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30 May 2016

Book Review: Islam Explained

Islam ExplainedIslam Explained by Tahar Ben Jelloun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read other reviews that say this book over-simplifies everything.

It probably does. But that's why I needed it. I can't jump right into in-depth without having some passing knowledge. This book gives passing knowledge.

Some of the things I learned:

The Koran begins with a short sura called the Fatiha; each prayer celebrates and glorifies not only the prophet Muhammad, but also the other prophets: Abraham, Moses, and Jesus (in Arabic, Ibrahim, Moussa, and Issa.)

After Muhammad's death, there was a schism. The Sunnis began as followers of Abou Bakr, the prophet's friend and companion. The Shiites followed Muhammad's cousin, Ali. Only 10% of the world's Muslims are Shiites.

The Arabs originally translated the works of the Greek philosophers. These works may not have been preserved if Arabs had not possessed a love and respect for learning and for other cultures. "...Arabs understood that to advance, to enrich yourself, you should not close up your house, but open the doors and the barriers, go out toward others, take an interest in what they have written and in what they have built. The Arabs wanted to advance, and for that they needed to learn what the ancients of other countries had already done. The intelligence of the Arabs lay in being modest and accepting the fact that the scholar is someone who begins by saying, 'I know nothing.'"

The oldest known hospital was built by Harun al-Rashid around 800. Avicenna, an Arab scientist, wrote Canon of Medicine; it was translated into Latin in the 12th century and dominated the teaching of medicine in Europe to the end of the 17th century. "Medicine is the science that studies the human body, either healthy or ill, for the purpose of preserving health when that already exists and reestablishing it when it is lacking."

The word assassin comes from hashashins, marginalized Muslim followers of the Shiite Hassan al-Sabbah. Hachiche means "grass" or, more generally, "drug" in Arabic. This sect was filled with users of marijuana who took off on puntitive expeditions to punish those they labeled as non-believers, as well as rulers they deemed cruel and unfair.

There is no clergy in Islam. There are imams who preside at prayer and deliver sermons; these individuals have moral authority do not serve as intermediaries between God and humankind.

Muslim mystics are called "Sufis."

"Cultures travel: they move around and get into homes without even being invited. The only dominant culture is that of intelligence, knowledge, and sharing. In this way, culture does not dominate but opens doors to those seeking to learn and to know what is going on outside their own tribe."

"Struggle against ignorance. That is what makes people fanatical and intolerant. Nothing is more dangerous than someone who knows nothing and thinks he knows everything."

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