Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World

Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World by Thomas W. Lippman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first reading on Islam. This appears to be a very brief introduction to the Islamic history and belief, very objectively written if, perhaps, in some respects a little bit biased; although, there is obvious appreciation and respect for Islam in the author's writing, perhaps, because he was a journalist who "has traveled throughout the Islamic world."

Published in 1990, much has happened between now and then to engender a real distaste for anything Islamic, it being properly understood or not. However, it should be remembered, before this book's publication, there were enough violent events happening in the Muslim world that should have influenced me to read up on the religion of Islam sooner.

In any event, this was a clear and, I felt, objective look into the history and teachings of Islam. I list a few things that caught my attention, which may or may not surprise us.

In the Introduction alone, the author notes:
- All Muslims believe in the same God, yet think and independently towards non-Muslims (x).
- There is no distinction between church and state; Islam is, predominantly, an "arbiter of social behavior" and the source of statecraft (pages x, 70).
- Although Muslims are no more prone to aggression than non-Muslims, however, "if the principles of Islam were followed, every Muslim would treat every other Muslim like a brother; in fact, they have been attacking one another since the founding of the faith" (xi).

Throughout the book, what was prominent in my reading was:
- Although, they are believed to have distorted the revelation received from God and for that were condemned, the roots of Islam are in Judaism and Christianity. (5); and, as a matter of fact, Jew and Christians are to be "accorded special status as 'people of the book'." (120).
- The primary motivating factor in Islam is the fear of God, "fear of the last judgment and of eternal damnation." The author admits that "Islam places less stress upon the love of the Deity as a motivation for piety than does Christianity" (11). Nevertheless, "Koranic revelations spoke of the Jews in harsh terms" (50).
- The Qur'an, as a book dictated by God is, "rather than any person, the earthly manifestation of the divine existence" (57).
- Disputes over what Muhammed taught were immediately disputed after his death (61).
- Most Muslims today are not Arabic and cannot read the language.
- It is an error to say that Arabs warring against their neighbors were purely defensive and that these wars were executed to force conversions to Islam.
- Disputes between Muslims and Arab conquests in war began immediately after the death of Muhammed and filled the next century with turmoil and violence, making peace as elusive then as it is today (61,116). "Muslims still take arms against each other, at least, as often as...against unbelievers" (178).
- Notions of a Caliph to rule over Muslims is nowhere taught in the Qur'an (104).

The author seems to thoroughly, if briefly (only about 185 pages), the history and teachings of Islam. He covers:
- Basic belief and practices.
- Life and death of Muhammed
- Qur'an (Koran) and other writings, e.g. Hadith and Sharia
- Islam and government
- Other schools of islamic thought, e.g. Sunni and Wahhabism, and others.
- It's history and impact today (up to the books publication, 1990).
- Glossary of terms that I found very helpful throughout my reading.

I would recommend a more up-to-date introduction of Islam for those interested, but if you come across this book, it should be helpful in understanding the fundamental beliefs and history and how we have arrived today with situations in the Middle East with the rise of ISIS and Muslim intolerance of Jews and Christians, which may not actually be faithful to the of Qur'an teachings but true to Islamic history.

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