A beginner’s guide to a misunderstood religion.
Zealot was easy since I had a background of Jesus’ life and I knew most of what the author was talking about. But my only relationship with Islam has been using the pages of the fat translated Quran at home to press flowers. So reading Reza Aslan’s No god but God was Islam 101 for me. And I read it with no prejudice, no preconcieved notions.
Though it is seemingly written from a neutral standpoint, it did seem like the author was offering excuses rather than explanations at times. Parts like the one about Muhammad placing his hand on the statue of Jesus that was inside the Kaaba and asking his followers not to destroy it made it obvious that he was writing for the Western Christians ( Much like how he wrote about how Jesus’ death was toned down to cater to Roman sensibilities in Zealot! ) Another thing that struck me in this book was that right from the beginning, the reader is made to feel sympathetic towards Ali and made to believe that he was given a raw deal. Maybe I’m assuming too much, but this was the Shia in Reza Aslan writing (Edit: There is a stronger reaction. Haha)
But he has also played it safe, not offering any controversial explanations and instead just stating facts as they are. Like I would have loved to get a logical explanation about why it is mandatory to read the Quran in Arabic even if you don’t understand the language. It is a stupid rule. But it was mentioned as just a thing and no logic was offered. Much has been written all over the place about women and the veil, so I guess that is why there wasn’t much explanation about it in the book. But going by the story of Muhamad losing his wife in the desert and suspecting her after she returns ( much like the other insecure man-god Rama), I draw my own conclusions.
The parts upto the death of Muhammad were easy to read and understand, but after that it got a little confusing. Many names didn’t stay in my head and I had to go back to check who was whom and who supported which faction. There were a lot of references and I kept losing track about which school of thought they came from. I’ve never considered Sufism a religion, I’ve thought of them more cultish, like the yoga guys or the Hare Krishna guys and the chapter on Sufism confirmed it. Somewhere in the middle, it became a mixture of history, politics and religion and it became too much to comprehend. I would have preferred to read about Shia beliefs and Khomeni separately rather than in the same chapter. Khomeni is history, Shiism is religion. Same thing with the Sepoy mutiny, colonialism and the rest of the final chapters.
I liked the book a lot, it was very informative and enlightening. And I must read it a second time to appreciate it better.