A little over a week ago, we got word that the NYTIMES wanted to interview my father in part on his upcoming fiction book on Muhammed, A Story of the Last Prophet. Largely because of the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero Mosque (which isn't really a Mosque and isn't really at Ground Zero - but that's another story), the fact that Deepak Chopra had a book coming out detailing the life of Muhammed seemed like a pretty good hook. At first blush, it was a dream scenario, even for an author as accomplished as Deepak Chopra who over the last two decades or so has written over 50 or so books, several of which have appears on the NYTIMES Bestseller list itself.
But then the more we thought about it, and discussed it around the dinner table, a certain dread emerged. Why? After all my father had already written two similar fictional accounts by two other equally accomplished prophets - Jesus and Buddha - both of whom had riled pockets of people but not really created anything to really worry about. And yet, messing with Islam and extremist Muslims was a whole different ballgame. You'know Fatwas and all that. The last think anyone wants to do is jab the wrong Jihadi.
And then came the interview itself. In its aftermath, my father shared the substance of his discussion with the reporter named Deborah Solomon. They'd talked in depth about a lot of elements in the book, but one area had concerned him which centered on the oft debated idea that Jewish scribes may have been involved in recording parts of Muhammed's divine revelation. It was an area that Ms. Solomon pressed my father on. He admitted that historically it had been suggested by various scholars, and yet in his book he had made very clear that during the actual moments of Muhammed's ecstatic revelations, no Jewish scribes were in the room. Eli - the scribe in question in my father's book specifically - is very clearly asked to leave the room before Muhammed does his thing. For papa - that's what we call him in our house - that was partly because there was no other way to verify the presence of Eli or any other Jewish scribes, but also out of respect to Muslims, mostly who believe that their Holy book, the Koran is the uninterrupted divine revelation of the the prophet Muhammed. To suggest otherwise would be, in short, disrespectful.
In the days subsequent to the interview papa shared with me some emails back and forth between Ms. Solomon and him in which he reiterated his perspective on this historical detail. Ms. Solomon acknowledged it accordingly but also remarked that she didn't seem to understand why he was so concerned about such a small detail - especially one that has been debated through the centuries.
Easy for her to say, I thought to myself. In fact the more my sister and I thought about it, the more my sister Mallika and i became agitated and worried. We shared our concern with our father who said he understood our concerns, but also relied on the fact that he wrote his book based on the facts as he could understand them, but also with inordinate respect for a faith that a billion plus people around the planet live by. "Whatever happens happens," he concluded.
Not good enough, Mallika and i concluded. We decided we wanted to get ahead of things -- just in case. I called up some friends and coordinated a camera crew to shoot a short Q&A with my father on the substance of the book. I'd tee up the Q's and he'd knock down the A's. But then we started...and it kept going and going and going...