Countless books have been written about the life of Muhammad, Islam's prophet. Spirituality guru Deepak Chopra has added another to the mix: A novel generally rooted in facts but liberally embellished.
In "Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet," Chopra employs a wide cast of narrators to tell the story of how an orphan boy raised in a pagan society grew up to lead a nation of believers in the oneness of God. All the usual highlights are here: Muhammad's infancy and toddlerhood living with his Bedouin wet nurse in the fresh air of the desert; his brief time with his mother in the city before her death when he was only 6 (his father died before he was born); his precociousness as a child living with relatives; and his marriage to a wealthy widow with whom he had four daughters as well as two sons who died in infancy.
Then, at 40, came the turning point in Muhammad's life, when the angel Gabriel appeared before him as he was meditating in a cave. "The man who wished for God to notice him was terrified once he was noticed," Chopra writes.
He imagines Muhammad thinking: "I didn't ask for this. Let me go. I am nothing, a man among men."
It is this ordinary nature of Muhammad that surprised Chopra when he began writing the book, which follows "Buddha" and "Jesus" in his series on founders of world religions. What links the three men is their pursuit of higher consciousness, Chopra writes in his introduction.
"(Muhammad) appeals to me most because he remade the world by going inward. ... In the light of what the Prophet achieved, he raises my hopes that all of us who lead everyday lives can be touched by the divine." Later in the introduction, Chopra insightfully notes: "Islam has been branded with barbarity in a unique way, in part because, in its zeal to maintain the Prophet's world as well as his word, the customs of antiquity have been preserved into modern times."
Chopra appears to rely on a mix of Muslim and non-Muslim sources to inform his novel, which may irritate those who would prefer more wholehearted acceptance - or more sharp challenging - of Muslims' version of history. As for Chopra's writing style, solid storytelling in the beginning of the book unfortunately peters out.
The final chapters include a bizarre tale of a reformed prostitute waiting for a soldier to return home - her connection to the story of the prophet is unclear - and anticlimactic, rushed chapters on Muhammad's return to Mecca and his death.
Even so, "Muhammad" may appeal to those interested in a dramatic retelling of the prophet's life.
'Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet'
By Deepak Chopra HarperOne, $25.99