Good Reading : March 2011
32 goodreading ı MARCH 2011 up close The Koran was scribed by a Christian monk, the Prophet Mohammed's mother was Jewish and the religion he developed was one of tolerance that championed the rights of women. These startling facts have been uncovered by an inter nationally recognised scholar and corporate coach, whose findings derive from a lifelong mission to trace his ancestors. The scholar, writing under the pseudonym Osman Kartal, says Islam has been hijacked by political forces and the original religion of freethinking, flexibility and tolerance has been lost. Written in the for m of a novel, his book on the topic is titled The Prophet's Scribe. 'Mohammed gave economic rights to women at a time when women were treated as a commodity to be traded,' Kartal told gr. 'In fact, a detailed examination of the refor ms of the time strongly indicates that women were awarded economic and political rights much greater than those that were ever won by the suffragettes [British women of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who agitated for the right to vote].' Kartal added that the complete covering up of women did not take place until 300 years after the Prophet's death. 'The covering of women occurred only towards the end of the Prophet's life. He required his wives to wear veils to indicate that they were woman of stature and were unavailable. The veiling of women was adopted from Christians and Jews who at the time strongly followed that practice.' Kartal said he was surprised to find that over the centuries the foundations of Islam had been distorted and used for the particular political purposes of very few people. Kartal, who is not himself a Muslim, became interested in Islam while working for large companies in the Middle East. 'I found myself having to understand the Arabic context and religion in order to do business in the region. As it has tur ned out, my study of Islam has shown it to be an intricate, sophisticated and clever religion, on a par with so many others.' Kartal's big moment of awareness came when he was about to land a contract with a major Arabic organisation. 'The conversation ultimately came to the topic of coaching and the value that coaching can provide to help individuals improve their job perfor mance. My Muslim counterpart asked why coaching was needed. I gave him the standard reasons about the value of coaching. 'The response was, "Why would a good Muslim need that?" He explained that all he had to do was follow the five pillars of Islam. He said Muslims followed their rituals and traditions and did not need to be coached in how to think and act differently. The very concept of personal discretion was alien to the Muslim. I realised that the mindset a religion can create is all powerful.' Kartal says that when researching the effect of religious values on top leaders, he stumbled on the possibility that he was related to the monk Sergius Bahira, a Nestorian Christian whose sect has almost disappeared. 'While few have heard of the Nestorians, their role and contribution to religious, scientific and theological thinking has been profound,' Kartal says. 'The fact that this religious order has been virtually wiped out is also a major surprise. The Nestorians were the mathematicians, philosophers and freethinkers of the Christian church -- and they were despised for that.' Kartal says the story of Sergius and the Christian influence on Islam has been told and retold in the coffee shops of Baghdad, but this information has never really spread beyond Baghdad. The Prophet, an illiterate camel tender, became good friends with Sergius when the two met as youths in Mecca. Sergius Bahira observed Mohammed having a fit, and told the gathering crowd that Mohammed was destined to found a great religion. Sergius didn't just write down the sacred sayings of Mohammed; he became his adviser and helped him to shape Islam and to grow it as a global religion. 'Sergius and Mohammed created a new state where tolerance was the order of the day,' Kartal says. 'Since then a number of intolerant practices have emerged, principally the treatment of women and the division between the Sunni and Shiah, the origins of which occur red in the decades after the Prophet's death due to a dispute over the succession to the role of leader of the Islamic community.' Kartal says he was drawn to Sergius because the monk was intellectually brilliant, a freethinker, a man of the people, and someone who disliked institutions, bureaucracy and their influence. 'In other words, a man after my own heart,' said Kartal. His aim in writing The Prophet's Scribe as a novel was to illustrate the reality of people's lives in the early 7th century and show why Islam came into existence. 'Writing a novel seemed a better way to communicate to a much broader audience than could ever be achieved through writing a work of non-fiction. The aim was to make people better infor med and in that way help them to be more respectful of different traditions. 'If enough people are also made aware of why Islam was for med and what its purpose was, perhaps a considerable amount of prejudice and religious extremism can be under mined and hopefully ultimately rejected.' The Prophet's Scribe by Osman Kartal is published by Athena Press, r rp $25.95. the truth about islam In this gr exclusive interview, OSMAN KARTAL talks about his new novel, The Prophet’s Scribe, which outlines the startlingly liberal origins of Islam and the little-known influence of Nestorian Christianity on the nascent religion.