Welcome to the final day of By the Chapter. This week’s featured book is Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam by Kamran Pasha. I’d like to thank Marcia from The Printed Page for allowing me to host with her this week. It has been a lot of fun to discuss a book this way. If you are not familiar with it, 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. Next week Amy of My Friend Amy will share c0-hosting duties as they talk about The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose.
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 finished Mother of the Believers yesterday before I went work, and I have to say that my feelings didn’t change much between yesterday and today. I think I’d like a little more fiction with my historical fiction, and I think that it would have served the story better had the characters been an integral part of the story of the creation of Islam. It was difficult for me to read the book without feeling that I had been cheated out of getting to know these characters and of the feeling that had I truly understood them and why they were so invested in the events that transpired around them- this would have been a much richer reading experience for me if the characters had been fully realized. Without that crucial piece of characterization, I really don’t care as much about this story because my expectation was that I was going to be learning about a particular character in history, the titular character in this novel. Aisha told the story, but she certainly didn’t drive it, and I barely understood anything about who she was or what she did. Most of the events that she played a hand in take place in the last fifty pages of the book, and for me that’s too long to wait, and then too little, too late. Especially when the book in question is 525 pages.
The character that I enjoyed the most turned out to be the cannabalistic Queen of Mecca, Hind. Reprehensible though she may have been, I knew what she looked like, what she like to wear, what she like to eat, what she did with her time and what her motivations were. If the rest of the characters had been as fully realized this would have been a dynamite story to read. Hind loved her family, and a specific event in her life , which was detailed in the story turned her into the cold and manipulative women whose dual pursuits were pleasure and power. She’s “fiercely intelligent” (Aisha is called that in the book blurb) and constantly planning and plotting to see that her ends are achieved. Lots of foreshadowing liken Aisha to Hind, but Aisha doesn’t even come close. Aisha chiefly acts out of spite and jealousy. She never learns to temper her impulses or to examine herself long enough to uncover what she hopes to accomplish and put a plan in action to bring it about.
In the end, I pondered a lot about the meanings of religions and how they have shaped the pursuits of mankind over the years. In learning about the formation of Islam, I was learning about the formations of all religions because like Muhammad all of the religious leaders have been human people, with needs, families and agendas. There can be a lot of merit in the principles and virtues that are extolled, but there is a lot that is self-serving. The Propet’s revelations often dictated and changed previous revelations according to whatever he needed at the time. No wonder religious texts are so contradictory. Jealous that your wife is flirting with other men? No problem, have a revelation about her needing to be hidden from sight, forever behind a veil; make it so she always has to stay inside her apartment. Want to marry your son’s wife even though it is forbidden? Fine, have a revelation saying that you can do it of your son divorces her. A lot of the revelations were for the good of the community, but a good amount of them were awfully convenient for Muhammad and fulfilled whatever it was he desired at the time. The endless warring and expansion of territory had more to do with trade routes and establishing power over the other tribes in the region than it had to do with anything else. The Muslims weren’t as interested in having the other tribes convert as they were in collecting cash payments from the other tribes that showed their loyalty and recognition of the Muslims as the leaders and the powers that be in control of the territory.
It was very interesting to learn about these things and to think about these things, but if this was the particular knowledge that I was seeking , I could have pursued it in a form other than a novel form. I felt like I was reading history, and I wanted and expected more than that.
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