A brief but thorough consideration of Muslim devotion.

A CLOSER LOOK AT ISLAM

A sober defense of a theologically moderate form of Islam.

Some critics see Islam—and, by extension, the whole of the Quran—as a symbol of unrepentant extremism and atavistic contempt for modernity. But Ali, in this debut, highlights how such interpretations are based on ignorance, political appropriation, and willful distortion. He says that his book’s “sole purpose” is “refuting false charges against Islam,” and he begins by taking on criticisms that former Muslims–turned-apostates have leveled in well-known publications. Against their charges, Ali contends that Islam is essentially a religion of peace and that the Quran commands its disciples to treat non-Muslims respectfully; he also impugns both the motives and the moral credibility of Islam’s detractors. The author presents a much more moderate and diverse understanding of Sharia, which is neither univocal—each school adheres to its own version—nor brutal, if properly based upon the Quran’s teachings. He also counters specific criticisms directed at the Prophet Muhammad and discusses the challenges of formulating a consensus on a religion that’s so ideologically splintered into warring camps. Ali devotes two chapters to articulating a sound exegesis of the Quran—one that fully considers the cultural and scriptural context of every sentence. The study culminates in biographical accounts of three imams who he says lived stellar lives that were faithful to Islamic teachings. The author is typically rigorous and scrupulously debunks a catalog of common misconceptions. For example, he provides compelling evidence that denigration of women, which some critics flippantly associate with Islam, is a cultural failing that isn’t encouraged by Muslim doctrine. Sometimes the author indulges in hyperbolic caricature himself; for example, he broadly accuses atheist thought of having “a complete lack of sensitivity and empathy.” However, more often than not, his scholarship is meticulous, and he ably defends Islamic theology. Overall, this is a timely book that’s both edifying and refreshingly temperate.

A brief but thorough consideration of Muslim devotion. 

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5245-1699-4

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2017

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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