History in Review
Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World
By Thomas W. Lippman. (Oldbury, England: Meridian Books; 3rd edition, 1995. Pg. 198.) ISBN: 0-4520-1160-4
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - January 14, 2002
Recently, the topic of what Islam is, and isn't, has become a center of conversation. Unfortunately, much of the information being disseminated about the Islamic faith is misconstrued or blatantly false. For those desirous of acquiring an in-depth, and factual, understanding of Islam, I highly recommend Thomas W. Lippman's authoritative book, Understanding Islam:
An Introduction to the Muslim World. This book not only offers the reader a detailed introduction to the tenets of Islamic faith, but it also covers its founding, the various factions that exist within Islam, and the role that Islam plays in the internal and external affairs of Islamic countries.
Understanding Islam is encyclopedic in nature. It begins with an introduction to the Muslim world, and the role of Islam, in terms of its religious, economic, and political significance. This foreword is followed by a minute look at the life of Muhammad and the rise of Islam. Lippman also provides a detailed description of the Islam's holy book, the Koran (Qur'an), the basics of Islamic belief, and the 'Five Pillars of Faith'.
The 'Five Pillars of Faith' are the basic tenets of Islamic faith, and these 'Five Pillars' are followed by all Muslims. Lippman lists, and then expounds upon the various Pillars. He describes how they serve as the foundation of Islamic belief, and what is entailed in each Pillar. The 'Five Pillars of Faith' are:
Lippman also outlines the development of Islam and its foundations that were derived from Jewish and Christian traditions. He also illustrates the differences between Christianity and Islam in regard to their respective religious structures and practices. For example, there is no central authority within Islam, and no priesthood. Lippman also chronicles Muslim relationships with Jews and Christians, since the founding of Islam. He describes the Muslim calender and the role of women within Islam, he also explains the various marriage practices that abound within Islam.
- Profession (testimony) of faith
- Daily prayer
- Payment of Alms tax (Zakat)
- Fasting in the month of Ramadan
- Pilgrimage to Mecca (The Hajj)
In this work, Lippman covers such pivotal issues as the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the Iranian Revolution, Sufism (Islamic Mysticism), and the Koranic interpretation of what Jihad is. As well, Lippman discusses the various factions within Islam, and he explains the differences between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. He also provides a basic overview of what Sharia (religious law) is, and how it is applied in conjunction with civil law in various countries - and the fact that in some countries, Sharia is the only law used.
Many people have one central image of what they think Islam is, and how they think a Muslim acts and looks like. Throughout this book, Lippman clearly points out that Islam is a multiracial, and international religion. It has adherents throughout the world, and there is not one, stereotypical image, that depicts what a Muslim is. Understanding Islam not only explores the breath and vitality of Islam, but it also provides the reader with a glimpse at a faith and culture, with which they may be unfamiliar. This book is interwoven by numerous quotes from the Koran, and it provides an accessible introduction to Islam for readers of all levels.
Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong.
This book offers the reader a comprehensive, yet brief, overview of Islamic history, from its founding to the modern day.
History of the Arab Peoples, A, By Albert Hourain.
This book offers a sweeping glimpse of Arab culture and society, presented within an historical framework that spans almost thirteen centuries.
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