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Whereas Aslan succeeds in being a good historical narrator
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.