48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
A great look at Islam from the "phenomenological" perspective. Not for beginners, more for intermediate students who've already grasped the general "how-to's" and "where-from's" and who, as the authors intend, wish a book that gives the insights of a practicing Muslim imbued with the faith of the heart as well as the facts of the mind. The authors' sympathies seem to be with the former, but as practioners of the latter, they manage to bridge the gap between an inner view and an objective analysis.
You can tell that Chittick and Murata have refined much of this material in classrooms--they frequently provide analogies that Western readers can understand, and anticipate objections and confusions predictable from newcomers. I appreciated their sensibility that can teach both those within Islam and those observing it from the "outside"; they assume that both groups will learn from their fair-minded approach. While a bit soft on the Islamists and their narrow interpetations, they do criticize (pretty late in the book) such limitations, although typically in a gentle, understated manner. It's only fair to notice when this book appeared. My only reason for four stars is because a revised edition would be very appropriate with the renewed interest in Islam and the need for an updated global context.
However, most of the wisdom in this study is timeless. My favorite part was that devoted to the Muslim conception of the afterlife and the intersection of good and evil within the power of the divine. Not the easiest topics, but very worthwhile for the careful, patient reader. The attention devoted to these ideas pays off. Over hours spent thinking about the authors' encounter with the hadith of Gabriel, I came away from this book enriched and invigorated.
Carefully compiled and meticulously written, the combination of Western objectivity and personal enthusiasm (in the root sense: to be filled with God!) motivates what must have been a labor of love as well as a considerable effort intellectually for the authors to compile. No mere textbook, but no fuzzy inspirational tract, this volume combines scholarship with love and scrutiny.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2006
I noticed that most of the negative reviews for this book say something like "well this can't be right, or it is biased, because all I have seen of Islam is fundamentalism and terrorism." This book is not a history of Islam, or a sociological evaluation, or a critical comparison of Islam's teachings with the way Islam is practiced in reality. This book is a straight dive into the theology and philosophy of the religion of Islam from the perspective of the scholarly tradition. Almost every Muslim on the face of this planet learns about Islam from a student of the scholarly tradition (ulama) and most of them accept this tradition as the authentic lineage of Islam. This lineage could be understood as the "orthodox" heritage of Islam (as opposed to the fundamentalist and progressive heritages, which are always considered seperate from the original Islamic tradition). Unfortunately, the progressive and fundamentalist Muslims are the ones who make the most noise in the media, so most of us see Islam as a choice between extremism and total rejection of the key teachings of the religion. This is simply not the case. In this book, the key teachings of the Islamic scholars - based on the Qur'an, hadith, and philosophical tradition - are described, examined in-depth, and occasionally questioned for the sake of deeper understanding. I found the philosophy of Islam to be overwhelmingly rich, imaginative, and often convincing. There is no attempt to apologize for or interpret away the aspects of Islam that Westerners might find "barbaric." In the few places that those ideas crop up, they are merely explained as a Muslim scholar would explain them. Whether we see this vision of Islam in our daily lives or not, it is the true tradition of Islam as the majority of Muslims are taught it. Though I did not find myself agreeing with every aspect of Islam, this book did give me a much deeper and more compassionate understanding of Islam, as it truly is and not as a powerful few choose to interpret it. I recommend this book to any non-Muslim truly interested in Islam, and any Muslim who wants to know more about their own religion.
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2001
First let me say that I consider myself a well-informed Muslim with mixed liberal and conservative views, depending on the issue at hand. I only read parts of this book before I recommended it to an American friend of mine who asked me for a book about Islam... and she loved it. The book is both beautiful and illuminating, written in a simple and friendly style, based on a series of lectures. I have read many books about Islam and by far this one is the best (to come from a non-Muslim), although not the most comprehensive. After this I would like to attempt a reply to a confused reader who reviwed the book on August 3rd and attacked Islam and all other world religions as well. To him or her I say that religions are like any other part of our life, they can be ABUSED, and this is no fault of Islam or any other religion. In this Islam, Christianity, Budhism, etc... are not different from, say, nuclear power, or chemistry, or books... confusion, war, rape, murder, etc. are the result of a confused and stupid mind that falls victim to its own sinister desires. For most people, religion provides peace and spiritual guidance and attainment. But that doesn't come through knowing about religion, but through LIVING it. Islam is a lifestyle. Any body can claim they are religious and can commit the most horrendous crimes in the name of relgion or in the name of Marxism or Capitalism or any other creed. Islam can show you how to be a good human being, but it cannot force you to be one. One has to Strive (jihad) to be good in this world by overcoming one's own unwholesome desires. For those who vilify Islam or any other religion, I say you first need to clean your heart and mind of the athiest confused clutter in your heads. Then take a long nice walk to a mosque or a church, and sit in peace with yourself and God...Life is a mystery that we can only guess at through God's signs...And He knows best, the Absolute, the All-Knowing.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2006
As a relatively well-read perennial student of the Middle East, I was genuinely excited when I ordered this book. A Muslim friend recommended it, and I usually enjoy his recommendations.
This book is a wealth of knowledge. It is far deeper than an "introduction" to Islam, and though it claims it to be for those who know little of the religion, I would not recommend this book to those wanting a true introduction to the faith. This book is dry and dense, but knowledgeable. It explores more complicated theological issues than most have the patience for or interest in. I learned a great deal from the book, but instead of picking it up and digesting 30 pages without effort, it was a hard slog.
I highly recommend this book for those who already have a good basis of the religion and are interested in a deeper understanding of Islam, not because the book is well written, far from it, but because I have yet to find a better introduction to more esoteric debates within the religion.
Unfortunately, for readers who want just an introduction to a religion foreign to them, I cannot help you for I have not found anything worth recommending. If you can, however, read Karen Armstrong's book on the topic while picking through her obvious bias, I do recommend that. You have been warned, many of her "facts" are arguable and rest on interpretation - interpretation, no less, from the followers of the religion, who had quite a stake in making it seem a fact.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2004
This is quite frankly the best introduction to Islam available in english to date that i have seen. I should say that i am a more traditional muslim (hanafi fiqh, mutardi/ashari aqida) with a sufistic bent, so this book is written from the same background as i come from. I may be biased in that way but this is the Islam i know.
There are a few minor points that dont quite follow the traditional understanding of Islam, but they are very minor and less than any other introduction to Islam i have seen. I think that there are some things concerning aqida with which this book could even be helpful for most muslims. I refer to it on occasion for things regarding the afterlife for example.
I feel vindicated now after telling people about this book for so long as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has just come out with a audio commentary on this book.
Murata and Chittick have been really solid in all there works and this is no exception.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2006
I'm so glad I was able to read this book after converting to Islam. It's like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. My life and my entire existance seems to have a true meanning now. I truely feel like this is the religion that I have been searching for all my life. It has the best of all religions combined in one. And after reading this book and understanding the true meaning of islam I feel like my soul has finally found the peace it's been searching for. This book does a great job at clearifying many misconception about islam and other areas that were not clear to me before but after reading it, it seems to make perfect sense, I truely feel like I have been reborn, my only regret is that it took me this long to open my mind and see the truth..but Alhamdolellah.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2006
This book is, by far, on of the best clear and consise overviews that works to explain the main doctrines and spirituality of the Islamic faith. It also did so without bias. It is a thick book with plenty of explanation. It gave me an understanding of the belief and practices of Islam that are based on the scriptures of the faith.
After I read this I went to a mosque to pick up a Quran. Now I know never to judge a religion based on the actions of a few followers. I reverted after studying the religion. It is clear that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Muslims share a brotherhood with Jews and Christians.
I use Islam as a way to make my life better, positive and to affect the world in a positive way. Clearly, God is speaking, and the message is one of mercy, peace and humility. I feel like this book will help other people understand what Islam is really about.
Hopefully, we Muslims can really walk the walk and talk the talk of the kindness, charity and respect for others that God commands through Islam.
This book is very straight forward and the interested reader will have no problem with the format. Muslims should already know the content within this book, but if you are new to Islam and interested in exploring the faith, this book will surely challenge your pre-existing prejudices and lead you to an unbiased view of the scriptures.
Thank God this book exists. If people will only read this book, I won't have to be afraid of being attacked by Islamophobic elements when walking down the street in my hijab! Perhaps if the USA leaders would read it then they would stop bombing Muslim civilians and committing genocide in the Middle East.
I really wish people wouldn't draw false conclsuions of Islam because of what they see in the media. Then couldn't others draw false conclusions about Christianity if they judged it by what our Christian President Bush and the US military are doing? No one should be so simple minded as to blame a faith for the bad actions of *some* of its followers.
Vision of Islam should be a requirement for every undergrad student in a comparative religions course. It is truely excellent!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2002
Most texts on Islam discuss it as a historical or political phenomenon. The authors of this book succeed at not resisting to this temptation.
I've taken the introductory course on Islam taught by Professor Chittick for which this book was written for. I am a Muslim and I've read a lot about Islam, and still, the book and course were great for me. This class helped me conceptualize Islam as a religion with its own perspective on the human relationship with God.
The text takes a traditional perspective - Islam (submission/actions and law), Iman (faith/thought), Ihsan (doing what is beautiful/intent) - based on the Hadith of Gabriel. If you want to know about Islam's answers for the perennial questions facing man, then this book will help take you along the path of answers.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 1999
I think of myself as a Muslim, and I was born, raised and (initially) educated in a Muslim country where Islamic studies is a part of the curriculum -- however, this book provided me with an insight into Islam that I had never come across before. Its beauty lies in its attempt to present Islamic thought and understanding as the Islamic tradition itself has conceived -- the Islamic tradition of the past 14 centuries, and not just of recent theologians. The best aspect of the book is that it tries to present WHAT ISLAMIC CONCEPTS ARE, rather than why they are right (as some Muslims often try to show) or why they are not so right (as some non Muslims try to show). And it presents the concepts in a way that is comprehensible to the modern mind (with all its specific ways of looking at the world) but without taking away from Islam -- i.e. without CHANGING or HIDING those aspects of Islam that the modern mind might find displeasing.
Because of these reasons, I think the book is a must-read for anyone interested in Islam -- since it concentrates on HOW ISLAMIC SCHOLARS HAVE ELUCIDATED ON ISLAMIC CONCEPTS, without passing any kind of judgement on these concepts, it is extremely illuminating for the Muslim as well as the non Muslim trying to understand Islam -- the reader can pass his own judgement. It is for this reason that I have already bought/ recommended this book to many close Muslim friends/ family, and this is the one book that I plan to give all my non Muslim friends to read as well, just to make them understand my religion.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 1999
I was introduced to this book by a friend of mine who was very impressed by the book. I was told by a few that this is one of the best books written on Islam and has some very original way of explaining Islamic principles, I must agree with this assessment. Authors do an excellent job in this book. One note though on their methodology. As I was reading the book, authors methodology and overall approach kept reminding me of books written by some great Persian/Shia scholars such as Muttahary and Tabatabai. When I looked into the background of the authors, as Murata gives an account of it in her excellent book" Tao of Islam" I discovered that they had spent many years in Iran studying Islam with great scholars such Corbin, Tabatabai who was a great mystic and philosopher, Ashtyani (The great sage of Mashhad) , Mr. Homai and many more. The influence of these great scholars is very evident in the work of these authors along with other authors such as the great scholar Mr. Corbin who mentions his great learning experience of Islam while studying in Iran with late Tabatabai. Many passages of this book written by Mr. chittic resembles so very closely the passages written by these great Iranian and Shia authors. The admiration of this book and its approach and method by so many would be a credit to those authors as well as Mr. Chittic and Murata. It is sad to see that many books remains unread and unknown by majority only on the ground of being written by a Shia. Fanaticism hearts first and foremost the fanatics themselves and as Koran puts it " We were not unjust to them, but rather they were unjust to themselves".