Mother of the Believers


This was a book that had to be written, and Kamran Pasha, with his dual background of Hollywood and descent from the Prophet himself, was probably the one to write it: an account of the rise of Islam in the seventh Christian century from the point of view of Muhammad’s favorite child bride, Aisha. The tale is told respectfully and reverently, and I hope the first pitfall in such an undertaking, the wrath of offended fundamentalists of the Muslim persuasion, may be avoided.

Many in the West will be surprised to learn what Muslims have always known, that we know more about Muhammad than practically any other figure in history. The sheer (and often contradictory) mass of ahadith, or traditions, remembered by the faithful (including Aisha herself as one of the most prominent) of their beloved Prophet must overwhelm even the most scholarly.

Herein lies the next pitfall not so well skirted. Trying to compress all of this wonderful, fascinating material between his covers leads Pasha to a voice, or lack of it, that does no justice to the poetical times with which he’s dealing. Something between Hollywood crassness, with its overwrought and unsubstantiated emotion, and blinkered faith mars the account. Really, if Aisha vomited one more time… Then, whole sections have to be compressed to read like a textbook, and particularly without a list of players with these difficult names, the uninitiated will be daunted. There is no escape from that, I suspect, but the cultural re-creation was sloppy as well. Chairs? A tree trunk in the middle of the desert that a child can hide in? Often I felt I was in Pakistan rather than Arabia. Or, mashallah, southern California.


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