If you wonder how Islam arose, you have a choice of nonfiction accountings. History, as we know, can skate close to fiction, depending on who writes the accounts and their political agendas. These alternative resources include Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong, The Wives of Prophet Muhammad by Bint Al-Shati and Women in the Qur'an, Traditions, and Interpretation by Barbara Freyer Stowasser.
If you are a Muslim, you may not agree with the spin Kamran Pasha puts on the story in his fictionalized account of Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam. Few will disagree, though, that this first novel from a successful screenwriter makes use of his cinematic literary skills.
Mother (for short) is the story of Aisha, Muhammad's youngest and among the first of twelve wives. She was the daughter of one of The Prophet's childhood friends who married him when she was approximately six years old, but who spent only about a dozen years with him before his death. Multiple wives and child brides were acceptable in Arabian lands in the seventh century C.E. Females were considered women as soon as they experienced their first menses, and when people lives shorter lives.
Aisha tells the story as a weary, dying old woman, not unlike the many fictional depictions of Christ's mother Mary or Mary Magdalene at the end of their lives. Pasha seamlessly switches the narrative voice among the points of view of the storyteller at various ages. His scenic descriptions of the arid countryside, oases and cities of the Arabian Peninsula give readers strong sense of how living was then (and probably still is for impoverished peoples there).
Consider the Muslims' approach after 10 days in a caravan across an ocean of sand to the site that would become Medina:
We spurred our camels up the flowing expanse until we reached the summit of the dunes and could see what lay beyond.
My heart soared as I saw it for the first time. An emerald valley lovingly planted between a circle of volcanic hills, blackened by the sun and lava, the majestic palm trees swaying in the wind as if waving to greet us.
Mother of the Believers deftly places the start and development of Islam in a basic historical perspective. He presents The Messenger of God as a human being as well as a charismatic leader. Whether Muhammad’s inspiration came from the divine, epileptic seizures, hallucinations or other causes for people to see and hear angels, his goals of religious reformation and unification of the indigenous tribes of the area were not unique. How so few people from such a small patch of land came to be as widespread and numerous as Islam is today is a wonderment in itself.
An even greater mystery is how three great religious groups, all springing from the influence on one man, Abraham, can still be fighting over the same little patches of land. And all in need of reformation.