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In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam Paperback – November 15, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (November 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813339022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813339023
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #619,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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A must buy for anyone interested in this region of the world.
John Mudd Gonzalez
In this book Viorst examines the role of Islam in shaping the political puzzle of the Arab world.
Themis Matsoukas
Although Mr. Viorst is Jewish, he is a judicious and fair commentator on Islamic matters.
Mike Finn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
I have traveled extensively through Turkey, Egypt and Israel and have read much on the Islamic world and the Middle East and Central Asia--from left-leaning writers like Said and Aburish to more Western-oriented analysts like Fouad Ajami and Judith Miller. No one has done a better job than Viorst of explaining Islam to Western readers. He catches the nuances of Islam's complexity and diversity, and looks unflinchingly at the qualities in Islam that have kept so much of the Arab and Islamic world mired in poverty and backwardness. But he is ultimately more hopeful than Adjami and Aburish and focuses with a wide enough lens to see the threads in Islamic thought that could lead its adherents out of their current morass. It is popular in many quarters to blame the problems of the Middle East on colonialism and American and Western hegemony. This is clearly an oversimplification and counter-productive for those trying honestly to figure out a solution. Viorst's analysis gets to the root of the internal problems that have made the Arab world's response to colonialism so very different and so much more self-destructive than Asia's. This is a "must read".
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "rbarney@mony.com" on November 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an extremely thoughtful book by a Jewish writer who has obviously taken great pains to get to know the various strains of Islam and to approach his subject without the blinders of nationality or religion. He does an excellent job of sorting out the historical and cultural movements across the Islamic world. Although it was written before the events of September 11, 2001, it is prescient in its enumeration of the movements and events which gave rise to those tragedies. For westerners used to secular governments, freedom of religion and the strict separation of church and state, it provides a chilling reflection on a world where religion and religious thinking play a much more central role in the life of nations.
It does get disjointed in places and requires great concentration on the part of the reader. However, that does not detract from its importance for any student of the modern Islamic world.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Themis Matsoukas on April 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
In this book Viorst examines the role of Islam in shaping the political puzzle of the Arab world. This book is not about religion, nor is it a book about the Middle East. It is about the "political" Islam as an ideology and a force that shapes developments in the Middle East. Islam is only one of the many pieces of the Middle East puzzle (repressive regimes, regional ambitions, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of course oil, are the others) but it's one that envelopes all else. And while Islam is not the only religion in history to force a political agenda, its influence in the Arab world today is powerful, steering islamic societies away -if not against- the western world. The question Viorst sets out to answer is this: is Islam responsible for the economic and social stagnation of the Arab world? In search for the answer he examines the historical roots of Islam, the development of Shari'a, and recent and past developments in a number of islamic countries.
Viorst describes the current ideological state of Islam as a battle between orthodoxy, fundamentalism, and modernism. Orthodoxy represents the religious status quo; it is rooted in the tradition of Islamic law but coexists comfortably with secular authority. Fundamentalism represents a rebellious and militant sect that feels betrayed by orthodoxy and seeks the submission of all things secular under religious law. Modernism represents the hope for an Islamic reformation that will lead to enlightenment and renaissance. It becomes apparent, however, that modernism currently lacks the strength to be relevant in the ideological debate. The true battle is between orthodoxy and fundamentalism and the distinction between the two is one of degree more than one of ideology.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Mudd Gonzalez on March 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Milton Viorst is the author of a previous book on the Middle East, the well received "Sand Castles". With the "Shadow of the Prophet", Viorst attempts to show the problems associated with politics and one of the world's great religions, Islam. Viorst shows how Islam has contributed to the political stagnation of Middle Eastern countries as well as exposes some of the myths associated with fundamentalist Islamic movements. In synthesis, the book presents an accurate and balanced view of the history and future perspectives of Islam. Maybe the book's only flaw is that it deals only with the Middle East (and Muslims living in France) and does not include other Islamic movements in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. A must buy for anyone interested in this region of the world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Viorst has brilliantly compiled a westerner's primer to understand Islam at the dawn of the millenium. Is it the essence of Islam that is dooming its jurisdictions to depressing economic and cultural stagnation? The author makes the dramatic case of the incompatabilities between Islam and progress in vivid detail. Though he deferentially leaves the solutions to others, the broad sweep of history (western style history, that is, for he points out that even history doesn't exist in Islam expect in a religious context)is presented in an insightful and clear manner that Western readers will understand. Before any more Monday morning quarterbacking is done on how we should approach the Middle East, Viorst's explanation of Islam must be understood by many more people than are likely to read this book. It should be given free to anyone willing to take the time to read it.
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