This item appeared in the "Editor's
in The Textbook Letter, May-June 1996.
Bogus material about Muhammad and the origin of Islam has already appeared in Prentice Hall's book World Cultures: A Global Mosaic. Now some closely similar material is being disseminated in Prentice Hall World History: Connections to Today, a high-school book dated in 1997. Prentice Hall's writers again present the myth of Muhammad's "vision" as if it were history, and their tale again includes (among other things) a scene in which Muhammad's wife, Khadija, urges him to accept his supernaturally ordained mission as "the messenger of God."
But what about all his other wives? The Prentice Hall book doesn't say anything about them, even though they represent an important aspect of Muhammad's life. After Khadija's death (which occurred when Muhammad was 49 years old), Muhammad turned to polygamy, pursued it with notable vigor, married at least eight women, and seemed not to be troubled by the Quran's declaration that a man could have no more than four wives at a time. No one knows exactly how many wives he had, because some cases are ambiguous: The women may have been married to Muhammad, or they may merely have served as concubines.
Prentice Hall's sanitized account leaves the impression that Khadija was Muhammad's only wife and the only woman who had a role in the development of Islam. In fact, however, a later wife whose name was Aisha (and whose marriage to Muhammad had been consummated when she was nine years old) became an important leader of Islam after Muhammad died.
Readers who want to learn more about Muhammad's matrimonial ventures will be well rewarded if they consult chapter 4 of Geraldine Brooks's book Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women, published in 1995 by Doubleday (New York City). The chapter is titled "The Prophet's Women," and it includes this amusing insight: Some of Muhammad's "divine revelations" about women were remarkably coincident, in both time and content, with his own sexual impulses and with his need to maintain order in his polygamous household.
By the way, Prentice Hall's history book also repeats the claim that Muslims today believe in the same god that is worshiped by Jews and the same god that is worshiped by Christians. That claim, presumably intended to make Islam seem friendly, is absurd.
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.
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