Religion and Spirituality/Islam
Subtitled ‘Conversations, Questions, And Answers About Islam’, this slim volume is an introduction to the Muslim’s view of Islam. It’s also an attempt to separate the actions of extremists from the doctrines on which they base those actions. And an effort to educate non-Muslims in the way the religion is supposed to work.
I was approached by the author to review the book with an offer of a free copy for this purpose. When I explained that I’m an anti-religious agnostic and would produce an honest review from that standpoint, he nevertheless wanted me to go ahead.
Having read the Qur’an in translation, and found it both repetitious and boring, I was curious about how it might be interpreted by a committed Muslim. In common with most religious adherents, the author answers all questions solely in the context of his chosen religious script. Christians generally rely on the Bible for their arguments about Christianity, Buddhists use the Sutras, Hindus quote the Vedas, Jews employ the Talmud, and of course, Muslims depend on the Qur’an. I recognise those religions have other sources of inspiration and authority, but these are their main supports. And, yes, I’ve read the whole tedious pantheon, unsuccessfully seeking the inspiration clearly encountered by adherents.
Some of his questioners are clearly antagonistic, some are genuinely curious, some are considering conversion, and some are Muslims seeking clarification.
The author attempts to correct false impressions and directs enquirers to the real beliefs of Islam. There’s much justified rage in the world regarding terrorism. Such anger is understandable but does little good if directed at the wrong source. The author tries to explain what a proper Muslim should feel and believe in any given situation, and does this calmly, and without rancour, despite harsh words from some correspondents.
The book contains links to various Muslim resources that the author explains will clarify and/or support his answers. He’s been scrupulously fair in his treatment of the conversations he includes, presenting them in their complete form, and ending them as they ended on the site where they were first compiled. So, the book answers questions, from a variety of sources, through the eyes of a devout Muslim attempting to correct false impressions imposed by radical actions and the response of the gutter press to such acts.
It also reinforces the idea, central to Islam, that the word of God is exclusive to Arabic and can only be properly understood in that tongue. All translation is an approximation and misses subtleties the original expresses, thereby excluding the vast majority of the world’s population. As to why an omnipotent and omniscient deity would use such a relatively obscure language to convey a worldwide message, there’s no clue. And how the pilgrims’ repetition of prayers made in a tongue unknown by most adherents can have any real meaning in terms of faith remains equally unaddressed, though he does explain that this repetition is material in maintaining the original words of the Qur’an in a word-of-mouth handed-down tradition.
What this book won’t, and can’t, do is help people understand why acts of terrorism are committed in the first place. Because it stems from a point of belief in an ambiguous set of tenets, the book can only provide answers corresponding to the faith expressed in those doctrines.
We’re left with the implied conclusion that terrorism committed in the name of Islam is, more properly, the result of a combination of tradition, culture, repression, unfulfilled wants, injustices, inequalities, and Islam as taught through these filters rather than as intended. With all religions, of course, the simple fact of their existence allows extreme adherents a platform from which to justify their violence and indiscriminate destruction of life. Religion almost always results in forms of tribalism that inevitably lead to division and conflict.
All religious writings have some merit. But all are also divisive due to their ambiguous nature. If there were a god, and that entity decided to provide humankind with a guide to required behaviour, surely the most obvious and essential quality to such a guide must be that it be incapable of misinterpretation. All religious scripts I’ve encountered are subject to interpretation, and therefore to misinterpretation: so, they cannot be the word of god, only the words of men determined to impose their own views on the rest of the world. I could continue in this vein, expressing my personal reasons for my anti-religious fervour, but this is a review of a specific book, so I’ll desist.
The constant temptation to diverge from the act of review of this book made this the most difficult evaluation I’ve ever made. And, because of that difficulty, I’ve rewritten this short piece several times. I’m aware what I’ve written here may hurt, disappoint, enrage and/or confound some readers. It’s just possible, however, that it may also encourage others to analyse their own approach to faith, in whatever religion, and examine it through the rational filter of reason. It remains my honest view of the book, an opinion of one individual; no more and no less. And it’s written in the hope of encouraging individual thought rather than reliance on the judgments of others.
[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]
Personal note: I anticipate a reduction in followers here and on social media sites following the posting of this review. Many religious people are hypersensitive about their faith and consider even the least offensive and most thoughtful criticism of their beliefs an affront to them and their god, as though any deity worthy of the name would give two hoots about the opinions of nonbelievers. I’ll be sorry to lose followers, but I value truth and honesty more highly than I do political correctness designed to prevent genuine discussion of vital topics.