In today’s febrile cultural and religious climate, what project could be more fraught than writing a biography of Muhammad? The worldwide protests at “The Innocence of Muslims,” 14 minutes of trashy provocation posted on YouTube, are a terrible reminder to the would-be biographer that the life story of the prophet of Islam is not material about which one is free to have a “take.” Lesley Hazleton’s “First Muslim” is a book written by a white woman of dual American and British citizenship, published in America more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks. For many believers it is already — even before it is read, if it is read at all — an object of suspicion, something to be defended against, in case it should turn out to be yet another insult, another cruel parody of a story such an author has no business telling.She, Hazleton the author, certainly need not have worried, no matter how much her reviewer, Hari Kunzru, did on her behalf; for Hazleton's portrait of Muhammad, "the first Muslim" is pure hagiography.
The article led me to her recent-ish talk at the famous, liberal, TED conference, at which her main aim was to show that there is no such thing as the "72 virgins" if a Muslim is "martyred" (that is, killed in any way, including by strapping on a bomb vest to kill we infidels).
She's wrong about that -- about the virgins awaiting in paradise -- as is easily shown by cursory research. In canonical Islam, there are indeed virgins awaiting the martyr. Maybe 72 (the most common number). Or maybe just "a lot" (which is what 72 is meant to represent).
My main question is: WHY? Why would she do this? Why would she set out to whitewash Islamic doctrine? What's in it for her? Does she really believe her own talk? If yes, how on earth? For her basic thesis -- that the Koran is devoid of heavenly virgins and rather a peaceable tract -- is simply and provably false, even by the canonical Islamic doctrine, the Trinity of Islam.
And what of the TED crowd. The most depressing for me was how they gave her a standing ovation. What, you know nothing of Islam? And you're so proud of that, that you'll celebrate someone telling you what you'd like to believe?
I'm sorry, but it's really depressing to see such a group of intelligent people buying into a narrative that is quite simply wrong. And provably, historically, so.