Little, Brown £14.99

The Prophet Muhammad: a biography by Barnaby Rogerson

A timely life of the prophet of mercy

In the present climate of fear and suspicion, Barnaby Rogerson's elegant biography of the Prophet of Islam is like a burst of sunshine. Most such biographies are marred by either excessive piety or condescending prejudice. Rogerson tells an enthralling story with tact, eloquence and enthusiasm, purveying the sense of awe required by his subject.

Rogerson surveys the Middle East at the time of the Prophet's birth in 570: the battleground of serial war between Persia and Byzantium. Arabia was a vast desert dotted with oases, a world of ancient cities, tribal life and trading caravans. Abraham's monotheism had thrived among Jewish tribes, but degenerated into idolatry among Arabs. The advent of a new prophet was longed for by the spiritually inclined.

Muhammad was born in Mecca into a noble family of the ruling Qoraysh tribe. His father died before his birth and his mother not long after. He was raised by a wet-nurse and later adopted by an uncle. Legends surround his early life: how a patch of cloud protected the boy shepherd from the desert sun; how he accompanied caravans to Syria and learnt the Bible from rabbis and monks; how the Christian monk Bahira recognised in him "the comforter" promised in the Gospel of St John.

At 25, his beauty, intelligence and honesty attracted the rich widow Khadijah, 15 years his senior, who sent him a marriage proposal. Their union combined perfect love with spiritual companionship, and she became his first convert.

Muhammad was 40 when he received his first revelation, an angel saying: "Thou art the Messenger of God and I am Gabriel". From then on the archangel became his companion and instructor, and revealed to him the whole of the Koran. His early converts were slaves and freed slaves, who were attracted to Islam's message of equality before God and Law: that a man was judged by piety and good works, not status.

Persecution increased, and in 622 the Prophet and his companions fled to Medina, where he built his first mosque and established his "government". The visionary and statesman merged. He made covenants with Jews and Christians as equals; and after the death of Khadijah, through dynastic marriages and campaigns, he converted the whole of Arabia.

Perhaps the most important event in this period was Me'raj, Muhammad's nocturnal journey from Jerusalem to Heaven when he was "granted a sublime vision of the Creator". This journey of the soul laid the foundation of Islamic mysticism – Sufism – that has inspired generations of poets and thinkers. "Without it Islam would have been a different religion," lost in arid legalism. Instead, its aim was to attain the Golden Mean between the unattainable ideal of Christianity and the rigours of Judaic realism.

Yet some incidents can shock modern sensibilities: Aisha, Muhammad's favourite wife, was 11 when they married, although consummation was left until after puberty. But temporal events pale before the sublimity of a vision that has inspired saints, poets and builders across the world. This admirable book is a timely reminder that the essential message of Islam is Mercy, the first attribute of God expressed in the first verses of the Koran.

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz