No God but God by Reza Aslan
I have stopped reading books about Islam and its history written by Moslems long back. And the reason was that I knew beforehand that most of them are biased, repetitive, long and full of forgeries. And in most cases one book is just a copy-paste of another. I’d rather spend my time on some books that add to my knowledge. And I wouldn’t have picked this book if it wasn’t for a commentator (Angilo) who insisted that this book is different. And different, in a way it was. But before going into the details of the review, let me give a general description of the book. This book was published in 2005, and the author is Riza Aslan. An American of an Iranian origin who fled Iran’s Islamic revolution of the late seventies with his family, when he was of a very young age. The book is of 266 pages and it is very nicely packaged, hard copy. The objective of the book, as the author declared, was an attempt on his part to reform the traditional beliefs of Islam by presenting its history and analyzing its main characters. In his own words: “ this book is an argument for reform”. Aslan had studied religion at Harvard Santa Clara University, and the University of California at Santa Barbra California. He holds an MFA in fiction from the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he was also visiting assistant professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.
It’s been a while now since I finished reading the book. And to be honest with you, I did not know how to rate it. And to be fair to the book and to my readers, I listed some points upon which I could rely on in my evaluation.
These points are:
- Honesty in presenting the Islamic history (2 points).
- The author’s literal ability to convey the message (2 points).
- Logical and objective analysis according to chronological events (2 points).
- Impartiality of the author to a religion, cult or sect (2 points).
- Logical conclusions, and the ability of the author to convince the reader with his ideology (2 points)
And to be able to do that without causing any misunderstanding, I may need to write a book, but I thought that the time spent in this evaluation is well worth it since it may have an impact on the majority of his readers, provided that I summarize as much as I can and present my views in a series of six or seven posts. This way, the reader will have enough time to throughly contemplate on each point and enrich it with valuable discussions. I may not participate in those discussions since my ideas will be presented in each post, but if a point needed more clarification, I will definitely provide it.
Now let’s start with point number one;
1. Honesty in portraying Islamic history:
To be frank, I was shocked by the author’s extreme honesty in presenting Islamic history, especially the part concerning Mohammad’s life in the pre-Islamic society as well as his mastery in presenting contemporary Islamic history with high precision and without forgery, all backed with genuine, diverse sources. And although this should have been expected from someone who studied religion in a secular country like the States, but I have read for other Moslem authors who lived most of their lives in the secular West and still found them not to be honest. Alsan, for example, did not deny the fact that the boy Mohammad of the Quraysh tribe adhered to his forefather’s religion of idolatry, not like many Moslems who deny this fact and claim that he never worshiped an idol. After all, Mohammad was like any normal child who inherited his parent’s religion. He never claimed to be different or supernatural, despite the effort made by some Moslems to portray him as flawless. The prophet was not illiterate, he was exposed to the Jewish culture of the area, Aslan said, and he must have even known Aramaic language. Which I agree with completely. But unfortunately, Aslan fell (may be unintentionally) in the same trap of idealizing Muhammad, when he analyzed the Islamic events after revelation. But nevertheless I would give him a full two point on this part, at least I know he was honest.
2. The author’s literal ability to convey the message:
Aslan’s ability in writing was also so appealing and appeasing. Each chapter started with more of a prose than an introduction, as if a director preparing the scene to engulf the reader within the historical context and make him live the events instead of just reading about them. Most history books, especially the ones written by Moslems, usually list events, fill them with praise words and in the process miss the linking between those events. Aslan’s specialty was in digging those missing links and fastening the chain of events strongly together for a better understanding. His skills in story telling, I have to acknowledge, is superb and very unique and original. He is a natural writer of fiction, and I would give him the full two points for his superb skills, no doubt.
To be continued