Book Review: 23 Years By Ali Dashti (Prophet Muhammad’s Biography)

(Copied and Pasted from my previous site)

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I have recently read the book: “23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad.”  As mentioned in the title, this is a biography of Prophet Muhammad.  I highly encourage this book to all readers regardless of your views on Islam.  This book aims to neither demonize the Prophet nor overly romanticize his life.  It simply evaluates him and the scriptures he revealed to his community as a product of their time and culture.

Ali Dashti takes into account the cultural, political context of Muhammad’s time.  As he evaluates the scriptural texts in chronological order, he correlated the timing of revelation with other accounts on him from that time and draws conclusions about what Prophet Muhammad was going through emotionally, psychologically, socially, politically during the revelation of his scripture.

One new concept I learned while reading this is distinguishing the Quran’s Meccan and Madinah Verses.  In Mecca, Muhammad was what we in modern times call “The Underdog.”  He was preaching a new monotheistic faith that challenges the status quo and the verses have a calmer tone.  The Meccan verses emphasize faith and the love of God.  These verses state that God is a Merciful God.  Dashti states that the Prophet was trying to welcome newcomers into his religion through preaching and kindness.  This is the Muhammad the majority of the world follows and the Muhammad most people think of when they claim “Islam is a religion of peace.”

In Madinah, Muhammad had community interests to overlook, a religion to spread and a wide array of local political complexities to consider.  The Madinah verses are more decisive.  They are the more angry verses that criticize infidels.  In the Madinah context, Prophet Muhammad’s approach towards spreading Islam was more militant.  He would forgive war criminals if they professed Islam, raid caravans for booty and women, and engage in more decisive legal rulings such as stoning adulterers.  The Madinah verses were more nationalistic, decisive, vengeful.  This version of Muhammad is draws criticism in the modern world, and is the Muhammad that Islamist entities like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda follow very closely.

Ali Dashti identifies the chronological Quran and the Hadith as reflections of the Prophet’s conscience.  He brands revelations as the Prophet’s “voice from conscience,” developed over years of reflection and meditation, instead of as God’s voice.  Prophet Muhammad certainly believed he was talking to God but it was his conscience and passion that led to that belief.

He also draws upon verses that would be revealed to Prophet’s convenience during personal struggles with his wives, communities etc.

What compelled me to read it the most: was the change in the Quranic texts between Mecca and Madinah, which also reflected the change in Prophet Muhammad’s personality: from local preacher of the poor masses to a political leader seeking to expand his ideology.

After reading this biography, we can better understand how to read the Quran Scriptures.  It allows us to evaluate Quran’s scriptures based on the political, historical, sociological, anthropological, and psychological contexts of the Prophet Muhammad himself.  It takes a rational approach to how Islam was developed instead of the holy one (that believes he flew to heaven on a flying horse.)

This biography and understanding of Prophet Muhammad also helps us understand Islamism today and how they are attempting to emulate Madinah from Prophet Muhammad’s time.

I acknowledge that I have more to learn.  But this book certainly helped expand my critical engagement of Islamic scriptures.  I recommend this book to people of all viewpoints to read to “center” their understanding of Islam.

Here is a link to a PDF of the book.  I look forward to discussing it with you!

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: 23 Years By Ali Dashti (Prophet Muhammad’s Biography)

  1. Your synopsis seems to lack nuance in the same way that ISIS and Al Qaeda miss the nuance as well. Prophet Muhammad had to deal with politics, intrigue, and warfare in Medina, thus the more militant overtones to some verses. But he also extinguished slavery in all instances except prisoners of war; he set rules of engagement, including making non-combatant army personnel off limits; women that were captured still had rights (i.e. rape was never allowed); and even murkier events such as assassinations and killing one Jewish tribe in particular had nuances. In regard to assassinations, the ones that mocked the Prophet weren’t killed for mocking; they were killed because they eventually unjustly killed someone or made an attempt on his life. Regarding the Jewish tribe, they committed an act of treason by any standard, then and now. Even then, the nuance is that they were allowed to pick an arbitrator and they were allowed to be judged based on Jewish law and the verdict was still death. So yes there are unsavory realities to the Prophet Muhammad’s time as political leader but it’s not just a blind grab for power as we are so accustomed to of leaders today.

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    1. There are very clear hadiths about the assassinations my friend.
      And rape was never forbidden between captors and slaves. Islamic scriptures specifically discuss who you’re allowed to have sex with, which was a slave of war.
      Just examine it honestly, it was your typical conquest with raids and booties and political expansion. Consent wasn’t a factor.
      It just so happens this successful hero of history even has his flaws overly romanticized by millions because of his holy legacy spread throughout wide spans of the earth.
      Let’s be honest and treat him like a human please? Not just a decisive human as you pointed but a human capable of flaws as well.

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      1. You sound as poorly informed as the ISIS guys that read a Hadith a think that’s the whole story. There’s a whole body of Islamic jurisprudence that uses the Hadith and Quran to understand that rape is not allowed.

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      2. Yeah and jurisprudence tends to be *somewhat adaptive* to local circumstances.
        Even so the definition of rape needs to be evaluated under those jurisprudence. If a wife under varying sahih hadith has to be sexually compliant unless she has good reason not to *like being sick* what can we say about the right hands possess?exactly.

        Liked by 1 person

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