Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Journy Into Islam" by Akbar Ahmed, a review

Over the last week or so I have dug deep into a most excellent book that explores how Muslims see the world in which we find ourselves at the beginning of the 21st Century. The author, who is a Muslim born in Pakistan, teaches Islamic Studies at American University. The book contains his (and a small group of his students) observations and reports from questionaires gathered in Muslim countries stretching from the Middle East through Asia into South East Asia during a trip in 2005 & 2006.

The main thrust of the book seeks to dispel the charicature of Islam and Muslims that is usually presented by mainstream American media; that of the nearly always screaming Arab terrorist or cool and collected Arab dictator. What Ahmed replaces this image with is a much richer tapestry of faith and a desire to understand how that faith interacts with an increasingly interconnected globe.

At the beginning of the book and throughout, the author refers to three separate metaphors for how Islam is lived out based on three separate towns in India. First, the Ajmer form of Islam that is a mystic, transcendental faith that sees every person on the planet having an "Inner Light". This more universalistic form of Islam is not much portrayed here in the West, but is nevertheless an active form of Islam globally. The second, more predomidant form of Islam is Deoband which is more typically the fundamentalist stereotype that we think of, though the adherents of the Deoband style of Islam are not all out to "get" America as some in the media portray. The last style is called Aligarh, and this is probably the type of Islam that most of us along with the author hope to see rise throughout the Muslim world. Aligarh is the more modernistic form that seeks to synthesize things like democracy and modernity into its practice of faith. This third model can be seen as just barely hanging on in nations like Turkey.

The author does call into question US foreign policy as being partly responsible for the rise of the Deoband style of Islam, but traces our complicity back through several generations and does not make it overly political. This book is not for the casual reader, but is one that will expand your understanding of Islam as we move further into the twenty-first century.

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