To learn about Islam you can learn from its history, like those written beautifully in Islam: a short history by Karen Armstrong, No god but God by Reza Aslan, or Lost Islamic History by Firas Al Khateeb. You can read the religion from the current affairs perspective, like The World without Islam by Graham E. Fuller and Misquoting Muhammad by Jonathan A.C. Brown. You can also learn from books that analyses The Qur’an like If The Oceans Were Ink by Carla Powers, or read The Qur’an translation directly like one of the best translations by M.A.S Abdul Haleed.
But among the most popular books there is one vital angle that has yet to be covered: the everyday real questions or accusations by non-Muslims towards Islam. This book is a collection of e-mail correspondences between the author, interfaith instructor Ahmed Lotfy Rashed, and real-life people asking real-life questions.
I’m talking about genuine questions like: Why do Muslims are living the same way as 1400 years ago with no progress? Why do Muslims support terrorist attacks? Why do Muslim women wear a head scarf? Why are women oppressed in Muslim countries? Why can’t women get an education in some Muslim countries? What are Islam’s view on homosexuality? Why Muslim men can have 4 wives? What happen to people who do not believe in God or people from different faiths, are they going to hell? What happens when a Muslim marries a non-Muslim? Is it possible to be a good person and not be a Muslim? And many more, including questions on those conflicting passages in the Qur’an that leads to misinterpretations by extremists.
The author then gives the most reasurring answers to all of these sensitive questions with calm demeanor and gives elaborate but concise answers by quoting the Qur’an, hadiths, and important studies along the way. And the resulting discussions are nothing short of an eye opener.
One example is the questions regarding terrorism. Through the discussions it is suddenly clear that there is a lot of anti-Islam propaganda and misinformation in the media that are subjecting Islam in an unfair manner, and drowns out the mainstream Muslim voices. Rashed pointed out that “while it is true that some Muslims do evil deeds, it is also true that certain media outlets emphasize those evil acts without balancing what the religion actually preaches and what the majority actually practice.”
In fact, Rashed continues, in adressing suicide bombings, “Suicide is absolutely forbidden; the Prophet said that the man who purposefully takes his own life will automatically go to Hell and never see Paradise (see also the Qur’an 4:29-30). Killing noncombatants is absolutely forbidden; the Prophet repeatedly instructed his companions that the children, the women, the elderly, the farmer in the field, the craftsman in his shop, the laborers, and those who surrender SHOULD NOT BE HARMED. I think this is very clear evidence that Muhammad (peace be upon him) would not be okay with [the terror attacks]. And there are scholars and sheikhs around the world who say the same.”
Moreover, Rashed also pointed out that “if someone recruits Christians from the church so they can go bomb an abortion clinic, it is not right to say ‘your Christian faith enlists young men to carry out these acts.’ These acts are clearly against the teachings of Christianity. Likewise, all the acts that [an accuser] mentioned are against the teachings of Islam.” Rasheed then give emphasis that “the extremism of Muslim culture is a result of leaving the values and principles of Islam, not a result of following them.”
Another example are those questions related to treatment of women. The most frequently asked question is perhaps the most visible trait in Muslim women: about wearing the scarf. Rashed remarks “that head scarfs it is actually gives freedom to women, freedom from physical judgements. The same reason why Christian nuns and orthodox jewish women also cover their hair.” And when asked whether girls should or should not get an education, Rashed replied “of course girls can and should get an education. The Prophet said, ‘Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim, male and female.’ So what you see is that Muslims are doing something that is against the teachings of Islam.”
Muslims doing something that is against the teachings of Islam, which becomes the sole subjective focus of the media whilst ignoring the good deeds of the majority of Muslims, is the biggest PR problem Islam have right now. It’s like as if the media only show coverage of elegant and funny cats, while only show the nasty videos or pictures of dogs attacking humans and being a total beast. The world will only see dogs as a nasty creature that needs to be isolated from society, and see cats as the ultimate pet. The fact that there are many seeing-eye dogs, canine unit at the police, or many loyal stories like Hachiko in Japan, they will go unnoticed.
There are many, many more topics that are being thoroughly discussed in this book, which are impossible to cover all one by one in this short review. It is one of the most direct books that tackles the hot pressing topics on Islam right now, an absolutely vital book to read for those who are sceptical to, or even agressive towards, Islam.
It is also, in a way, a good guidebook for Muslims who constantly being harrassed and attacked based on their beliefs, on how to calmly and respectfully answer and straightened the wrong accusations. The author repeatedly says “With dialogue comes understanding”, and that is ultimately what this book does.