Just finished Reza Aslan’s “No God But God”, a history of Islam told in light of the recent clashes between Muslim extremists and western societies. The book is a thoughtful and thorough description of Islamic history, and traces the development of the various sects in Islam from their foundational events through their modern expressions.
The book is eminently readable and extremely useful to westerners who are unfamiliar with the nuances of Islamic history and its effects on the divisions within modern Islam, and those nuances are essential to any useful appreciation of what has been going on between Islam and the west over the last thirty years, and particularly over the last eight.
That is so because the central premise of the book is that the attacks on various western targets in the last decade have really not been about the west per se, that the lives that have been lost in the west have essentially been collateral damage in a long overdue reformation within Islam itself, one that parallels quite closely the bloody reformation that occurred within Christianity just about 600 years ago. (In that sense, it may be wrong to call this reformation in Islam “long overdue”, in that it’s happening almost exactly as far into Islam’s history as the aforementioned bloody Christian reformation did into Christianity’s.)
In outlining the development of the forces at work in this reformation, Aslan adds to a body of work that attempts to explain the motivations of Islamist terrorists by paying strict attention to what they say themselves, rather than to what western pundits have had to say about them. Not a bad idea, that, and the historical perspective is invaluable too.