Lesson one: Colonization is never a good idea.
Lesson two: Money and power concentrated in the hands of a few usually results in greed, corruption, and violent attempts to maintain control.
Title – No god but God: The origins, evolution, and future of Islam
Author – Reza Aslan
Page count – 292
Considering (*sigh* yet again) our current political climate, I would highly recommend this book. It was dense, yes, but as easy-to-understand as a history book can be. Aslan lays out clear, relatively objective commentary on how the religion of Islam came to be and how it has evolved throughout history alongside its cultural and political companions. (I say “relatively objective” because as a child of the Iranian revolution in the late 20th century, Aslan occasionally reveals his support for Islamic Reformation and a return to “Muhammad’s original vision of tolerance and unity.”) From the time of the Prophet Muhammad to the current age of digital information sharing, Islam – like every other Religion throughout history – has been fraught with struggles between tradition and reform, between the rights of the individual and the needs of the community. When people study history, it would be prudent to pay attention to the role of Religion in politics, culture, and economics – for indeed, these things cannot be separated. This book is a good place to begin understanding how that relationship has played out in the Muslim world.
As a person raised in a Christian tradition (Protestant, with Evangelical influences), I found this book fascinating. Religion is a tricky thing, and it affects our daily lives, whether we as individuals consider ourselves “religious” or not. (Notice I say “religion” and not “faith.”) In my personal experience and what I’ve learned from historical commentary, Religion tends to mesh itself into the political fabric of a society. Unsurprisingly, this rarely turns out well for the people who don’t adhere to the religious ideology du jour.
I dog-eared so many pages during this read. Too many quotes to include. Really, I would recommend you just go read it for yourself. While you’re at it, pick up Aslan’s Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. It was surrounded by so much controversy (a Muslim writing about a Christian icon?? *clutches pearls in horror*) that of course I had to read it for myself. I was not disappointed.
Just one quote this time, from the prologue:
“[How] can we overcome the clash-of-monotheisms mentality that has so deeply entrenched itself in the modern world? Clearly education and tolerance are essential. But what is most desperately needed is…a broader, more complete understanding of religion itself…Religion is the story of faith. It is an institutionalized system of symbols and metaphors (read rituals and myths)…The clash of monotheisms occurs when faith, which is mysterious and ineffable…becomes entangled in the gnarled branches of religion.” (p. xxiii)