For most non-Muslims, Islam is an indistinct religion of white tunics, much kneeling, and fanatic violence. Long-time New Yorker
writer Milton Viorst begins refining this image for us by traveling throughout the Arab world and taking us back into the early days of Muhammad's empire. In Egypt, he meets with scholars from Islam's most influential university to understand opinions surrounding the murder of one liberalizer of Islam and the state-dissolved marriage of another. In Syria, he speaks with King Hussein about his family's history, which reaches back to Muhammad's brother-in-law, and Hussein's efforts to bring modernity to Islam. In Algeria, he examines how such a promising young Islamic democracy could dissolve into civil war. And throughout, Viorst is looking for the answer to what prevents Islam from accepting modernity along with the rest of the world. Through Viorst's forays deep into Islamic history and through the voices of thinkers throughout the Arab world, we gradually appreciate the dilemmas that plague Islamic society and the sincerity with which many men and women are taking to the task of creating a society that allows for the prosperity of Muslims while not forsaking the wisdom that Islam accords to all aspects of life. --Brian Bruya
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From Publishers Weekly
Viorst, who examined the roots of Arab economic underdevelopment in Sandcastles (1994), returns to a Middle East beset by a clash among three competing forces?a deeply conservative Muslim orthodoxy; fundamentalists who seek a return to the values of seventh-century Islam; and "modernists," receptive to the West, who comprise a feeble political movement. Astutely blending history, reportage and political analysis, his odyssey gives readers a new lens for comprehending the ferment in the Muslim world. In Iran, where murderous vigilante squads roam the streets, Viorst spoke with activists and intellectuals who question the legitimacy of Khomeini's absolutist Islamic revolution. In Egypt, he gauged Hosni Mubarak's regime, which has tied its fate to Muslim orthodoxy, as ossified. Viorst, who writes with guarded affection for Arab culture, records a 1997 interview with Jordan's King Hussein, whose relatively liberal, tolerant administration has gone furthest in reconciling Islam to the modern world, in the author's opinion. Yet his valuable field reports from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Sudan do not offer much ground for hope. Of special interest is Viorst's probe of France's Muslim community (nearly 10% of the country's population), which faces xenophobic prejudice, restrictive immigration policies and the immigrants' own ambivalence about integrating into French society.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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