*Disclaimer: These thoughts are just my own and it is not my intention to offend anyone. I’d like to apologize in advance if I happen to do so and if my views are very different from yours. Sending you thoughts of love and light, let’s not hate!
I read Lesley Hazleton’s “The First Muslim” a while back and I was enthralled by it. She is easily one of my most favorite writers, if only I could meet her one day. The way she writes takes a lot of sources into account and while you turn the pages, it’s like envisioning the events happening before you as though you were an onlooker blended into the background.
The fact that she is an agnostic Jew made me somewhat more interested to pick it up. Like, how would she write? Is she anti-Islam and would there be many biases? Those thoughts melted away the more I got into her books and upon finishing “The First Muslim”, I felt that I understood the prophet Muhammad S.A.W. in a way that I could relate to. Many have depicted him as totally devoid of the worldly issues we may each go through, that he is very different. Different he was as he was chosen, but still human for how he would struggle and I love him even more for it, peace be upon him.
Here’s a review of a snippet of that book more eloquently put: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Ziya_Us_Salam/write-angle-column-the-first-muslim/article7383709.ece
This book though was even more of a stunner. I’d say don’t pick her books up if you are not ready to question certain views you may have or if you are uncomfortable with other people’s views being different from yours. As a novelist, she presents more of the events that have happened and the possible emotions and scenarios that could have been intricately layered, but she does not force her views onto you or her own biases.
Like the title, it tells the story of how the different Caliphs ruled after the Prophet, how the Shia-Sunni split occurred and explains the deep roots of the Middle East. From the past until a more modern day setting, it would help you understand more of why things have reached the level of volatility and tension it has now.
Prepare for a book that would unsettle you. In the pursuit of knowledge, they say you should not depend on just one text or source of information and Lesley Hazleton has done just that. She has researched and credited Islamic historians, used both views of Islamic and non-Islamic scholars in creating this riveting piece of work.
I’d highly recommend her works, but again, I don’t believe everyone (more so if you hold certain views very strongly) would be able to swallow or stomach it all. On the upside, such gripping books help you explore more about an area that you may not have thought of. It inspires you to look beyond the surface and at least consider what could be underwater. That’s exactly what it did when it gave me that unsettling feeling.
She has also given some TED talks, in case you would like a glimpse of how she is. She writes in a similar way as she talks. Here is one I found interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ORDQFh0Byw