An exploration of Islamic beliefs and history that aims to challenge American Islamophobia.
Debut author Slocum, a former Christian missionary to Kazakhstan, writes that he was horrified at ignorant depictions of Muslims in American media after the 9/11 attacks. During his years as a missionary, he “never changed anyone’s mind to become a believer in the Bible,” he says, but his newfound Muslim friends left an indelible mark on his own life—particularly, the fact that their culture prized hospitality toward strangers. The book begins by subverting popular American conceptions of Sharia law by rooting it in social justice, centered on protecting the poor and weak. Similarly, Islam’s “greater jihad,” he says, is not a literal holy war (a term first coined by Christian Crusaders), but rather “the internal struggle of living a life that is pleasing to God.” The book’s middle chapters offer a survey of Islamic history from Muhammad through the present day, highlighting both the wonders of the Islamic Golden Age and the horrors of European colonialism. To Slocum, the birth of the “dark blight” of Wahhabism in the 18th century marked a decisive turning point. Although the moderate Muslim majority rejected this absolutist ideology, he says, it gained traction in Saudi Arabia at the same approximate time that the West undergirded a Saudi monarchy linked with Wahhabism. Central to the book’s analysis of radical Islam is the notion that it’s a force of the West’s own making, from their support of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan to their installation of a brutal monarch in Iran. In doing so, Slocum is particularly deft at challenging the tropes that Islamic radicals hate American freedom, or that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Although many in the West tend to associate Islam with Arabs, this book highlights not only the faith’s ideological diversity, from Sunnis to Shias to Ahmadis, but also Muslims’ ethnic diversity; only about 10 percent of the world’s Muslims hail from Arabic nations. Of course, none of this will be new to Islamic scholars or historians of the Middle East, but to many Americans who are unfamiliar with the topic, this is a first-rate primer.
A clear, concise, and thoughtful introduction to Islam.