In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam

In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam

by Milton Viorst
     
 

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In his new book, In the Shadow of the Prophet, journalist and Middle East commentator Viorst tackles head-on the struggle throughout the Middle East to reconcile Islamic law and beliefs with political power in the modern world.

As the world has now seen in Iran, Sudan, in Algeria and increasingly in Egypt, among other countries, there has been a rising

Overview

In his new book, In the Shadow of the Prophet, journalist and Middle East commentator Viorst tackles head-on the struggle throughout the Middle East to reconcile Islamic law and beliefs with political power in the modern world.

As the world has now seen in Iran, Sudan, in Algeria and increasingly in Egypt, among other countries, there has been a rising tide of fundamentalism intent on overturning moderate or secular government to create in its place an Islamic state based on the laws of the shari'a-the ancient moral, legal, and religious code of Muhammad's time. Conservative traditionalist governments such as Saudi Arabia insist the Islamic principles guide the actions and thought of all citizens, banning government criticism, religious tolerance, most freedoms of expression, and any comments deemed critical of Islam. But many others feel Islam must find a way to accept and integrate science, technology, and the principles of toleration, if not democracy, into Islamic life. It pains Muslims enormously that the Middle East has lagged far behind the West, and even the emerging third world nations, in terms of its technology, military power, economic might, and general standards of living.

In its examination of the struggle for the direction of Islam in many Muslim nations, In the Shadow of the Prophet reveals the intellectual and theological straightjacket by which traditional Islam has constrained the Middle East, and what that means to the future of the region-and to us in the West.

Editorial Reviews

Daniel Schorr
(A) sensitive and revealing exploration of the many faces of Islam... In Milton Viorst's skillful hands, the specter of Islam dissolves into the complex and diverse reality of Islam. Viorst had buttressed untiring research with first-hand investigation that makes for a vivid narrative.
George McGovern
Over the years Milton Viorst has written of the Middle East with intellectual depth, first-hand observation and, above all, with clarity. This current timely, historically grounded analysis of the shaping influence of Islam on the Arab world is not only his best book but the best book I have seen anywhere on this important force in global affairs.
Foreign Affairs
A veteran Middle East hand, [Viorst] presents perceptive accounts of religious and political issues now being played out in Egypt, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Jordan, plus a solid chapter on the Muslims of France. Viorst is a master interviewer. Moreover, he has done the hard work of tracking down representative figures on all sides of these issues, presenting many individuals not that well known even to experts.
Middle East Journal
To accompany [Viorst] through this intellectual travelogue is...an illuminating experience.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Viorst, who examined the roots of Arab economic underdevelopment in Sandcastles (1994), returns to a Middle East beset by a clash among three competing forcesa deeply conservative Muslim orthodoxy; fundamentalists who seek a return to the values of seventh-century Islam; and "modernists," receptive to the West, who comprise a feeble political movement. Astutely blending history, reportage and political analysis, his odyssey gives readers a new lens for comprehending the ferment in the Muslim world. In Iran, where murderous vigilante squads roam the streets, Viorst spoke with activists and intellectuals who question the legitimacy of Khomeini's absolutist Islamic revolution. In Egypt, he gauged Hosni Mubarak's regime, which has tied its fate to Muslim orthodoxy, as ossified. Viorst, who writes with guarded affection for Arab culture, records a 1997 interview with Jordan's King Hussein, whose relatively liberal, tolerant administration has gone furthest in reconciling Islam to the modern world, in the author's opinion. Yet his valuable field reports from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Sudan do not offer much ground for hope. Of special interest is Viorst's probe of France's Muslim community (nearly 10% of the country's population), which faces xenophobic prejudice, restrictive immigration policies and the immigrants' own ambivalence about integrating into French society. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
In search of the broad range of Muslim views on Islam and society in the Arab world today, the author interviews an impressive array of Middle Eastern politicians and intellectuals, and sets their views in context of the region's long past. Viorst, a staff writer for the New Yorker and prolific commentator on the Middle East (Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the Modern World, 1994), helps correct the West's mistaken impression of theological uniformity among Muslim leaders. He divides Muslim thought into a triad of modernist, orthodox, and fundamentalist views. While modernists want to combine Western advances in science and politics with Muslim spirituality, and fundamentalists seek a purer Islam grounded in the early years of the religion, the orthodox hold all change suspect. Perhaps because their opinions are least known to Westerners, the modernist leaders, such as Ali Haroun of Algeria and Abdolkarim Soroosh of Iran, give the most memorable interviews. At issue is itjihad, or interpretation of Muslim law, and whether the process is fixed or closed, as the orthodox and fundamentalists hold, or open, as modernists teach. Viorst relates this question to another that centers his book: What caused the economic and technological decline of the Arab world that began in the Middle Ages? Several of the interviewees, including King Hussein of Jordan in a candid and affecting conversation, relate the decline to the fate of the medieval Mu'tazilites, the rationalist theologians who sought to balance Muslim faith with reason. After they fell out of favor with the ruling caliph, in the ninth century, no official partisans of reason arose to replace themþan absence "with which,"Viorst says, "Islamic civilization has lived ever since." What Viorst calls his "fondness for the Arabs" shows in his account of the guiding lights he finds shining in the shadow of the prophet; his book spreads the light a little further.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385476911
Publisher:
The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/13/1998
Pages:
355
Product dimensions:
6.41(w) x 9.47(h) x 1.32(d)

Meet the Author


Milton Viorst has written about the Middle East for years while on staff at The New Yorker. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Sandcastles and Sands of Sorrow: Israel's Journey from Independence. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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