From Publishers Weekly
This short book, one in a series published by the spirituality Web site Beliefnet.com in collaboration with Doubleday, offers a workmanlike and incomplete introduction to Islam. Hassaballa, a practicing physician, and Helminski, a well-known American Sufi whose work includes excellent translations of poetry by Rumi, describe the major principles of Islam, including the Five Pillars and monotheism. Although they provide basic introductory information about Islam, their analysis is dull. Described in the foreword as not "a work of scholarship," the book is offered as part of the dialogue created by the September 11 attacks. But this book's contribution to that dialogue is minimal as the authors trudge through the beliefs of Muslims. For instance, the chapter on hadiths, which are sayings or statements of the Prophet Muhammad that Muslims often turn to when facing dilemmas, is mostly a simple reprint of hadiths, with no accompanying explanation. Indeed, the book can be divided into two parts: lengthy quotations from sacred texts and a loose response to evangelical Christian criticism of Islam. This primer pales in comparison to the many excellent introductions to Islam now available, including Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History
and John Esposito's What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam. (Feb. 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Apologies for Islam are legion since 9/11, and, among them, the new offering in the thus-far excellent Beliefnet series ranks toward the top. Dispensing with the mantra chanting about Islam being a religion of peace that some politicians practice, Hassaballa and Helminski calmly review the religion's famous five pillars of faith; its founder, Muhammad; the Qur'an; the Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad; and Islamic attitudes about freedom, jihad, and the status of women. They emphasize that Islam's holy book is most profitably read when one knows the historical circumstances in which specific suras
(as its chapters are called) were written as well as the prophetic tradition (basically that of the Jews through and including Jesus) in which Islam's scripture participates and to which it constantly refers. One consults the Hadith, especially the two best-attested collections of them, to interpret and humanize the Qur'an's revelation. Properly informed understanding, the authors conclude, apprehends that Islam condones only defensive violence (which, however, sometimes seems preemptive, too). They make a good basic case for this reading of Islam. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved