by Lang Reid
today’s troubled world, there is another unfortunate schism appearing within
the world’s religions, resulting in two apparently opposing sides - Islam and
non-Islam. It is beyond the scope of a book review to analyze or postulate all
the reasons for this, but current middle-East conflicts and separatism in the
South of Thailand are obvious examples.
Islam (ISBN 81-7436-056-5, Rolli and Janssen BV, first
impression 1998 and third impression in 2004) has been written by eminent
sociologist Azra Kidwai, a woman who has spent many years both as a participant
within, and as an observer without, of the Islamic religion.
The book begins with a chapter called Genesis (sounds
familiar?), followed by four more covering Expansion, Customs and Beliefs,
Sufism and finally Arts and Creativity. Each section has text and excellent
illustrative colour plates.
The book describes the beginning of Islam and its
relationship to the Bedouins, tribes geographically between the opposing
Byzantine and Sassanian empires, with their religions of Christianity and
Muhammad was born in 570 AD in Mecca, but he was an adult
before he realized that he was the messenger of God. He then preached
allegiance to Allah and proposed a community based on common faith, not on the
ties between clans or tribes. This took him away from Mecca and the religion of
Islam really began to take hold in Medina. Finally, he took Mecca by peaceful
means, bringing the inhabitants into the Muslim community.
It has gems of information, such as where the crescent moon
came from in the Islamic world (it was originally the emblem of the Sassanian
Empire) and details the origins of dancing dervishes. Even the Islamic calendar
is not equivalent to that used in the West, despite the fact that it has 12
months. Based on the lunar year, it is eleven days shorter than the solar year,
resulting in the Islamic century being three years shorter than a solar
century. Confusing perhaps, but not to the followers of Islam.
It was also of interest to read that in the Muslim world,
Baghdad was once the centre for science, with the great scholars from around
the world gravitating to Baghdad to author scientific material in Arabic. There
have been some unfortunate changes in the ‘new world’ order. Having a
familiar ring to it is the belief that the prophet Muhammad was born on the
12th of Rabi ul Awwal (March) and died on the same day. There appears to be
more than one reason to beware the Ides of March!
The only disappointment for me was the lack of an index and
bibliography. The book deserved their inclusion, there is such a wealth of
detail between the covers. This book reveals a fascinating insight and many
world leaders would have benefited from reading this before commencing on
irrevocable courses of action.
The review copy came from Bookazine and had an RRP of only B. 450. For a
large hardcover book, in colour, and authoritative, this has to be a real
bargain. It is offering the non-Muslim reader an insight into this very
important religion, one professed by one fifth of the world’s population.