A valuable primer on a religion that, for all its monolithic appearance, is as splintered as any other.
“Islam today is a living reality faced with multiple problems and challenges, but still deeply anchored in the . . . tradition and the truths that have guided its destiny since the descent of the Quranic revelation more than fourteen centuries ago.” So writes Iranian scholar Nasr (Islamic Studies/ Georgetown Univ.) in the close of this survey of Islamic thought, which covers both the ideological mainstream and some of the offshoot (and sometimes heretical) variants of the religion. Nasr begins by identifying what all observant Muslims believe in common, the foundations of the ummah, or community, of Islam: that “There is no god but God,” that “Muhammad is the messenger of God,” that “the Quran is the verbatim revelation of God.” Beyond that, however, lies much local and cultural interpretation, which allows some mullahs to decree terrorist acts, for example, to be anathema and others to declare them a key to heaven. In the course of his explication, Nasr offers a few comparisons with Judaic and Christian belief—noting, for instance, that “angels have not as yet been banished from the religious cosmos of Muslims, as they were to an ever greater degree in Christianity from the seventeenth century on”—and ventures interesting asides on the condition of Islam as a transnational polity today. On the second matter, he observes that although nearly every nation in the Islamic world is independent, many are less free, and certainly less contented, than they were under foreign rule—a situation that affords a perfect breeding ground for antinomian groups. But, Nasr holds, although fundamentalism is a powerful reality in the Islamic world, it is less powerful and less unified than the Western media portray it.
A useful resource for readers seeking an introduction to Islamic thought and its major schools.