Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity

Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity

4.8 6
by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

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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

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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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nasr, a professor at George Washington University and a living legend in Islamic studies, was commissioned by Harper San Francisco to write this book after the attacks of September 11. Presented as "an explanation of the authentic teachings of Islam anew in light of the challenges of the present-day situation," this is an adequate and accurate reference tool, particularly for comparisons of the text of the holy books of the three major, monotheistic Western religions. Further, Nasr's ability to perceive profound spiritual meaning from Islamic theory, though exploited only a few times in this book, has no rival. The writing is best when he's discussing his own life. He also succeeds when taking on current critics of Islam, especially his persuasive counter-arguments to the "What Went Wrong?" school of thought. However, Nasr's fans, and those seeking to improve their understanding of Islam, will be disappointed. In aiming to discuss each value that is significant in Islam, Nasr has created an unfocused, sometimes dull book. He discusses the importance of values like justice and community and distinguishes between true Islam and local, tribal culture, but the absence of a guiding thesis alienates the reader. Though his purpose is to counter negativity about Islam in the post-9/11 era, Nasr instead rambles on about esoteric, irrelevant points. This is an unengaging read that fails to illuminate the titular "heart" of Islam. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
HarperCollins commissioned this book to cut through misinformation and give American readers a clear sense of just what Islam is and what it isn't. A first-tier Islamic scholar, Nasr (George Washington Univ.) speaks for traditional Muslims (as distinct from "modernists" and "puritan reformers"), and it is hard to imagine a better introduction to the faith. Nasr does not sidestep the issues that non-Muslims have on their minds, but he addresses them within the context of the vitality and vision of Islam more generally. In the process, he conveys both the "outer sense" of the Qur'anic scripture and sacred traditions that shape the faith as a social phenomenon, and the "inner sense" that is the root of its spiritual power. Nasr does a very good job of expounding the commonalties and contrasts of Islam with other faiths, especially Judaism and Christianity. Rather than seeing Islamic strength as a threat, he argues that Islam and other religions share values that commit them to opposing the deadening effects both spiritual and literal of secularism and globalization. Recommended for all academic and public libraries. Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

One God,
Many Prophets

The Unity of Truth
and the Multiplicity of Revelations

Say: He, God, is One, God the Self-Sufficient Besought of all. He begetteth not, nor is begotten, and none is like Him.
Quran 112: v.1-4

God the One

At the heart of Islam stands the reality of God, the One, the Absolute and the Infinite, the Infinitely Good and All Merciful, the One Who is at once transcendent and immanent, greater than all we can conceive or imagine, yet, as the Quran, the sacred scripture of Islam, attests, closer to us than our jugular vein. The One God, known by His Arabic Name, Allah, is the central reality of Islam in all of its facets, and attestation to this oneness, which is called tawhid, is the axis around which all that is Islamic revolves. Allah is beyond all duality and relationality, beyond the differences of gender and of all qualities that distinguish beings from each other in this world. Yet He is the source of all existence and all cosmic and human qualities as well as the End to Whom all things return.

To testify to this oneness ties at the heart of the credo of Islam, and the formula that expresses the truth of this oneness, La ilaha illa'Llah, "There is no god but God," is the first of two testifications (shahadahs) by which a person bears witness to being a Muslim; the second is Muhammadun rasul Allah, "Muhammad is the messenger of God." The oneness of God is for Muslims not only the heart of their religion, but that of every authentic religion. It is a reassertion of the revelation of God to theHebrew prophets and to Christ, whom Muslims also consider to be their prophets, the revelation of the truth that "The Lord is one," the reconfirmation of that timeless truth that is also stated in the Catholic creed, Credo in unum Deum, "I believe in one God." As the Quran states, "We have never sent a messenger before thee except that We revealed to him, saying, 'There is no god but I, so worship Me'" (21:25). Like countless Muslims, when I read the names of the prophets of old in the Quran or in the traditional prayers, I experience them as living realities in the Islamic universe, while being fully conscious of the fact that they are revered figures in Judaism and Christianity. I also remain fully aware that they are all speaking of the same God Who is One and not of some other deity.

The One God, or Allah, is neither male nor female. However, in the inner teachings of Islam His Essence is often referred to in feminine form and the Divinity is often mentioned as the Beloved, while the Face He has turned to the world as Creator and Sustainer is addressed in the masculine form. Both the male and the female are created by Him and the root of both femininity and masculinity are to be found in the Divine Nature, which transcends the duality between them. Furthermore, the Qualities of God, which are reflected throughout creation, are of a feminine as well as a masculine nature, and the traditional Islamic understanding of the Divinity is not at all confined, as some think, to a purely patriarchal image.

The Quran, which is the verbatim Word of God for Muslims, to be compared to Christ himself in Christianity, reveals not only the Supreme Name of God as Allah, but also mentions other "beautiful Names" of God, considered by traditional sources to be ninety-nine in number, Names revealing different aspects of the Divinity. The Quran states, "To God belong the most beautiful Names (alasma' al-husna). Call on Him thereby" (7:180). These Names are divided into those of Perfection (Kamal), Majesty (Jalal), and Beauty (Jamal), the first relating to the essential oneness of God Himself beyond all polarization and the last two to the masculine and feminine dimensions of reality in divinis (in the Divine Order). The Names of Majesty include the Just, the Majestic, the Reckoner, the Giver of Death, the Victorious, and the All-Powerful, and those of Beauty, the All-Merciful, the Forgiver, the Gentle, the Generous, the Beautiful, and Love. For Muslims the whole universe consists of the reflection in various combinations of the Divine Names, and human life is lived amid the polarizations and tensions as well as harmony of the cosmic and human qualities derived from these Names. God at once judges us according to His Justice and forgives us according to His Mercy. He is far beyond our reach, yet resides at the center of the heart of the faithful. He punishes the wicked, but also loves His creatures and forgives them.

The doctrine of God the One, as stated in the Quran, does not only emphasize utter transcendence, although there are powerful expressions of this truth such as Allahu akbar, usually translated as "God is great," but meaning that God is greater than anything we can conceive of Him, which is also attested by the apophatic theology of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as by traditional Judaism. The Quran also accentuates God's nearness to us, stating that He is closer to us than ourselves and that He is present everywhere, as when it states: "Whithersoever ye turn, there is the Face of God" (2:115). The traditional religious life of a Muslim is based on a rhythmic movement between the poles of transcendence and immanence, of rigor and compassion, of justice and forgiveness, of the fear of punishment and hope for mercy based on God's love for us. But the galaxy of Divine Names and the multiplicity of Divine Qualities reflected in the cosmos and within the being of men and women do not distract the Muslim for one moment from the oneness of God, from that Sun before whose light all multiplicity perishes. Striving after the realization of that oneness, or tawhid, is the heart of Islamic life; and the measure of a successful religious life is the degree to which one is able to realize tawhid, which means not only oneness, but also the integration of multiplicity into Unity.

Heart of Islam, The. Copyright © by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Seyyed Hossein Nasr is university professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. Author of over fifty books, Professor Nasr is a well-known and highly respected intellectual figure both in the West and in the Islamic world. Born in Tehran, raised from the age of twelve in the United States, and a graduate of MIT and Harvard University, Nasr is well qualified to explain Islam to a Western audience. He appears frequently on Meet the Press, as well as other national news shows.

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