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A classic secular history of the prophet Muhammad that vividly recreates the fascinating time in which Islam was born.
Maxime Rodinson, both a maverick Marxist and a distinguished professor at the Sorbonne, first published his biography of Muhammad in 1960. The book, a classic in its field, has been widely read ever since. Rodinson, though deeply versed in scholarly studies of the Prophet, does not seek to add to it here but to introduce Muhammad, first of all, as “a man of flesh and blood” who led a life of extraordinary drama and shaped history as few others have. Equally, he seeks to lay out an understanding of Muhammad’s legacy and Islam as what he called an ideological movement, similar to the universalist religions of Christianity and Buddhism as well as the secular movement of Marxism, but possessing a singular commitment to “the deeply ingrained idea that Islam offers not only a path to salvation but (for many, above all) the ideal of a just society to be realized on earth.”
Rodinson’s book begins by introducing the specific land and the larger world into which Muhammad was born and the development of his prophetic calling. It then follows the steps of his career and the way his leadership gave birth to a religion and a state. A final chapter considers the world as Islam has transformed it.
About the Author
Maxime Rodinson (1915–2004) was a Marxist historian and sociologist who specialized in Islam and the Arab world. He was for many years a professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études at the Sorbonne and, after working several years in Syria and Lebanon, supervised the Muslim section of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Among his works are Islam and Capitalism; Marxism and the Muslim World; and Cult, Ghetto, and State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question.
Anne Carter has translated various books from the French, including works by Michel Tournier, Charles Perrault, Zoé Oldenbourg, Pierre Mendès-France, Juliette Benzoni, Philippe Jullian, Pierre Goubert, and François Mauriac.
Robert Irwin is the Middle East editor of The Times Literary Supplement and the author of many books. His tenth novel, The Runes Have Been Cast, will be published in 2021.
“There can be no doubt that Professor Rodinson’s book is the major contemporary Occidental work on the Prophet, and is essential reading.” —Edward W. Said, author of Orientalism and Out of Place
“An absorbing biography . . . Rodinson sensitively portrays a more than plausible Muhammad.” —The New Yorker
“In the best Voltairean tradition Rodinson delights in exposing his subject’s all too human amorous, acquisitive, vengeful nature. . . . [A] trenchant and (of course) timely piece of scholarship.” —Kirkus
“Maxime Rodinson, the distinguished scholar of the Arab and Muslim world. . . wrote to unveil the secrets of a world dimly understood by Europeans . . . Rodinson published some of the seminal texts in Middle Eastern studies, including Mohammed (1961), a biography still banned in parts of the Arab world for approaching the Prophet’s life from a sociological perspective . . . Although he remained an independent (or, as he quipped, ‘agnostic’) Marxist, he appreciated the powerful role that religion played in the Arab world at a time when many European leftist observers of the region preferred to see it as a form of false consciousness that would melt into air once the Arab masses awakened to their ‘true’ class interests.” —Adam Shatz, The Nation
“The most stimulating, balanced and sympathetic secular biography of the Prophet of Islam. . . the first real attempt to come to terms with a culture that could not be understood through sacred texts or works of exegesis alone.” —Tariq Ali, London Review of Books