September 9, 2010
Posted: 01:27 PM ET
When I set out to write a fictional biography of Muhammad, I knew I wasn't covering an ordinary life, even by the standards of great prophets and founders of world religions. In the age of jihad, Muslim extremists have surrounded the Prophet with toxicity. Yet in the midst of our anxiety and anger - leading up to the outrageous extremist act, this time from a Christian, of Bur-a-Quran Day - someone must take a stand. On all sides we hear that moderate Muslims should stand up for their faith's values of peace and toleration. From the liberal wing of American politics we hear the same call to Americans, with reminders to our conscience that we are a nation founded on religious freedom.
Yet the real stand, as far as writing this book was concerned, is different. I wanted to take a stand against pure ignorance. Who really knows Muhammad? Muslims do, but the latest poll shows that over 60% of Americans know little or nothing. So I set out to give everyone a page turner about Muhammad that captures every facet of a life that has endless facets. In the book there are over twenty narrators, both men and women, old and young, devout and secular, devotees and enemies. I didn't want to smooth over any of the parts that bother modern Westerners, such as polygamy and the fact that one of the Prophet's wives was a child of six. Nor did I want to satisfy religious Muslims that only their most cherished portrait of Muhammad would be presented.
The gulf between religions will always be there. But with Islam simmering suspicion or a feeling of superiority - the perennial attitudes that the West has taken to the Arab world - has boiled over into violence. Before you can speak well or ill of anyone, you need to know something about them. Hopefully, you will be willing to see life from their viewpoint.
Yes, I gulped a few times, and still do, when I hear the word fatwa. But I wrote out of respect and an open mind. I think denial and a closed mind are worse than any imagined threat. I hope every reader of Muhammad will agree. We can all take a stand simply by learning the truth.
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