intraspace: the review lounge

Monday, March 26, 2007

no god but God

no god but God: the origins, evolution and future of islam, by reza aslan

this was a book that mike recommended to me, and it just so happened that our local library had a copy.

i think most of us in the 'west', and certainly a good number of us christians, like to think we know a bit about islam. we hear about it in the news almost everyday, and we hear the rhetoric that comes from all sides. unfortunately, it is usually only sensationalist material that makes it to the news, and i have to admit that the same is probably true as far as what we hear in christian circles too.

'no god but God' is written by a muslim (albeit a reasonably 'liberal' one) of iranian descent. reza aslan is young academic living and researching in the usa.

he has set out to write a book that explains islam, from his perspective, to the western world. and i think he has been very successful. the book is very well written and accessible, and aslan manages to look at the issues fairly, without surrendering his own personal beliefs - although some of his comments about christianity, i felt, were a little ill-informed. all up, i found myself wishing that there were more books like this written by christians.

aslan relates the history of islam from the days just before mohammad, through the life of the prophet, and then into the subsequent development of the religion, with it's three main branches: sunni, shi'ite and sufi. he didn't mention much about the crusades, which i found a bit strange, but he picks the story up again strongly around the colonial area and in the modern age.

the overall premise of aslan's argument, is that islamic beliefs (as practiced by mohammad) were tolerant and inclusive. he says that, for example, mohammad welcomed christians and jews and was content for them to retain their own faiths. mohammad had a collective term "ahl al-Kitab", meaning "people of the book", to describe muslims, christians and jews. and under mohammad's regime, these people were considered "dhimmi", that is, protected by islamic law. mohammad considered the torah, the christian scriptures and his own revelations to be one complete work. aslan also argues that in mohammad's society, women were esteemed and protected - not subjugated as they are in a number of muslim cultures today.

aslan says that islam is currently in the throes of a reformation, much like the one that christianity went through a few hundred years ago. his point, if i understand correctly, is "if you think there's strife between western ideals and islam, you should see the strife going on inside islam". he believes that out of this strife (between the branches of islam, and more generally, between fundamentalist and moderate ideologies) will come a reformed islam. he says that if this reformed islam truly returns to its tolerant and inclusive roots, then such a thing as islamic democracy (a political and legal system democratically based on islamic morals) can exist and islamic people can be liberated from violence and tyranny. interestingly he sees islamic violence against the west as being an overflow of the internal violence. he does not see that the future of islam, and an islamic political system, lies in the hands of extremist groups such as the taliban, but in the hands of a moderate (and more genuine) brand of islam.

"...the image of the Afghan woman enveloped in the burqah and subjugated to the whims of an ignorant band of misogynists has become the symbol of everything that is wicked about the concept of Islamic governance, and such images are not easily supplanted by political philosophies." (p 259)


" When fifteen centuries ago Muhammad launched a revolution in Mecca to replace the archaic, rigid, and inequitable strictures of tribal society with a radically new vision of divine morality and social egalitarianism, he tore apart the fabric of traditional Arab society. It took many years of violence and devastation to cleanse the Hijaz of its 'false idols'. It will take many more to cleanse Islam of its new false idols - bigotry and fanaticism - worshiped by those who have replaced Muhammad's original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. But the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here. We are all living in it." (p 266)

highly recommended.

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your road map for success

your road map for success, by john c maxwell

this isn't usually the sort of book i select for myself, but i got given this copy by my pastor at christmas time, so i thought i'd give it a shot.

john maxwell is a fairly well-known christian author, but this book is mainstream in its approach. it has lots of sensible advice on how to set and pursue your goals etc. i think books like this are written for a particular personality type, and i think that sometimes authors of books like this don't fully acknowledge the fact that everyone in the world isn't like them. the solutions offered by maxwell didn't really capture my imagination - i'd rather read something by john eldridge.

the up-shot of reading it is that i don't think i took anything in particular from the book, but i was left with a sense of wanting to break out of the mold a little bit more and see where it leads - so from that perspective it was worth reading.

i think this is probably a pretty good book in its genre.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007


silence, by shusaku endo

this was a novel i was inspired to read by reading about it in philip yancey's book 'soul survivor'. i got this copy from mum for christmas.

endo has been called 'japan's foremost novelist' and 'silence' (first published in 1969) has been called 'one of the finest novels of our time' by graham greene. endo is a catholic christian, and much of his work deals with the tension between his catholicism/christianity and his japanese culture. in japan, christianity is viewed as a foreigner's religion, but when endo went abroad, he found that he didn't fit into the western world either. so that's a bit of back story on endo.

this is a historical novel set in the time of the missionary endeavours that were undertaken by europe into japan in the 1600s. the samurai class became increasingly alarmed with the effect that christianity was having on traditional japanese society, and outlawed all western mission work. widespread persecution broke out against japanese christians who were tortured for their faith and forced to renounce or be killed.

the main character of this book, rodrigues - a portuguese missionary brother - is sent to japan to carry out christian work despite the new persecution and the fact that others who have gone before him have disappeared and are rumoured to have apostatised...

the samurai force christians to renounce their faith by placing their foot on a picture of christ. this is the position that rodrigues is put in when he is captured. the novel hinges on the ethical dilemma and crisis of faith that he faces about whether to recant, and thereby save the japanese peasants that are being tortured for his sake, or to hold fast to his faith and die a martyr's death.

an excellent and heart-wrenching book.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

the assault on jerusalem

the assault on jerusalem, by steven runciman

i'm still trying to catch up on a backlog of reviews that i haven't posted since my christmas reading frenzy. and now christmas has slipped a quarter of a year into history - but, soon i will be up to date.

this is a book that anna gave me for christmas. it is actually one of these brilliant condensed penguin volumes that were released to celebrate penguin's 70th anniversary. this book comes from a larger work called 'a history of the crusades' (published in 1965), and tells the story of the first crusade.

at 56 pages it is an easily manageable dose of history written in an easy-to-read style that is quite unbiased. maybe i'll even read the entire work one day. but i am definitely keen on these little penguin editions.

on the stereo: 'photograph' by air, from the album 'pocket symphony'.

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