NEW: The Imam of Time

IMAGINE YOU ARE THERE in the raging streets of Tehran, not with the people who are demonstrating against a brutally repressive government, but you are there against the people.

Your name is Ahmed, and you are part of the force sent to crush the demonstrators, but you do not want to be there. The violence sickens you. People are being savagely beaten. A woman near you is shot and falls to the pavement, blood streaming from her mouth. As she lays there dying, she looks at you as if pleading to understand why her life has been taken from her.

The demonstrators surround you and shove you because you are one of the oppressors, but you throw your helmet and truncheon to the ground, and you cry out, “This is not Islam!” You keep shouting it to everyone, and finally you flee the violent streets. You return home, wishing you could experience authentic Islam, the Islam of Muhammad.

Author F.W. Burleigh gives Ahmed his wish by sending him into 7th century Arabia, first as a slave and then as Muhammad’s scribe. He gets the experience he longed for, but it is not what he was anticipating, for he has entered into a world of stomach-turning violence brought about by the very founder of the religion in which he was raised.

After witnessing Muhammad commit a series of horrific atrocities, Ahmed’s 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 slain when he returns to present day Iran in such a way that shows he is the Mahdi, 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 a 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 in Jamkaran where the Shias await the appearance of 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. When he finally flees Muhammad’s world, he ends up spending three months in a monastery where he acquires a love for Jesus. He joins a caravan 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, this revelation forms the basis for his message to his contemporaries, a message that ultimately costs him his life. But in dying he creates something new.

The book has an intriguing love angle involving Rayhaneh. In the Islamic histories, she became an unwilling concubine of Muhammad after he slaughtered all of the men of her Jewish tribe, and she died four years later from grief. In The Imam of Time, she is from present day Iran. Like Ahmed, she finds herself somehow transported into the past where she immediately becomes Muhammad’s captive and concubine. But she does not die after four years; she vanishes and returns to the present where she becomes involved with Ahmed through their shared experience, and ultimately they marry.

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We invite you to join Ahmed on his journey into 7th century Arabia and to experience the startling events that occur in Iran after his emergence from the Well of the Mahdi.