Monday, December 15, 2014

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

This is the 2nd book I have read in my pre-deployment preparation for my year in Kabul.  I had expected it to be a primer on Islam.  It was that... But not quite what I expected.

Reza Aslan has done a very good job tracing historic anecdotes and examples of Islam through the ages.  However, I could never shake the feeling that each line I read was infused with Aslan's own prejudices.  I also kept asking myself, "Who is this book intended for?"

Honestly, I don't think Aslan's book was meant for someone like me - a hopefully open-minded reader who wanted to understand Islam and its roots better so that I am not completely ignorant of the community into which I will be inserting myself.  I think he wrote the book for fellow Muslims as a sort of existential argument.  I think he's trying to convince them, as he seems to be trying to convince himself, that the "Islamic Reformation is here."

I found the book too full of language that required multiple trips to the glossary.  It was too dismissive of some moments in history, and too concerned with others.  It had moments of inspired stories that clarified unclear situations, and other passages so full of names and dates and sub-religions that I needed to diagram the sentence to figure who was who and from where, etc.

If you really want some Islamic minutia, or you're better at skimming through books than me, you might try it.  Otherwise, for the basics, I'd check out something else.  Maybe Tahar ben Jalloun's "Islam Explained To My Daughters."


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