Religion is about surrender to God and not belief in an established faith.

These are apparently words of Mohammed. I myself do not know Arabic or urdu so I have to believe the translations. By Mohammed, I mean the Prophet, of course, who brought Islam into being. “Islam” means “surrender to God”. Mohammed therefore preached surrender to God. In fact, the sentence above, appears to be translation from the Quran.

Karen Armstrong, has written a most compelling biography of the Prophet and in my opinion has managed to write it without any prejudice or bias. She has in fact discounted the aspersions cast on Mohammed by the Western critics of the religion itself or his character and critically examined the compilation of the Quran, the birth of Islam and Mohammed’s success in light of the predicament Arabia was in at the time.

It is difficult for me as a common person or lay man to assess the historical veracity of this work. But Mohammed is the best introduction I have read to Islam and its birth.

I believed that and still believe that a religious ideology becomes intolerant in its execution. It is not the ideology itself that is intolerant. I may get the best potatoes in the world, but the dish I have made out of it, may be ruined. Why? Is it because it is in the nature of the potato to be ruined, or is it my bad cooking? Islam appears to suffer from this problem too.

It is not hard to believe that everything in the Quran applies to unique problems – socio-economic-politico problems/issues faced by the multiple states forming what today is largely known as the Middle East and parts of northern Africa. To take that principle and blindly apply it to life or issues today is not just foolish but also fatal. What started, as a religion of peace, is today a religion of terrorism of violence and of hatred.

“Jihad” the term used for the struggle which a true Muslim needs to face to overcome affection for a material life, has become synonymous with terrorism. What is a war that kills innocents in the name of religion – but terrorism? I wish that the groups like Al Qaida and Lashkar of the world read this book. I wish the manner in which 14 – 15 year olds are brain washed into taking to arms, the militant groups could be brain washed into looking at their roots, the rich philosophy that Mohammed left for them.

Mohammed had a unique role, probably a greater responsibility than that of Christ. Christ preached love. He was hailed as the Lord, as an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Christianity it is widely known sprung out of the dream of Constantine and was a political agenda. Mohammed on the other hand, lived so long as to gather people unto his faith, his way of life and provide for these people. His followers were outcasts of society and he needed to provide for them, make political alliances, economic decisions and wage wars.

His actions, must be seen in light of the task that faced him at his time. He truly was the messenger of God. His faith united the peoples of Arabia and helped restore peace – for a while.

The book describes how Islam was a polytheistic religion. She goes on to explain the significance of erasing idolatory in the Kabah. Each incident in Mohammed’s life leads to revelation, which has become a part of the Holy Quran. Literal interpretation or even misunderstood interpretation has led astray the peoples of today. Prayer to God is essential – how the prayer is made is not.

The truth is Mohammed wanted to open the eyes of his people to the reality that no established faith can restore peace to humans unless there is surrender to God. But unfortunately, he was surrounded by people who followed him blindly, without paying any heed to what he was really trying to convey. Many of his followers, appeared to be interested only in being part of the political order that would become really powerful in future – for material gains. The results are showing today.

An interesting insight into that which I being a woman find most derogatory as far as the religion is concerned – the veiling of a woman – is provided by Karen. The origin of veiling a woman is but a simple protection offered by Mohammed to his wives who were subject to teasing and taunting by the community. He did not veil the woman but kept her behind a curtain so as to protect her. This applied only to his wives and was not meant to be forced upon all the women of this world uniformly.

I had long ago read a book called “Roots”. Of course, Roots is about a man who tries to trace his African origin. The book depicts the Islam of the tribal people, the villagers in Africa. It also throws light on communism and nature worship which is all mingled into Islam. This was my first exposure of Islam as a religion of God versus the Islam of today which is reduced to a religion of tenets. People shared everything they had, there was no divisive property and people all prayed in their own way to Allah.

After very long, I have read an equally soothing account of Islam. Media also has a role to play in all this. Skewed portrayal by the media of certain religions or religious sects or political groups has flared this hatred. I have been around during the riots in Bombay and Gujarat and each of these has affected me and hardened my insides. I find it hard to justify a fight in the name of religion. What is religion at all? Why does it push one to kill? How can you justify the fight you call “jihad”? I feel terrible about the bombings and terrorist attack at Bombay. I was one of the affected – stuck in office all night worried that some terrorist may just come into the building and take us hostage. I couldn’t imagine what those boys had against us or any of the others who were killed that day!

Is it so difficult to see through all this? Is it so difficult to understand that the perpetrators of the violence only want political gains?

My conviction in Islam has only been strengthened by what I read in “Mohammed” by Karen Armstrong.

Mohammed did not see what his people were doing in his name. I am sure if Mohammed were to ever see what is happening in this world in his name, in the name of Islam, he would not be able to rest in peace. Similarly, Christ had nothing to do with all the forced conversions and all the wars in the name of Christianity.  An intriguing account of Jesus’s life (purely as a work of fiction) can be found in the book “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ”.

It saddens me when educated people I know justify the killings at Godhra. If that is not genocide we need to redefine genocide. What Babur did or his predecessor was over long before any of us reading this were around. Razing down a mosque is not justified under any circumstances whatsoever.  If we are so against any external invasion, what are we still doing displaying all the pretty and gothic Victorian structures. Anything that suits we let stand – is that how it works? Do we pelt a Britisher when he comes to India because 7 generations or even 3 above him may have flogged to death an innocent Indian? No! This is because we dismiss it as misplaced anger. Then why was the mosque razed to the ground.

The Hindu fundamentalists are definitely as much to blame as the terrorists of the 26/11 attacks.   Anybody who wages a war under the garb of or in the flimsy pretext of religious equality or religious freedom or true religion or any such thing requires to be shot. Any educated person who justifies the killing of innocents, irrespective of the religion they profess should also be shot. I know that the Hindu fundamentalists are not the same as the fanatics who have wreaked terrorism. I am not even saying that they are justified in doing what they are doing because there was an aberration in the demolition of Babri Masjid. Yet, no violence is right. Whoever is responsible for it.

As educated people let us unite against this misplaced anger. Let education be a religion. By education I do not mean a certificate and an English education as left to us by the British. Let us rise and state that we will not give into this misplaced hatred or anger. Everyone of us will silence the voice that speaks ill of the religions or faith of the people of this world. We must reserve this anger for the factions that ruin our peace, kill innocents and our soldiers. Let us live in surrender to God and abandon this possessive manic love for the established faith.

I sometimes see, Jesus, Mohammed and Ram sitting in the heavens and looking down upon us with dismay and resignation – upon the people who in the name of love – hate and in the name of peace – make war.


  1. I agree with the sentiments. Islam originated in a particular circumstance. Many of the rigid rules that were laid down by Prophet were extremely progressive for that time. However, the problem is that while those rules have now been portrayed as the soul, which they are not. Like any religion, there are core principles in Islam which speak of love and spiritual struggle. While the basic tenet should always be to bend the rules to fit the solemn principles, agendas make it work the other way round.

    It is nothing unique to Islam. It is only that it is more visible in its case. The so called Jihadis have created a perception of Islam which is difficult to counter. Fear rules the common man, and truth be told, most are today afraid of Islam. Therefore, people do not wish to and probably do not want to see beyond.

    Since I can understand my own religion better, I like to think of it by this analogy. In Hinduism, Vedic texts (which is basically a collection of all knowledge and not just spiritual or religious) are the primary source. Most of them have very extensive rules laid down – specially in terms of rituals. I was once suggested (and I agree) that it was meant to be the crutches for common people to walk the path of spiritual growth. It was always meant to be dropped when one was ‘practiced’ enough to run. What sense would it make to carry the crutches forever just because the doctor suggested it, even when you know and can run just fine? Rules are necessary at the beginning of the evolutionary process of an individual and then he reaches a stage when his choices must be based on principles – challenging and bending rules as and when required. I also understand Krishna’s denunciation of the Vedic rituals in Gita as his advice to an evolved person like Arjun to unlearn the habit of walking with crutches.

    But if all individuals can walk independently and confidently on the principles suggested by the religious knowledge, the middle man’s business goes bankrupt. That’s were dogmas of all religion find their value in the trick books of power and wealth hungry people. And propaganda works magic with people. Because though we are the only species which has the power to imagine and distinguish right from wrong, we hate to exercise that power. Following a dictat is easier and less troublesome. If you find yourself in the wrong place eventually, there is always someone else to blame.

    Your review definitely sells Karen Armstrong’s book to me. I have heard praises bestowed on her for various books but never read one. Guess it’s time to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s