Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Guest post from Kamran Pasha, author of MOTHER OF THE BELIEVERS

The topic of Aisha, child-bride of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the most influential female figures in the Muslim religion, burst onto our collective conciousness with the controversy surrounding Sherry Jones's Jewel of Medina. I must confess that I'm not the most well-read person when it comes to religious-themed fiction; I tend to shy away from it, and thus I did not read Ms Jones' book. However, I was intrigued by the concept when approached to read an advance copy of Mr Pasha's novel, Mother of the Believers, and I'm glad I took the chance. This is an erudite, well written and evocative novel about a period and a woman in history I knew nothing about. I decided to invite Mr Pasha to guest post for us today, because again, I'm no expert; and I think he can speak best to what he hopes to achieve with his book. His post offers a fascinating glimpse into a topic that is sure to generate a lot of debate.

Please join me in giving Kamran Pasha a warm welcome!

WHY MY NOVEL WILL OFFEND MUSLIMS AND NON-MUSLIMS ALIKE By Kamran Pasha, Author of Mother of the Believers
In April, Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books will publish my first novel Mother of the Believers which tells the story of the birth of Islam from the point of view of Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha. A similarly themed book, Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, was released last year under much controversy, after her initial publisher cancelled her contract for fear of inciting Muslim protests. With my own novel coming out in a few days, it is inevitable that people ask whether I am worried that the book will generate controversy. My response is that I have no doubt that the book WILL generate controversy and create a passionate debate among both Muslims and non-Muslims, as there are aspects of my novel that will offend people in both communities.

In Mother of the Believers, I attempt to bring to life the remarkable voice of Aisha, the Prophet’s youngest wife, who was a scholar, a politician and a military commander who led battles into Iraq. Aisha’s life single-handedly challenges the prevalent stereotype of the oppressed and submissive Muslim woman, and she remains a role model for Muslim feminists today. Aisha is revered throughout the Islamic community. But in researching her life story, I found intriguing accounts that are probably unknown to many Muslims, and my inclusion of such events may upset some. I think one thing that might startle some Muslims is my suggestion that one of the main characters, Talha, an early follower of Prophet Muhammad, was in love with Aisha, even though it was unrequited. Talha is a revered figure in Islam, but early Muslim sources suggest that he did have feelings for Aisha, and he once even publicly suggested that he would marry her if the Prophet died or divorced her (an incident I portray in the novel). Talha's unwavering loyalty to Aisha led to his support for her military activities, and ultimately his death on the battlefield. Being raised as a Muslim I had never heard these accounts and was startled to find them in the early Islamic histories. Most Muslims don't know these stories and some might be offended at their inclusion in my novel.

Some Muslims might also be shocked at my (very light) treatment of sexuality in the story. There are no graphic scenes, but there is an open discussion of sex, which is true to Islamic history. Muslim historians had no problem talking openly about sex, even the Prophet's sex life with his wives, and there are early accounts of one of his wives even discussing the fact that she had "wet dreams". Traditionally Muslims had a very healthy attitude toward sex, as it was considered as a normal part of daily life. In modern day, under the heavy influence of British Victorian values left over from the colonization, some Muslims might find even my light treatment of sexuality too much.

So, there will be things in my book that surprise and shock some Muslims. But there are many aspects of Mother of the Believers that will startle, and perhaps anger, non-Muslims as well. The story is told from a Muslim point of view and directly addresses many of the critiques raised against Prophet Muhammad by non-Muslims. The Prophet was a compelling spiritual figure who was famed for remarkable acts of generosity and compassion, and his words still ring true with wisdom today. But he has also been maligned by Westerners for many aspects of his life.
Specifically, non-Muslims critics point to the fact that Prophet Muhammad practiced polygamy, with a household of a dozen wives near the end of his life.

For many Christians, whose spiritual archetype is Jesus Christ, an apparently celibate man, this has always been shocking. The Prophet is also criticized for engaging in military battles against his enemies. Again, Jesus never raised a sword, so the Prophet’s battles are often decried as unworthy of a spiritual leader. And he has been accused of anti-Semitism for his conflict with the Jewish tribes of Arabia, two of whom were expelled, and a third whose men were executed and the women and children sold as slaves. Finally the Prophet’s marriage to Aisha itself has come under great criticism by non-Muslims, as some accounts suggest she was as young as nine years old when he consummated the wedding. This has led to the inflammatory charge of pedophilia by some modern critics.

As a practicing Muslim, I felt it was my duty to directly address these attacks on Prophet Muhammad. And in my novel, I endeavor to realistically portray the world in which he lived to give context to his actions. The Prophet lived in seventh century Arabia, a world that was more like the savage days of the Old Testament prophets than the cosmopolitan Hellenistic society of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus Christ, a great prophet in Islam, lived in a world defined by the Pax Romana. Roman soldiers kept order in the Holy Land, and courts of law functioned to address disputes between neighbors. Jesus could travel in security and preach a message of love and non-violence, as he did not have to deal with creating basic social order first. Christ did not have to establish a civilization from scratch while preaching the word of God.

But the birth of Islam was radically different. The world that Prophet Muhammad confronted was the world of Abraham, Moses and David – a vicious wilderness where survival was questionable. In such a world, life and death was the daily concern. Polygamy was the normal lifestyle of the Biblical patriarchs and kings, as reproduction in a world with such low life expectancy was the primary concern for both men and women. And harsh military action in the Bible was about survival in a world where an enemy could come upon you at any time and massacre your entire tribe. Similarly, Arabia at the time was a in a state of chaos, with no central government, no police, no rules. It was truly a Hobbesian state of war, with every man for himself. The weak and the poor, particularly women and children, lived in a daily state of abject terror until the Prophet established order in this brutal world. And to do so, he had no choice but to fight the armed thugs who had turned Arabia into a war zone.

But what of the Prophet’s treatment of the Jewish tribes of Arabia? The truth was he initially allied with the Jewish tribes as fellow monotheists. But his rising power threatened their leaders, who broke their treaty with the Muslims and joined the pagan Arabs to fight Islam. The Prophet was thus forced to confront them militarily as well. And I show in my novel that he dealt with them in a manner that came directly out of commandments of the Hebrew Bible.

In my novel, I go out of my way to explain the Jewish point of view about the Prophet and why the Jewish leaders decided to break their treaty with him. But, in the end, the story is from a Muslim perspective and their actions are seen as treacherous. This may be troubling for some Western readers. In the post-Holocaust world, Jewish villains are perhaps uncommon in American literature due to fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. Shakespeare's villainous Shylock is no longer a defensible archetype in Western literature. I realize that by portraying the Jewish tribes as the villains in my novel, I am courting accusations of being anti-Semitic myself, but I am accurately portraying the realities of life and tribal politics in that world.

Polygamy was similarly a normal reality of life in a world where women outnumbered men due to the daily battles between tribes. In my novel, I show how the Prophet made women’s lives easier and was seen by women as a champion for their rights. The issues that generate controversy today were part of a struggle for survival in a primitive world, a struggle which I vividly portray in my novel, and I think many non-Muslims will find my account eye opening.

But if the Prophet’s polygamy and battles can be understood historically, what of his marriage to young Aisha? Accounts of Aisha’s age at her wedding range from the early teens to early twenties. In my novel, I have chosen to directly face the controversy over Aisha’s age by using the most contentious account, that she was nine at the time she menstruated and consummated her wedding. The reason I have done this is to show that it is foolish to project modern values onto another time and world. In a desert environment where life expectancy was extremely low, early marriage was not a social issue – it was a matter of survival. Modern Christian historians have no problem suggesting that Mary was around twelve years old when she became pregnant with Jesus, as that was the normal age for marriage and childbearing in first century Palestine. Yet no one claims Mary’s youthful pregnancy was somehow perverse, because she lived in a world where reproduction took place immediately upon menstruation.

All in all, there is enough in my novel to offend and outrage anyone who has a specific agenda regarding Islam. Some non-Muslims will label me as an apologist for suggesting that their critiques of the Prophet are unfair and motivated by a bigoted agenda. And some conservative Muslims will not like the book, because their agenda is to portray Islam and its heroes in as perfect and pristine ways as possible. But as a believing Muslim myself, I embrace the humanity of these people, as did the early Muslim historians. There is nothing to learn from a plastic saint who does not share our foibles and weaknesses. The point of Mother of the Believers is that if flawed, passionate, complex people like the founders of Islam could find spiritual enlightenment, maybe we can too.

Kamran Pasha is a Hollywood screenwriter and the author of Mother of the Believers, a novel on the birth of Islam as told by Prophet Muhammad’s teenage wife Aisha, published by Atria Books in April 2009. To find out more about him and his work, visit

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Today, 454 years ago

On April 12, 1555, at six o'clock in the morning, Queen Juana of Castile died in the castle of Tordesillas after an agonizing battle with gangrene and forty-six years of imprisonment. She was attended in her final hours by Francisco de Borja, one of the most influential Jesuit leaders.

Her last words were: "Jesus Christ crucified, be with me."

She was seventy-six years old and the last queen of Spanish blood.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Guest post from David S. Brody, author of CABAL OF THE WESTFORD KNIGHT

I'm delighted to welcome David S. Brody, author of CABAL OF THE WESTFORD KNIGHT, a modern-day thriller about recently-discovered ancient artifacts left by Templar Knights during a secret mission to North America in 1398. Attorney Cameron Thorne is thrust into a lethal battle involving secret societies, treasure hunters and keepers of the secrets of the Jesus bloodline. PW Weekly says, "Brody does a terrific job of wrapping his research in a fast-paced thrill ride that will feel far more like an action film." This is a non-stop thrill ride of a story that fans of Dan Brown, Steve Berry, and stories about the Knights Templar will enjoy. Please join me in giving David a warm welcome.

Experts stubbornly cling to the outdated notion that not a single European explorer visited our shores during the 500 year gap between the Vikings and Christopher Columbus. Numerous artifacts scattered around New England tell us otherwise:

• Rhode Island’s Newport Tower—a round stone tower built in medieval fashion—has long been thought to be a colonial windmill. But a mortar sample from an archeological dig was recently carbon-dated to the mid-1400s. And astronomers studying the seemingly randomly-placed windows and niches of the tower have identified dozens of astronomical alignments, including a spectacular winter solstice illumination, that are reflective of medieval religious practices.
• Maine’s Spirit Pond Rune Stones are shoebox-size stones inscribed with medieval runic lettering. The stones have been dismissed by many scholars as a 20th-century hoax. However, linguistic experts have recently discovered that the stones contain a rare, previously undiscovered runic character that links the stones both to 14th-century Gotland, an island off the coast of Sweden, and to other North American rune stones.
• The Narragansett Rune Stone is a runic inscription engraved on a boulder in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. The inscription, visible only for 20 minutes a day at low tide, contains the same rare, medieval runic character that links the Spirit Pond stones to the island of Gotland.
• The Westford Knight is a carving of a medieval battle sword pecked into a rock outcropping in Westford, Massachusetts. (Some claim the inscription also depicts a medieval knight carrying a shield, but these inscriptions have largely faded.) This carving may have been left as a memorial to a fallen knight by a group of 14th-century Scottish explorers led by Prince Henry Sinclair. Details of this journey are recounted in a 16th-century chronicle known as the Zeno Narrative, written by the descendants of the original captain of the Sinclair fleet, Antonio Zeno. Cartographers comparing U.S. Naval maps with the map contained in the Zeno Narrative—often dismissed as fake because the Narrative’s map displays islands in the North Atlantic where none today exist—have discovered startling similarities between subsurface land masses and the islands portrayed on the Zeno map.

The authenticity of these artifacts was recently buttressed by research conducted on Minnesota’s Kensington Rune Stone, a tombstone-size slab dated 1362 and inscribed with medieval runic lettering similar to that found on the New England rune stones. A renowned geologist studying the weathering patterns of the minerals within the rock’s inscriptions determined the carvings predate the earliest European settlement of Minnesota. Since Native Americans in Minnesota did not speak the runic language, logic dictates that the inscriptions must therefore be medieval. And if medieval explorers made their way to Minnesota, it stands to reason they landed first on or near the New England shoreline.

So what do these artifacts tell us about the medieval explorers and why they were here? Much evidence corroborates the Zeno Narrative and points to Scotland’s Prince Henry Sinclair, drawn by North America’s vast natural resources at a time when Black Plague and war ravaged Europe. Digging deeper into Sinclair’s motivations, we uncover a fascinating version of history that one commentator describes as The Da Vinci Code crashing ashore in America. There is some evidence and much informed speculation indicating that Sinclair—clan chief of the prominent Knights Templar family made famous by Dan Brown as carrying the blood line of Jesus—led a band of outlawed religious warriors to the New World in the late 1300s to escape Church persecution and form an alternative, liberalized version of Christianity reflective of the burgeoning European Renaissance movement. Sinclair’s grandson later built Scotland’s Roslyn Chapel, a monument to pagan imagery and iconography.

It is from this fertile ground that Cabal of the Westford Knight sprung. It has been a ton of fun researching and writing this story. I hope readers are fascinated by this secret history of North America as well.

Giveaway Alert! Thank you to Historical Boys for hosting me today. As a special thanks to the readers of this blog, I will be offering a free copy of Cabal of the Westford Knight to one lucky person who comments about this post. This giveaway is open to anyone residing in the United States and Canada. Please be sure to leave a working email address in the body of your comment so that we can contact you if you win. Good luck!

Thank you, David. We wish you much success with this intriguing novel. For more information, please visit David at

David S. Brody is a Director of the New England Antiquities Research Association (NEARA). CABAL OF THE WESTFORD KNIGHT, a modern-day thriller, features the ancient New England artifacts mentioned above.