Who Is Allah?

UNC Press Books
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This vivid introduction to the heart of Islam offers a unique approach to understanding Allah, the central focus of Muslim religious expression. Drawing on history, culture, theology, politics, and the media, Bruce B. Lawrence identifies key religious practices by which Allah is revered and remembered, illuminating how the very name of Allah is interwoven into the everyday experience of millions of Muslims.

For Muslims, as for adherents of other religions, intentions as well as practices are paramount in one's religious life. Lawrence elucidates how public utterances, together with private pursuits, reflect the emotive, sensory, and intellectual aspirations of the devout. Ranging from the practice of the tongue (speaking) to practices in cyberspace (online religious activities), Lawrence explores how Allah is invoked, defined, remembered, and also debated. While the practice of the heart demonstrates how Allah is remembered in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, the practice of the mind examines how theologians and philosophers have defined Allah in numerous contexts, often with conflicting aims. The practice of the ear marks the contemporary period, in which Lawrence locates and then assesses competing calls for jihad, or religious struggle, within the cacophony of an immensely diverse umma, the worldwide Muslim community.

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About the author

Bruce B. Lawrence, a leading scholar of Islam, is the author or editor of many books, including The Qur'an: A Biography and Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden. He is Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Islamic Studies Emeritus at Duke University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
UNC Press Books
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Published on
Apr 6, 2015
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9781469620046
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / Islam / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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The untold story of how the Arabic Qur'an became the English Koran

For millions of Muslims, the Qur'an is sacred only in Arabic, the original Arabic in which it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century; to many Arab and non-Arab believers alike, the book literally defies translation. Yet English translations exist and are growing, in both number and importance. Bruce Lawrence tells the remarkable story of the ongoing struggle to render the Qur'an's lyrical verses into English—and to make English itself an Islamic language.

The "Koran" in English revisits the life of Muhammad and the origins of the Qur'an before recounting the first translation of the book into Latin by a non-Muslim: Robert of Ketton's twelfth-century version paved the way for later ones in German and French, but it was not until the eighteenth century that George Sale's influential English version appeared. Lawrence explains how many of these early translations, while part of a Christian agenda to "know the enemy," often revealed grudging respect for their Abrahamic rival. British expansion in the modern era produced an anomaly: fresh English translations—from the original Arabic—not by Arabs or non-Muslims but by South Asian Muslim scholars.

The first book to explore the complexities of this translation saga, The "Koran" in English also looks at cyber Korans, versions by feminist translators, and now a graphic Koran, the American Qur'an created by the acclaimed visual artist Sandow Birk.

Is Allah the God of the Bible?

In any of the one hundred and fifty sects and sub-sects of Islam, the common denominator is Allah. Who is this Allah? Much has been written on the religion of Islam and its prophet; but not much is said about the god of the religion. One reason is the assumption that the god of Islam and the God of Christianity are one and the same.

When, on September 11, 2001, some Muslims carried out a well-organized attack, destroying the The World Trade Center and damaging the Pentagon, a letter of last instruction from the leaders of the terrorist network was discovered. Written in Arabic, it says their mission was a service to God. Actually this was a mistranslation. The word the terrorists used is not the Arabic word for God but Allah. The Arabic word for God is Ilah. So they believed they were working for Allah, not God.

Who is this Allah? Were these terrorists extremists, or were they serving the Allah of the Qur'an? The war against terrorism goes beyond overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan or even killing Osama bin Laden. The war on terror may not be won unless we understand the Allah the terrorists say inspires them. Not all Muslims are terrorists. But the terrorists' letter, which is quoted fully in chapter three, gives great insight into the Islamic religion and the motivation for religious terrorism in the world.

Why have we shied away from probing the identity of the Allah of Islam? Possibly it is because if Allah is not the God of the Bible, it would force us to face many ugly facts. For example, if Allah is the true God, and the Qur'an, Islam's sacred book, is true, then Christians can be sure they are lost, no matter how zealous they may be. The reverse would also be true. It is necessary, therefore, to provide sufficient information to enable you to determine your own verdict, and answer the question: Who is this Allah? This book will do that.
Islam is often portrayed, especially in Western media, as an alien, violent, hostile, and monolithic religion, whose adherents are intent upon battling nonbelievers throughout the world. Shattering the Myth demonstrates that these conceptions more accurately reflect the bias of Western reporters than they do the realities of contemporary Islam. Westerners are barraged by images of violence that usually originate from armed confrontations in one small corner of the world. Islam, Bruce Lawrence argues, is a complex, international religious system that cannot be reduced to stereotypes. As Lawrence demonstrates, Islam is a religion shaped as much by its own postulates and ethical demands as by the specific circumstances of Muslim people in the modern world.

The last two hundred years have brought many challenges for Muslims, from colonial subjugation through sporadic revivalism to elitist reform movements and, most recently, pervasive struggles with fundamentalism. During each period, Muslims have had to address internal tensions, as well as external threats. Today Muslims in the post-colonial era, only some of whom are Arab and living in the Middle East, are playing ever greater roles in economic changes, both regional and international. As the impact of these changes has become evident in societies around the globe, new leaders have come into public view. The most remarkable emerging presence is that of Muslim women. Lawrence argues that it is the experience of Muslim women in particular that calls for a more nuanced understanding of Islam today.


It is time, Lawrence believes, to replace inaccurate images of Islam with a recognition of the multifaceted character of this global religion and of its widely diverse adherents. Here he describes changes that are taking place throughout the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, enacted by governments and nongovernmental organizations alike. In a time of rapid international change, Lawrence suggests that it is time for our images of Islam to reflect more clearly the realities of Islam as it is lived. Shattering the Myth provides significant insights into the history of Islam and a greater understanding of the varied experiences of Muslims today.


"An informed interpretation of the contemporary Muslim experience . . . Lawrence's explanations for the particular states of affairs in Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia, among other cases, are compelling . . . [A] distinguished contribution."--From the foreword by James Piscatori and Dale F. Eickelman

A fascinating, accessible introduction to Islam from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Zealot and host of Believer

FINALIST FOR THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 

In No god but God, internationally acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan explains Islam—the origins and evolution of the faith—in all its beauty and complexity. This updated edition addresses the events of the past decade, analyzing how they have influenced Islam’s position in modern culture. Aslan explores what the popular demonstrations pushing for democracy in the Middle East mean for the future of Islam in the region, how the Internet and social media have affected Islam’s evolution, and how the war on terror has altered the geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East. He also provides an update on the contemporary Muslim women’s movement, a discussion of the controversy over veiling in Europe, an in-depth history of Jihadism, and a look at how Muslims living in North America and Europe are changing the face of Islam. Timely and persuasive, No god but God is an elegantly written account that explains this magnificent yet misunderstood faith.

Praise for No god but God
 
“Grippingly narrated and thoughtfully examined . . . a literate, accessible introduction to Islam.”—The New York Times
 
“[Reza] Aslan offers an invaluable introduction to the forces that have shaped Islam [in this] eloquent, erudite paean to Islam in all of its complicated glory.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
 
“Wise and passionate . . . an incisive, scholarly primer in Muslim history and an engaging personal exploration.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Acutely perceptive . . . For many troubled Muslims, this book will feel like a revelation, an opening up of knowledge too long buried.”—The Independent (U.K.)
 
“Thoroughly engaging and excellently written . . . While [Aslan] might claim to be a mere scholar of the Islamic Reformation, he is also one of its most articulate advocates.”—The Oregonian
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