Books Review

ISLAM IN CONTEXT: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

By Peter G. Riddell and Peter Cotterell, Baker Academic, Michigan, 2003, ISBN: 080102627X Reviewed by: Asmer Beg

This book has basically been written for readers raised in the broad Judeo Christian tradition. It has been divided into three parts. The first section looks at the initial period when Islam was gaining ground, against the backdrop of the life of Prophet Muhammad. The second part deals with the period of the clash for empires between the Muslims and the non-Muslims, which took place after the Prophet’s demise. The third part focuses on the recent past and present, which throw up a lot of questions and several possible answers.

The authors are critical of Muslims for considering the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine a “blasphemy” (p. 134). They hold the Palestine suicide bombers responsible for “heavy military and bureaucratic retaliation from the Israelis and a resultant slow down in the peace process” (p. 141). They, however, do not question the legitimacy of Israel and the unending hardships and atrocities which the Palestinians have been subjected to.

Ignoring the facts about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which are known to the international community, the authors talk about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq and its continuing production of weapons of mass destruction. Although, they present it as the response of western leaders but do not attempt to examine this ‘response’ critically. Different reasons for the antipathy of Muslims towards the west have been given but the authors do not agree that the antipathy conclusively results from foreign policy issues.

The authors conclude that unless “The Islamic Community as a whole deals with the problem of the interpretation of Quranic passages that appear to promote violence against the non-Muslim world (whether Jewish, Christian pr ‘pagan’), Muslims extremists will continue their acts of violence finding justification for their deeds in a particular reading of Quranic verses” (p. 201).

The authors try to search for contradictions in the Quran and Hadith. However, their lack of proper understanding of Islamic practices becomes quite evident. As while quoting from Bukhari that “those are the people who, whenever, a pious man dies amongst them, make a place of worship at his grave and then make pictures of it. Those are the worst creatures in the sight of Allah”, they argue that despite this Tradition the Hajj Pilgrimage usually includes a journey to the Tomb of Muhammad at Medina (p. 44), little realizing that what is prohibited in Islam is, not a visit, but worship at a grave, that Hajj Pilgrims do not do.

The authors suggest that the “The way forward for Islam seems to lie in accepting for the Qur’an and Hadith a hermeneutic, a system of interpretation, that will allow their meaning, intended by Muhammad for specific situations in the seventh century and not for unimagined situations thirteen hundred years later, to be interpreted for the modern world by identifying the present significance. (p. 214)

In sum, this book basically holds Muslims responsible for the problems facing the Ummah, it puts only a partial blame on the West, but does not find much basis for even this partial blame. It calls upon Muslims to make a contextual understanding of the Quran more popular among the masses and try to open the gates of Ijtehad. The voices in Islam against violence must be more pronounced and should try to call for peace with reference to the Quran and Hadith.

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