In a way, this book draws from my whole life," said Demi of her forthcoming Muhammad, which will be published by Margaret K. McElderry Books next month. In her latest work, the author and artist, whose previous works include Buddha, The Dalai Lamaand Gandhi, profiles this remarkable individual, born in Mecca in the year 570, who at the age of 40 experienced a revelation from the angel Gabriel that he was the Messenger of God. Subsequent revelations to the Prophet were recorded by scribes and became the Koran, the sacred scripture of Islam, which holds as its primary tenet, "There is no god but God."

The idea for Muhammadcame to Emma Dryden, v-p and editorial director of McElderry Books, shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11. "I realized after this event that Americans had a lot of misconceptions about Islam and that most don't know much about the roots of the Islamic religion," Dryden said. "I knew that if anyone could create a balanced, sensitive book for children about Muhammad and the beginnings of Islam, it would be Demi. I called her up to suggest it and she jumped right on it."

When she received that phone call, Demi had just returned from a trip to India, where she was presenting a copy of her newly released Gandhito the people at the Gandhi Smriti, a national memorial, Gandhi museum and institute in New Delhi. "In fact, I was at the institute when the terrorist attacks happened," the author recalled. "And of course after that I couldn't get home for some time. But it was comforting to be surrounded by the love and beauty of the people I know in India, who were all very sympathetic, since they have had their own experiences with terrorism."

Like Dryden, Demi believes that portraying the life of the Messenger of Islam was a natural venture for her. The author's childhood home was filled with art, much of it influenced by Eastern cultures. "I am drawn to Muslim painting and architecture," she said. "I have for years collected Eastern art and I have a huge library of books on Islam, so I didn't have to look far to find resources to write the text and create the art for Muhammad."

Faced with the challenge of finishing a 40-page picture book about the Prophet within the 12-week deadline set by her publisher, Demi turned to a meditation technique she learned from her husband, Tze-si Huang, a Chinese Buddhist. "One of the great meditations in Buddhism entails a process in which you become like the hollow bamboo," she noted. "You put everything into your head and then let it go, which is what I did with this book. I worked fast and furiously, watching my hand paint yet not really being aware of what I was doing." Using pen and ink, Demi created her art in a Persian miniature style, which she describes as "a two-dimensional art where there are no shadows cast."

Yet another phone call from Dryden brought Demi's work on this project to a standstill. In the process of ensuring that the book was accurate and respectful, the editor had sent Demi's text and sketches to Afeefa Syeed, codirector of the Muslim Education Resource Council. "She made helpful comments and suggestions," Dryden said, "and informed us that the book should not actually depict Muhammad, since that would violate basic Islamic principles. The idea of producing a biography of an individual you can't actually picture in the book presented an enormous dilemma for Demi as an artist and for me as a children's book editor."

"I just didn't know what to do," Demi recalled. "Here I had been painting for 14 hours a day and suddenly I realized that without being able to depict Muhammad, my focus was gone." Then, while visiting a bookstore, the author says she was "guided by heaven" to the Islamic section, where she came upon a book on Muhammad by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, whose Islamic Art and Spiritualityshe has in her own library; finding this book inspired her to devise a solution to the problem. In her words, "I just sailed ahead. I grabbed a piece of foil and placed it over an image of Muhammad that I had painted and sent it off to Emma." Checking with Syeed, Dryden learned that using this image in silhouette—in the final art it appears in gold leaf—was entirely appropriate.

In addition to addressing this visual concern, Dryden, whom Demi called "a master of diplomacy," went to great lengths to ensure that the book was balanced, accurate and respectful. In keeping with Islamic tradition, each time the word Muhammad appears in the text it is followed by a symbol that is a form of benediction. "This is probably the most challenging book I've ever worked on in that it deals with sensitive issues, and today feelings are obviously running high," Dryden stated. "We wanted to make sure that we had the approval of individuals who represent the different belief systems within the Islamic faith."

To that end, she asked Laleh Bakhtiar, a Tehran native who is president of the Institute of Traditional Psychology, to review the book and write a foreword. The publisher also included on the back of the book endorsements from Shahid Athar, M.D., and the Imam Senad Agic, two other distinguished members of the Islamic community. "This broadens the scope of endorsement of the book," Dryden notes, "so that those in the Islamic community who are familiar with these individuals will know that they have blessed the book."

After completing Muhammad, Demi returned to the book she'd been working on before 9/11, The Legend of Saint Nicholas, due from McElderry in the fall. Also on her drawing board are a biography of Mother Teresa, a Turkish folktale and a Chinese folktale. And after that, she said, "I am going to do a biography of Jesus. You can translate 'There is no god but God' into any language. The message is always the same no matter what pathway you take. I love exploring the different cultural versions of that message in my books. It makes me realize that my work is actually one big piece."