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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

on 8 January 2016
Excellent read. Answers a lot of the questions one might have about Islam and extremism.
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on 12 February 2016
Book is very good condition
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on 15 February 2015
just fine
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on 26 May 2012
Reading this book helped me see that there actually *is* a rationalist school of thought in the Islam; this school of thought stands over agains the traditionalist school. The former constantly tries to interpret the Quran in light of the current time, whereas the latter tries to stay - in various forms - as true as possible to the Islam that existed during the days of Muhammed. In this book, Akyol not only shows how these separate schools of thought developed, but he also tries to understand why they developed as they did and why the traditionalist school of thought seems to have 'won'.

Secondly, I learned a lot about the development of the Quran and the Haddith, and thus about Islamic culture and religion. At first there was the Quran, the book that was written by Muhammed, and of course there was Muhammed himself. Both sources of information were available to the people of Muhammed's time. Then the Prophet died, which was an unfortunate event. After his death, people tried to make sense of both his teachings and of the Quran, but found that difficult. Then they remembered some of the Prophet's teachings and wrote them down. But, they also came up with new teachings, teachings that weren't Muhammed's, but were fitting for the ideas that people were striving for. To me, this put the whole Hadith in a completely new perspective and showed me that there is not necessarily one way or method in Islamic thinking.

This book taught me that the development of the Islam - and religion in general - has been closely related to the context in which it was founded: the desert of the Middle East. Christianity developed in a context of many small and larger cities of the Roman Empire, whereas Islam developed in the desert and though a bedouin lifestyle. To me - in line with Akyol - this explains a lot of the customs and ideas that can be found in the Quran and in the Haddith.

The fact that economies in the Middle East have been growing for some time now, the fact that a middle class is coming into existence, and the fact that the role and influence of the West (Europe and the USA) in the Middle East is declining, all these developments give me hope for a better, more prosperous and peaceful future. In this book Akyol showed that these developments - and many more, of course - have shaped the development of Islam during the last few centuries in general and Turkey in particular. They help to infuse a sense and feeling of and striving for liberty in people.

And finally the most important lesson of this book, Islam is not a priori incompatible with secular liberal democracies. History has shown that it is possible, albeit not easy, to combine a secular and liberal state with Islam. Moreover, some Islamic theologians believe that there is no argument to be made against a modern form of Islam, one that is compatible with the modern and post-modern society we live in in the West. Hopefully, the revolutions in the Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Tunisia - will help to bring this message of hope, aspiration, imagination and possibility to the fore!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 January 2014
Mustafa Akyol is a Turk and a believing Muslim. The theme of his book is that all the oppression of Muslim regimes are based not on the Qur'an, but on cruel customs that exist in some Muslim societies, which are quite independent of the Qur'an, but have then been attributed to Islam. He shows that Islamic teaching and practice has not always been as authoritarian, oppressive and intolerant as it generally is today, that there has been and even is now a liberal Islam which does not believe in forcing Muslims to obey restrictive rules and is also tolerant of people of different religions or of none.

Akyol shows that in many ways the morality and ordinances of the Qur'an and of the Sharia were an advance on the customs prevailing at the time, even if they fall short of the liberal values of our own time. When they do, the problem is that the religious authorities maintain positions that were progressive then, but are no longer so today. This is not unique to Islam - there are examples of this also in the orthodoxies of other religions, both in the past and in the present.

That is of course not the only problem. Much worse are the cases when Islamic authorities and teachings attribute to their faith oppressive rules which cannot be found in and even run counter to the Qur'an. The most striking departures from the Qur'an are when the use of reason and spirit of free enquiry is stifled or when there is intolerance towards the other monotheistic faiths - even intolerance by one Islamic sect towards another.

The earliest perversion of the Qur'an's teaching is found in the hadiths - which include collections of sayings of the Prophet said to have been passed down by some of Muhammad's Companions of the Medina period. They had been compiled over the years since his death, and the majority of them were pure invention to justify particular vested interests or attitudes. By the 9th century there were some 600,000 of these sayings, and a number of Islamic scholars weeded out around 99% of them as inauthentic - but those that they accepted still reflected 9th century attitudes which were often quite different from the more progresive ones of the Qur'an, although they were given - and are still often given - equal authority with it.

But there have been periods in the history of Islam when the use of reason, of enquiry and of toleration prevailed. This was particularly true between the 8th and the 13th century when the ahl al-ray (the People of Reason) flourished and when the Islamic world was far more advanced and made far more contributions to scholarship, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, the other sciences and commerce than was the case in Christian Europe, so much so that the 12th century Renaissance in Europe was heavily indebted to the Arab world. But ahl al-ray was always contested by the ahl al-hadith (the People of Tradition), and by the end of the 13th century the latter had achieved a dominance and snuffed out the most open-minded and productive period of Islam. Akyol has some interesting suggestions why it was the conservatives who won that struggle in the Abbasid Empire.

He sees a more enlightened form of Islam in the Ottoman Empire, especially during the 19th century when there were fitful attempts to modernize and liberalize the Islamic state, mostly (though Akyol does not mention this) under the pressure of Britain and France, on whom the Empire depended for protection against Russia. Non-Muslims received equal rights with Muslims, freedom of expression was proclaimed, constitutional reforms were introduced (though also withdrawn, in one case for the 31 years between 1877 and 1908). Akyol strikes me as rather disingenuous when, while condemning the murderous expulsion of the Armenians in 1915, he ascribes them "not to the Ottoman system, but to its fall" - what about the Armenian massacres of 1896? (True, the motive for these barbarities - including the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1870s - were dictated not so much by religious intolerance as by resistance to nationalism, but as in these cases the nationalists were also Christian, that distinction is somewhat blurred.)

The growing penetration and control by the West of the Islamic world initially led to attempts by some intellectuals to modernize Islam, but eventually the hostility to the West became so intense that some Muslims turned western ideas (self-determination, nationalism) against the West, while others rejected all its values in favour of a militant and intolerant Islam. Akyol concludes that militant Islam is essentially a political tool rather than a genuinely spiritual movement.

But there is still hope for a liberal Islam, and Akyol sees it emerging in post-Ottoman Turkey, whose history he gives us. First there was the dictatorial suppression of Islam in Kemal Atatürk's secular state; then elected governments that were not Kemalist enough for the army, which overthrew them in 1950 and again in 1980 and 1997. But in 2002 and again in 1907 Erdogan's AKP won the elections of 2002 and 2007. The AKP is a moderate Islamist party which encourages, but does not impose Islamic practices (like women, if they chose, being allowed to wear the veil in public); and this time the army did not interfere (for reasons which Akyol does not explain). Turkey today is secular state that allows religious freedom to all, not a secularist state that is hostile to religion. Though in a 2013 postscript Akyol is concerned about Erdogan's increasing authoritarianism, Turkey's is the kind of "Islam without Extremes" of which Akyol has high hopes. And in the final section of the book, he eloquently gives his own opinion of the positions a liberal-minded Muslim should take up against the harsh attitudes of his intolerant co-religionists, and time and again he cites verses in the Qur'an itself in support.
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on 28 December 2013
I do not usually read books on either politics or religion, but this is book about both, and very interesting it is too. The fundamental idea is that Islam can and should change with social and political context to become progressive in order to fuel a modern, free market economy. Moreover Akyol's thesis is that Turkey provides such a model. Akyol, the author, traces the genesis of this approach to the rationalist school of Islamic thought, the Mutaziliites, whose leading light was Abu Hanifa, a great Islamic jurist. Historically the rationalists lost the debate with the traditionalists, but Akyol believes that the time of rationalism could have come. I found the arguments compelling, and I hope others do too given tensions In the Middle East.
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on 18 July 2014
If you want to learn more about the propaganda peddled by many extremist Muslim groups under the cover of "Islam" then read this. You will have considerably more respect for the sincere basis of muslim faith - i.e. what it was intended to be (a template for harmonious coexistence with other faiths) vs. what some have used it for (a justification for creating brutal and divisive religious regimes). You will end this book with new found respect for true Islam - radical only for it's tolerance and desire for harmony.
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on 11 February 2015
I was recommended this book from a friend of mine who spoke reasonably highly of it, as many reviewers on this website did.

However, despite the endearing introduction , in which the author articulated his early upbringing, I must profess I was profoundly disappointed with the content and analysis thereafter.

There is a genuine lack of perception and depth of knowledge that the author portrays particularly while narrating the early theological and political development of Islam. The Umayyad’s are a continual focus of Akyol's ire, at various times describing them as tyrannical, despotic and so on. This is in spite of the fact that many of the early Umayyad rulers, Marwan, Abdal Malik ibn Marwan and so on, where used as sources of judgment in Imam Malik's great seminal work -and one in which the Sunni scholars unanimously praise for its authenticity - , The Muwatta. Nor has he sought out opinions from the great non Muslim contemporaries of the time such as Theopanes who was very positive on Umayyad rule.
Such an alarming oversight is no doubt due to the authors laziness in consulting later Orientalist sources and failing to take directly from the primary sources available at the time.

Other strange and obscure comments include, the supposed "desert mindset" afflicting Islam. Again, Akyol's refusal to engage logic – despite continually banging on the Rationalist Drum - is embarrassing. It is clear that the between the 8th-13th Century, the vast majority of Muslims were sedentary people’s inhabiting the Fertile Crescent and other areas conducive to agriculture. The "'Araab" as ibn Khaldun refers to (Bedouin) Arabs, were anathema to both Arab speaking and non Arab speaking people, as was evident with the Banu Hilal ravages of Northern Africa.
If one steps outside of the Fertile Crescent - parts of which particularly Iraq was far more conducive to agriculture and covered in fauna than present - one will find "green and fertile lands" from modern day Pakistan though to Indonesia in the East, and Morocco and Spain in the West, and a similar diversity of thought and opinion. Furthermore, economically Islamic polities taken collectively or per person where far more prosperous that their Western European counterparts until well into the pre modern era. A result of which Western European kingdoms ventured out to seek alternative trade routes and sources of income from the 15th a Century onward.

Akyol has selective amnesia when narrating the theological disputes within early Islam, with a black and white picture of Creed, Traditionalist versus Rationalist. The debate at the time was far more nuanced and Imam Abu Hanifahs own reliance on qiyas (analogically reasoning), was based more on the unreliability of hadith Scholarship in Iraq, than on unquestioned championship of Human Intellect.

There is an illustration of an environment, whereby the Rationalist creed is sidelined early on, and this certainly isn't the case. The rationalist creed continued within Shia forms of Islam (the. Buwayhids where the Sultans prior to the Seljuk Turks in the 10th and early 11th centuries), and the early Seljuks were Hanafi Mutazilites.

Nor is there an in depth discussion of the great Imam al-Ghazali, a figure who reconciled both the literalist and rationalist creeds. The theological landscape at the time was sharply drawn between extreme rationalists and traditionalists, and Imam Ghazali bridged the gap, demonstrating how both were needed and part of faith. His emphasis was that rationalism had certain limitations, particularly within the realm of metaphysics. However at the same time rational thought was a necessary part of faith

In other areas Akyol betrays his journalistic heritage, making irresponsible and sensationalist claims , for example “Islam for the UK”, a movement in the UK which has a few dozen supporters. Such movements, are on the fringe of the fringe and are not worth considering. Similarly he makes glaring factual errors, for example Hizb Tahrir the UK based before going on to mock their views on economics. Again HT are a global party, started by a Palestinian, there views on economics, are similar to other non- capitalist groups across the Faith divide who do not adhere to the Fiat Monetary system.

At other points of the books, quotes from discredited Islamic Scholars that are on the periphery of the mainstream – such as Ali Abdel al Razzik – to support his views.

Some of his narrative is just counterintuitive, for example
“Later caliphs were even less reassuring. Most were corrupt and impious men whose excesses could be kept in check only by the moral authority of the Shariah”

Beside the very debatable statement regarding the moral fiber of latter Caliphs, the Shariah having its basis in divine relation – surely all apparent divine revelation whether it be the Quran, Torah or Hindu scriptures – serve a purpose as to keep in check the moral excesses of mankind?

Akyol’s biggest failure, is failing to understand or explain, the ossification of Islamic thought in the in the immediate pre-modern era. An ossification borne out of complacency initially, and a defense mechanism when challenged.

Overall there are far better introductory books narrating the middle path of Islam and the liberal traditions within.
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on 17 November 2013
i found this book very informative,it also changed my view on islam,before reading this book i was anti islamic i have now changed my view and see a lot good in islam,and hope for better relations and understanding between religions.
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on 9 November 2013
It will become one of the best sellers among the related topics. Mr. Akyol explains what Islam really means and how the extreme ideas can't take a place within Islam.
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