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Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples Paperback – December 7, 1999

3.4 out of 5 stars 90 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Acclaimed writer V.S. Naipaul has the eye of a novelist, the fearless curiosity of a 2-year-old, and the tenacity of a cornered badger. In Beyond Belief, he puts these three attributes to use in delving into the secrets of Islam--the other Islam, that is. Journeying into the non-Arab Islamic countries of Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia, Naipaul wonders about how these young nations are absorbing a resurgent Islam into their ancient societies and where it might lead them. His exploration is at the grassroots level, through the people living and breathing Islam today. Naipaul illustrates his points with vignettes about characters he meets, by both happenstance and calculation, along the way. We learn about their histories, their families' histories, their motivations, and their dreams. The mosaic that materializes is not always appealing, for Naipaul is a sensitive but disinterested observer, more a watcher than a champion. Islam, we learn, is a font of hope for the converted peoples, sweet when taken in gulps but often bearing an acrid aftertaste. It buries traditional cultures under promising new foundations, indirectly encourages broken families through polygamy, and turns only tentatively to face the issues of modernity. From beginning to end, we find ourselves empathizing with Naipaul's subjects, seeing ourselves in their struggles with family, religion, and nation, feeling their drive to create a fresh world of virtue and prosperity. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this spiritual travelogue, novelist and essayist Naipaul picks up where he left off in his earlier Among the Believers (1981). Whereas in that earlier work he focused primarily on his own stories of his encounters with the revolutionary potential of Islam in Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, here he allows individuals in those countries to tell their own stories about their experiences with the Islamic faith. Crucial to Naipaul's argument is what he sees as the imperialism of Islam. "Everyone who is not an Arab who is a Muslim is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands.... The disturbance for societies is immense, and even for a thousand years can remain unsolved." In Iran, for example, a young teacher remembers with anguish and cool reflection giving up his university education to be a part of Khomeini's religious revolution, only later to be jailed and almost killed by the Revolutionary Guards for failing to give Khomeini unwavering support. Naipaul also recounts the story of an Indonesian leader who integrated Western technology with his Muslim faith in order to gain a lucrative job in the Suharto administration. Naipaul's luminous prose provides glimpses of insight into the lives of ordinary people whose dedication and commitment to the practice of Islam is the foundation of their lives.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Trade Paperback Edition edition (December 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375706488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375706486
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #701,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Beyond Belief is a complex book about complex issues; a book of interviews as diverse as the countries that Naipaul visited, and the individuals he interviewed. One of the themes that attracted me to the book was the question "what role does religion play in the lives of the people in Malaysia and Indonesia, where Islam is a nation-building factor?" The interesting thing is that Islam played a positive, reassuring role for many of the Malays and Indonesians interviewed by Naipaul. To convert to Islam was a way to gain respect and power in societies where the economies are dominated by a minority of former Chinese immigrants with business acumen and drive to "make it" superior to that of the local population. In Iran and Pakistan, however, Islam had a devastating influence, and the rise of fundamentalism has shattered the hopes of people for freedom, certainty, belongingness, and self-assurance. Islamic fundamentalists are essentially utopians with a totalitarian attitude: "The cruelty of Islamic fundamentalism is that it allows only to one people - the Arabs, the original people of the Prophet - a past, and sacred places, pilgrimages and earth reverences. These sacred Arab places have to be the sacred places of all the converted people. Converted peoples have to strip themselves of their past; of converted peoples nothing is required but the purest faith (if such a thing can be arrived at), Islam, submission. It is the most uncompromising kind of imperialism."
One of the interesting ideas in this book is that great conversions take place when the pace of change overwhelms nations or cultures that "have no means of understanding or retrieving their past" because they lack the education, the language, and above all the freedom to reflect on it.
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Format: Paperback
Keeping in mind the endless "mea-culpa" books that detail Colonial Christianity's impact on native cultures in say, Africa and Latin America, I find it refreshing to see an author of Naipaul's stature take on the Islamic Arab Empire and the tragic consequences of its own colonial past.
What Naipaul depicts in this book and its companion volume, "Among the Believers," is nothing less than a very thorough "wiping out" of vibrant local cultures by a religion/political system that holds that everything before its arrival is from "the time of ignorance". (Never mind the fact that pre-Islamic Iran and Pakistan were fabulous empires that fathered ancient cultures far more sophisticated than anything produced by their Arab conquerors.)
Naipaul is relentless in hammering home this point through meticulously detailed observations. The most damning parts of these two books (I recommend buying both) are the contrasts that Naipaul draws between modern-day, non-Islamic India and modern-day, Islamic Pakistan -- India "ever expanding" and Pakistan "ever contracting" -- despite the fact that both share common races, histories, problems and cultures. If you read the current news about Pakistan and its precipitous slippage into religious obscurantism, you realize just how prescient Naipaul's observations have proven themselves to be. India, for all its overcrowding and poverty, is currently experiencing a high-tech boom and gaining world-wide respect for its vibrant film industry, Bollywood. Meanwhile, Pakistan's big "contribution" of the past few years to the world stage has been the production of an "Islamic nuclear bomb". No wonder this book makes Muslims uncomfortable. Thanks, Naipaul, for having the courage to write these books while living in the Salman Rushdie era.
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Format: Paperback
In 1979, the distinguished writer V. S. Naipaul set off for an extensive tour of four Muslim countries. His reports from Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia had a quirky but brilliant quality. In each of his destinations, Naipaul found a surprising contradiction: those intent on rejecting the West in the name of Islam are also adamant about gaining the fruits of the West's achievements.
Nearly two decades later, Naipaul recently retraced his steps and visited the same four countries, sometimes even visiting the same individuals he'd talked to a generation earlier. His quick vignettes, word sketches, and pieces of conversation make Beyond Belief a pleasure to read. His travels this time dwell less on internal contradictions and more on the widespread feeling that things have gone amiss. In Iran, the country of most direct interest to Americans, Naipaul finds that the revolution of 1978-79 has run its course and is virtually defunct. Regulations, Naipaul finds again and again, are everywhere, "deforming people's lives." They have taken the place of spontaneity. Naipaul finds that the government's heavy-handed use of religion has turned many Muslims against their religion. Hypocrisy has become rank: Men grow beards for job applications, to enhance their religiosity, then but them off. "The word religious rankled with Mehrdad," he notes of a typical young man, a believer in God but a rebel against the many rules His earthly representatives impose. Things have gotten so bad, a most revealing conspiracy theory is making the rounds-that Khomeini was a British agent and "the establishing of the Islamic state in Iran was an anti-Islamic plot by the Powers." In significant ways, Naipaul finds Iran to be an Islamic-flavored version of the Soviet Union.
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