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The Beliefnet Guide to Islam (Beliefnet Guides) Paperback – February 21, 2006
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 Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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In the foreward they justify Muslim's outrage at things like the the prisoner abuse by American troops. They neglected to mention the outrage westerners have at videotaped beheadings.
There are several statements that Muslims dislike commercialization. Hmmm. I'm not convince that commercialization is a bad thing. After all, it's been commercialization that has produced all the world's medicines, airplanes, ships, etc. BTW, the Islamic world has no problem exploiting those byproducts of the evil empire. Especially when it comes to getting oil and the assocaied profits.
Many of the attributes of Islam described in this book are beautiful concepts. The book is directed at westerners. However, I think members of Hamas, Hezbolla, and Al Queda should read the book to remind them of the peaceful nature of Islam.
The authors downplay the militaristic characteristics if Islam. They go to lengths to defend Mohammed's military acts, some of which would qualify as war crimes today.
Other religions also have issues, I'm not trying to single out Islam. I suspect a book on Christianity by a Christian would have a trouble being objective, too.
All said, there are better sources to learn about Islam. However, this one is a quick read if you can stomach the author's attempt to convert you.
Given the hypersensitivity to criticism exhibited by Muslim's today, this review may get me killed. That's why I claim Islam has veered far awy from what these authors claim Islam is.
On the positive side, these authors do try to address many of the western criticisms of Islam. The cite verses from the Koran or Hadith to explain their position. I only wish the Islamic world viewed Islam the way these authors do. I sense they do not based of the constant stream of news I hear and see and read.
I hope Muslims are trying as hard as I am to understand the West as I am in trying to understand them. Something tells me that's not the case. I hope I'm wrong.
Many times while reading this book you will be in disbeleif that Islam is one way but the Islamic militants and fanatics are quite the opposite. The authors try to explain that in the last chapter.