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What Do Muslims Believe?: The Roots and Realities of Modern Islam Paperback – August 21, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1st edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716422
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #729,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very brief and general overview of Islamic beliefs - very easy and quick read, recommended for people who might be interested in primer text on the subject. My only complaint is that this book is very Sunni-centric and it's treatment of Shi'ism, while respectful, is sorely lacking and misinformed. While Sunnism makes up 80% of the Muslim world, Shi'a Muslims make up approximately 50% of the Middle East, the historical epicenter of Islam. Shi'a Muslims have had a huge impact on the development of Islam since it's inception and in turn informs us on the development of Sunnism as well. Before Islam made its way to Southeast Asia, therefore causing a huge population boom in Sunnism; Shi'a and Sunni Muslims had almost been found in equal number. I think its a disservice to the legacy of this religion to focus on one and not the other.
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Format: Paperback
In this short and very readable introduction, Sardar covers all the well-known traditions of the Muslim faith (praying, fasting, etc) but also offers an overview of more complex issues like Islamic philosophy, Islamic attitudes to science, and the origins of fundamentalism. This book would be a great starting point to a general reader who just wants to see what islam and Muslims are all about-- and the book especially shines in its discussion of key concepts like khalifa (guardianship of the earth) and the driving force of social justice and fairness that lie behind many Muslim practices. (For example, who knew that early Muslims established zoning laws in their cities to protect the environment?)

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great reading for a very concise summary of Islam from a native scholar of the Middle East. Very clear and very easy light reading.
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