Reading Up on Islam

Since 9-11, I’ve received numerous letters like this recent one: “What can be done to help educate people on the dangers that radical Islam poses to Western civilization? I don’t think this ideological conflict will go away.”

No, it won’t. It is likely to be for the first half of the 21st century what the Cold War was for the last half of the 20th — a long, subtle struggle with occasional days of fire. How to educate folks? Use of all media will be needed, but here’s a list of books I’ve read and found useful. There are many more that I haven’t read.

First, to understand radical Islam, some sense of basic Islam is essential, and that starts with the Quran. Muslims insist that unless you’ve read it in Arabic, you haven’t read it. Maybe so, but in theology as well as in horseshoes, leaners are better than nothing, so I’d recommend either reading a translation on the Internet or buying the new Quran translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem that came out last year in paperback from Oxford University Press.

Some scholars now ask tough questions about the Quran’s historicity. As I type with one hand, I’m holding in the other John Wainsbrough’s “Quranic Studies” (2004) and Ibn Warraq’s “The Origins of the Koran” (1998). Warraq left Islam after coming to believe the Muhammad story was a sham, and his books include “Why I Am Not a Muslim” (1995), “The Quest for the Historical Muhammad” (2000) and “Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out” (2003).

Second in importance within Islam after the Quran are the Hadith, massive works delineating how Muhammad supposedly dressed, ate, ingested and excreted food and drink, and so forth. Many Hadith collections are available online, but Ram Swarup’s critical and succinct summary, “Understanding the Hadith: The Sacred Traditions of Islam” (2002), is a place to start. “Crossroads to Islam” by Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren (2003) also gives useful insights into Muslim origins.

To understand how Islam affects non-Muslims (called “dhimmis”), read three books by historian Bat Ye’or. On top of my right foot now are “The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam” (1985), “The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam” (1996) and “Islam and Dhimmitude” (2002). A book edited by Robert Spencer, “The Myth of Islamic Tolerance” (2004), includes many useful short essays on dhimmitude. Bottom line: Non-Muslims living in Muslim-controlled lands have faced discrimination always, persecution often and death sometimes.

“Islam at the Crossroads” by Paul Marshall, Roberta Green and Lela Gilbert (2002) and several books by Spencer provide succinct overviews of past and present. It’s also good to read material from the Islamophile side, so sitting on my left toes are Karen Armstrong’s “Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet” (1993), Malise Ruthven’s “Islam” (1997) and Richard Fletcher’s “The Cross and the Crescent” (2003).

Now, with the foundations laid, we can proceed to books about radical Islam that I’m balancing on my knees, including “Sword of Islam” by John F. Murphy Jr. (2002) and Paul Marshall’s “Radical Islam’s Rules” (2005), which shows how Sharia law works in many Muslim-dominated countries. Daniel Pipes’ “Militant Islam Reaches America” (2002) and David Horowitz’s “Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left” (2004) tell of the threat to the good old, still asleep United States.

Those books suggest geopolitical responses, but in the long run theological responses are crucial, so I’d also recommend “Answering Islam,” by Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb (2002); “Muslims and Christians at the Table,” by Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka (1999); “The Truth About Islam,” by Anees Zaka and Diane Coleman (2004); and other books by George Braswell and by the Caner brothers.