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Kamran Pasha in an interview about this book states, "In Aisha, we see a mirror of the Prophet's own revolutionary nature, as well as a glimpse of the reverence for the sacred feminine in Islam that many contemporary Muslim men have perhaps forgotten." This quote seems likely to draw a bevy of responses which will probably be supportive, critical and those in-between the opposing spectrum. It's a great place to start the discussion about this controversial novel.
Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr, becomes the youngest wife of the Prophet, Muhammad. She's a bit of an enigma to the Prophet's other followers because of her obvious intelligence and her favored status in the Prophet's harem. Gifted with what would now be called a photographic memory, she remembers every word spoken by Muhammad as part of the Qur'an left to the followers of Islam. But in the beginning of this novel, she is a 9 year-old girl attempting to bridge the normal gap of a young girl to a venerated wife of the founder of this small band of believers.
Mecca and Medina are avowed enemies as Muhammad's power rises, attracting more faithful followers. The famous Battle of Badr seems miraculous to all, with the result of awing some and galvanizing both more followers and more enemies who fear the unexplainable power of this new religion. The reader meets Hind, a powerful enemy, who incites war and treachery with her fiery, almost demonic, spirit, as well as a young Jewish woman who betrays her own people for the Islamic cause.
Many more battles follow, at first from enemies of the Islam faith and later from civil disputes over who should lead the Islamic faith after Muhammad's death. The purity, wisdom and power of Islam seems shattered by the behavior of leaders with mixed motives, in spite of the fact that Islam now spreads to almost all of the Persian Gulf and encroaches on the Byzantine empire. The novel carefully treads the path which Aisha herself may have influenced, favoring her father's rule, bringing about the fall and death perhaps of Ali (the Prophet's adopted son who at one time called for the Prophet to divorce Aisha), and so much more. The pace of this novel never slackens, with wars, intrigue, betrayal and what seems to be temporary reconciliation among the men and women in the Prophet's world.
Certain stories within this novel provoke many questions in this reader's mind. As Muhammad faces the petty jealousies and squabbling of the men and women in his surround, he seems to experience revelations as solutions, such as marrying the wives of fallen enemies and more. My only criticism of this novel is that it is more about the organizational and faithful formation and adherence to this religion and its political and geographical spread and not enough about what would inspire one to want to join this faith other than loyalty to Muhammad's wise, kind and compassionate leadership. There is more about the man than his message in this riveting, dynamic tale of the Mother of the Believers who continues to sway influence in the Islamic world to this day! Very, very nicely done and memorable for sure!
Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on May 7, 2009