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Good reading on Islam

On Friday, WORLD Magazine will publish an article detailing how the National Endowment for the Humanities is using taxpayer funds to promote Islam in the United States. One expert on Islam we consulted to assess the books shipped by NEH, Dr. Daniel Pipes, has on his website an excellent list of English-language books that offer an accurate look at Islam. Below are his suggestions and comments, starting with books on the religion and proceeding to premodern history, modern history, and then specific issues. (For more information on the books and excellent analysis of Middle Eastern developments, visit Pipes’ website.)

The Koran Interpreted: A Translation by A.J. Arberry (Touchstone, 1996) The Koran: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Cook (Oxford University Press, USA; 2000) Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews by Khalid Durán with Abdelwahab Hechiche (Ktav Pub Inc, 2001) Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins by Robert Spencer (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012) The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years by Bernard Lewis (Scribner, 1997) The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (three volumes) by Marshall G. S. Hodgson (University of Chicago Press, 1977) Understanding Jihad by David B. Cook (University of California Press, 2005) Islamic Imperialism: A History by Efraim Karsh (Yale University Press, 2006) Islam in Modern History by Wilfred Cantwell Smith (Princeton University Press, 1977) Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923 by Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh (Harvard University Press, 2001) Among the Believers by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, 1982): “A journey to four Muslim countries and some lively discussions about the nature and future of Islam.” Radical Islam by Emmanuel Sivan (Yale University Press, 1990): “One of the first and still one of the best analyses of this subject.” The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism by Johannes J.G. Jansen (Cornell University Press, 1997): “A densely reasoned, brave attempt to explain militant Islam.” The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder by Bassam Tibi (University of California Press, 1998): “An even more densely written interpretation of militant Islam, but worth the effort.” The Closed Circle by David Pryce-Jones (HarperPerennial, 1991): “Perhaps the single most informative book on the cruel nature of contemporary Middle East politics.” Culture and Conflict in the Middle East by Philip Carl Salzman (Humanity Books, 2007): “Places the social and political life of the region in its tribal context. Changed my understanding of the Middle East.” The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations by Lee Smith (Doubleday, 2010): “It’s simple: Politics in the Middle East boils down to seizing and maintaining power. But that central fact eludes Westerners.” Islam and Human Rights: Traditions and Politics by Ann Elizabeth Mayer (Westview Press, 1998): “An understated and powerful repudiation of the notion of ‘Islamic human rights.’” Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism by Timur Kuran (Princeton University Press, 2005): “Exposes Shar’i compliant financing for the 1930s fraud it is.” Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in a Modern Muslim Society by Fatima Mernissi (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1976): “Explains the logic of Islamic ideas of sexuality, making sense of what is otherwise mysterious.”

See “More good reading on Islam,” “More books to read about Islam,” and “The NEH ‘Muslim Journeys’ reading list.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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