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No God but God

The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

Aslan, Reza

(Book - 2005)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
No God but God
Print
Random House, Inc.
Though it is the fastest growing religion in the world, Islam remains shrouded by ignorance and fear. What is the essence of this ancient faith? Is it a religion of peace or war? How does Allah differ from the God of Jews and Christians? Can an Islamic state be founded on democratic values such as pluralism and human rights? A writer and scholar of comparative religions, Reza Aslan has earned international acclaim for the passion and clarity he has brought to these questions. In No god but God, challenging the “clash of civilizations” mentality that has distorted our view of Islam, Aslan explains this critical faith in all its complexity, beauty, and compassion.

Contrary to popular perception in the West, Islam is a religion firmly rooted in the prophetic traditions of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Aslan begins with a vivid account of the social and religious milieu in which the Prophet Muhammad lilved. The revelations that Muhammad received in Mecca and Medina, which were recorded in the Quran, became the foundation for a radically more egalitarian community, the likes of which had never been seen before.

Soon after his death, the Prophet’s successors set about the overwhelming task of defining and interpreting Muhammad’s message for future generations. Their efforts led to the development of a comprehensive code of conduct that was expected to regulate every aspect of the believer’s life. But this attempt only widened the chasm between orthodox Islam and its two major sects, Shiism and Sufism, both of which Aslan discusses in rich detail.

Finally, No god but God examines how, in the shadow of European colonialism, Muslims developed conflicting strategies to reconcile traditional Islamic values with the social and political realities of the modern world. With the emergence of the Islamic state in the twentieth century, this contest over the future of Islam has become a passionate, sometimes violent battle between those who seek to enforce a rigid and archaic legal code and those who struggle to harmonize the teachings of the Prophet with contemporary ideals of democracy and human rights. According to Reza Aslan, we are now living in the era of “the Islamic Reformation.” No god but God is a persuasive and elegantly written account of the roots of this reformation and the future of Islamic faith.

Baker & Taylor
An authoritative study of the Islamic faith in relation to the other world religions sheds new light on its origins and history, from the social reformation role of Muhammad to the impact of fundamentalism and terrorism on Islam. 50,000 first printing.

Baker
& Taylor

Presents the origins and history of Islam, with emphasis on its relation to other religions and the impact that terrorism is having on the current perception of Islam throughout the non-Islamic world.

Publisher: New York : Random House, c2005
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 1400062136
Characteristics: xxiv, 310 p. ; 25 cm

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Mr. Reza is an excellent writer with a very readable style. The promotion of Muhammed and the beginning of Islam with the following cascade of schisms, power and belief during and after Muhammed is excellent. The chapters included to address Jihad, Muslim-Jewish relations, Women in Islam and The Future of Islam while interesting topics for Western readers were polemic with understandable author bias.
Of particular interest to me was/is the inviolable message of the Koran, said to be a complete book for all eternity, intact with nothing to be added or taken away. According to the author and other Islamic scholars, it must be read in Arabic to fully understand the full meaning of the text. Short of fluency in Arabic, the full meaning of this text will forever be closed to me though a translation of the entire Koran is available in English on the University of California CMJC website. There are 3 translators, Ysufali, Pickthal and Shakir, so anyone reviewing the text can read their interpretations.
Women in Islam was a dance around chattel possessions with dialogue. Simple fact is women have a subordinate status in Islam because the Koran states it. They can be beaten and possess less credibility than men. Here are verses describing the beating of women '.. leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them..' Koran 4:34 and the non-equality of women '..testimony of two women as equaling one man's..' Koran 2:282. Additionally, the debasing of women with the required wearing of the headscarf, veil or hijab in some Islamic countries and brutal female circumcision endemic among some Islamic societies, both here and abroad, are repugnant practices that can't be explained away. The verses in other religious scriptures, as Christian and Jewish, regarding the subordination of women belongs in the trash heap as well.
The verses describing the killing and submission of people doesn't ring true for me as a description of a religion bent on inclusivity. The idea of a people welcoming the conqueror with open arms to be a Dhimmi(subordinate) class with a special verse '..until they pay the Jizya(tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued..' Koran 9:29 sounds better than being executed on the spot. There is also another circumstance for the non-believer as death may come knocking with another verse '..seize them and slay them wherever ye find them..' Koran 4:89.
The verses of the Koran as stated above were disturbing not so much as a reflection of the age and culture in which it was produced but rather stated as fact for all eternity. As stated in Mr. Reza's book, “ Muslims are stripping away centuries of accumulated clerical interpretation in favor of a return to the original founding texts of Islam”, read Koran. The Koran is not a text that can be set aside with translations produced to reflect mores for Muslims living in countries with Islam not ascendant. What we see are societies of Muslims in Western countries lacking cultural awareness or ignoring the norms of the countries who have welcomed them based on the pretext of Islam.
Drawn comic images of Muhammed in a Danish newspaper caused death, destruction and apologies by Western governments but Sister Wendy, a recognized and beloved Catholic nun educator, can hold discourse on the art object 'Piss Christ', a piece displaying a crucified Jesus statue suspended in a glass barrel of urine. Burning a Koran will start a riot but burning a Bible will expose either one's ignorance or an underlying mental disorder.

Oct 03, 2014
  • DanglingConversations rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

I think there has been a revival of previous works y Aslan after the success of Zealot. This is a scholarly book, easier to read than the Armstrong history of Islam, and I certainly recommend it for westerners looking for more insight into the Muslim mind. Bravo Jac444 for your excellent synopsis [below]

No god but God, by Reza Aslan

They say there’s nothing better for the aging brain than really studying a new subject. I chose to focus on Islam, the fastest growing religion in the world, and which is shrouded by ignorance and fear. Trouble is that most positive books on Islam are well-nigh unreadable … a perfect Muhammad, a perfect society of peace, justice and mercy … pull the other one.
So it was a refreshing change to read "No God but God” by Reza Aslan, a history of Islam governance and quarrels down the ages. Everything is not all perfect – is it ever?
A writer and scholar of comparative religions, Reza Aslan has earned international acclaim for the passion and clarity he has brought to these questions. He is an Iranian professor teaching in California, and his understandings show he is Muslim.
Contrary to popular perception in the West, Islam is a religion firmly rooted in the prophetic traditions of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Aslan begins with a vivid account of the social and religious milieu in which the Prophet Muhammad lived. The revelations that Muhammad received in Mecca and Medina, which were recorded in the Quran, became the foundation for a radically more egalitarian community, the likes of which had never been seen before.
Soon after his death, the Prophet's successors set about the overwhelming task of defining and interpreting Muhammad's message for future generations. Their efforts led to the development of a comprehensive code of conduct that was expected to regulate every aspect of the believer's life. But this attempt only widened the chasm between orthodox Islam and its two major sects, Shiism and Sufism, both of which Aslan discusses in rich detail.
Finally, "No god but God” examines how, in the shadow of European colonialism, Muslims developed conflicting strategies to reconcile traditional Islamic values with the social and political realities of the modern world. With the emergence of the Islamic state in the twentieth century, this contest over the future of Islam has become a passionate, sometimes violent battle between those who seek to enforce a rigid and archaic legal code and those who struggle to harmonize the teachings of the Prophet with contemporary ideals of democracy and human rights. He points out that it took Christianity about fifteen hundred years to straighten itself out during the Reformation. Aslan suggests that we are now living in the era of "the Islamic Reformation." "No god but God” is a persuasive and elegantly written account of the roots of this reformation and the future of Islamic faith.
Trouble is that the Christchurch library system has but one battered copy of this valuable book.

Aug 18, 2013
  • feishu95014 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Finished the 140 pages over the weekend -- short but engrossing.

The book covers the rise of the Prophet and his several following leaders. The book described him to be more of a social revolutionary than a religious fanatics. He preached against the established social injustice and had to flee Mecca for his life. He then built a Utopia based on his teaching with the backing of local Jewish and Arabic tribes. Eventually his teachings (care for the under-privileged, all men are equal (!), women should be allowed to inherit (!!) and more...) attracted enough followings and he won back Mecca without bloodshed.

What did he do when he went back to Mecca? He shattered ALL idols (No Gods but God) but the images of Jesus and Mary. This is following the same vein that Christianity and Islam are from the same Faith (or something like that, I am no scholar).

The book also tries to dispel some common (at least seems to me) perceptions people have about Islam -- for example, is Islam a "religion of sword", meaning all Kafirs should be killed? No, Quran stated "let you believe in your god and me mine".

The book has a dedicated chapter talking about the status of women in the Islam faith. The author argued that the teachings in Quran do not demean women and that man and woman are created equal. This idea was in front of the western thinking and practice by about 1000 years. However, after the death of the Prophet, the interpretation of his teaching fell mostly to the people that wanted the status quo back (i.e. men OWN women and others).

Read the book and gain a new perspective about Islam.

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