A Partial Tale

Published on September 14, 2008 in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn)

Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda

Original Link

With rising interest (post 9/11) in Islam and what is termed as ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, several books have been written on the religion and current events revolving around it.What is Islam in its revised edition of the book (first written in 1990), also falls into a similar category and addresses some relevant religious/political issues. However, its primary focus is on imparting knowledge about the religion’s beliefs, history, laws or Shariah, sects and so on.

‘An Introduction to the Muslim World’ would perhaps have been a more appropriate title for this book by Chris Horrie and Peter Chippindale. Horrie is an award-winning former staff reporter, editor and author or co-author of around 10 books. Chippindale has written Mink and Laptop of the Gods.

The book discusses in-depth the Muslim world and the shape it has taken in the present century, rather than explaining what Islam is, as one would expect. The front cover states that the tome is a comprehensive introduction to Islam. However, this is not the first book you would recommend to someone to introduce them to the religion. Understanding of the religion and its philosophy is largely missing from the book.

The concise and simple style of writing is a positive aspect which makes it easy to grasp the details. What is also praiseworthy is that the book has been written in an unemotional manner; it is more of a factual account of what happened in Islamic history and what the basic principles of the religion are. However, at several places there are factual errors. This is disappointing, especially since the book has been rewritten and mistakes could have been noted and corrected in the revised edition.

The chapters have been divided into four categories: Faith, Islamic history, Islamic sects and The Muslim world. The section on faith comprises of brief explanations of the pillars of Islam, articles of faith, Islamic law, the Islamic calendar, universality of the religion and the life of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The section on Islamic history provides an overview of the early Islamic Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and there is also a chapter on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism with discussions on The Wahabbi Revolt, The Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Revolution and so on. A chapter called ‘A Clash of Civilisations?’ has been included in this section, which is basically a critical review of Samuel P. Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order. The authors’ personal viewpoint on the clash between Islam and the West is not really clear except that they think Huntington’s views are paranoid and extremist. A chronology of important events of Muslim history has been included and can be useful for quick reference.

The third section on Islamic sects discusses the various factions of the religion in some detail, right from the four schools of Sunni law to Mahdi’ist movements and the Black Muslim Movement in America. It recounts the differences between the Twelvers, the Seveners, the Assassins and other sub-groups within Shi’ite Islam. There is also a chapter on other Islamic groups such as the Sufis, the Ibadites, the Qadiriyah, etc. As a large number of people, including Muslims, are unaware of the various sub-sects that exist within Islam, the perusal of this section will prove to be enlightening.

The section on the Muslim world mentions some particulars of Muslim countries, their religious laws and brief political history. It does not mention countries with significant Muslim populations, where Islam is not the state religion (for instance India).The book is generally neutral. However, at some points, the authors seem to be rather biased and make statements without elaborating or providing substantial examples to validate their reasons for making them. For instance, they write:

‘The couple [the Prophet and his first wife Khadijah] had only one surviving child, a daughter called Fatima who in later life became a fanatical Muslim’. And referring to Islamabad, they call it the ‘new citadel of orthodoxy’.

Moreover, there are also several instances where the authors do not differentiate between what Islam actually teaches and what several Muslims might believe due to social, cultural, political and other influences. For example, they say that ‘Muslim women may take part in Hajj, subject to various restrictions. During it each must be accompanied by a male chaperon (mahram), who must be a man she is legally unable to marry – for example her father or brother’ and ‘Failure to carry out a fard obligation is both a sin and a crime punishable in Shariah courts.’

Topics such as Da’wah and Ijtehad are completely missing; they would have been relevant to current times. Overall, the book does not thoroughly cover all the aspects and may be read along with a number of other books on the subject in order to offer a better and more lucid perspective on Islamic history, culture and the faith itself.

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What is Islam?
By Chris Horrie and Peter Chippindale
Virgin Books, UK
Available with Liberty Books, Karachi
ISBN 0-7535-1194-7
324pp. Rs695

Clash of Perspectives

Published in Books & Authors (Daily Dawn) on September 16, 2007 – Original Link
Reviewed by Ayesha Hoda

IN this sample of Christian eschatology, Grant R. Jeffrey argues that we are witnessing the last days or the end times. Propagating Christian Zionism, he says that the present ‘war on terror’ is the beginning of the third world war, which will lead to the prophesised war of Gog and Magog, the rise of the Antichrist and then finally to Armageddon, when Jesus Christ will return to this world, establish peace and reconcile the Arab and Jewish brothers.

The author quotes from the Book of Genesis, the Book of Ezekiel, the Book of Revelation, the Quran and a few other sources, including non-religious ones. Relying on his inference from biblical prophecies, the author chooses to ignore the various schools of thought within the religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism and the numerous Christian eschatological differences that exist even within the same group or sect.

Very blatantly and emphatically Jeffrey states, ‘Extremist Islamists are determined to destroy our civilisation and our political and religious freedoms.’ Here the word civilisation refers to the western world so the issue becomes regional rather than religious. Jeffrey has ignored the Christian and Jewish minorities living among the Muslim populations.

He further says that the Quran as well as various Muslim commentaries condemn Jews and their faith. In most instances, he seems to have missed or ignored the wider meaning. For instance, the Quran does indeed say that the Jews rejected prophets of other races and even those of their own race but so did many other nations; the lesson being that such nations (and not only the Jews) were ignorant to God’s truth, having received only a fragment of it, which led them to erroneously claim exclusive knowledge of theological matters.

Moreover, even if this book is read objectively, without any inclination towards any faith, one is led to the conclusion that the need for ‘reference to the context’ seems to have been totally disregarded, leading to a rather flawed analysis which is not expected from a learned author and researcher.

He claims that ‘The prophet proclaimed his new faith of conquest and submission to Allah with the Quran in one hand and a sword in the other.’ Having taken this stance, we would think that he sees all Muslims as extremists and terrorists. But then he mentions ‘moderate Muslims’ and one wonders how Muslims can be moderate when the author just said that the religion they are following only teaches conversion by force and violence.

It is perhaps the author’s wavering opinion, from one chapter to another, more than his biased point of view, which weakens his arguments. Moreover, he chooses to discuss everything from the state of Israel to Osama bin Laden in great detail, while on the other hand falters from debating other historical events such as the Crusades — which were military conflicts in the name of Christianity and a discussion on which would prove that every religion has had its share of fundamentalists. The Nazi Holocaust also shows that Muslims have not been the only ones harbouring anti-Semitic feelings or discriminating against the Jews. Also, the role of Christian missionaries and the fact that they have been accused of forceful conversions in different places is completely ignored by the writer.

As he recounts the history of Jerusalem, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, the on-going Palestine issue and so on, Jeffrey seems to have difficulty categorising actions into those that are politically or economically-motivated and those carried out for the safeguard of religion. For instance, when discussing Israel, Jeffrey mentions that in 1921, 1929 and 1939, Britain changed its moves in favour of Arab refugees. So what religion were the British following? By failing to make any distinction the writer is in fact confusing readers.

It is also rather unfair to quote people like Saddam Hussein, Bin Laden and Khomeini, because they are by no means the only representatives of Muslims. If the only purpose is to point fingers at each other rather than resolve issues, one can easily find examples of similarly notorious figures in the West.

Jeffrey also ignores the differing views within his western audience: the Bush administration did not receive widespread support for its military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is still ambiguity with regard to the 9/11 terror attacks and it is a known fact that Bin Laden was previously a western ally and clearly, Muslims are not the only possessors of weapons of mass destruction.

Books such as this one can only be detrimental to the cause of inter-faith harmony. Instead of promoting peace between nations, it is disappointing to see a minister engage in Islam-bashing, preach intolerance and give historical justification for the clash of civilisations. It is also astonishing to see him blame Muslims for thinking of their religion as the best of faiths and asking people to join it, when he is unabashedly doing exactly that in order to popularise his own faith.

The only positive outcome of perusing this book is that it will induce readers to investigate further and learn the truth rather than accept Jeffrey’s distorted version of the clash of civilisations. His research and interpretations are, unfortunately, far from exhaustive.