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IslamTitle: Teach Yourself Islam
Author: Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
Copyright: © 2003
Publishers: Contemporary Books, an imprint of McGraw-Hill (US); Hodder Headline Plc (UK)
ISBN: 0-7141963-2

Relevance: Relevance: With Islam fundamentalism in the news so much these days, it benefits every reporter, correspondent, ENG and producer to know about the religion. Teach Yourself Islam is an ideal book to introduce the non-Moslem to the principles of the religion, the underpinnings of the faith, and the religious and cultural aspects of Islamic society.

Review: Teach Yourself Islam is an excellent guide to the ancient religion and covers just about every aspect of Islam -- including the life of the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, Islamic worship, mysticism, and even the historical beginnings of the religion.

As most know, Islam is one of the three major faiths that sprang from the area we now know as the Middle East. Teach Yourself Islam references both Christianity and Judaism within the framework of how Islam fits into the entire region's religious groups and mentions other prophets such as Jesus, Moses and Abraham within historical context.

The book begins, not surprisingly, with Muhammad, the prophet that brought the religion to the people. Readers learn the main events in Muhammad's life, some insights into his character and the significance of various historical events and how they shaped the formation of Islam. The book moves quickly to explain the four "rightly-guided" caliphs and the conflict between the prophets descendants and the Umayyads. Chapter 2 finishes up with the Battle of Karbala and Shi'ite Islam.

The compilation of the Qur'an is up next. In Chapter 3, the book outlines how the Qur'an was originally assembled, its relationship to calligraphy and how Moslems show respect for the Qur'an. Chapter 4 deals with the actual teachings of Islam: the Tawhid and shirk, the compassion of Allah, the Angels, the Devil and jinn, tests, Risalah, the Moslem's view of Jesus, Akhirah (life after death), and finally ál-Qadr (the Moslem view of pre-destination).

According to the book, Muslim worship really begins with the concept of ihsan or realization. And equally so, it is very possible for a man or woman to go through all sorts of worship, prayer and other ritual without really being truly aware of the presence of God. Ihsan implies a given person is making a conscious effort to be with God, and in active communication with him. Other key concepts, such as iman (faith), amal (action), jihad (struggle) and dunya. It is the Moslem concept of jihad that has catapulted the religion to the forefront of the news in recent years and the book spends an entire chapter later on discussing the complex rules involved in waging a jihad.

Stylistic approach
One of the best aspects of Teach Yourself Islam is the way the book breaks down each of the complex topics within the religion into bite-size chunks of information. This writing style is extremely useful for reporters, correspondents and others who need to know the top-level issues, ceremonies and histories involved in being a Moslem. In all there are 32 chapters, each no longer than 20 pages and most shorter than 8 to 10 pages. There is also a helpful glossary containing approximately 100 Islamic terms with short explanations.

Throughout the book, Teach Yourself Islam takes a very compartmentalized approach to the vastness of the subject matter. While it's true that Teach Yourself Islam does not cover every aspect of the religion, it does cover an amazing amount of information in its 263 pages.

The pillars of Islam are explained including the process of Shahadah (bearing witness) and Salah (prayer -- especially the philosophy of Islamic prayer, the individuality of devotion, imans, and the complex preparation process for the formal prayer). The book also covers other pillars of the religion which author Maqsood calls "practical worship of Islam". The Zakah (the religious tax), Sawm (fasting, especially during the ninth month of the Muslim year where the month-long fast is called Ramadan).

The fifth pillar of Islam involves a complete upheaval in one's life and a journey of possibly thousands of miles. Occurring two months and ten days after Ramadan, the Hajj (meaning "to set out with a definite purpose") is discussed at length. Readers learn about the background of the Hajj, the date of consecration, and the precise rituals of the event.

Other chapters include information on festivals and special days in the Islamic calendar; mosques; Shariah; Sufism; human rights; the Moslem view of the sanctity of life; and justice, crime and punishment. Work and wealth ; sex; women's rights; drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Khilafah -- "the concept of recreating an ideal Islamic State ruled by a Muslim man of superb character, the khalifah (Caliph), totally committed to bringing about the will of God done as it is in Heaven" -- is also outlined.

The author's British roots show when he discusses "Green Islam" (essentially the situation in which a devout Moslem can living in harmony with the Earth). Although Islamic purists might question some of the secular examples the author uses, the book does do a good job to bridge the ancient texts on which Islam is based with the modern world in which his readers live. The book does not, however, discuss the rise of Islamic fundamentalism throughout much of the world, nor does it mention the how the majority of moderate Moslems have been surprisingly silent in the face of what the non-Islamic world considers terrorism and murder.

Islamic ethics
The book does discuss Islamic ethics and outlines key values in Islam: faith, justice, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, sincerity, truth, generosity, humility, tolerance, modesty, chastity, patience and fortitude, responsibility, courage and responsibility. Key things to be avoided or abhorred include hypocrisy, cheating, backbiting and suspicion, lying, pride, envy, anger, divisiveness, excess and extremism.

and the various stages of life round out the book. Birth and infant ceremonies. picking respectful baby names and circumcision are explained as are other life stages such as specific features of Islamic marriage and the rules of polygamy. The so-called "twilight years", death and burial are dealt with next. Finally, the book spends a few pages outlining some practical issues that concern Moslems living today. These include the Islamic dress (along with the rules for modest dressing for both men and women), the Islamic diet (including the reasons for not eating pork and what happened when no halal food is available).

Finally, two chapters of interest to reporters and correspondents wishing to learn more about Islam are included. The first, a chapter outlining the specific problems faced by Moslems in the West, discuses the educational expectations, medical practices and media images of Islam. The second, discusses Islam in the 21st century and includes a series of bullet points that seek to educate and inform readers about what it is like (and not like) to be a Moslem in today's busy, secular world.

Overall: Teach Yourself Islam is an impressive book containing an amazing amount of information packed into a small format. Although the book glosses over some key issues -- the September 11th Terrorist bombings in the US get a scant three-paragraph write-up and the well documented discrimination and abuse of Moslem women are summarily dismissed -- it does cover a ground. Readers who like a well-organized, get-to-the-point introduction to Islam written by someone who is "inside" will appreciate this book. Others who want more of a friendly (and more Western) view of Islam written from an "outsider" point of view may also want to compare Wiley's Islam For Dummies. Recommended.

End of Review

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