Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Islam: A Concise Introduction ~ by Huston Smith, 2001

Islam: A Concise Introduction ~ by Huston Smith, 2001

I read this book for two challenges:  the World Religion Challenge and the Middle East Challenge.  Actually, I read it in 2002 and re-read it this week.  Each chapter has something interesting in it, but I want to start this review with the first surah (chapter) of the 114 chapters of the Koran, found on page 48 in this book:
In the Name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate:
Praise be to Allah, Creator of the worlds,
The Merciful, the Compassionate,
Ruler of the day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thee do we ask for aid.
Guide us in the straight path,
The path of those on whom Thou hast poured forth Thy grace.
Not the path of those who have incurred Thy wrath and gone astray.
Introduction (p. viii)
To start at the beginning, with semantics, the word islam means explicitly "surrender," but it is related to the Arabic word salam meaning "peace"...
Prologue (p. 2)
The proper name of this religion is Islam.  Derived from the root s-l-m, which means primarily "peace" but in a secondary sense "surrender," its full connotation is "the peace that comes when one's life is surrendered to God." (p. 2)
1.  Islamic Background (p. 4)
"In the beginning God..." the book of Genesis tells us.  The Koran agrees.  It differs only in using the word Allah.  Allah is formed by joining the definite article al (meaning "the") with Ilah (God).  Literally, Allah means "the God."  Not a god, for there is only one.  The God.  When the masculine plural ending im is dropped from the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, the two words sound much alike.
2.  The Seal of the Prophets (p. 13)
[The] appeal [of God's revelation to Muhammad] throughout was to human reason as vectored by religious discernment.
3.  The Migration that Led to Victory (p. 18)
The year [that Muhammad fled from Mecca to Yathrib] was 622.  The migration, known in Arabic as the Hijra, is regarded by Muslims as the turning point in world history and is the year from which they date their calendar.  Yathrib soon came to be known as Medinat al-Nabi, the City of the Prophet, and then by contraction simply to Medina, "the city."
4.  The Standing Miracle (p. 26)
The Koran continues the Old and New Testaments, God's earlier revelations, and presents itself as their culmination:  "We made a covenant of old with the Children of Israel [and] you have nothing of guidance until you observe the Torah and the Gospel" (5:70, 68).  This entitles Jews and Christians to be included with Muslims as "People of the Book."
5.  Basic Theological Concepts (pp. 34, 38, 39-40, 44)
  • God (p. 34) ~ Judaism was correctly instructed through it Shema -- "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" -- but its teachings were confined to the people of Israel.  Christians, for their part, compromised their monotheism by deifying Christ.  Islam honors Jesus as a prophet and accepts his virgin birth ... The Koran draws the line at the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Trinity, however, seeing these as inventions that blur the Divine/human distinction.
  • Creation (p. 38) ~ It was created by a deliberate act of Allah's will:  "He has created the heavens and the earth" (16:3).
  • Human Self (pp. 39-40) ~ With life acknowledged as a gift from its Creator, we can turn to its obligations, which are two ... gratitude ... The Arabic word "infidel" is actually shaded more toward "one who lacks thankfulness" than one who disbelieves ... [and] surrender ... to be a slave to Allah is to be freed from other forms of slavery -- ones that are degrading, such as slavery to greed, or to anxiety, or to the desire for personal status.
  • Day of Judgment (p. 44) ~ ... each soul will be held accountable for its actions on earth with its future thereafter dependent upon how well it has observed God's commands.
6.  The Five Pillars (p. 48)

First, God revealed the truth of monotheism, God's oneness, through Abraham.  Second, God revealed the Ten Commandments through Moses.  Third, God revealed the Golden Rule -- that we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us -- through Jesus.  All three of these prophets were authentic messengers; each introduced important features of the God-directed life.  One question yet remained, however:  How should we love our neighbor? ... the Five Pillars of Islam, the principles that regulate the private life of Muslims in their dealings with God.
  • creed (p. 49) ~ "There is no god but Allah."
  • prayer (p. 50) ~ five times a day
  • charity (p. 53) ~ those who have much should help lift the burden of those who are less fortunate
  • fast during the month of Ramadan (p. 54) ~ fasting makes one think, teaches self-discipline, underscores the creature's dependence on God, calls one back to one's frailty and dependence, sensitizes compassion
  • pilgrimage (p. 55) ~ journey to Mecca
The Kaabah in Mecca

7.  Social Teachings (pp. 70, 74)
Let there be no compulsion in religion. (2:257)
[S]tandard greeting ... as-salamu 'alaykum ("Peace be upon you").
8.  Sufism (pp. 76, 81)
[T]he mystics of Islam [are] called Sufis ... In plain language, transcendence must be made immanent, the God who is encountered apart from the world must also be encountered within it.
9.  Whither Islam? (pp. 92-93)

Islam is a vital force in the contemporary world.  It numbers in the order of 1.2 billion, of which the vast majority are moderates and not radical fundamentalists.  Read these words at any hour of day or night and somewhere from a minaret ... a muezzin will be calling the faithful to prayer, announcing:
Minaret in Amman, Jordan
God is most great.
God is most great.
I testify that there is no god but God.
I testify that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.
Arise and pray;
God is most great.
God is most great.
There is no god but God.
This short book (100 pages, including the footnotes) was drawn from Huston Smith's bestselling book The World's Religions.  I highly recommend it to you as an overview of Islam.  Rated:  9 of 10.

7 comments:

Helen's Book Blog said...

Great review! This sounds like a good book for anyone interested in the theology of Islam

cj said...

No compulsion in religion? Really? That's interesting. Does the book say anything about taqqiya?

cjh

Bonnie Jacobs said...

"Taqiyya is a practice in Shia Islam whereby an adherent may conceal their faith when said adherent feels that they are under threat, persecution or compulsion."

I found that in Wikipedia, with this reference:

"Taqiyah". Oxford Dictionary of Islam. John L. Esposito, Ed. Oxford University Press. 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

Counting yours, CJ, that's three different ways of spelling that word. To answer your question, No, there's no mention of taqqiya, taqiyah, taqiyya in this CONCISE introduction to Islam. I don't remember reading about it anywhere else, either. Why the interest in this subject?

cj said...

Bonnie -

Without starting an argument, I find it interesting that a book about the basic beliefs of Islam fails to mention the concept of taqqiya (and I have the same problem with knowing how to spell it that you do; no idea which is correct). The concept troubles me, greatly.

Also, that bit about no compulsion? Islam is filled with compulsions, isn't it?

Up front, I've done research and I've tried to find something about Islam that I can respect and admire but I can't.

Again, without starting an sort of argument.

cjh

Bonnie Jacobs said...

I don't want to argue, either. Thank you for explaining to me. The "no compulsion" part is actually in the Qur'an (Koran). Christianity has been known to compel people to either choose Christianity or die, though there is absolutely nothing official about that. Taqiyah is new to me, though I've read lots of books on religions of the world, so I can't really speak to that.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

CJ, I have done some research and see that what you mean by "taqiyah" isn't the definition I found earlier, but more like "al-taqiyah" that I found here: http://www.hvk.org/articles/1202/56.html

cj said...

Thanks for the link. What I find troubling about a religion that says it's okay to lie about your religion when you feel 'persecuted' is that these days, that's all you hear about Americans and Islam - we're islamophobic and, if you listen to CAIR, there's a hate crime committed against Islam every time you turn around. It doesn't seem to matter that the FBI says there are more hate crimes committed against Jews...

And, it makes me wonder what they're not saying about the Ground Zero mosque.

cjh