- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Walker Books; 1st edition (September 13, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802716423
- ISBN-13: 978-0802716422
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,271,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Do Muslims Believe?: The Roots and Realities of Modern Islam Paperback – August 21, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Pakistani-born and British-educated Sardar, author of 40 other books on Islam, pens this elucidating and very original introduction to the religion. He describes the basics of Islam, including the Qur'an and hadith, the life of Muhammad and the history of Islam and Muslims, in an easy-to-read and cogent manner. Sprinkled throughout are surprising facts, including that Muslims do not believe in original sin and that there are as many Muslims in China as in Egypt. Sardar clarifies some troubling aspects of the Prophet Muhammad's life, explaining polygamy as mainly alliance building and Muhammad's participation in battle as more limited than generally described. He criticizes Muslims for their rigidity and for losing touch with reason—which, in his opinion, is a cornerstone of Islam. He decries the literalism behind the creation of sharia law, the rejection of free interpretation of the Qur'an (called ijtihad) and unfair treatment of women, but sees these behaviors as anomalies. In contrast, Sardar acknowledges Muslims' tolerance, such as their acceptance of other prophets, their flourishing book trade and societal advancements. With its manageable length and optimistic outlook, this introduction to Islam is a cut above the rest. (Sept.)
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Among the many sanguine introductions to Islam, Sardar's moves immediately to the front rank for its readability (despite a few grammatical stumbles) and salutary perspective. Very much a Muslim progressive, Sardar allows, without going into specifics, that Muslims have often violated and contradicted the faith's essence, which he assures us is peaceful. He exalts the classical age of Islam, from the eighth through the fourteenth centuries, with its many great thinkers and writers, stressing that its accomplishments attest to Islam's great respect for and exploitation of reason. Reason, he suggests, will bring Islam to greatness again as, having finally shed colonialism and, he foresees, Islamic Fundamentalism and puritanism, Islamic societies assimilate and Islamically adapt modern science and technology. Recent developments, such as Morocco's reformation of Shariah law, show that such modernizing is under way, he says. Sardar's progressive argument undergirds a précis of Muslim history, beliefs, sectarian divisions, religious practices, and historic effects that one would expect of any similar primer. Olson, Ray
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Top customer reviews
The three faiths have the same founder, Abraham, yet went off in different directions...but at heart never leaving behind their belief in God, someone greater than themselves and that it is the duty of all followers to help their fellow man. Read this book. Hopefully he and others that believe like him will lead the faith to a Renaissance of new thought. Not one based on revenge but on one that tries to help the condition of all men (and women) and achieve what we all want in this world - peace and a modicum of prosperity.
But Muslims have often failed Muslim values, and Sardar is not afraid to admit it. It sounds ironic at best to talk of fairness and social justice when we see images of jailed dissidents in Iran, or of the Taliban's gruesome tactics in Afghanistan. But, Sardar argues, the faith itself is not at fault, nor are those images representative of Islam as a whole. He points to a liberal Muslim network in Indonesia or to the work of female Muslim theologians who are able to reread the holy texts in a different light. And really he'd only need to point to the vast Muslim majority, who might be more or less orthodox, but who only want to live in peace. Muslims now are asking critical questions, Sardar argues, and breaking with some of the fossilized traditions to create a way of living that's more in tune with how Islam was originally intended: "Liberal humanism is not a Western invention; rather it has deep roots in Islamic history."
At barely 120 pages, you can't expect this book to go too deeply into the complex issues it discusses. I understand that. Still, no matter how much I liked Sardar's message, I felt frustrated at times by the lack of source material: no footnotes, no sources cited, nothing except a very short suggested-reading list at the end of the book. This seems like a shortcoming to me, and it means that if you really want to learn about any of the topics he discusses, you'll have to do some further study. But maybe that's the point of a short introduction like this: to give just a little bit of background and then encourage the reader to look deeper.