Meraj’s 13-year long journey learning & recording notes on the Prophet’s (s) life has led to the creation of this groundbreaking book, that will become an instant classic
Tell us about yourself…
I’m an American Muslim who grew up with a strong emphasis on religion, education, and athletics. My parents emigrated from India in the 1970s and settled in New Jersey. Since then, I’ve lived in several US cities and now reside in Phoenix, Arizona. I grew up in the American public school system where I played varsity sports, volunteered at the hospital, and excelled in academics. Although my brother and I were the only Muslims in a school of 1,600 students, we were very involved in student government and felt fairly comfortable with our identity as American Muslims.
I started writing this book in 2003, just after finishing medical school. At that time, I was frustrated that my knowledge of Islam lagged so far behind my mastery of biology, immunology, and pharmacology. My parents raised me with a solid foundation in my faith, but by my mid-twenties, I decided that it was time to take my Islam to the next level.
I began studying the life of the Prophet (asws) because it’s simply the easiest and most beautiful of the Islamic sciences. You don’t need a pre-requisite understanding of philosophy or Arabic grammar. You just need an open heart and a willingness to be moved.
Originally the book began as a collection of notes I was writing as a personal study guide. I had never published anything before, nor did I consider myself capable of writing a book. About seven years into the project, I had put together a glossary of over 350 companions, 90+ diagrams, and an anthology of some of the best English commentary on the Prophet’s life. Most importantly, I had developed a learning system that helps bring everything together (see the QY timeline below). It was then that I realized that I might be sitting on something that didn’t exist in the English language.
So in the summer of 2010, I started expanding my vision (and my team), to see if we could create something truly special. What you see in the current text is the product of hundreds of hours of work by editors, graphic designers, lawyers, artists, social media experts, and of course, baby-sitters.
On your website it provides a Malcolm X quote as ‘inspiration’ for the book – can you tell us a bit more about what that means & its significance to you?
This is probably one of my favorite sentences in the entire book:
“Here I am, back in Mecca. I am still traveling, trying to broaden my mind, for I’ve seen too much of the damage narrow-mindedness can make of things, and when I return home to America, I will devote what energies I have to repairing the damage.”
When I was looking for an opening quote I could have picked verse from the Qur’an, a saying of the Prophet, or even a quote from the likes of Imam Al-Ghazali. But my purpose in writing Revelation was to inspire people, in our day and age, to find their life’s purpose in the story of Muhammad. To my mind, no one exhibited this better than the American hero, Malcolm X. Like the earliest Companions, Malcolm’s life was a story of transformation.
His was not only a journey towards the truth, but a willingness to be transformed by the truth. By the age of 39, that journey not only led him to Mecca (literally and spiritually), but also convinced him to return home, roll up his sleeves, and dedicate the remainder of his life to his people.
In doing so, Malcolm was taking a page out of the Prophet’s playbook. As Dr. Jackson writes in his foreword, “Muhammad showed us that humans must struggle to make Islam Islam … For Muhammad’s career teaches us that Islam negotiates not with abstract concepts of society but with real society, in all its virtues and all its flaws.”
The lives of Muhammad and Malcolm, are not a series of dates, but parallel stories of transformation. Most importantly, I believe that possibility (of transformation) resides in each and every one of us.
There have been many books on the Prophet Muhammad (s)’s life, yet yours looks so original & beautifully designed. What was the original vision for your book? Did that vision change along the way?
I first wrote this book as a personal study guide. Several years later, I envisioned it might be an efficient “Cliff notes” for students who were reading some of the more authoritative English biographies. Only in the last five years, did I realize that it was emerging as an all-encompassing textbook in its own right.
Perhaps my favorite characteristic of the Prophet (asws), was that he made everyone in his gatherings feel like they were the most
important person in the room. As you can see from the dedication, I tried to write this book with each and every one of my readers in mind. It is my hope that as readers go through the book they can feel me leading them by the hand through the material.
As far as design and production, we tried to stay true to the subject matter. Strangers and friends alike would gaze at the Prophet, because
of the kind of beauty that emanated from his face. Everything he did was perfectly balanced and purposeful. No movement was overly dramatic, nor was he ever accused of being anything less than the most generous person of his time.
As this book came together, it became increasingly important to our team that we try to infuse these prophetic qualities into the layout, design, production, and overall look and feel of the book. In this regard, I challenged my designer to come up with a cover that people would gaze at, even if they didn’t open the book. In addition, we wanted to support our native economy and minimize our environmental footprint by using a local printer.
This allowed us to be intimately involved in the production process and ensure that the paper quality, color reproduction, and binding method was kept to the very best standards. Even though it costs more money, we also made sure to use recycled paper and non-toxic inks. In all, we wanted the book to reflect the excellence of its subject matter.
What was the process like behind the scenes when bringing together all the facts and design decisions for the book? Were there any intense discussions or moments of clarity?
For almost 10 years, I wrote this book alone. I didn’t tell anyone outside of my immediate family. Even then, I was happiest being alone with the Prophet, and not having to share him with others. We’d spend afternoons together in coffee shops, Saturdays at the library, and late nights in my study. Looking back, these were the very best moments of the journey.
As the manuscript started taking its final form, I started reaching out to my editor, Arifa Chaudhry, and we went back and forth with manuscripts for over a year. Altogether, I believe we re-edited the book 4 times. Part of the challenge at the end of each editing cycle was knowing that I could make the book that much better, clearer, more concise, or more informative.
I kept adding new elements, new commentary, or new figures to bring the material out. What I was hoping to publish in 2012 finally got done in 2015, because I wanted to put everything I had into the book and not leave anything on the table.
One of the biggest challenges to this book was getting all the scholars and/or their publishers to agree to be included in Revelation. Add to this, the task of finding the right Qur’an translation. What most readers don’t realize is that there is an incredible amount of legal work that went into securing permissions to get all these voices into a single book.
Along the way I’ve had intense conversations with our graphics team about the best way to
present the material. Luckily my wife (and co-collaborator), has incredible eye for design, and my graphic designer, has an amazing knack for taking my vision to the next level.
What’s your favourite thing (or favourite section) in the book?
I would have to say that my two favorite features are the Qur’an Year Timeline and the interactive glossary. The QY timeline (you’ll find it in the introduction) is a chronological and thematic method that allows readers to maintain a fuller picture of Qur’anic revelation as they delve deeper into each year of the Prophet’s life, or each surah of the Qur’an. Based on the feedback we get around the world, it seems to be redefining how readers at all levels are re-engaging with the life of the Prophet and the Qur’an.
My other favorite element is the interactive glossary. After I created the glossary of over 350 names in the Sirah, I realized that most readers will never flip to the back of the book to look them up. And even if they did, when they flip back to what they were reading, they might lose track of the story.
To overcome this challenge, I brought the entire glossary into the main text. Now every time you encounter a person’s name, I have an entry in the margins reminding you exactly who this person is and why their story is important to the larger story. I do this with names, places, surahs, and more. In a nutshell, it’s my way of being there for the reader so that they never give up on knowing the Prophet’s life fully and clearly.
How long did it take to complete it, and what kept you going?
The book has taken roughly 13 years to complete. Certainly this was a non-linear process that had its fair share of roadblocks, delays, and detours. But certainly what kept me going was the subject matter that I was writing about.
Through the Prophet’s life, I’ve learned how to work through adversity, disappointment, heartbreak, growth, and even success.
His life is an extraordinary coaching plan, not only because of what he overcame and achieved, but because it is so applicable to whatever each and every one of us is going through right now.
What overall message do you hope to convey with the book, and what impact do you hope the book will have?
The world today reminds me of Mecca before Islam—fast and exciting, but also dreadfully imbalanced. With all of our social, political, economic, and environmental challenges, we can no longer afford to approach the Prophet’s life as an academic exercise that was limited to seventh century Arabia. If anything, the Prophet’s example can be even more powerful today.
Muhammad saved Mecca by being the change he wanted to see in the world, and then inspiring others to follow his lead. In this light, I hope Revelation prompts readers to start asking some honest questions:
– Where are you going?
– Who do you want to be?
– What’s in your way?
– And finally, how are you going to be the change you want to see in the world?
Some familiar faces showing their support:
If you could put this book in the hands of anyone alive today, who would you choose? (Can be a group of people)
I’d like to get this book into the hands of extremist groups around the world. This not only includes the likes of ISIS and Boko Haram, but also extreme Islamophobic elements in the West.
Many of the young people have been seduced into these dangerous ideologies because they have failed to appreciate the non-negotiable Islamic principles of mercy and justice. The Prophet lived by these principles, but unfortunately, prophetic illiteracy is the number one reason the Muslim world is experiencing such violent convulsions.
Where can we purchase it?
The book is available online and in bookstores in most of the English speaking world. You can also order on Amazons US, UK and Canada, and can visit local and online bookstores in North America, South Africa, Europe, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia.