A timely gathering of articles and essays on a rapidly expanding, influential faith.
“Understanding Islam is . . . imperative to anyone wanting to make sense of living in the twenty-first century,” writes Islamist Akbar S. Ahmed in his introduction to this anthology, assembled by packagers Miller and Kenedi. Given recent world events, Ahmed’s claim seems entirely valid; with militant, fundamentalist Islam on the rise in many countries, with secular regimes there ever embattled, and with the seemingly rising conflict between the Western and Muslim spheres, knowing more about the religion and cultures of Islam is an incontestably good thing. This is a modest contribution toward that end, drawing on much-anthologized work by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Karen Armstrong, and V.S. Naipaul, among other well-credentialed contributors. The usefulness of this collection comes a sentence here, a sentence there, as when the great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski notes in passing that “Shiites not only reject the authority of the caliphs, they barely tolerate any lay authority at all,” which helps explain the power of ayatollahs and imams in places like Iran and Lebanon, and as when Foreign Affairs editor Fareed Zakaria explains why militants have managed to have their way unopposed in so many hitherto moderate Islamic societies: “Moderate Muslims are loath to criticize or debunk the fanaticism of the fundamentalists. Like the moderates in Northern Ireland, they are scared of what would happen to them if they speak their mind.” Overall, however, Inside Islam will harbor no surprises for anyone who keeps up with the op-ed pages or who has taken a course in comparative religions.
A serviceable overview, but readers seeking an informed study of Islam will want something meatier than this.