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on January 18, 2017
In explaining the beliefs, practices, and cultural nuances of the "Ummah", or sum total of all Muslims, Nasr is great. He provides a description of Islam on its own terms, from the perspective of an "traditional" Muslim, a viewpoint that is conspicuously missing from your average daily op-eds in the West. He contrasts this outlook from those of the modernists and fundamentalists. Once Nasr better explains the relationship between these three groups, and the fact that his is the most considerable in size, he is able to point out the myriad of category mistakes that Westerners make about Islam, whether Christians or Secularists (chief among which, in my opinion, is the slogan that "Islam just needs its own Reformation". Nasr explains how this kind of platitude reveals more about the speaker than what is being spoken).

For my only major criticism, I have to address his section on the history of Islam. As many others have pointed out, this portion consists largely of special pleading, and Nasr abandons his usually nuanced (at least from a Western P.O.V.) perspective in favor of that of a self-loathing Westerner. He somehow puts the Mohammedan conquests into the category of a "purely defensive war" (the only kind Muslims engage in) while chastising the West for the Spanish Inquisition, ignoring much of the important historical revisionism (in the good sense) that has recently taken place concerning the latter event.

Another minor quibble: Nasr devotes large swaths of time to historical figures in Islamic mysticism and, to a lesser degree, philosophy. Even as someone who enjoys intellectual history here and there, this section will be lost on his intended audience (myself included), and just turn into a list of names with no meaning behind them for the reader.
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on April 9, 2013
I purchased this book without having the slightest idea about Islam. After reading it, I can say I learned a lot, especially in the area of Islam and International Relations, pertaining to how it spread over the Muslim world, and the world as it is. This book would be a great addition to the libraries of some politicians nowadays, as they create policy affecting Islamic countries. Also, the fact that it was written by someone from the Middle-east gives it a lot more validity in my view. A must read!
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on May 19, 2016
On the positive side, this is an elegantly written book, a lucid and concise introduction to Islam for the general reader. Nasr is from Iran and educated at Harvard; he knows his Islam and gives a broad overview from the perspective of a participant and a scholar. He also avoids the typical Western biases and tendencies to demonize Islam. The book was written shortly after 9/11, to help provide a more balanced view of Islam, so the author says.

Now for the less positive side. For one thing, this book is written from the perspective of religious fundamentalism. By that I mean the author is in no doubt whatever about the truth of Islam and the inerrancy of the Quran. He also clearly states twice that biological evolution must be false, since the human being was made directly by God. Nasr also rejects any of the critical historical scholarship on the Islamic tradition. Scholars have for example long held that the “Hadith,” the collection of purported oral sayings of Mohammed, is full of sayings of dubious authenticity used to support a particular belief or policy. Nasr rejects this out of hand, claiming (uncharitably and inaccurately) that this “so-called historical criticism” merely reflects a bias against Islam. He also writes that these arguments “have been negated by the discovery of recent historical evidence.” He does not however tell us what this evidence is (not even in a footnote) or say how it supports the entire Hadith tradition. This does not exactly inspire confidence in the objectivity of his methods.

Moreover, the author goes to such great efforts to portray Islam in a positive light, that the book ends up being close to a whitewashing of the religion. His portrayal of Islam is nothing but peace, love, tolerance and justice -- and to be sure, it does have these aspects. Nasr achieves this effect however by leaving out the less pleasant facts about Islam and the Quran. He tells us that Islam allows only defensive wars – but only a few pages before, he notes that in its early centuries Islam was spread by conquest, in what is obviously not defensive war. He refers to “Dar al-Islam” as the name for the Islamic world community, but omits to mention that its counterpart is “Dar al-Harb,” which means the “House of War.” He tells us that in Islam, the wife rules in the home, omitting to mention that the Quran declares that men are to be the rulers of their wives. He discussed the history of the spread of Islam in Africa, with no mention of the fact that the Arab slave trade enslaved at least 10 million Africans over the course of the centuries. And he says that Jerusalem is “historically part of Palestine” though it has been “occupied” by Israel since 1967 – leaving out the fact that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel beginning 3000 years ago – long before Islam even existed, until the Jews were forcibly removed. What could it possibly mean to say that it is “historically” Palestinian? This is an extremely selective and biased use of history, and one that simply erases Jewish history so as to claim the land for the Muslims.

So there you have it. The book has many virtues as a clear and broad overview of Islam, with special attention to the mystical dimension, and it is free of the usual Western bias against Islam. Yet it is hardly free from its own bias in the opposite direction, and so cannot provide a complete introduction to Islam. Islam, just like any religion, has its flaws; to appreciate a religion completely one must know its flaws as well as its virtues.
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on June 5, 2014
Definitely recommend this book to everyone who is interested in learning more about the history of Islam, the prophet, and the Muslim community.
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on January 17, 2015
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on October 28, 2015
Rip off. Not sure what happened here but the cover is on a book that is completely different. Take a look at the pictures I have attached.
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on May 13, 2015
propaganda, would not buy again.
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on April 7, 2012
This book came recommended by a Muslim friend of mine. I thought the first half was a very good introduction to Islam. The bulk of the second half was an insufferable timeline of Islam's history in various parts of the world, a list of influential names that really won't mean anything to those new to the religion. Very difficult reading.

I do agree that the writer is a Muslim apologist, which is reasonable because he is a Muslim, but I didn't like how he seemed to wave off extremists and blame progress for the existence of extremists. You can only blame nature for so much. Nurture is just as responsible for a person's behavior. Moreover, the author doesn't feel like Islam should have to adapt to the times, which, again, is reasonable as long as the "biased" (per the author) media coverage we're getting in the West of human rights violations in Egypt and Afghanistan, among other Islamic countries, is in fact "biased." On this note, after reading "A thousand splendid suns" and seeing such stories as the piece on "60 Minutes" about the reporter who was raped in Egypt, I'm not comforted at all that those in the "norm" (per the author) are merely waving off those that commit these atrocities.

I also found a number of contradictions. For example, in the West per the author, we don't understand the true meaning of "Jihad," which means exertion and refers to the practice of Islam among other things. He doesn't use the word too many other times in the book after discussing the West's misunderstanding of the word (we don't understand a lot of things according to the author, a bit condescending indeed), at least not until he talks about a figure in his history section who declares "Jihad" and begins a violent campaign against his neighbors.

All in all, you could probably find an introduction to Islam that is equally as good without the chip on its shoulder.
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on August 31, 2013
Memorable . Good size to hold . Nice .

Got it for $11 in fall 2004 . I am not sure it is not registered clearly to me because I do not have enough background or the book is not super-clear but it is written better than other textbook to me . I consider it quite reasonably priced, good, and a good learning experience .
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on April 16, 2004
This book turned out to be exactly what I was looking for, a historical book on Islam. The author is an Islamic scholar, and his credentials impress me a little more than Karen Armstrong, though I hold no grudge against her. I wanted to get an inside, learned perspective on the religion itself, without the preaching, and that's exactly what this book offers. I highly recommend it.
The negative review from "AtheistWorld.Com Book Review" is actually posted by Solomon Tulbure, as you will find by doing a simple Yahoo! search. That is truly sad.
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