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I was recommended this book from a friend of mine who spoke ...
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.