Learn about Islam

Islam features widely in the news, often in its most militant versions, but few people in the non-Muslim world really understand the nature of Islam. Malise Ruthven's Very Short Introduction contains essential insights into issues such as why Islam has such major divisions between movements such as the Shi'ites, the Sunnis, and the Wahhabis, and the central importance of the Shar'ia (Islamic law) in Islamic life. It also offers fresh perspectives on contemporary questions: Why is the greatest 'Jihad' (holy war) now against the enemies of Islam, rather than the struggle against evil? Can women find fulfilment in Islamic societies? How must Islam adapt as it confronts the modern world? In this new edition, Ruthven brings the text up-to-date by reflecting upon some of the most significant changes in the Muslim world in recent years; from the emergence of al-Qaeda and the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11 and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Ruthven includes new material surrounding the concept of a globalized Islam, bringing into question the effects of economic globalization, the effect of international events in Middle Eastern countries, the issues surrounding Islam and democracy, and the reception and perception of Islam in the West. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Is Islam a peaceful and tolerant religion?

For all the debate over Islam and its growing presence in the world, one thing is often overlooked: Islam is not a religion in the sanitized Western sense. It is, in contrast, an all-encompassing sociopolitical legal matrix that has bred a worldview antagonistic to anything but itself. While there may be millions of peaceful and tolerant Muslims, many of them our neighbors, Islam itself is hardly peaceful and tolerant.

Islam is the only significant religious system in the history of the human race with a sociopolitical structure of laws that mandate violence against the infidel. The current narrative is that to tell the truth in this regard is tantamount to radicalizing Muslims and exacerbating hostilities that may otherwise lie dormant. A common refrain has reverberated throughout the West: “Islam is not our enemy.” As well-intentioned as this mantra may be, it is a potentially dangerous stance once someone understands Islam in full.

Despite its incoherence, Islam—one billion six hundred million strong and growing—is poised to fill the vacuum left by a Western culture slouching inexorably towards Gomorrah. Demographics alone are alarming. While polygamist Muslims boast a robust birth rate, native Westerners are moving rapidly toward self-extinction. Filling the void are multiplied millions of Muslims who have no intention of assimilating into Western culture.

Equally grave is the specter of global Islamic jihadism now exacting mass genocide on Christians in the East and ever-multiplying terrorist attacks throughout the West. We are also witnessing the co-belligerency of fantastically wealthy Saudis spending multiplied billions of dollars exporting virulent Wahhabism to the West. Worse still, Western governments, academic institutions, and media outlets seem bent on exporting a false narrative respecting the religious animus animating global Islamic jihadism.

In MUSLIM: What You Need to Know about the World’s Fastest Growing Religion, Hanegraaff not only outlines the problems in accessible and memorable fashion, but moves toward potential solutions in the clash of civilizations.

Considered the most authoritative single-volume reference work on Islam in the contemporary world, the German-language Der Islam in der Gegenwart, currently in its fifth edition, offers a wealth of authoritative information on the religious, political, social, and cultural life of Islamic nations and of Islamic immigrant communities elsewhere. Now, Cornell University Press is making this invaluable resource accessible to English-language readers.

More current than the latest German edition on which it is based, Islam in the World Today covers a comprehensive array of topics in concise essays by some of the world's leading experts on Islam, including:

• the history of Islam from the earliest years through the twentieth century, with particular attention to Sunni and Shi'i Islam and Islamic revival movements during the last three centuries;

• data on the advance of Islam along with current population statistics;

• Muslim ideas on modern economics, on social order, and on attempts to modernize Islamic law (shari'a) and apply it in contemporary Muslim societies;

• Islam in diaspora, especially the situation in Europe and America;

• secularism, democracy, and human rights; and

• women in Islam Twenty-four essays are each devoted to a specific Muslim country or a country with significant Muslim minorities, spanning Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union.

Additional essays illuminate Islamic culture, exploring local traditions; the languages and dialects of Muslim peoples; and art, architecture, and literature. Detailed bibliographies and indexes ensure the book's usefulness as a reference work.

How do ordinary Muslims deal with and influence the increasingly pervasive Islamic norms set by institutions of the state and religion? Becoming Better Muslims offers an innovative account of the dynamic interactions between individual Muslims, religious authorities, and the state in Aceh, Indonesia. Relying on extensive historical and ethnographic research, David Kloos offers a detailed analysis of religious life in Aceh and an investigation into today’s personal processes of ethical formation.

Aceh is known for its history of rebellion and its recent implementation of Islamic law. Debunking the stereotypical image of the Acehnese as inherently pious or fanatical, Kloos shows how Acehnese Muslims reflect consciously on their faith and often frame their religious lives in terms of gradual ethical improvement. Revealing that most Muslims view their lives through the prism of uncertainty, doubt, and imperfection, he argues that these senses of failure contribute strongly to how individuals try to become better Muslims. He also demonstrates that while religious authorities have encroached on believers and local communities, constraining them in their beliefs and practices, the same process has enabled ordinary Muslims to reflect on moral choices and dilemmas, and to shape the ways religious norms are enforced.

Arguing that Islamic norms are carried out through daily negotiations and contestations rather than blind conformity, Becoming Better Muslims examines how ordinary people develop and exercise their religious agency.

Aamer Hussein takes love to its logical conclusion, Robert Irwin traces the origins of the ghazal (love lyric), Christopher Shackle recites epic Panjabi poems of sacred love and lyrical death, Imranali Panjwani mourns the massacre of Karbala, Martin Rose istaken hostage by Saddam Hussein, Jalees Rahman reflects on Nazi doctors who took delight in deathly experiments, Ramin Jahanbegloo is incarcerated in the notorious Evin prison, Hamza Elahi visits England's Muslim graveyards, Shanon Shah receives valuable guidance on love and sex from the "Obedient Wives Club", Samia Rahman sets out in search of love, Khola Hasan has mixed feelings about her hijab, Sabita Manian promotes love between India and Pakistan, Boyd Tonkin discovers that dead outrank the living in Jerusalem , Alev Adil takes "a night journey through a veiled self" and Irna Qureshi's mother finally makes a decision on her final resting place. Also in this issue: Parvez Manzoor throws scorn on a nihilistic, revisionist history of Islam, Naomi Foyle reads the first novel of a British Palestinian, Ahmad Khan explores the colonial history of The Aborigines' Protection Society, a short story by the famous Fahmida Riaz, Syrian scenarios by Manhal al-Sarraj, poems by Sabrina Mahfouz and Michael Wolf, Rachel Dwyer's list of Top Ten Muslim Characters in Bollywood and Merryl Wyn Davies's "last word" on love and death at the movies. About Critical Muslim: A quarterly publication of ideas and issues showcasing groundbreaking thinking on Islam and what it means to be a Muslim in a rapidly changing, interconnected world. Each edition centers on a discrete theme, and contributions include reportage, academic analysis, cultural commentary, photography, poetry, and book reviews.
As the specter of religious extremism has become a fact of life today, the temptation is great to allow the evil actions and perspectives of a minority to represent an entire tradition. In the case of Islam, there has been much recent confusion in the Western world centered on distorted portrayals of its core values. Born of ignorance, such confusion feeds the very problem at hand.

In The Heart of Islam one of the great intellectual figures in Islamic history offers a timely presentation of the core spiritual and social values of Islam: peace, compassion, social justice, and respect for the other. Seizing this unique moment in history to reflect on the essence of his tradition, Seyyed Hossein Nasr seeks to "open a spiritual and intellectual space for mutual understanding." Exploring Islamic values in scripture, traditional sources, and history, he also shows their clear counterparts in the Jewish and Christian traditions, revealing the common ground of the Abrahamic faiths.

Nasr challenges members of the world's civilizations to stop demonizing others while identifying themselves with pure goodness and to turn instead to a deeper understanding of those shared values that can solve the acute problems facing humanity today. "Muslims must ask themselves what went wrong within their own societies," he writes, "but the West must also pose the same question about itself . . . whether we are Muslims, Jews, Christians, or even secularists, whether we live in the Islamic world or in the West, we are in need of meaning in our lives, of ethical norms to guide our actions, of a vision that would allow us to live at peace with each other and with the rest of God's creation." Such help, he believes, lies at the heart of every religion and can lead the followers of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as well as other religious and spiritual traditions to a new future of mutual respect and common global purpose.

The Heart of Islam is a landmark presentation of enduring value that offers hope to humanity, and a compelling portrait of the beauty and appeal of the faith of 1.2 billion people.

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