every dawn, noon, afternoon, dusk, and evening i hear the shahadah. now that i think of it, i also hear the shahadah every morning before school starts. its the muslim profession of faith, and the inspiration for the title of this book.
granted, i know a little bit more than your average person about islam (to submit), living in a muslim country and working at an islamic school. but, i have only read the first four surrah (or books) of the qur’an and have no knowledge of the hadith (traditions that guide action). i can’t say that my knowledge is vast and comprehensive now, but i can say that reading this book has introduced me very solidly to the origin and the history of islam.
i appreciated that the author was unapologetic about the reality of interpretation of the qur’an. he, as opposed to the more conservative muslims that i know, cannot argue that people, including mohammad and his closest followers, had to interpret what was meant by what was revealed to them through the qur’an. there are a vast majority of muslims that believe what many christians do about the bible – that literal interpretation is the only interpretation. reza aslan does not. thankfully, not all muslims do either.
he also addresses the issues with hadith. hadith is the compilation of oral history about the prophet’s life that is supposed to guide muslim’s moral behavior. by the time anyone decided to whittle these traditions down to the accurate and the inaccurate, there were already 700,000 hadith circulating throughout the muslim world. this is stated without apology.
however, there is a defense given for the prophet’s disregard for what God revealed to him, or for his immoral behavior, based on tribal customs or on his humanity. Whatever the excuse is, i found it to be unsettling that the prophet himself could not hold to his own teachings on war, choosing to attack when God instructed him that people should only defend against oppression.
it is interesting how all of the different sects of islam got their start in history, especially the shi’a. but what is even more interesting is that this book flies in the face of all of the arguments that have been given to me as to why islam is superior to christianity. for instance: “why do christians have so many denominations? muslims don’t have these same issues that christians do over doctrine.” on the contrary, if you got a sunni, shi’a, sufi, wahhabi, muslim brother, and kharaji in the same room i think you’d have more of a heated debate over the true heart of islam than you would if pat robertson and brian mclaren went at it.
of all aspects of islam, i have an appreciation for the sufi traditions. they put their emphasis on spirituality, not religion. theirs is a less rigid faith, seeing that God is in/a part of everything. they see becoming a muslim as a starting point. after belief, they begin a journey towards dying to the self and becoming consumed in God. this tradition, more than all of the others, is beautiful.
given what i knew, and what i now know, it would be very difficult for me to accept islam as ultimate religion. however, i now have an appreciation and a basic understanding of not only muslim history, but muslim politics, based on no god but God.