‘Vibrant’ retelling of history

A boy who had learned to survive by silencing his voice had suddenly been given one, but was it his own voice he had been given, or the voice of God? Or was the voice of God within him, part of him? Had divine words really been planted inside him, or had his own words been an expression of the divine? Where did man end and God begin? What was this boundary so powerfully and briefly broken?”
Lesley Hazleton, an award-winning writer, tells the story of Muhammad, a simple child whose journey arches from society’s periphery to the divine pedestal, in the book The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad.
“Factual, vibrant and sympathetic,” is how Professor Richard Duncan Lyngdoh, Dean of the Department of Chemistry at NEHU, describes the book.
Lyngdoh, who “has little time to read anything beyond academic books”, recently read The First Muslim and was fascinated by the author’s thorough research and presentation. “My sister gave me the book to read (during vacation). I found it interesting and continued reading,” he said.
“Impeccably researched and thrillingly readable, Hazleton’s narrative creates vivid insight into a man navigating between idealism and pragmatism, faith and politics, nonviolence and violence, rejection and acclaim. The First Muslim illuminates not only an immensely significant figure but his lastingly relevant legacy,” wrote novelist and journalist Hari Kunzru in The New York Times.
According to the academician, despite being a non-Muslim, Hazleton has respectful point of view in the biography. “I marvelled that a man of such humble origins could rise to have such a lasting impact upon the history of mankind. It (the book) is important because it gives a unique view of Muhammad and the origins of Islam,” said Lyngdoh.
“Look closer and you might detect the shadow of loneliness in the corners of his eyes, something lingering there of the outsider he had once been, as though he were haunted by the awareness that at any moment everything he’d worked so long and hard for could be taken away. You might see a hint of that same mix of vulnerability and resoluteness in his mouth, the full lips slightly parted as he whispered into the darkness… One thing is certain: by Muhammad’s own account, he was completely unprepared for the enormity of what he would experience on this particular night in the year 610,” writes Hazleton in the book.
Hazleton was born in England but lived in Jerusalem for 13 years where she was the correspondent for Time. She had written several articles on the Middle East which were published in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, Harper’s, The Nation and The New Republic, among others. She launched a blog called The Accidental Theologist in 2010 focusing.
Her recent books are Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto, The First Muslim and After the Prophet, which was a finalist for a PEN Center USA Literary Award. The author is also the recipient of The Stranger’s Genius in Literature Award.
“(The First Muslim is) very interesting and worth reading. The most interesting parts were about Muhammad’s first vision and also about his death,” Lyngdoh said, adding that he has not read any book by Hazleton before and would like to “since I have seen some of her interesting titles”.

(As told to Nabamita Mitra)

Reading suggestions for the week:
1. The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
2. The Institute by Stephen King

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