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Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad

Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad - علی دشتی, F.R. Bagley, Ali Dashti Warning: If you're an emotional Muslim I do apologize that I dared read this and review it, but because in Goodreads there is freedom of speech I do consider it my own right to have a voice. Simply skip this if you think it might be annoying. Thank you.

A compelling text,

An enlightening book written by a skeptic, rational and yet respectful to the prophet.

Perhaps some of the most important issues in order to choose a historical book – especially history of Islam which is mixed with so many doubts and superstitions – are to know:

1. The author himself, the academic works and papers, he did.
2. Publishers which were eager to publish his book.

For the second issue, this book that I added in Goodreads the publisher is Mazda pub, not a well known one (at least for me). By searching a few minutes in net, I found some wonderful results: according to this page some of the most important publishers of this book are:

1. Oxford Publication
2. Taylor and Frances

I think there are no other publishers more famous than these ones. And they assure the reader that this book is internationally and academically valid.

There are so many other famous skeptic Persian authors regarding to history of Islam, like Shojaeddin Shafa who his books Rebirth and After 1400 years are even more famous and popular here in Iran (definitely among banned books) but I couldn't find any English version for them. Surely, it doesn't mean that the information they have are not valid. Shojaeddinn Shafa is an awarded historian before the Islamic revolution in Iran and also he had many internationally awards like "The International Grand prize of Florence (1971)". Perhaps the reason that he didn't insist on publishing them in other languages was that he only wanted to show the real face of Islam to new generation of after revolution in Iran.

Shojaeddin Shafa  (1918-2010)
Shojaeddin Shafa (1918-2010)

Ali Dashti, born in a Persian family in Bushehr, studied Islamic theology, history, Arabic and Persian grammar, and classical literature in Madrasas in Karbala and Najaf, both the most Islamic cities in Iraq. He didn't continue his career as a cleric; instead he became a journalist and published a newspaper (Shafaq-e Sorkh) in Tehran . He was appointed a Senator in 1954 until the Islamic revolution in 1979. He first published this book anonymously around 1974 in Beirut and at the age of 88 he died in Evin prison after being tortured by Khomeini's men.

Ali Dashti (1894-1982)
Ali Dashti (1894-1982)

This book covers more (as the title suggests) the last 23 years of prophet Mohammad's life with an introduction to his childhood, his loneliness, his illiteracy and working as a shepherd for his uncle. So desert was a good place for a child to think more about social injustice, God, idolatry and many other issues which could implant the dream of being a God messenger in a person. So he grew up and in his early twenties he was lucky enough to get married to a 40-year-old widowed rich woman- Khadija. So he didn't need to work, and he had enough time for spiritual rituals and for this he sometimes spent almost a month in a cave named hara . One night at his forty he came back home panicked and shivering. The angle of God, Gabriel, had come to the cave and said to him:

"Recite in the name of your Lord who created, created mankind from a clot of blood! Recite! And your Lord is bounteous, He who taught by the pen, taught mankind what they did not know."Sura 96 (ol-Alaq)"

But unfortunately the angle didn't come back for a while, some say for 3 days, other say 3 months or even 3 years. He was so depressed and he more than once thought of suicide, of throwing himself over a cliff.

Again those inspirations came and he began his prophetic career. The first person who believed in him was his wife.

Mohammad's prophetic career is divided into two important eras: when he is in Mecca –with just some a few followers-- the rich, the infidels ridicule him, call him insane, poet sick-- and when he migrates to Medina and starts his battles called ghazwa, the days of blood, killing and slaughtering.

Dashti makes a very interesting discussion about the difference between the kinds of inspiration that the prophet received in this two eras. When he is in Mecca he is the prophet of kindness, there's no obligation in religion everybody can have his/her own beliefs:

"There is no compulsion in religion. Right has been distinguished from wrong.Those who reject false deities and believe in God have grasped the firmest handle, which will never break." Verse 256, Sura 2 (ol-Baqara)

The infidels ask him for a miracle but each time God says to Muhammad in a very irrational way that even if I show you a miracle you won't believe in Islam. God even says in many verses that the real reason that you don't believe in Allah is that in fact God doesn't want so!!!

There's no report of any miracle in the Quarn, any kind of miracle which is said that the prophet had done, is in fact said by Muslim historians.

Eventually it is said that the Quran is, itself, the miracle of the prophet! Some say considering that Mohammad was illiterate, it is so beautifully written and so poetic – despite some grammatical errors which were found.

When he is in Medina, he's powerful, he has many followers so the God here is very cruel and furious with non believers. When one of the prophet's followers askes him what they should do with the prisoners God answers:

"It is not for a Prophet to have prisoners until he has spread fear of slaughter in the land. You people want casual gain (i.e. ransom payments) in this lower world, while God wants (happiness in) the next world (for you).”verse 68 of sura 8 (ol-Anfal)

A very important question that Dashti raises here is by analyzing some verses we can realize that many of them are in fact said by Mohammad himself, like the first sura (ol-fateha):

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful!
Praise to God, the Lord of the Worlds,
the Compassionate, the Merciful,
the Master of the Judgement Day!
You (alone) we worship and from You (alone) we seek help.
Guide us to the straight path,
the path of those on whom You have bestowed bounty,
not of those with whom You are angry and who have gone astray!"

Dashti says:

These words cannot be God's words. From their content it is clear that they are the Prophet Mohammad's words, because they consist of praise to God, homage to God, and supplication for God's help. God himself would not say "Praise to God, the Lord of the Worlds, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Master of the Judgement Day.

I had read this sura for uncounted times, but never noticed to this precise point which Dashti concentrates on it. And that's a reason that makes this book unputdownable. Nothing new is said, but yet his analyzing is so intriguing.

Even one of the Islamic interpreters rejected it as a sura! So wasn't it actually from Mohammad's own mind? This issue is even more interesting when we study the section about prophet's wives. Mohammad considered more privileges for himself: He could have more than 4 wives – the maximum number that a Muslim could have. Many people say that –-and what our teachers told us at schools-- he got married to them because of some political reasons. But he actually kept sleeping with all of them. While For a common person the sexual desire is decreasing as he gets older, Mohammad's is an invert process: He had only one wife during his youth and a harem in his old hood!

I really enjoyed reading this book. Living in an Islamic country means "only books that are appreciating Islam are available". I think this is not a good way – even for Muslims themselves- to read whole life only Islamic books and burn all other critics and bound yourself only with one way of thinking. Indeed, Mohammad was a great and very smart historical figure as Dashti too accepts this, but insisting on and sticking characteristics to him which make him someone coming from another world and heavenly prophet is wrong as Mohammad himself confesses to his weak points so many times in the Quran: he was a human being like other people.

Link to an English PDF:
23 Years

Persian PDF:
Bisto se saal