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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam
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on 7 March 2014
Good book on the origins, evolution and future of Islam. Well written, easy to read and a good size (~300 pages). The author analyses the history of Islam with a good deal of commentary so, of course, you'll have to keep in mind his American/Iranian/Liberal/Shi'i personal persuasions when reading it. The book itself covers the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of God be upon him) in the first third, early Islamic history from the rightly guided caliphs onwards in the second third, events from the last century-and-a-half in the final third, and the author's thoughts on the faith's near future in closing. Overall a decent book in my opinion. What it might lack in objective rigour in parts it makes up for in accessibility.
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on 8 February 2017
Excellent book. Thoughtful and well argued. Challenging but I've read it three times now.
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on 25 March 2017
Well researched and language and style easy to read.
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on 10 October 2014
berry berry gooo' in mon opinion mon - me like ich!
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on 10 December 2014
This is arguably the best book on the subject. It's an extraordinary achievement by a very talented writer. It will be of interest not only to those who want to learn more about the history and development of Islam but also those who wish to understand the issues that have been at the forefront of international politics for the last decade and a half.
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on 17 February 2017
This is my second and most likely the last time I read for Reza Aslan.

The book is very similar to his more recent one entitled 'How to win a Cosmic War'. It has more historical accounts in it, though is equally bland in the forward-looking analysis. Whereas Aslan succeeds in being a good historical narrator, he fails in being an equally robust analyst. He is a good historian but a bad political scientist/commentator.

Less than a fifth of the book is dedicated to actually talking about the future of Islam and this part was my least favorite. It is marred with contradictions and instances where Aslan becomes so assertive in making sweepingly general comments that it becomes annoying. At the start of the book he defends the caravan raiding of the Prophet by saying that in preIslamic Arabia 'it is no way considered stealing' as long as no blood is spilled and therefore there was no need for retribution.

While commenting on Pan-Arabism in the 20th century he makes the mistake of claiming that the forerunners of Pan-Arabism saw it as preceding Pan-Islamism and that even in their view 'Muslims must return to the values of the original community in Medina'. This is grossly wrong and quoting just al Bazzaz is incredibly selective and unrepresentative of the main pioneers of Arab Nationalism, which was mostly developed by Levantine Christians and that saw Arabism as a plausible substitute rather than precedent of Pan-Islamism.

He also makes a surprising statement that 'thanks to the efforts of reformists and modernists throughout the Muslim World, most Muslims have already appropriated the language of democracy'. Can he please name me five of these reformists? Also how did he come to make such a conclusion? At the start of the book he critisizes the corrupt manner in which the early Caliphs ruled, but towards the end he mentions something that was completely astounding ''The separation of the 'church and the state' of which America is so proud of was established in Islam 14 centuries ago''

Having said that, he makes his repeated valid claim that Muslim voices must be more represented politically, but no mention is made of the fundamental reform needed.

All in all, this is a good book for someone to understand the historical side of Islam and how it developed in the days of the Prophet and parts of its evolution. The part on Sufism was my favorite as it is usually difficult to explain this 'mystical' group, but I admit that Aslan brilliantly writes about it and this part mainly pushed me to give the book 3 stars rather than 2.

Aslan has become an iconic fresh Muslim voice in the West. It's nice to follow him on twitter. But I will definitely look elsewhere to learn more about serious ideas on Islamic reformation.
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on 26 April 2006
It is quite a task in the Western world, in the post 9-11 world when there are still active warfare situations taking place in two different Islamic country settings, to set out to write a book on the history, culture and heart of Islam as being something other than that which seems to come across in mass media on a daily basis.

The beginning of this text is the Quran - 'It is invaluable in revealing the ideology of the Muslim faith in its infancy: that is, before the faith became a religion, before the religion became an institution.' Aslan states that the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad are grounded in mythology (mythology not as false tales, but rather as stories of the supernatural) which has both credibility and legitimacy in significant ways - these ways are variously interpreted by different groups within the Muslim world.

Within the many chapters, Aslan looks at the early days Islam during the life of the Prophet, the immediate successors of Muhammad, the development of the Shariah and theological positions, and the mystical system of the Sufi. Aslan also looks at the contemporary aspects of Islam by tracing post-colonial sentiments (something still very much at work in the conflicts of the present time) and what Aslan and other have termed the Islamic Reformation, a return to early principles of the Islam that have been obscured in the history of the faith and its interplay with political reality.

Aslan's running motif is that Islam, at its philosophical and theological heart, is a pluralistic system with democracy as the best, final outcome. There is support for this - the long-standing Jewish communities in Babylon and Spain under Islamic rule, the recognition of the validity of Jewish and Christian theological bases by Muhammad, etc. However, the history of Islam is a very human history - as in other religious contexts, the rulers have frequently failed to live up to the ideals, persecuting not only outsiders, but also different members of their religion with special ferocity (not dissimilar to the stories of Moses imposing the death penalty on Israelites in the desert for collecting sticks on the Sabbath, or Christians burning other Christians at the stake for holding heretical views).

Aslan is passionate, but fails to persuade in many cases. In giving his own account of his return to Iran after the amnesty was announced for exiled Iranians to visit without fear of detention and punishment, there was still a sense of the failure of the government and culture to live up to its ideals, and Aslan is a bit quick to assign blame outside of Iran than on the rulers themselves. Still, the experiences are interesting to read, and Aslan's analysis worth considering.

Aslan writes that not only did the events of 9-11 set in motion a clash between the Judeo-Christian world and the Muslim world in broad terms, but 'also initiated a vibrant discourse among Muslims about the meaning and message of Islam in the twenty-first century. What has occurred since that fateful day amounts to nothing short of another Muslim civil war - a fitnah - which, like the contest to define Islam after the Prophet's death, is tearing the Muslim community into opposing factions.' We are in the midst of the Islamic Reformation, and it is too soon to tell what the outcome may be.
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on 18 April 2006
A highly readable account of the origins, history and future of Islam, Aslan's book is suitable both for the interested observer and the serious student of Islam. Beginning with discussions of religious practices in pre-Islamic Arabia, Aslan lays the historical and theological bases for the development of Islam, before describing the life and time of the Prophet himself. Varying between present-tense narrative and detailed analysis, Aslan discusses the revelations themselves, whilst interweaving various historical facts into the tale.

Passing from the Prophet himself to the "Rightly Guided Caliphs", he explores the establishment of the hadith, presenting some interesting, though no doubt controversial, ideas on the inclusion of some of the apparently-more-contradictory of these hadiths. Presenting a full history of this interim period, he also describes the battles for succession in excellent detail, fully explaining the implications of these, and thereby lays the groundwork for a full discussion of Shi'ism. Using this as a springboard, he then analyses the leap between Shi'ism and Khomeinism, carefully interlocking facts and narrative to provide a thoughtful and in-depth critique of Islamic democracy in Iran. He also examines Sufism, explaining its connections with aspects of Islam, but also why some more mainstream thinkers believe it to involve aspects of associationism, rather than to see it as a pure mainfestation of Islam.

Aslan then looks at the rise of nationalism, primarily, though not exclusively, within the Arab world, and gives an excellent overview of the teachings and ideas of the main thinkers and movements of this period. He also examines some more contemporary thinkers, and discusses several ideas that are current within so-called political Islam today, including the nature of the state and the permissibility of democracy.

This book provides a comprehensive and accessible account of both Islamic history and Islamic political thought. The only disappointment in an otherwise meticulously researched and presented work is Aslan's treatment of the Indian Mutiny. Though admittedly one of the less glorious episodes of British history, he fails to do justice to the British victims - no mention is made of the brutal murders of women and children, which gave rise to the incredibly brutal executions he discusses at length, and he repeats the fallacy that cartridges were greased with pig fat, one of the rumours used at the time to encourage mutineers. That aside, though, his analysis of the British attitude is refreshing and intelligent, and thoroughly thought-provoking, but the combination of glaring error and serious omission meant that in good conscience I couldn't quite award five stars. This notwithstanding, I highly recommend this book, with the above caveat, and have given several copies to both friends and colleagues.
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on 22 October 2017
I'd rather this book have been a little more impartial. I've read several books on the life of Muhammed and early Islam, I found this one a little hard to stomach at parts. The theme throughout seems to be to blame other religions to deflect from Muhammed's less than savoury behaviour, in fact page after page harks back to the crusades and historical wrongs committed by other religions, it feels like the author is constantly deflecting. The book seems to be as much about Christianity as it is about Islam. The attitude of "hey it's okay cause everyone else did it" doesn't cut it when we are talking about such an influential figure as Muhammed. What Moses, Noah, Buddha, Jesus or whoever did in this past cannot justify the often deplorable actions of Muhammed. Yes he was a remarkable man but no not a perfect man, we deserve to see both sides of him. There's conveniently no mention of the poets he had put death in Medina for insulting him in this book and other less flattering facts of his life seem to have been left out altogether. If you want a non biased look at Muhammed's life I suggest "the first muslim" by Leslie hazleton, for me personally as a non religious person I am interested in the truth not in bias, this book is biased to the core and I was disappointed.
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on 9 September 2015
Really well explained aspect of todays Muslim life for someone who didn't know very much about it. He explains from the aspect of a `Westerner`what it is to be Muslim today and some of the difficulties they are facing within their own religion and among the different factions. I also liked to hear about Muhamads life and what an amazing man he was but I feel he would be turning in his grave if only he knew how his followers changed aspects to what he preached and lived. I have more peace of mind knowing that he respected other faiths (to a certain extent) and did not set about calling everyone else `non believers`, those where his followers who went to be more radical.
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