Book Review by Anthony Smith: Fresh Insight on Islam Monday 13 March 2017
The following extract, courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd is from The Guardian onlinebook review article by Anthony Smith, where he considers four new books, one of which is Tariq Ramadan’s, Islam: The Essentials.
[These] new books give much-needed insight into a misunderstood religion, from history and philosophy…
….In the years since 9/11, there has been much talk about “the problem with Islam”. Part ofthe problem, obvious to anyone who follows the news, is that a very small number of people who like to blow up buildings and sever heads do so in the name of Islam. As if the link between violence and religion was now proven (it is not), the current occupant of the White House wishes to restrict the movement of certain Muslims into the US. If you have a historical view of Islam, you will understand the irony in this because a little more than 100 years ago, many Muslims were seen as sensual, mystical and exotic.
… part of the problem that we all now face, [is ] the lack of direct argument or discussion. On the one hand, there are the pronouncements delivered by Daesh’s social media-savvy
converts, and on the other, the many words of those who oppose them. But that lack of
dialogue, especially between Muslims, as in the Sunni/Shia split, has led many commentators to regard what is happening now as the Islamic equivalent of a Reformation.
…. All this might leave you wondering whether the third religion of the Abrahamic tradition is bloodcurdling or blood-warming by nature. If that is the case, then you need look no further than Tariq Ramadan’s pocket-sized Islam: The Essentials. Ramadan was long banned from travelling to the US and, as grandson of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, will probably soon be banned again, in spite of also being professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford. Curtailing his movements would be unhelpful, for he is an eloquent advocate of an enlightened Islam. In a concluding section entitled “10 Things You Thought You Knew About Islam”, he sets the record straight about sharia (nothing to do with “repressive punishments”), polygamy (“the rule… is clearly monogamy”) and a number of other pressing issues including jihad, a word that Ramadan reminds us means “effort” and only relates to war in the specific case of a response to colonisation or aggression. None of the people Graeme Wood met, nor those Samer describes as fighting for the caliphate, would agree with Ramadan’s reading of the texts or his interpretation of the sayings of the prophet. And this and the other three books all show, in their own ways, that after 1,400 years of discussion and violent disagreement, attempts to define how to live a good life in Islam are still ongoing.
Anthony Sattin is the author of several books about the Middle East and Africa, most recently Young Lawrence: A Portrait of the Legend as a Young Man.
Islam: The Essentials by Tariq Ramadan is published by Pelican (£8.99).