Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1992)
The author of the book Muhammad: A Prophet of Our Time, Karen Armstrong, born on 14
November 1944 is a well-known British author and commentator for her books on
comparative religion. She is a provocative, original thinker on the role of religion in the
contemporary world. Being a religious thinker, she has written more than 20 books on faith
and the major religions, studying what Christianity, Islam and Judaism have in common and
how our faiths transformed history of the world and drive present events.
This first chapter of the book by Karen Armstrong is a masterful nonfiction sketch of Islam's
messenger Muhammad demonstrating an indispensible source in understanding how effort,
chronicle of conflict and religious movements have taken place during the lash of coercion.
Mecca was a well-known and flourishing city, it has become a central trading place for the
Arabs,and however, only a few generations earlier the ancestors did not live an affluent
lifestyle. At the centre of Armstrong's book, is the Prophet Muhammad, a merchant of 7th
century born in Mecca and who grew up to become a political and sacred revolutionary who
devoted his entire life to challenging the existing socioeconomic and cultural standards of the
Quraish power structure (22-23).
In the second chapter, the political and intellectual culture that was dominant in Mecca was
sum up in the term 'Jahiliyah' which according to Armstrong is a state of mind that caused
terror and violence in seventh century Arabia. With the culture of Jahiliyah, a range of
societal ills could be attributed, most of which afflict current societies in the so-called
developed world. For instance, 6 th
and 7 th
century Arabia was categorized by deep economic
inequality or as Armstrong has written "Quraish put in efforts to secure a monopoly of the
north south trade, with which they alone would be allowed to service caravans. Moreover,
they also had control over the mercantile activity within Arabia that had been enthused by the
invasion of worldwide commerce. Muhammad did not openly challenge this system of power
until he received a vision while on Mount Hira. At Mount Hira, Muhammad received the
spirit of revelation embodied in the angel Gabriel, an angel that defied ordinary human and
spatial categories. After the visit from Gabriel, Muhammad began to apply the principles of
this new religion called Islam which means 'submission'. Islamic teachings encouraged
Muslims to "look after the weak and disadvantaged" and "feed the impoverished". These
ethical principles of Islam clashed with those of the Quraish who abandoned the badawah
virtue of generosity and become niggardly, except that they called this astute business sense.
In the third chapter, the flight to Medina (hijrah) by Prophet Muhammad and his followers
was an additional foremost step towards the spreading of the religion. The time before this
was not easy for the Prophet Muhammad to bear, but he was a patient man. When the
Quraish threw filth on him and disturbed him during his prayers, his daughter Fatima burst
into tears when she saw her father tolerating the littleness of the opposition (89). It continues
to describe the on-going development of Islam there and his dicey use of raids on caravans to
provide resources. The discussion of his (and his fellow leaders) efforts to recruit new
converts is ably done. The researcher has returned to Quran from time to time to confirm her
proofs and ideas that are given in the book. Karen also relied on the biography of Prophet of
Ibn Ishaaq and some traditional Islamic books. She has affirmed that the Muslim writers of
the Prophet's biography do not simply rely on their own memories, but were attempting a
serious historical reconstruction. From the economic, political and social context of pre-
Islamic Arabia to Muhammad's Life (from 570 CE to 632 CE), this book offers a rich survey
of almost every facet of life of Muhammad. The author in this book does not shy away from
the most controversial issues regarding life of Muhammad and his teachings. The author also
spoke about his often political marriages to multiple women including his association with
the girl Aisha, who would become his favorite wide.
In the fourth chapter, 'Jihad', Armstrong clarifies the audience the actual significance of jihad
by saying: "But the key meaning of that word, which we hear so often nowadays, is not "holy
war" but the "effort" or "struggle" needed to put the will of God into practice. Muslims are
encouraged to struggle in this attempt in every way: logical, communal, financial, and at
national level (125). Muslims were not allowed to perform Hajj like other Arabs; the hostility
of Quraish was at its peak. Without Mecca, Islam was ruined closely to disappearance.
According to Armstrong on clarifying the significance of jihad certainly the war is not the
merely characteristic of jihad. This characteristic of jihad has its conditions and its details
(126). The author addresses the oft-misunderstood early Islamic relationships with Jews in
western Arabia and she also has confronted direct notions about Islam's supposedly inherent
inclinations towards misogyny and violence. In defending the later areas, authors has
highlighted the opposition of Muhammad to the aggression of pre-Islamic Arabia and as
strange as it seems looking back today, the benefits to the era's widows and orphans of
Islam's endorsement of polygamy.
In the fifth chapter, the author elucidates the implication of salam for Muslims. It denotes the
greeting when two Muslims meet each other. The perception of hilm-tolerance, compassion,
serenity-was, and remains, regulatory values of Islamic practice. It is for this purpose that the
Quran preserves that "the real servants of the Most Gracious are they who walk lightly on the
earth, and who, every time the jahilun talk to them; they reply 'Peace' (salam!)" This is of
great importance within Muslim community and also said to be of great blessing if you first
greet a Muslim with salam (166).
In general, the writing of Karen Armstrong, remains a Western model to support the life and
practices of peace be upon him, and show his wonderful life to the world, however the model
life of the Prophet should be spread and developed in the Western society to know the
Muslim community better. The researcher compared religions wins big readers in the West,
and the clear example is her book Muhammad Prophet for Our Time. Finally, I hope that
scholars, thinkers and researchers spread the concept of Prophetic mercy, and they are able to
translate in different languages . There has been a lot of misperception and commotion
against the Muslim community which has made even the innocent suffer to immense levels.
There should be some sort of awareness done by contemporary authors and print media so
that the misunderstanding against Muslim community and the stereotyped approach should
be discouraged. The change around the world will emerge with such endeavours and I also
wish they could change the classical way of teaching the biography of the Prophet to a new
and modern method based on treatment of problems and issues that are sometimes
misunderstood and bear the consequences (Armstrong).
Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time (San Francisco: Harper, 1992). Print.