IMAGINE YOU ARE 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 know 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, and finally you flee the violent streets. You return to the town of your birth, wishing you could know authentic Islam—the Islam of Muhammad.
In this powerful work of magical realism, 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 anticipated, for he has entered a world of stomach-turning violence brought about by the very founder of the religion in which he was raised.
He ultimately rebels against Muhammad, seeing him a false prophet with a dangerous ideology. He is about to be beheaded when he returns to present day Iran through the Well of the Mahdi in Iran, the very well from which Shi’ites await the return of the hidden Imam of Time. Ahmed is their 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 hero becomes an advocate of women's rights through his relationship with Rayhaneh, a character inspired by one of Muhammad's 13 wives. The Rayhaneh of the Muslim history books was taken captive and turned into Muhammad’s unwilling concubine after he conquered the Qurayza Jews and beheaded all the men. In The Imam of Time Rayhaneh is from Tehran, but she suddenly finds herself transported into the past, and she appears in the Qurayza fortress at the time of their surrender. So it is she who is taken captive and turned into Muhammad's unwilling concubine. In the Islamic histories, Rayhaneh dies after four years, very likely from grief, but in the novel, she vanishes after four years and returns to contemporary Iran where she becomes involved with the hero due to their shared experiences.
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.