minorities, a teacher, and ultimately a warrior and military commander. She soon becomes one of the most powerful women in the Middle East, but her passionate nature leads to tragedy when her opposition to the Caliph plunges the Islamic world into civil war. The women of Islam view her as a hero, but Aisha is filled with uncertainty and regret whenever she considers her legacy.
I am approaching the halfway point of the book and so far Muhammad and his followers have gained some traction in dealing with their rivals amongst the leaders of Mecca, but the growing influence f the new religion proves to be a threat to the Jews and their narrative of One God, and their status as the Chosen People. The Jewish Chieftain of the Bani Nadir, Huyayy, is prompted to challenge Muhammad’s authority and knowledge of the word of God. Aisha is proving to be a spitfire. Hot-headed, and a little bit rash, even as a child she hasn’t had a problem stepping into the fray and putting herself into harms way in order to discover information that would benefit Muhammad and the Believers, and she is even more vigilant now that she has become Muhammad’s wife and The Mother of the Believers. She is also a great observer of those around her. Her role within the community is still developing so it will be interesting to see where it goes and how she ends up.
At this point I don’t have very many cohesive thoughts yet, the background for the story has been set in this first half. I am like a sponge gathering information. Pasha does an excellent job of setting out the history and the reasoning of not only the Believers, but also the positions of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians), and the tribal chiefs in Mecca, Arabs who got away from worshiping the one Creator God, Allah, and began to worship several smaller deities whom they felt had more time to address their concerns tand needs.
As someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how and why religions are formed, this is certainly a fascinating thing for me to see unfold in this novel. Aisha’s father Abu Bakr, is Muhammad’s confidant and functions as his right hand man. Through his observations we are able to trace how Muhammad turned from the ways of the other Arabs and started studying the religious leaders and prophets of the Jews and Christians. He was a man who was deeply troubled by the social ills of the time- the plight of the lower class, starvation among women and children while trade enriched the tribe leaders, and infanticide- and was looking for ways outside his current religious structure to ameliorate those things. This was ages ago, and it seems as if the problems have not changed that much, the major difference being that religion served largely in the place of government to address all the needs of the people, not just their spiritual well-being.
Marcia mentioned yesterday in discussion that she didn’t see much that would be considered controvesial about the book and I agree with her. She also makes the point that it could be beacuse she isn’t well-versed in the culture and the religion and I agree with that as well. The only thing that I could have had issue with as a non-Muslim is the author choosing to portray Aisha as betrothed at 6 and married and sexually active at 9. Aisha and Muhammad’s sexuality and sexual relation are frankly addressed and shown, which I think is a good thing. I have no problem with it in the context of the culture or even within the context of history, and in the reading the book it’s par for for the course, but I do admit that it was rather disconcerting for me to read about the budding figure of a six year old. I guess the more eye-opening thing is not that it happened back then, but that girls even younger than Aisha are married now.
At this point most anything that I read about Muslims and Islam serves to educate me and I really like that his novel is so well-researched and I can easily go to other sources to compare what I have read about in the book. I am looking forward to reading more.
This week’s reading scheduling:
Monday: Marcia from The Printed Page
Tuesday: Nicole from Linus’s Blanket
Wednesday: Marcia from The Printed Page
Thursday: Nicole from Linus’s Blanket
Friday: Marcia from The Printed Page/Nicole from Linus’s Blanket