(RNS) – A new biography of the Prophet Muhammad takes a narrative-driven approach to depicting the life of a major figure of Islam. In his new book, Muhammad, Changer of the World: An Intimate Portrait (available November 16), biographer Muhammad Jabara takes long-established sources and weaves them together for a new account of a familiar story.
In the life of Muhammad, his followers recorded various details and hadiths of the Prophet, and in the centuries that followed, chains of narration or “isnad” were passed down. These retellings have been essential for scholars to weigh the importance and validity of each quote. However, Gibara leaves such details in the closing comments. The result is an autobiography that reads as a novel, as we see the Prophet’s life, family, and decisions unfold.
Muhammad’s Jewish origin was revealed and given prominence.
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“This book focuses on the nuances of how Muhammad’s life shaped the mindset of Muhammad and how that mindset lies at the core of Islam,” Jabara told RNS. “Exploring Mohammed’s dramatic personal life story can help readers of all backgrounds get deeper into his fascinating message.”
The book draws on both Sunni and Shi’a historical sources—and is innovative in itself—and also details Muhammad’s Jewish origin. Gebara believes that these implications make the Prophet’s story more relevant to the experience of the modern reader.
“(I) throw a net bigger than most. I prefer to take the best of both. My book is an example of what can come from integrating details from different schools,” said Jabara, who emphasized in his book Islamic reforms regarding issues such as slavery and the place of women in The era of ignorance, or ignorance.
Making Islam accessible to Western readers has always been a core passion of Jabara, a Canadian imam who says that many young Muslims “see much of the Muslim world as stagnant in a dark age of neo-jahiliyah, while much of the West is either anti-Islam or condescending to Muslims”.
The book attempts to frame Quranic verses in their specific historical context. Islamophobic scholars have always drawn a stark contrast between the verses of the Qur’an revealed in Mecca and the verses of Medina. In Mecca, Muslims were a persecuted minority. On the contrary, in Medina, the early Muslims formed an open society. The early Muslim community there was invited to make peace between the various Jewish tribes.
During the period when the early Muslims were a persecuted minority in Mecca, a group of Muslims moved to Abyssinia (modern Ethiopia and Eritrea). Often a footnote to many texts of Islamic history, Gibara’s work resurrects the significance of this period, which challenges the division between Mecca and Medina that has been triumphed by Orientalist scholars. Here the first mosque was built and the first Muslim community was freely built. Today, the Sahaba Mosque in Massawa, Eritrea, claims to be on the site of that first mosque.
Gibara’s patience as a scholar is demonstrated by his ability to find moments from earlier periods of Islamic history that are relevant today. Gibara describes these passages as “hidden gems.” The author points out in his editorial that these are like puzzle pieces.
Jabara said, “Muhammad deliberately withheld himself because he wanted people to focus on his message and not obsess over his person.” Like his namesake prophecy, Gebara preferred not to delve into his own background, but his personal story contributed to his quest to produce this autobiography. At the age of twelve, he became a hafiz, or someone who memorized the entire Qur’an in Arabic.
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He spent years teaching and studying Arabic in the Middle East. As a lecturer, he addressed everyone from university students in Malaysia to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In Canada, he is known as the “Clergyman on Bicycles” for his long charitable bike rides across Canada.
My book attempts to point to a healthier path forward, in which both Muslims and non-Muslims can appreciate the remarkable life of Muhammad and his profound impact on the world. I hope that readers of my account will discover that Muhammad appeared very relevant to our modern lives.”