‘The Accidental Theologist’


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It’s been a while and we apologize for it.

Hope you reading a lot of books these days.

Today we have a very intriguing and curious psychologist turned reporter turned theologist turned writer with us.

Meet Award winning writer, Lesley Hazleton  who has spent more than 10 years of her life staying in the Middle East, covering stories on politics, religion and history of the country.

She is an agnostic and has written extensively on Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Anyone who meets Lezley will tell you that that she is confident, articulate and a classy style diva.

Her previous works include detailed stories of Israeli women, A memoir of Jerusalem, Mother Mary, Jezebel, Shia Shunni Split. Her in-depth narrative, coherent writing and archaic facts is what keeps one glued to her books. She started researching and writing on various religions during her stay in the Middle East.

Her new book “The First Muslim” examines the narrative account of Prophet Muhammad in his formative years and how he rose to power. She describes him as a complex man with varying notions on politics and faith.

‘The First Muslim’ is also on The Crossword Bestseller list.

She currently stays in Seattle and spends gloomy evenings working on her next project, you can also know more about her from her blog .wwww.theaccidentaltheologist.com

Read an extract of her interview with us..

 

1.         A lot of Biographies have been written on Prophet Muhammad and on  his life and teachings…what made you delve  into his life further?

Basically, frustration!   I’d read many modern biographies of him, but either they seemed overly timid, as though tip-toeing through his life, or they were devotional hagiographies.  Either way, they had a soporific effect on me, and this seemed utterly wrong;  how could anyone do that to such a dramatic life?   Muhammad carved a huge profile in history, and yet the more I read, the less I seemed to have any real sense of who he actually was.  I wanted to do justice to a remarkable story – to accord him the integrity of reality, of a full life lived.  And sure enough, the deeper I went, the more complex and interesting he became.

 

2.         You have also written on the whole divide between the strongest Muslim communities ‘Shia and Sunni Muslims’ which is a strong intense war even today..Do you think the basis of this laid the foundations during Prophet Muhammad’s era?

It did.  My previous book, After the Prophet, explores this.  In a sense, the split began at the moment of Muhammad’s death, though the roots of it reach back into his lifetime.  It’s an intensely human story – a tragedy of epic dimensions that spans three generations of Muhammad’s family and the first fifty years of Islam.  And it goes deep to issues that still haunt us:  pragmatism and idealism, faith and politics, power and powerlessness.  Sometimes I imagine that if the story had only been better known, the US would never have been so foolish as to have invaded Iraq, which is precisely where the Sunni-Shia split crystallized.  But I know that’s probably just wishful thinking

 

3. For writing any kind of extensive biography you would have to spend huge hours in researching and checking every facts that must have come along.. tell us about your difficult  days spent on writing this book?

In a sense, I was living a kind of dual existence:  I’d wake every morning in misty Seattle to people and events half the world and almost half of history away, in seventh-century Arabia.  Yes, it was difficult – not least because I was aware of how intensely The First Muslim would be scrutinized, especially since I am an agnostic Jew, not a believing Muslim.  But it was also a joy.  To live in two worlds at once, the Pacific Northwest and the not-so-pacific Middle East?  To keep daily company with a prophet and bring a remarkable life to life?  This is a writer’s privilege.

 

4. Care to tell  the readers more about the sacred relationship between Muhammad and his first wife Khadija..

Islamophobes love to paint Muhammad as a lecherous polygamist, thus betraying nothing but their own ignorance (and their lascivious imagination).  Muhammad and Khadija were in a loving, caring, monogamous marriage for 24 years until her death, when he was still struggling for acceptance of his message.  In late life, he married nine other wives – diplomatic marriages, as all leaders of the time made – but it’s clear that he mourned Khadija until the day of his own death.

 

5.         You have stayed in the Middle East for more than 10 years.. where women are treated as  inferiors and the status never seems to change for the longest time right through Islam and women don’t have a say at all .Do you think we will see changing times soon for women in the Middle east?

I think this change is inevitable.  After all, the Quran, unlike the Bible, goes to great pains to include women.  It won’t happen overnight, just as revolution doesn’t happen overnight (or in a single season, per the journalistic meme of “the Arab spring”), but more and more strong women’s voices are emerging both in the Middle East and in other Muslim countries.

 

6.         We always see a whole debate where in the West, Islam as a religion is now being considered very negative, extremist and as a religion disliked by the West due to the Jihad wars and terrorists acts committed in the name of jihad. Any views on how this opinions of Islam as an extremist religion can be changed and Did Muhammad actually preach Jihad the way it has been preached by militant Islamist groups.

There have been dozens of fatwas by leading Islamic scholars saying in the strongest terms that slaughtering civilians in the name of God is an obscene travesty of Islam.  In the Quran, jihad specifically refers to the struggle to lead a good life “in the path of God,” not to armed conflict.  The interpretation of jihad as warfare only came into being three centuries after Muhammad’s death, and while I certainly can’t speak for him, I’m pretty sure that if he could see what was being preached in his name by violent extremists, he’d be the first to stand against them and call them out as murderers.

 

7. All your books are so detailed, factual, gripping. What can we expect next from you?

Well, talking of gripping, I think it’s time for me to come to grips with my own agnosticism, so I’m working on a kind of agnostic manifesto.  I’m enjoying the luxury of writing again in the first person – there’s great freedom in that – and of exploring (and challenging) my own thinking.

 

8. Apart from being an Accidental Theologist, tell us some of your quirks?

Off the top of my head:

— a love of paradox

— an ability to eat six dozen oysters at a time

— a weakness for knee-high suede boots

 

9. Authors you admire?

Let’s just start with Graham Greene, Peter Matthiessen, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion…

 

10. Types of books you dislike reading

— books with lazy, clichéd language (alas, most popular fiction)

— books that fail to spark my imagination (alas, most academic writing)

— books that are self-serving (like too many political autobiographies)

 

11.       Books you can’t put down

I seem to be very good at putting down books described as “un-put-downable” (I fell asleep a few pages into The Da Vinci Code).  Books I really can’t put down are books I read for a second, even a third time.   Right now that’s Richard Rodriguez’ new book Darling.  It’s subtitled “a spiritual autobiography” but I’m glad to say it’s not – it’s something far more intricate and supple, and I love the way his mind works.

 

12. You have travelled the world over, your favourite country/destination?

Places I keep secret!  Untouched, magical places.  A hidden saltwater lagoon in the San Juan islands;  a hot spring coming out of the rock in the mountains north of Guadalajara;  a sage-scented wadi deep in the Sinai desert – these and others are places where I have sat quietly for hours at a time, and I am still grateful for their existence.  I’m not religious, but as Laurens van der Post once wrote, “an amen to such places.”

 

Price: Rs 599

Published by Atlantic Books

Represented & Distributed exclusively by Penguin Books India

Available on www.crossword.in and at a Crossword store near you.

 

Signing off for now

 

 Until next time Geeks.

 

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