Friday, April 5, 2013

The First Muslim--A New Biography

Who is qualified to write the most unbiased biography of a religious figure like Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama, or Muhammad? Is a biography of Jesus by a Christian more reliable than one by a non-Christian?

A psychologist and reporter interested in politics and religion, Leslie Hazleton, just released a biography of Muhammad, called “The First Muslim.”  Even before the book was released,  many Muslims were suspicious and the book, according to the New York Times, “is …something to be defended against, in case it should turn out to be yet another insult, another cruel parody of a story such an author has no business telling.”

Are these criticisms fair?  As a history teacher, I teach my students that every document has a point of view or purpose. Understanding that point of view helps us to understand the reliability of the document. So, a Christian writing about Jesus might be reticent to write about his flaws and a non-Christian may not fully understand Christian theology in the way that a Christian might. Do either of these points of view disqualify the biography?

The review and even some of Hazelton’s articles about the book provide good material for those of us teaching religion.
  1. Here is an article  by Leslie Hazleton for the Huffingon Post summarizing seven things that may surprise you about Islam.
  2. Here is a history of Sharia Law and a slide show of that history.
  3. And here is the New York Times Review of the book, along with a review from NPR.

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