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Book Reviews: Islam, Muslims, Islamic History, Beliefs, Islamism

What is Islam? Is Islam opposed to democracy and human rights? Are there good reasons to reject Islam and its theological claims? To what extent have politics and economics influenced the development of Islam in the Middle East? The books here answer those questions and more, presenting a critical and scholarly perspective.

Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia
Many people tend to assume that the political relationship between America and Saudi Arabia is driven by oil, and indeed may be based entirely upon America's need for Saudi petroleum. There is a kernel of truth in this because that oil tends to form a coating over everything that happens. At the same time, though, this relationship started before oil became an issue and has many important facets which extend well beyond America's need for oil.

For God And Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire
Is America's 'war on terrorism' really a war against extremism and on behalf of democracy, or is it instead a war on Islam? Americans insist that their concern is political, not religious, but there are good reasons to believe that even if this is true, the rhetoric and conduct of Americans is turning the war on terrorism into a war on Islam.

The Qur'an: A User's Guide
The Qur'an is the holy scripture for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. It is their guide to ethics, to conduct, and to religion. It is also a relatively difficult work to understand, which means that even those few non-Muslims in the West who attempt to learn more about it are often frustrated and disappointed.

In the Shadow of the Prophet: Struggle for the Soul of Islam
For many people in the West, Islam appears to be a monolithic faith and Muslims an undifferentiated mass of fundamentalist believers. The existence of factions, debates, and disagreements either goes unrecognized or is simply undervalued, but this diversity - however muted it can be - may be key for understanding the state of Arab Muslims...

Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats, and the Politics of Islam
Islamism is most commonly associated in Westerners' minds with terrorism and violence, but must that always be the case? Will Islamism continue to be violent and bloody even if it acquires power in the Middle East? This is an important question: if the violence can be removed, then Islamism might have a legitimate future as animating the politics of nation-states.

No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam
The rise of political Islam in the Middle East has generated a great deal of concern and fear - not only in West, but also among Muslims themselves. Many are worried that this will become a regression to medieval theocracies, but what if there are alternatives? Perhaps a strong, self-conscious, and overtly political Islamic system doesn’t have to be a repressive theocratic system?

Islam and Democracy
Although democracy has taken hold in the West as a dominant form of government, the same has not happened in Muslim nations in the Middle East. Why is that? Is there something inherent in Islam which prevents democratic development? Is there something peculiar about their political and economic situations which inhibit democracy?

Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power
Politically speaking, what is the attraction of Islam to leaders and activists in the Middle East? This is not a question about why people are or become Muslims, because it is not a question about the religious attraction of Islam. Instead, it is about why Islam is politically attractive, and why a State would adopt Islam as a basis for public policy.

Jihad in the West: Muslim Conquests
Is there any real relationship between the Muslim military campaigns of previous centuries and the recent terrorism campaigns? Paul Fregosi argues that there is - both are reflections of a fundamental antagonism to the non-Muslim world, and in particular to the economically and militarily powerful West.

Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism
A dominant view of Islam is that it is conservative if not reactionary, opposed to everything that might qualify as 'modern' and therefore necessarily hostile to the modern West, with all of this liberal ideas about society and humanity. Is this view, shared by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, actually justified? Some argue that it is not.

Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart & Saladin
Of the nine official Crusades to the Holy Land, only the first was a real military success; yet in many ways, the third was perhaps the most interesting. The reason for this was, as in so many cases, the personalities involved: Richard the Lionheart from England and Saladin the Kurdish sultan. They were among the most fascinating and heroic figures of their time...

Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honour World
Muslims are under pressure from two fronts: on the one hand are Islamic radicals who want to remake Islam in their own image; on the other are Western secularists who would like to see Islam remade in their own image. In the middle are the vast majority of Muslims, neither radical and violent nor secular and liberal. How should they deal with these demands being made on their religion?

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror
The American government says that we are engaged in a war against terrorism, not a war against Islam. Of course, all of he terrorists being targeted happen to be Muslim, leading to the attempted distinction between 'good Muslims' and 'bad Muslims.' Upon what is this distinction based, and is it a valid way of viewing the Middle East?

From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East
One of the problems which has plagued American interventions in the Middle East has been the relative lack of knowledge they have had about the region - ignorance which has covered religion, culture, history, and relations between the various states. Would greater education about the Middle East improve the quality of interventions, prevent them entirely, or not really have any effect at all?

The Palestine-Israeli Conflict: A Beginner's Guide
Few people are unaware of the violence which is currently plaguing the Middle East today, especially the violence which keeps occurring between Israelis and Palestinians. At times, it threatens to engulf not only the surrounding nations, but the rest of the world as well. Yet why is this happening - what are the causes, and are there any solutions?

New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants
America has traditionally been "Christian" in character, in the sense that most citizens have been members of one or another Christian denomination. Since 1965, however, the fastest growing religious communities have been Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh. In what ways have they been changed by American culture, and how are they in turn...

The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith
Is there something wrong with Islam today? Many people think so - including not a few Muslims. Not too long ago criticisms of Islam would not have been well tolerated, even coming from outsiders; but in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, we have seen a small wave of books by Muslims who are reexamining their faith and asking...

Sword of Islam: Muslim Extremism from Arab Conquests on
Islamic extremism has grown into a serious danger around the world - wherever Islam and other religions meet, Muslims extremists are likely there, causing trouble. They are even a danger to other Muslims who are treated as insufficiently orthodox. What many do not realize, however, is that such extremism is not a recent development - in fact, it...

Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader
It has often been said that when you want the straight truth about something, it is generally better to try to go to the original sources rather than allowing the authors of secondary literature to tell you what those sources say. Naturally many in the West are intensely interested in learning the truth about what radical Islamists think and why...

The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions
Holy wars are a source of both terror and fascination for many people in the West. At one time an important aspect of Christian doctrine, the concept has been relegated to the sphere of fanaticism and primitive barbarism - but not everyone shares this dismissive attitude. In Islam, holy wars remain a key ingredient of both doctrine and practice....

Rage Against the Veil: The Courageous Life and Death of a Dissident
What is it like to live in a strict Islamic society when you are a well-educated, talented, politically active, and self-assured woman? It's tough to imagine, but Parvin Darabi tells the story of one person: her sister. Unfortunately, her sister is unable to tell us herself because she committed suicide by burning herself to death in Tehran. What drove her to this act of desperation?

The Oxford Dictionary of Islam
Islam is the second largest religion in the world; in some regions, it is the fastest growing religious faith. Everywhere that Islamic regions intersect with areas dominated by other religions, there is conflict and strife - sometimes violent conflict. It's clear that understanding the beliefs and history of Islam is important, but it's also...

Resurrecting Empire: America's Perilous Path in the Middle East
America isn't the first Western nation to enter the Middle East, attempting to transform its politics and social institutions for ostensibly good reasons. Although most Americans realize this in the abstract, they are unaware of the details and consequences of earlier excursions. This is unfortunate because those excursions not only failed, but...

Islamic World: Past and Present
The power and influence of Islam around the world are undeniable, yet at the same time, many in the West are ignorant of even the most basic aspects of Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. What do Muslims believe? What religious and social duties to Muslims have towards each other and towards nonbelievers? What is the relationship between...

Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out
For most people in the West, leaving one's religion (apostasy) is simply not an issue of great concern. Some may be disappointed when such an event occurs, but today changing religions is so common that it just doesn't arouse much antagonism or anger - even the world "apostate" is hardly used anymore. That, however, is not the case in Islam where apostasy continues to be a crime.

Women's Seclusion and Men's Honor: Sex Roles
In Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Northern India, rumors about a woman having an affair, marrying a man of her choice, or even just spending time with the “wrong� man can cause irredeemable disgrace to her entire family. The only recourse for male relatives is violence: beatings, disfigurement, and sometimes murder. Female relatives of the offending male may even be raped for the sake of honor.

Understanding the Hadith: The Sacred Traditions of Islam
People's interest in learning about Islam has grown in recent years. The question is, do people know where to go to learn what they need? There is a lot of good secondary literature, but at some point people need to take a look at primary sources. Unfortunately, most of the information tends to revolve around the Qur'an - but that isn't the only source of Muslim tradition and belief.

Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women's Resistance
Now that Afghanistan has been "liberated" from fundamentalism, what will the future be like for the women of that nation? Their fate will depend to a great degree on whether or not Afghanistan really has been liberated from fundamentalism - in other words, what voice will be given to women and what role they will play in politics and society.

Warriors of the Prophet: The Struggle for Islam
In what ways have the West and Western attitudes contributed to the development of Islamic fundamentalism in the world? Most people have no idea that such a contribution has even been made, much less what it might be. Even worse, they are unaware of how those contributions have shaped Muslim attitudes towards the West.

What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
The only way to understand problems in the Middle East is to understand its history - in particular, the history of Muslim reactions to Western power, influence, religion and policies. A complete understanding may be elusive, but without greater historical background, it won't even be possible. Very quickly, a study of the history of the region leads to the question: What went wrong?

The Place of Tolerance in Islam
The terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 intensified the spotlight on Islam and its ability to peacefully coexist with other religious traditions. Who can be said to speak authoritatively on behalf of Islam - Osama bin Laden? Is Islam inherently violent and intolerant? If not, why is so much terrorism carried out in the context of Islam?

Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism
A dominant view of Islam is that it is conservative if not reactionary, opposed to everything that might qualify as "modern" and therefore necessarily hostile to the modern West, with all of this liberal ideas about society and humanity. Is this view, shared by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, actually justified? Some argue that it is not.

The Quest for the Historical Muhammad
Who was the "historical" Muhammad? This may seem like an odd question, since there is a common assumption that Muhammad's life was something that happened "in" history. What that means is that it is something known through reliable, verified historical sources and that we can describe what happened with little or no interference from accumulated myths.

Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World
Although democracy has taken hold in the West as a dominant form of government, the same has not happened in Muslim nations in the Middle East. Why is that? Is there something inherent in Islam which prevents democratic development? Is there something peculiar about their political and economic situations which inhibit democracy?

From Islam to Secular Humanism
In an age of science and nationalist politics, is religion still relevant any more? Does religion still have anything to say to us, or is it rather time to move on and find something better? Does Islam itself still have a relevant role to play in the ongoing development of human society?

What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam
Islam, for the West, is commonly regarded as a perpetual "Other" - so very familiar but also so very strange and different. A lot of misunderstandings are created by prejudice and ignorance; people tend to rely more on stereotypes than on reality. But how can that be cured?

Crossroads to Islam
Islam was created when Muhammad received a revelation from God and was commissioned to bring his faith to the rest of the world. Spurred on by faith in God and divine favor, Arab Muslims conquered much of the known world. At least, that's the traditional account which Muslims believe and which is generally taught in classes on Islam - but just how reliable is it?

Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society
How are women really treated in Islam? Many Muslims argue that Islam gives women a good status and even that Islam was an improvement for women over what they experienced previously. But many others argue that women are treated badly by Islam and have an inferior status. Who is right?

What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text, and Commentary
Interest in Islam and the Qur'an has increased dramatically in recent months and years, with more and more people reading both the primary and secondary literature that is available. Unfortunately, there is a comparative lack of good skeptical material about the Qur'an - most of what you find is decidedly uncritical if not outright apologetic in nature. Where can a person find more balance?

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