HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Author: Alfred Guillaume
Cover Illustrator: Lewin Bassingthwaighte
Publisher: Penguin Books
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Guillaume, Alfred. Islam (published in 1954 and republished in 1976 by Penguiin Books Inc., 7177 Ambassador Rd., Baltimore, MD 21207). Islam has been in the news almost daily at least since Islamic terrorists ran airplanes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, NY, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on Sept. 11, 2001, and is still there today with the current advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant, either ISIS or ISIL). When I was at the University of Akron, even then the politically correct powers that be determined that to graduate all students had to have three quarters of non-Western culture. If you are old enough, you may remember that Jesse Jackson was running around in those days and leading students in the chant, “Hey ho, Hey ho, Western Civ has got to go.” One of the cultures I chose was Middle Eastern, and a study of Middle Eastern civilization is almost equivalent to a study of the Islamic religion. The two books that we used for texts were Islam by Alfred Guillaume and The Arabs by Anthony Nutting. Islam, though relatively short, covers all aspects of the religion, from the past through to the present day, beginning with a historical background, then discussing the life of Muhammad, the development of the Quran, the spread of the Islamic empire, the division into sects, and the state of Islam today. It ends with a short critique of “The Relation of Islam to Christianity,” and is a popular, accessible guide for anyone wanting to know more about this spiritual and cultural tradition, which has millions of followers around the world. One reviewer said that it “seems strangely ‘modern’ for a book published quite a few years ago.”
Author Alfred Guillaume (1888–1965) was an Arabist and Islamic scholar. One source identified him as a French historian and Catholic priest. He took up Arabic after studying Theology and Oriental Languages at the University of Oxford. In the First World War he served in France and then in the Arab Bureau in Cairo. He became Professor of Arabic and the Head of the Department of the Near and Middle East in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He was later Visiting Professor of Arabic at Princeton University in New Jersey. During the Second World War the British Council invited him to accept a visiting professorship at the American University of Beirut where he greatly enlarged his circle of Muslim friends. The Arab Academy of Damascus and the Royal Academy of Baghdad honored him by electing him to their number, and the University of Istanbul chose him as their first foreign lecturer on Christian and Islamic theology. Because Guillaume, who was one of the foremost authorities of Islam in his time, identified himself as a Christian, he is not completely unbiased, but this respectful yet critical work, while a fairly scholarly monograph, is generally considered to be a useful, sympathetic introduction to the history and teachings of the world’s fastest growing religion. There are many references from Islamic writers to back up the claims so that it is not a one sided approach but well balanced.
Today, we are being told that Islam is a religion of peace. Everyone realizes that there are peaceful Muslims, but even a casual reading of this book reveals that the history of Islam is not a history of peace. Islam began its history as Muhammad led his Muslim armies in 630 from Medina, Arabia, to conquer the Quraysh tribe of Mecca, giving them the choice of converting to Islam or being put to death. The Islamic Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711, conquering much of Spain with the same choice of conversion or death. From there, the Umayyad Muslims continued to push on into Europe with the intention of conquering as much territory for Islam as possible until stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. Then there were the Crusades, which have been used by atheists and Muslims alike as proof that Christianity is evil. While not condoning the Crusades and especially the abuses which characterized some of them, I feel it necessary to point out that up until around 1070, Christians, Jews, and Arabs lived pretty much peacefully together in Palestine before the Islamic Seljuq Turks conquered it 1072 and began killing Christians and Jews making pilgrimages. In 1095 Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade with the stated goal of restoring Christian access to holy places in and near Jerusalem. So, despite what you hear about “Christian aggression,” the Crusades began as a defensive war to protect Christians and Jews from Islamic aggression. Then there was the conquest of Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire, by an invading army of Islamic Ottoman Turks. Is Islam a religion of peace? History says otherwise.