Islam: The Religion And The People, by Bernard Lewis and Buntzie Ellis Churchill
This book is a somewhat striking and unusual one in that it attempts to present an authoritative and somewhat favorable view of Islam and its adherents to a Western audience that may not be very sympathetic to Islam. To the authors’ credit, they acknowledge the reasons for the gulf between the West and the Muslim world and manage to present the difficulties as well as the potentials for harmony between the two worlds well without disguising the real divides and barriers between them. Of particularly interest to me as a reader is that the ways that the authors view Jews and Muslims as being closer to each other than either is to Christians happen to be in ways that I am close to Judaism and Islam in my own beliefs, like a high view of God’s laws as well as various dietary restrictions and so on. I found it striking, therefore, that compared to most people within Christendom that I would be closer to Islam than ordinary Christianity, although it has not always been ways that have made me feel sympathetic to most Muslim regimes, except those relatively moderate ones that I have encountered, especially in Jordan.
This short volume of about 200 pages is divided into various chapters. After a preface and introduction the author begins with a discussion of the faith of Islam (1) a well as a discussion of the five pillars (2). After this there is a discussion about scripture, tradition, and law (3), the mosque (4), Muslim views towards diversity and tolerance (6), and the relationship between the Sunni, Shia, and other divisions within Islam (7). There is a discussion of some history (8), government and opposition (9), and Islam and its effects on the economy (10). After this the authors close the main part of the book with a discussion of women in Islam (11), dress (12), language and writing (13), war and peace (14), and the problem of radical Islam (15). Interestingly enough, though, there are more supplementary materials to this book than one would expect, with a conclusion, a discussion of some practical matters relating to Islam, and then a lengthy discussion of terms and topics that provide more information to the interested reader before a topical index. Although by no means a large book, this book certainly will give enough information for anyone to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about Islam and its importance for the West.
Admittedly, a reader who has read a lot about Islam and the Middle East will probably know a great deal about this book, and may have even seen real life examples of some of the aspects of Muslim life discussed here. That said, even those who are very familiar with such matters will likely learn something, such as the reason for the Muslim avoidance of hats because of their tie to views of religious betrayal for Muslims. Even so, despite the fact that much of this book was familiar, it was certainly a worthwhile read nonetheless. This book manages the difficult task of giving good information about a contentious subject in a way that both informs and also warns the intended target audience about matters of importance, and also points out the tricky issue of terms and language that are used by people or disliked by people because of the connotations. Whether or not this book will be everyone’s cup of tea, there is still a lot to appreciate about it and few mainstream Muslims would likely find trouble with the way it discusses the thinking and behavior and beliefs of Muslims to a Western audience with at least some interest in learning more about Islam.