Monday, September 11, 2006

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam; Islam at the Crossroads

Title: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam
Author: Yahiya Emerick
Publisher: Alpha: Complete Idiot's Guides series, 2002
ISBN 0-02-864233-3
LOC: 2001095921

I usually don't review entries in "how-to" series. The Idiot's Guide is a series similar in concept to "for Dummies" from IDG. As such, it is a brand name and strongly trademarked as a book series. It may not be as familiar to casual bookstore customers as IDG.

But this book is particularly relevant to the sometimes contentious debate in the media, especially conservative newspapers, about the meaning of Islam and its ideology, as in the recent film "Islam: What the West Needs to Know" at another of my blogs.

The book explains Islam in simple terms, and makes it look like a mainstream religion with reasonable beliefs from both theological and moral terms. There are obvious differences with Christianity, such as denial of original sin (Islam maintains that we are born pure -- Pakistan is, after all, "The Land of the Pure.")

There is ample discussion of Muslim theology, history, and social and legal practice. For the afterlife there is a diagram of a bridge called the Sirat, which must be traversed at Judgment Day. The author claims that Islam does not have a problem with the existence of Israel, but that it does with "injustice" (the taking of land by force) and Jerusalem. The author provides the Muslim account of Jesus, who allegedly did not die (taken to Paradise) but someone was crucified in his place.

The author also claims that Islam itself preaches equality for women, and that the oppression of women is either based on stereotypes or corruption in various Muslim world societies. The author, on p. 250, cites an episode of TheWB's Seventh Heaven and the film Not Without My Daughter as giving misleading impressions about the role of women in Islam. I will rent the film and comment later.
For 7th Heaven see my TV blog.

A related book is Islam at the Crossroads: Understanding Its Beliefs, History and Customs, by Paul Marshall, Roberta Greem, and Lela Glibert, from Baker Books, 2002, 121 pages, paper, ISBN 0-8010-6416-3.
I purchased this at a reception at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in early 2006 at a Wednesday night program about ethics in journalism, in view of the controversy over religion. The book provides a level summary is Islamic beliefs and history before going on to discuss radical Islam, especially Wahhabism, The Muslim Brotherhood, and Radical Shiites.

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