Ruined by Reading

No god but God

Posted in Book Reviews, History, Politics, Religion by M on October 29, 2008

A friend of mine suggested I read No god but God by Reza Aslan a few weeks ago.  I had started it once while I was bored and stuck in the library between classes, and had always meant to buy it and finish it.  I’m so glad that I did.

I know a few people who might balk at the idea of reading a book written by a Shia.  However, one of the things I loved about No god but God is that the author’s personal religious beliefs never really compromises his retelling of the history.  It’s almost as if he’s taking a non-Muslim perspective at times in order to prove or explain things, which I really liked because it shows that he’s rational and logical and doesn’t fall back on religious arguments that can’t be proven all the time.
Of course his moderate views can be seen overall in the book.  Especially when he discusses things like hijab and polygamy.  In fact, I marked some of the passages on women’s rights and polygamy with “YES, YES, YES!” written next to it because it’s really refreshing to see a man who finally gets it.  He states that although the Qur’an is unchanging, perfect, and from God, things still need to be put into historical context.  Take polygamy, for example.  In regards to verses 4:3, and 4:129, he states that “when combined and considered in their historical context, should be interpreted as rejecting polygamy in all its forms.”  Which is too bad in this case, because I would totally be this guys second wife if he were already married.  Kidding!

Another thing I loved is how he writes about the religion in the Arabian penninsula before Islam.  He goes a lot more in depth than most authors do on the subject.  In a lot of books, the telling of early Islamic history can be really repetitive because everyone says the same thing.  Not so with Aslan.  He does a lot to put things into perspective and to show how truly tolerant and accepting the early Islamic community was.  Which is one thing that Aslan keeps bringing up and trying to prove – that the ummah is meant to encompass Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  Not just Muslims.  He even makes the point that the ummah can sometimes include polytheists as well, and not just people of the book.

No god but God is especially relevant in today’s world, but the last few chapters focus more on the present and the future.  The last chapter echoed a lot of the things I heard Shirin Ebadi talk about regarding democracy.  Aslan asserts that democracy must come from within, and that it cannot be brought in from an outside force, like the US, because American style democracy will only work in America.  He also says that democracy and Islam are not mutually exclusive and they can and should co-exist together.

Aslan is a rationalist and it definitely shows.  Whenever he questions an Islamic concept it always seems to strengthen his faith instead of damaging it.  I think it’s supposed to do that to the reader, too.  It certainly worked for me.  I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that you cannot have true faith until you question it, and that questioning your religion or your faith is a good thing.  No god but God definitely does that and it makes the reader think.

No god but God was really inspiring and it’s something I think everyone should read.  I know a lot of non-Muslims who didn’t think highly of Islam before they read the book, but now they respect and admire the faith.  But this is also a book that all Muslims should be reading as well.  I must admit that while it is inspiring, it’s a bit depressing at times too to see how wonderful the community was when it first started, and then to see how distorted it has become.

Tonight I’m going to go see Aslan lecture on common ground between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  If everything works out I’ll try to post

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2 Responses

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  1. Sofi said, on October 30, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    I have a copy of this book but havent got round to reading it yet. I must admit i have read a number of positive reviews, including yours, which compels me to want to read it straight away. almost.

  2. […] Sunday Salon This past week I posted a review of No god but God, talked about how bad I am when it comes to finishing books, and summarized the lecture I was […]

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