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by Maxime Rodinson, translated from the French by Anne Carter, afterword by Robert Irwin

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Maxime Rodinson, both a maverick Marxist and a distinguished professor at the Sorbonne, first published his biography of Muhammad in 1960. The book, a classic in its field, has been widely read ever since. Rodinson, though deeply versed in scholarly studies of the Prophet, does not seek to add to it here but to introduce Muhammad, first of all, as “a man of flesh and blood” who led a life of extraordinary drama and shaped history as few others have. Equally, he seeks to lay out an understanding of Muhammad’s legacy and Islam as what he called an ideological movement, similar to the universalist religions of Christianity and Buddhism as well as the secular movement of Marxism, but possessing a singular commitment to “the deeply ingrained idea that Islam offers not only a path to salvation but (for many, above all) the ideal of a just society to be realized on earth.”

Rodinson’s book begins by introducing the specific land and the larger world into which Muhammad was born and the development of his prophetic calling. It then follows the steps of his career and the way his leadership gave birth to a religion and a state. A final chapter considers the world as Islam has transformed it.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681374925
Pages: 432
Publication Date:


There can be no doubt that Professor Rodinson's book is the major contemporary Occidental work on the Prophet, and is essential reading.
—Edward W. Said, author of Orientalism and Out of Place

An absorbing biography . . . Rodinson sensitively portrays a more than plausible Muhammad.
The New Yorker

In the best Voltairean tradition Rodinson delights in exposing his subject's all too human amorous, acquisitive, vengeful nature. . . . [A] trenchant and (of course) timely piece of scholarship.

Maxime Rodinson, the distinguished scholar of the Arab and Muslim world. . . wrote to unveil the secrets of a world dimly understood by Europeans . . . Rodinson published some of the seminal texts in Middle Eastern studies, including Mohammed (1961), a biography still banned in parts of the Arab world for approaching the Prophet's life from a sociological perspective . . . Although he remained an independent (or, as he quipped, 'agnostic') Marxist, he appreciated the powerful role that religion played in the Arab world at a time when many European leftist observers of the region preferred to see it as a form of false consciousness that would melt into air once the Arab masses awakened to their 'true' class interests.
—Adam Shatz, The Nation

The most stimulating, balanced and sympathetic secular biography of the Prophet of Islam. . . the first real attempt to come to terms with a culture that could not be understood through sacred texts or works of exegesis alone.
—Tariq Ali, London Review of Books

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