September 22nd, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: Reviewing Deepak Chopra’s book ‘Muhammad’

Editor's note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington.

By Arsalan Iftikhar, Special to CNN

It was nearly one year ago - in November 2009 - that Deepak Chopra first told me about his upcoming historical fiction novel about the Prophet Muhammad. It was during a coffee meeting of ours at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington right before Deepak's attendance at President Obama’s first official state dinner at the White House.

Deepak mentioned that his latest fictional novel was part of his desire to complete a "religious trilogy" of such books. He'd previously written about Jesus and Buddha.

I received my advance copy of Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet in the mail during the last days of Ramadan this year. I thought it fitting that I would read and review the book without the distractions of food or water during the Muslim holy month.

Upon reading the first few pages, it becomes clear that the first thing Chopra wants his readers to know is that this novel about Muhammad is not an authenticated biography of the Prophet of Islam. It's based on an imagined historical narrative as told by those people in 7th century Arabia within close proximity to the Prophet: friends, enemies and family.

The first thing that would strike the average reader is the raw intimacy of those first-person narratives of those around the Prophet Muhammad. Never have the blistering sands of 7th century Arabia felt so close to my skin than in each chapter’s first-person narrative account of the foreboding desert landscape.

Each of the novel’s chapters are written in the first-person. These chapters include perspectives from the daughters of Muhammad, from a Jewish scribe who worked for the Prophet in Medina, from an African slave named Barakah and even from a sworn enemy of the Prophet named Abu Sufyan.

Each chapter offers an insight not only into Muhammad, but also the sociopolitical tensions of a 7th century Arabia, which is beleaguered by drought, famine, war and pagan idolatry.

The novel’s greatest service to our current conversation is its ability to humanize Muhammad to millions of people who may know little or nothing about him.

A recurring theme throughout the book is Muhammad’s own admission that he was not divine, but merely a prophet of God and ‘a man among men.'

In the novel’s afterword, Chopra reiterates the “touching stories about his humility… He admitted his mistakes, and far from being the only one to give orders in times of crises, he stayed in council” with his companions and listened to advisers.

Furthermore, the story reminds us that people who worshiped the one monotheistic god of Abraham (Christians, Jews and Muslims alike) were all considered societal outcasts in 7th century Arabia.

Reinforcing the fact that this book is historical fiction and not a precise biography, my friend Dalia Mogahed (executive director of the Center for Muslim Studies at Gallup and member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships) rightfully noted in her review that this “is not a book recounting Muhammad's life, but a beautiful story inspired by it… There was editorial license and creativity, and while many of the words and events have been recorded in authentic sources, many have not…”

Like many novels, there are parts of the book that made me laugh, cry and reflect. There are certain parts of the book I know are not historically accurate, but that didn't take away from the humanizing narrative of Muhammad.

Like Chopra's novels on Jesus and Buddha, Muhammad succeeds in offering a millennial narrative to a gigantic religious historical figure that lived a long time ago and who may not be readily accessible us in the 21st century.

Even though we live in a time where Islam is the world's second largest religion, with over 1.5 billion adherents, Islam is also probably the planet's most misunderstood religion.

At a time when people of all faiths (or no faith) need to help in reviving an overall ‘culture of humanity’ for all people of all races, religions, nationalities or socioeconomic statuses, Chopra offers a humanizing fictional novel loosely based on one of the most prominent and most misunderstood religious figures in history.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Arsalan Iftikhar.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Books • Buddhism • Christianity • Culture & Science • Islam • Opinion

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Farsalt Hjonaband

    Prepare yourself oh noble knight, for battles yet to come. For if you want to see the light you'll have to suffer some..

    June 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  2. Harry

    It is an entirely different thing that poor Salman Rushdie was hounded by the muslim countries for referencing this incident. He was accused of blaspheming the prophet. Well , thats exactly what the Quran does.

    November 3, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  3. Harry

    Vivekananda could say such a thing, because he was not into selling books and making moolah. He was a genuine authentic realised soul who was interested in telling the truth. Interestingly this theory of Swami Vivekananda is corraborated by the Quran itself which says Mohammad was possessed by Satan briefly, from which emerged the Satanic Verses, but Mohammad discovered he was being fooled and he rejected those verses.

    November 3, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  4. Harry

    Swami Vivekananda says Mohammad went mad because he practised yoga without a Guru. As a result he reached a state of consciousness which caused him to be possessed by dark forces and so Vivekananda says "so therefore, because of this(madness), there is good things in the Quran, but also bad things which has caused much suffering to Mankind by way of religious wars". And he continues, "So I tell you, don't practised yoga without a Guru lest you end up like Mohammad".

    November 3, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  5. divine truth


    October 3, 2010 at 5:43 am |
  6. Iqbal khan


    September 26, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
    • Muneef

      With all respect to comments of views on Larry King to Interview Stephen Hawking about the form of God?? The form of God in the Quran as says to be of Light more like of the moon light since, says Alqamar Nora. Alla Noor Alsamowat Walalard Walisa Kamathlhw Noor. Meaning God Allah is the light of heavens and earth and there is no light like him.
      God Allah has given the form of his being in the Quran at Sura 24:35 puzzle of which I challenge Mr.Stephen Hawking or NASA to decode it and if they did they would not declare it because Quran is a challenge to science and I am sure if this guy is intelligent enough through understanding the miracals of the Quran would be able to decode many miracles that could be found.

      September 27, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  7. Iqbal khan


    September 24, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  8. NM

    please check out http://www.islamicsolutions.com/the-miracle-of-the-unlettered-man-in-the-bible/

    September 24, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
    • Muneef

      @NM. You are right very interesting and will read all if can for more knowledge but not understand why the act like the Three Wise Monkies on this particular issue if they believe and have that much faith in their bibles they should take it all and all signs not just take the bits they like or fits situations? Any way say,
      Man of God respectable Terry Jones,of Florida's Dove's Church, maybe a day would come that the world and Muslims would thank you for your causing all these discussions to come out today's on this site blogs and many other sites blogs and to it leading to have more people religious discussions leading them read and learn more about Islam and the Quran many who's eyes had opened to reality converted to Islam or at least respect Muslims and their religion. After all you are a man of God and God has made use of you as an antibiotic to be given to faiths that leads to having hidden truths prevailed and explored. May God Allah give you guidance to convert in to Islam or establish a Church that says and calls that God Allah is One and Only and that muhammed was the promised comforter,messenger and being the final of prophets of God....Ameen. Here your Dove will be the Dove of Peace we been waiting is within your hand to help establish. Sohan Allah.

      September 25, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  9. Muneef

    @Reality. Hi there, here I agree that no book is needed that could mess with facts and show after manipulating words and planting seeds of more misunderstanding hatred. Already there are Arabic books of that are existing only needs to be translated in to English but another problem is the common translation mistakes will does not reflect to true meaning since it seems to me English is a Shallow modern language and Shakespearean Rich English is no longer understood for English speakers and since our Quran Arabic is not Shallow language and has deep meanings of words and can not be made to understand with shallow modern words and that's why it will be always misunderstood like a translation I saw earlier stating the Arabic word Awllia to mean friends when it meaning is deeper than that and has many meanings depending on the paragraph used in for example in this verse it means different (Awllia AlAmer Minkom) means those who rules you and not friend? So if any non Arabic national reading The Quran in his own translated language must have a different look on what it says or tries to reflect so now every body blame Islam and Quran for reasons of poor translation due to poor knowledge of translators or poor language expression terms and that is one of the main reasons why Islam is being misunderstood by non Arabic Muslims and by non Muslims !? Islam is innocent from your allegations,learn the Holy Book own language to understand it right...Jews and Christians lost their way and got stray only after having their Holy Books translated from it's own mother tongue language Considered dead in to another and then die and be translated to other so it goes this way losing true meanings through translations from one language to other if not manipulated with?? Let be in your mind there are two types of translations -One is the explaining of God's verses of the same language and the other -One is translation from one language to another and both can be misleading if not researched well.. This it the truth,the whole truth,nothing but the truth.so help me God.      

    September 24, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • Muneef

      Thinking about it now I see that the disputes are mainly it's about what Islam say and what Muslims do? Islam is the most realistic religion alive but Muslims are not doing as it says 100% they have their fall back for a reason or another after all they are ordinary human beings have their mistakes or faults to the extent that it reflects unfairly the look of being mystic and full of contradictions? Such case I am asking you, America to learn the truth about Islam and not blame it for the Outcasted groups own doings for which a whole religion should not be blamed wether it is Muslims or Christians or Jews or any. About that Three in One issue or is One applies here on the Holy books 1-(Torah by Moses). 2-(Zabour by King David)  3-(Angeel by Jesus) these three holy books are in One and that is the Quran by Muhammed. In the Quran you will find all that Moses said all Jesus said and all other prophets said, read it believe in it and pray following any prophet you want but do it as the book here says and hope you with that become a better community than Muslims if God permit

      September 24, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
    • Muneef

      The reason why the sons of Israel had so many Prophets of God came to them is because every time a prophet comes with what they don't like or don't want to give up they kill or get killed their prophets but for Arabs the sons of Ishmael only one was enough to believe and secure their belief and to spread of the message of God Allah is the One and only creator of all creations and Muhammed is prophet of God and that we were born free and slave to no one other than God Allah in faith for his promise in earning our rewards in this earthly life and the life after.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  10. Iqbal khan


    September 23, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  11. Saladin

    As most people find fiction more accessible than nonfiction, I think the book offers a great opportunity to demystify one of the world's great leaders and prophets. Insh'Allah, it will make people curious enough to study more rigorous sources on the Prophet (pbuh) and Islam. Even if someone is secure in their own beliefs, greater understanding would benefit us all.

    September 23, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.