IN THIS POWERFUL WORK OF MAGICAL REALISM, an Iranian sickened by the injustices he sees all around him wishes he could experience the true Islam of Muhammad and Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son in law whom Iranians consider the forefather of Shia Islam. Author F.W. Burleigh gives him his wish by sending him into 7th century Arabia, first as a slave and then as Muhammad’s scribe.
He soon finds what he was looking for, but it is not what he was anticipating. After witnessing Islam’s founder commit a series of horrific atrocities, his faith crumbles and he becomes a warner of what is to come out of Arabia. He ends up trapped in Mecca at the time of Muhammad’s invasion and is about to be beheaded when he returns to present day Iran in such a way that shows he is the Shiite Savior—the long-awaited Imam of Time. But what he has to say to his contemporaries brings the rage of Iran’s clerical rulers down on him.
THE IMAM OF TIME is not a clumsy sci-fi time travel novel, but a deft work of magical realism, a crucial element that uses the cave and well motifs of Islam for going into the past and returning to the present: The Hero enters a cave of light, and the light speaks to him just before he finds himself nearly drowning in a well somewhere in 7th century Arabia; he returns to contemporary Iran through the Well of the Mahdi where the Shias await the appearance of their Savior, their Imam of Time.
The hero must go into the past in order to realize the truth of the origin of the violence of Islam. The reader follows him along the path of his experience. When he finally flees Muhammad’s world, he ends up spending three months in a monastery where he acquires and abiding love for Jesus. The hero then embarks on the caravan trail and ends up in India where he has a startling revelation about the universal drive behind all religion. When he returns to Iran through the Well of the Mahdi, his revelation forms the basis for his message of religious tolerance to his contemporaries, a message that ultimately costs him his life. But in dying he creates something new.
The book has a touching love angle involving Rayhaneh. In the Islamic histories, she became an unwilling concubine of Muhammad after he slaughtered the men of her Jewish tribe, and she died four years later of grief. In The Imam of Time, she is from present day Iran just like the hero and finds herself somehow sent into the past where she becomes Muhammad’s captive and concubine. But she doesn’t die after four years, she vanishes and returns to the present where she becomes involved with the hero through their shared experience, and ultimately they marry. It wasn’t intended, but it turns out there’s a notable contrast between the way Muhammad treated her and the way the hero treats her.
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