Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the birth of Islam, Book Review

Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam

A pivotal work worthy to be included in any research on Islam

By Robert Salaam

When reviewing a book one often looks for the one word or phrase that sums up their emotions about that book.  I have had great difficulty searching for that word one or phrase that will best communicate how I felt upon the conclusion of author Kamran Pasha’s work Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the birth of Islam.  The closest word that I came up with to give my emotions justice is “pivotal”.  This book is a must read for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  While Mr. Pasha may have the “purist” police after him who will criticize his every rendering of Islamic history and Hadith, that commentary aside, I believe that what Kamran Pasha has done with this book is present a view of Islam and Islamic history that must be included in the great literature that is considered required reading for those seeking to understand Islam.

Having been a convert for almost 9 years I often wondered where are our great stories.  Growing up a Christian and recently coming off the Easter weekend, I often reflect on how great a story the Christians have.  Whether one believes or not, the story of God incarnate sacrificing himself as well as all the epic themes and imagery is a great story that encourages and reinforces the faith of billions of believers everyday.  The Christian narrative has been told and retold throughout a myriad of medium and is so well known, that few ever rely on the scriptural or historical accounts of the story.

Muslims have great tales in our own rights, but many are relegated to historical accounts largely based on Hadith and one has to either have the benefit of a spiritual leader who can “dumb it down” for you, know one who has the ability to regurgitate this history in a flowing narritive, or have the patience to tie it all together within their own imaginations to get the core of the story.  Fortunately, Kamran Pasha has found a way to weave it all together and give us a tale that not only gives us a glimpse and an imagining of our great Muslim narrative, but also gives us a greater insight into who Aisha may God be pleased with her, was as one of the greatest figures in Islamic history and wife of Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings of God be upon him.  This tale recounts how she may have felt, thought, and remembered as she experienced and witnessed the events that shaped Islamic history.

As I read this book, I felt for the first time in my Muslim experience a closeness to the historical events of the early Muslim community, just as I had as a child upon hearing the stories of Jesus may peace and blessings be upon him, walking on the water or Moses may peace and blessings be upon him, parting the red sea. I read and re-read this book at the same time as I would read the book in my private time and re-read it from the beginning to my children.  At times I was 20 pages ahead reading it myself, than in the evening reading the tale aloud to my children starting a page one, so I got the benefit of reading this book twice at the same time.  I know even I was a little confused! 🙂

While some may question the need for the retelling of these events in such a way using the creativety that makes this book a work of fiction, I believe that in recounting these events in this manner helps us remember them and in our weakest moments we rely on these easily translated versions and accounts of events to strengthen and reinforce our beliefs.  I truly doubt the majority of Muslims walk around and remember exactly who between Buhkari, Muslim, etc. narrated what and when, nor should we expect Muslims to.  When communicating our faith and history for others, if we recounted events exactly like Islamic scholars, we can’t expect non-Muslims to follow along.  That is why I call this book pivotal, because it presents the message and history of Islam in an easy to digest format while at the same time making these historic events and people as real to the average believer and non-believer as Moses (pbuh) or Jesus (pbuh) is to most people as we have all seen the movies and read the countless books.  I seriously doubt I could find a majority that can tell me where in Exodus or Luke these events took place, but I believe many can recall and retell the events with great recollecting and reverence.  So it should be and it is now thanks to Kamran Pasha’s work for Islam.  Now he just has to write the script for the film!  God-willing.

My personal experience with this book has been amazing and I would recommend it to all those interested in Islam and those already intimately familiar with Islam.  To get just a little more insight into the Mother of the Believers and that early community is priceless and I will ensure that I tell all my friends and family to buy this book.

This work Mother of the Believers, is pivotal in our communications about Islam.  This books serves a great purpose in communicating effectively the great narratives that define and explain who we are, why we are, and what we are.

May God reward Mr. Pasha’s efforts and grant him great success in this and future endeavors.

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9 Comments

  1. I totally agree with you! I think that as a Muslim, we get too scared to think that we can publish or produce something about our great history without the “purist” police as you say, after us.

    I think Kamran did an excelllent job of disclosing his intentions – and that it is a “fiction” and not meant to be a “non-fiction”.

    Great job – great review – and more importantly – GREAT BOOK!

    Reply

  2. I like the review, Sir. However, I disagree with your assertion that we muslims don’t have great stories, although I sort of get what your saying.

    Doesn’t Allah, the Glorious and Most High, say in ayat three of surah Yusuf, “We relate unto you (Muhammad ) the best of stories through Our Revelations unto you, of this Qur’an. And before this (i.e. before the coming of Divine Inspiration to you), you were among those who knew nothing about it (the Qur’an)”?

    Allah, the Sacred and Most High, regards the story of Yusuf, peace be upon him, as the best of all the stories. There are other awesome stories in the Quran too, like that of Ibrahim, peace be upon him, for example.

    As for presenting the message of Islam in an easily digestible way, I don’t think there is a more simple message than ‘There is no God worthy of of worship but the One True God, Allah. And Mohammed is the last and final Messenger of Allah’.

    I am a pretty conservative muslim so I have strong reservations about turning Islamic history into works of fiction. As it stands currently, the muslim nation is in a quagmire, with people misinterpreting facts and using weak/fabricated hadith as the basis for misguided islamic views. Think how much worse it would be if the masses had works of fiction to draw from!

    But perhaps muslims and non-muslims deserve the benefit of the doubt.

    That said, I am looking forward to tracking down a copy of this book

    Reply

    1. As Salaam Alaikum,

      Dear Nabeel, I think you mis-read or I mis-communicated my thoughts. I’m not saying that Muslims don’t have great stories, God forbid, what I am saying is that we have to be better at how we tell them to broader audiences as doing so communicates who we are and what we believe more effectively. I was just stating that here in the West, we all know the story of Jesus and Moses (pbut) for instance, but few know the details and facts of those stories in a scriptural sense. I’m just of the opinion that what many have done in film and in book to communicate those stories to the masses, Mr. Pasha has effectively done so for us.

      As far as turning Islamic history into fiction, yes this is a tricky and serious concern, but Mr. Pasha goes out of his way to not only point out his work is fiction in his foreword but also points the reader to his sources and encourages them to go to the actual Hadith and other commentaries. I would like to point out as a Muslim who is familiar with many of the facts of the Hadith in which it’s apparent to most Muslim eyes the ones he’s communicating, he didn’t miss a beat in my opinion. There’s some personal interpretation on some of the facts in his story, but his interpretation is nothing Muslims haven’t heard, it just communicates where he stands on that particular Hadith. In other words, I saw nothing new as it relates to the historical facts, it was more how he weaved them together into a story. I believe the story is fairly accurate and close to what we know of the early community.

      Reply

  3. I just called the book store and had them put a copy on reserve for me to pick up tonight. There is one comment above “As it stands currently, the muslim nation is in a quagmire, with people misinterpreting facts and using weak/fabricated hadith as the basis for misguided islamic views. Think how much worse it would be if the masses had works of fiction to draw from!” While I understand the concern and I read your comment in reply, it sounds to me that non-Muslims, who are out there that love to misinterpret everything, including the evening news, could benefit from such a “story” to show common ground or to open a dialogue.? I look forward to reading this book and it standing up to your review.

    Reply

  4. This tale recounts how she MAY have felt, thought, and remembered as she experienced and witnessed the events that shaped Islamic history.

    I think word “May” pretty much sums up why many Muslims would not welcome this book. It’s one thing to take the events in the life of Aishah and put into a narrative it’s quite different to fictionalized (i.e make them things up) those events.

    Personally, I believe these kinds of books can lead nowhere but confusion. As the line between fact & fantasy can become blurred. Just look how so-called Bible believing Christians also believe that their dead relatives watch over them in this life. This is found nowhere in Bible nor said by any prophet in apocrypha literature but it sounds good so people believe it. The same could be said of Muslims. How many things Muslims uneducated in Islam believe in unislamic unsubstantiated ideas. These kinds of books will only add to that nonsense and misguide people.

    Yes we should use a narrative to teach. As using a narrative form to translated ideas has been effective tools used for centuries. However, a narrative doesn’t require fiction( a telling of what should have happened in history). A narrative should start and dwell in the realm of truth not of misrepresentation.

    I have read the author response to criticism he has received but he never mentions why he didn’t stay within historical truth to tell the history of Aishah. As well as he seems to be saying that his intention for the novel was to defend the prophet. Then why write a fictionalized account of Aishah’s life.? Brother Kamran seems be confused.

    Reply

    1. I would humbly submit that Muslims need to get into the habit of researching and reading for themselves. Your commentary is like so many Muslims who are quick to judge without reading. I have heard your response many times over from other Muslims before I read the book and after, and all I can humbly state is that our oft-repeated stances on the oft-repeated issues have done more harm to the ummah as a whole than trying different approaches. Many Muslims, especially new Muslims and non-Muslims regard Islam as something far away and non-approachable, it doesn’t become a personal experience. Telling stories in a narrative that will communicate the truth even if it is some fiction has it’s place and we should utilize it. What do you think about all the descriptions of Paradise and Hell? Do you think them to be literal? Even the Qur’an says of itself that much of the book is allegorical. What is allegory but another form of fiction? It uses images and thoughts to communicate actual facts. I would love to debate this further and in greater detail but the proof is already there, more know the story of Moses (as) as colorful as it has been told the world over than they know of any of the early Muslims. Because of that Moses (as) and his example is closer to the hearts of the common man and woman than that of the Muslims. Why would any Muslim want to deny an attempt at another approach to communicating our faith? I know very few Muslims outside of scholars and Imams who can recite the narratives straight from the Hadith. Because of this state of affairs that is why Islam is not as personal to the individual Muslim, because we rely so heavily on the scholar to interpret these stories for us, I have yet to go to Jummah and have an Imam tell these stories exactly as they are narrated in the Hadith, all sum them up and reinterpret them in a way that others can understand. Brother Kamran is not confused, but is on the right path in my humble opinion.

      Reply

  5. Dear brothers and sisters,

    Assalamu alaikum.

    I am the author of “Mother of the Believers and I would like to respond to some of the comments here.

    First and foremost, I would like to thank brother Robert Salaam for his glowing review and his eloquent defense of my novel and intentions. May Allah bless you and grant you joy in the world and the Hereafter.

    I have written many lengthy explanations and defenses of my novel, which are available online on several sites and can be found on my blog as well. So I will not go over every single point again here.

    But I would like to respond to Brother Hamza21 who asks about the appropriateness of using “historical fiction” to tell the tale of the Holy Prophet (SAWS):

    1. I wrote this book because Muslims today are shockingly ignorant of Islamic history. People of our generation do not read history books, as they find them boring. I wrote this tale in the form of an exciting novel in order to educate a generation of Muslims regarding the basic history around the birth of Islam. And I am delighted to report that I have received many emails from people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who have read my book and were so intrigued that they are now reading traditional works of Islamic history to get more information. So the book is serving its purpose, which is to educate, inspire and motivate people to go out and learn the true story of Islam.

    2. Most Muslims love Moustapha Akkad’s movie “The Message.” So do I. But in many places it is a work of pure historical fiction. Historians will point out the mistakes in the film and how it differs in ways from the established accounts in Islamic history. But does anyone care about quibbling over these divergences when they are being inspired and entertained by a brilliant filmmaker? In many ways, my novel is far more accurate than “The Message” as I am not afraid to look at deeply controversial things that Akkad avoided, such as polygamy in the Prophet’s household and the conflict between Muslims and Jews in Medina. Many critics of Islam say that Akkad “whitewashed” Islamic history by refusing to even acknowledge these issues. By contrast, my book takes them on without fear and defends the Holy Prophet (SAWS) quite eloquently.

    3. Muslims have always used “historical fiction” in relaying stories about the early Muslim community. Many of the hadiths that we as a community embrace and teach to our children generation after generation have extremely questionable chains of transmission, and some according to Islamic scholars are outright forgeries. Yet many of these hadiths are embraced because they contain wisdom and help answer questions that Muslims are struggling with. What is shocking is how little care some Muslims had in inventing hadiths and passing them along as if they were gospel truth. I knew that I had a responsibility to Allah in writing my book, so I stated very clearly upfront in the preface that it is a work of fiction and people should go and read Islamic history books to get accurate information. And because I had the humility to admit the truth that some of the book came from my imagination, unlike many of the hadith transmitters, I am criticized. It is a strange world where people who tell the truth about what they are doing are condemned, and those who hide behind forged chains of transmission are embraced.

    4. No Muslim has any right whatsoever to criticize my book until he or she has read it and done some scholarly analysis by going back and reading Islamic history books and then comparing my work with the seerah. If you speak without knowledge, then you have no credibility. If your imaan is so weak that you cannot dare to open my book, then I fear that it will not survive the sophisticated attacks being launched against our deen by non-Muslims. The only way Islam can survive in a world where the nonbelievers are using the Internet and the media to distort Islam is for Muslims to gain as much as knowledge as possible. And that means sometimes going to uncomfortable places and facing new arguments and using new methodologies to engage discussion. That is the whole meaning of the famous hadith “seek knowledge, even as far as China.” China in the days of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was a strange and mysterious land shrouded in myth, and a journey to China was very long and dangerous. For the Holy Prophet (SAWS) to tell his followers to go there meant that he encouraged Muslims to take risks and go past their comfort zones in order to expand knowledge. Since the Holy Qur’an is absolute truth from Allah, more knowledge will only increase your imaan, not weaken it.

    And so I challenge brother Hamza and everyone here to read my book and the contact me with their reactions. I think you will be pleasantly surprised that what I have done here is a blessing to Islam, not a curse. And if I have failed to accomplish that, then I encourage you to improve on my work by writing a better book and making it more successful and influential than “Mother of the Believers.”

    Criticism is cheap. Judging without knowledge is valueless. Complaining about what others do while sitting still yourself is worth nothing.

    The only thing that matters for a Muslim is taking productive action in service of Allah and his Holy Prophet (SAWS).

    So take action, or be silent. The choice is yours, brothers and sisters.

    Reply

  6. I have just started reading the book. So far, it is a wonderful way to begin the journey of understanding and appreciating Islam. Fiction may be a powerful way to open the door for further understanding and appreciation. For some of us who are not of the same faith, a well written work of fiction may one way to help others explore what they may never explore otherwise. I appreciate the author’s note to guide me for more further non-fiction reading, I may do so only after reading Mother of the Believers 🙂 My only disapointment is that I cannot seem to find a list of characters anywhere.

    Reply

  7. I am finding this book quite interesting, and educational. Yes, although I am an avid reader, I am not a Muslim. Despite this difference, I find it quite refreshing to actually find a piece of literature that dares to open a door to a culture that is currently closed to many of us… And I agree, history books are lovely, but not always the most effective medium to reach the masses.

    Reply

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