Thursday, June 07, 2007

Non-fiction - "No god but God"

"No god but God" is an excellent history of Islam written by Reza Aslan. I did not know much of Islams history, other than what I picked up from the news and the "Two Towers" book. This book gave me a more complete picture.

I have seen the author of this book on TV many times and I was always impressed with knowledge and ideas. He is an Iranian Muslim, who immigrated to the US when he was still a child.

What struck me first how close the three major religions are: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is not often pointed that Allah of the Muslims is the same as God of the Old and the New Testament. Islam seemed to be the final triumph of mono-theism over poly-theism in the Arabian peninsula. Sometime, Mohamed would refer to these three religions as "People of the Book". The idea being that Old Testament. New Testament and the Koran, are but pieces of the same book in Heaven, partially revealed to humanity.

Mohamed started the Muslim community fairly late in his life, when he started to received Revelations from God. This is precisely why he is often called the Messenger of God.

According to this book the initial Islamic community established by Mohamed in Medina was quite egalitarian Men and women were treated equally. One important obligation of members of the community was to take care of the poor - a tax was collected for this purpose. In many ways the initial community in Medina was socially quite advance (this is in 7th century).

One the threats that the Medina community posed to the established order was quite political. Mohamed did not believe that an intermediary was needed for people to commune with God. That is there was no need for a priest class. This upset a lot of people, especially in the tribes that controlled the Sanctuary at Mecca.

Mecca itself was already a place where pilgrims came to pay homage to their gods. The sanctuary there was shared by many religions and access was controlled by a single tribe that got quite rich from the pilgrims.

One of the reasons that Mohamed's Revelations were considered the word of God was that they were beautiful poetry (I have to trust the author on this as I do not know Arabic). At the time the ability to write poetry was considered quite mystical and great poets were celebrities in the Arab world.

All in all I enjoyed reading this book as I learned quite a bit about history of Islam from its inception until now. The author ends with a proposition that today Islam is in the state of Reformation - very similar to they way Christianity was few hundred years ago, when Catholics and Protestants were killing each other (see 30 Year War). Sadly our ways of killing had gotten more efficient.


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