I sometimes wonder how much a good book is actually worth as opposed to what you pay for it the first time you buy it? In case of this particular book, it cost me more for the simple fact that I bought it at the ISNA Bazaar at the ISNA Convention in Rosemont in September and registration for the event alone was a cool $65. But I can say this without a doubt that this book is worth every penny just for the sheer creativity with which it presents the case.
The book mainly focuses on introducing Islam as an innovative 'idea' (I will come back to this) complete with illustrations,callouts and Fez -the book's very own tour guide. So is this the right approach of explaining something as complex and misunderstood as Islam? Is the author trying to oversimplify things? 'Yes' to the former and 'Maybe' to the latter. But let's be honest here. How many people actually like 'to read'? Personally I think reading is the most 'faked' hobby anyone has for the simple fact that it is literally fake-able. You see people peering down at a newspaper or a fat paperback and you are convinced. But if that was so why do we have such a dearth of 'well-read' induviduals?
Anyway, the point is that people do less reading and more looking and for that reason alone, something that serves both purposes, this book is perfect.
The book breaks the mould by not presenting the basic Islamic teachings first off but starts by talking about Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) directly and correcting the (new) readers of not calling Muslims 'Mohammedians'. This is the first misconception and it is quite widespread.
The book continues further to explain a bit of history and the revelation of the Quran, it's importance and impact. Here's such an extract from the book :
"The need for interpreting the Quran arose immediately after the death of the Prophet. Early interpretations of the Quran relied on the comments and analysis of the Companions of Muhammad (p.b.u.h) and their successors. Written commentaries of the Quran began to appear towards the end of the 9th century. Amongst the earliest and most frequently cited are those of al-Tabari, al-Wahid etc. These authors developed Quranic interpretation into an elaborate science, with numerous specialist branches known as 'tafsir'."
However the best part of the book is the sheer research the authors have done to highlight the works of Islamic thinkers, scientists, mathematicians and various pioneers in other fields. To name just a few of them :
-Nizam al-Mulk, builder of the first school or 'madrassah' - institute of learning in 1067
-Al Ghazzali , theologian & author of 'The Revival of the Religious Sciences in Islam'
-Ibn Sina, physician and author of 'Canons of Medicine' and 'the most famous scientist Islam and one of the most famous of all races, places an times'
-Ibn al-Haytham, optics expert, author of 'Optical Thesaurus' - one of the most plagiarised text in the history of science.
But coming to the point of whether the book does justice in presenting Islam as an idea, I think it does but with caveats. The purpose of any idea is to make people think, implore and to seek out. Islam in that very sense is then the 'ultimate' idea there could ever be. But the book is not a scholarly reference. Some contemprary topics have been explained only superficially such as the role of women, the place of fine arts, Islamic jurisprudence. Keeping in mind the short memory of many readers these topics are better left to the scholars for their dissertation. Any such topic that does not take into account the opposite/papallel view in consideration could be charged with oversimplification so I think i will leave the reader to his own conclusion about this. Having said that, 'Introducing Islam' is the sort of book every non-Muslim must browse through before any finger-pointing competition. I would also appeal to my Muslim brothers and sisters to definitely consider gifting this book in case you want to help someone unaware of Islam, get his/her facts right. It's one of those things that will definitely do you some good in return.
(Introducing Islam is actually part of a series published by Icon Books UK on various popular subjects including philosophy, science, politics, religion etc.)