By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

Whether a case of divine intervention or just fortuitous programming, PBS begins airing “The Life of Muhammad,” a three-part explanation of the history of Islam, on Tuesday, the same day Al Jazeera America makes its debut on the channel formerly known as Current TV. It’s a coincidence that only intensifies the PBS series’ air of demystification.

As any fifth grader knows, the history of all the great religions includes the battle of opposing forces: humanity and divinity, spirituality and economics, humility and power. That unsettling see-saw of righteousness and ruthlessness is very much evident in “The Life of Muhammad,” which walks us through the prophet’s life (and far too many deserts) as he grows from impoverished orphan to a man who changed the world. [Read more…]