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This review is from: No god but God (Updated Edition): The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (Kindle Edition)This book is a fascinating read. Starting with the pre-Islamic Arabia, it traces the evolution of Islam all the way to the recent popular pro-democracy uprisings in the middle east - the updated edition that is. Along the way, it marries history with erudite commentary, answers a few dogmatic points of views, & raises, rather honestly, quite a few questions.
Quite a good many of the chapters dwell on the rise of Islam in the desert of the Arabian peninsula, the life of Muhammad & its strife, the power struggles after Muhammad's death, the expansion of Islam to far away corners beyond its humble Arab origins, & the consolidation of the ways & practices into codified religion. It further does a great job of articulating both the evolution & description, if not definition, of the various sects - namely the Sunni, the Shia, & the Sufi.
The tales continue into the modern nineteenth, twentieth & twenty first centuries - the story of Iran is a gripping one - & the book continues its journey into the many ideological branches that evolved in this period - the politics of Islam at battle with colonialism & a fast modernizing world, & the divergent pulls of reformist agendas against fundamentalist ones. Finally, the author speculates a little on the future of Islam, its diaspora in the western world with deep connections to each other & the larger community using the internet.
For me, the chapters on what defines a Muslim, to the extent possible, & the related symbolism of such practices was an eye-opener. Refreshing, & reinvigorating too, was the chapter on the Sufi - I think the author deliberately changed the tone of his writing in this chapter to sound more mystical - as was the content & commentary on the evolution of the Shia sect, its beliefs & symbols. I do think, however, that the author must have had a hard time choosing content from the colonial past to the current times that he thought were integral to the story of development of Islam. The story of Iran finds great resonance while the subcontinent's mention is definitely much more measured - middle-eastern developments & schools of thought being the mainstay of this story. That is not to say that the story is not a credible one, but I'd have thought that the subcontinent's history would have found more utterance than it did in the larger story of Islam. I may be biased, though.
I'd recommend this book very highly to anyone interested in a balanced, honest & unapologetic history of Islam.
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 18, 2013 3:54:59 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 18, 2013 4:34:44 AM PDT
H. E. Eschenbacher says:
Thank you Souvak Mitra for such a wonderful overview. When you use the term "subcontinent" I assume you mean the subcontinent of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and parts of Pakistan? It wouldn't make sense to be discussing the subcontinent of Iceland! But there ARE other geographical subcontinents in our world.
You write extremely well. (I'm envious!) Have you considered writing your own book about Islam to fill in "gaps" you found in this book?
We are isolated in the USA by our geography. Only 20% of our citizens even have passports as opposed to nearly 100% of people of the European Union who travel freely and frequently throughout that continent and the rest of the world.
Since September 11, 2001 most of our knowledge of Islam unfortunately has been seen through the eyes of the right wing of our political party system as in "All Muslims are 'terrorists' and should not even be allowed to live or travel in America." Muslims have been trying to erect a community center (NOT a mosque) close to the footprint of the World Trade Towers where an old Burlington Coat "Factory"-(read: retail store) used to be, and some unknowledgeable people just do NOT want that to happen! So much for freedom of religion in the USA...in other words you are free to be religious just as long as you believe in Christianity.
Yet 2.6 MILLION Muslims now live (legally) in the USA. The number has actually DOUBLED since 2001. Of interest, in this same time period Mormons-(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) have increased 45% to 6.1 million members as it is spreads toward the East Coast. With apologies to my LDS brethren I didn't mean to sound as if Mormonism was somehow a "plague" when I used the verb "spread." (I'm not educated enough to know if the term "diaspora" could even be used here. Their center did use to be in the state of Utah) Those who practice Judaism (Embracing the Jewish faith) number slightly more than Mormons..6.8 million people approximating the same number of this faith who died horrifically in the Holocaust in WWII.
In the USA, Catholicism has dropped 5% and Christianity has had a 12.8% drop in the last decade. Although the "bible belt," the Deep Southern section of the USA remains steadfastly the same percentage of Christians. And those who consider themselves Evangelical Christians remains the same. Atheists now comprise about 12% of the population...but there are few "atheist" organizations. There just simply are more and more people here who not only describe themselves as being non-religious, but agnostic (not sure if a god exists) or atheist. (absolutely sure a god doesn't exist)
The USA still remains a very religious country while some industrialized nations such as Sweden are 85% atheist. And the Swedish people are very moral.
Instead of defining ourselves as good or bad, moral or amoral depending on being such and such religion, we really need to do a lot more communicating across not only religious lines but among ethnicities. As long as the residents of the geographically isolated USA define themselves as black, or white, brown (Indian, Latino or Hispanic), red (Native American), or yellow (Asian) and all shades in between, we will fail to live harmoniously together or even LIVE together as we shoot or disparage each other simply because "they" don't look the same or worship (or NOT worship) the same god, prophet, teacher or guide. (Buddhism describes Buddha as a teacher or guide as opposed to a god or prophet) Jihads or holy wars aren't just in Islamic countries. The Catholic Church with its Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades of the Christian church managed to kill hundreds of thousands of people all in the name of embracing the "correct" religion.
Back to the main topic. Souvrik Mitra, we need many more books helping us to "define" Sufi, Sunni, and Shia. NONE of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates had a clue that these different groups even existed, much less were able to define them. Ron Paul, a medical doctor and long standing congressman was the only one who had a clue but his knowledge was still quite limited. Again you write well; you ARE from the subcontinent of India and I gather you are Muslim? We all need to learn so much more about who Muslims and the natives of your subcontinent are---(other than being the very knowledgeable people on the other end of a phone as our tech support who speaks more of the King's English than we native born citizens do here in the USA.) With knowledge comes not only tolerance, but delight, wisdom, and increased understanding of our fellow human beings. Which ain't such a bad thing eh?--Well so much for the King's English!
Thank you for your review and summary!
Most of us really are looking to become a more inclusive people in the USA...Most of us...
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 18, 2013 4:44:22 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 18, 2013 4:50:15 AM PDT
I'm flattered by what you have to say, Mr. Eschenbacher, about my review. I'm from India, but I'm not a Muslim. I think India is the 2nd largest Muslim country in the world (or is it the largest?) so most of us have plentiful interactions (friends, festivities, colleagues, food, literature, music etc.) with Islam. In that way, I'm possibly closer to Islam than many of us in the western hemisphere.
Overt expansionism is no longer possible in the world we live in today. But most governments, powerful enough, across history have always been at it - the Greeks, the Muslims, the Hun, the British, the French, you name it. While the religiosity of the USA may not directly emanate from this motive of gaining more power, & thereby gaining more access (or cheaper oil), I think having a citizenry being overly concerned about the kind of things you mentioned helps the government carry on with covert expansionism. So religiosity & all its electoral & social manifestations- like debates on the caste system in India - keeps the citizenry involved in ways the government wants them involved.
In essence, I think religiosity is a symptom of a larger problem of citizen non-activism - & I think most nations suffer from it. But we have some glorious examples in the Arab spring & what not to follow. A good book on the topic, basis which I'm trying to summarize with my thoughts here, is American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich.
Secondly, quite a few books argue that religion is not the source of morals (try reading "Moral Minds" to see how human beings regardless of sex, race, geography education, & religion arrive at similar positions on moral issues). I cannot quite recollect the name of the book, but I think I have read some content on how morality betters our chances of survival - & therefore is an outcome of evolution.
I'm a reader, sir. I have certain opinions which I write or talk about. I'm flattered by your comments but I cannot write a book to save my life.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 18, 2013 1:04:23 PM PDT
H. E. Eschenbacher says:
I always find it interesting that everyone thinks I am a "Mr." when I am a woman. I guess that is a compliment?
I have found when I write in the NY Times or Washington Post that when I use a male picture and name I am respected more..And such it is in a patriarchal universe!
Be that as it may...
My favorite authors are Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. That pretty much sets my "religious preference" in stone!
Mr. Harris is a neuroscientist. I read his first book, "The End of Faith." The last book I read of his was "The Moral Landscape." He uses science as the basis of our morality. Great book! I recommend it highly. It sounds similar to "Moral Minds."
All in all I personally am of the opinion that religion has wrecked more lives, has killed more people than any other reason on earth! My four post graduate degrees in science just reinforce this "belief."
And "American Exceptionalism?" That pretty much speaks for itself!
Aloha, Helen Okekai
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 18, 2013 9:20:16 PM PDT
On religion, Helen, & how it came to be what it is today - I'd recommend reading "Breaking the spell" by Daniel Dennett. To have survived as a social phenomenon into the 21st century, religions, in general, must have something going for them. In an evolutionary way, it could also be argued that religion somehow makes us 'fitter'. I think you'll enjoy reading the book.
Sorry about addressing you as "Mr." I did not intend it to be a compliment - more unthinking, than anything else.
Should you care, you can see some of my summaries of the science books I've read on slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/SouvikMitra1/ed
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 30, 2013 8:54:57 PM PDT
eclectic collectrix says:
I've enjoyed listening in on this conversation. Thanks to both of you!
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 30, 2013 9:38:19 PM PDT
Thank you - I thought I was all over the place in trying to respond to Helen. My intent in writing these reviews is really to evolve conversations - coupled with the shrouded motive of expanding my reading list, :) - so it makes my day every time someone comments.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 2, 2013 4:34:23 AM PDT
Jerry Larson says:
Iceland is not a subcontinent, it's an island. :-|
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 2, 2013 9:24:44 PM PDT
That's an insight. Thank you, Jerry.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 2, 2013 10:18:45 PM PDT
Jerry Larson says:
Well, you're not the one who mentioned the "subcontinent of Iceland".
Ms. Eschenbacher also included Sri Lanka in the Indian subcontinent; actually, that's another island, so I've heard.
You know what else is a subcontinent? Europe. Everyone seems to think it's a continent, though.
Another random geographical fact, from Wikipedia:
The largest Muslim country is Indonesia, home to 12.7% of the world's Muslims, followed by Pakistan (11.0%), India (10.9%), and Bangladesh (9.2%).[
So... if India hadn't been partitioned, you'd have been right; India would have been the largest Muslim nation by far.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2013 10:50:47 PM PDT
Granted, I was too lazy to check Wikipedia. In my rather limited world, while true geographical connotations might translate to a variety of possibilities, "subcontinent" has always meant the "Indian subcontinent". Getting insular, are we? oh well...