An Introduction to Islam
by David Waines
Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 332 pp. $49.50 ($15.50, paper).
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Waines explains in the introduction to his well-written and original survey that he found it "more appropriate to present the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad as Muslims might recognize them, rather than as others have described them." This seemingly unexceptional, indeed innocuous, statement actually points to a profound shift in the presentation of Islam to Western audiences. For centuries, European scholars interpreted the faith through their own prism, be it Christian, Enlightened, or Marxist. No longer: Waines's decision to portray Islam in Muslim terms is one nearly all his fellow specialists would agree with.
When it comes to the contemporary period, unfortunately, this outlook degenerates into apologetics, whereby the author makes excuses for fundamentalist Muslims and attacks the West. Indeed, he disdains the term fundamentalist, agreeing with those so labelled that it is used in an "almost indiscriminate" way to lump together groups "judged to be anti-Western."He finds the term "debased and with little meaning." In a bizarre bit of revisionism, Waines deems the un-Islamic Nation of Islam "idiosyncratic," condemns the United States for having a "dominant white caste" and praises the Nation of Islam for giving "a sense of dignity and purpose" to its first converts, then having "rejuvenated the life of many black urban communities." He even states that the NOI "can be accommodated" within radical Muslim thought. The book concludes with a speculation about the demise of the "Western secular model of society" and the "cultural imperative" for an Islamic model to replace it.
Related Topics: Islam | Daniel Pipes | December 1995 MEQ
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