Islam: beliefs and teachings

Friday, February 03, 2017

Ghulam Sarwar, 
Muslim Education Trust, UK, 
8th edition, 2016, 240 pages.

I can remember this was the standard textbook for high school students in the mid-1980s, and it was extremely useful as an introductory text on the religion for young people in English. Now 37 years since its first edition, this very useful book by the Bengali scholar Mr. Sarwar, is out in a new edition. The new edition has 14 chapters covering a wide swathe of territory in the study of Islam as a religion and also the life of the holy prophet Muhammad (SAW).

The early chapters recount the basic tenets of Islam such as the five daily prayers, and how to perform its rituals such as ablution (page 41), and how to perform the daily prayers correctly (page 48). The author says that in Islam the five daily prayers are preferably done in ‘congregation’ for men to earn more reward but also to build community spirit among the Muslims. A very revealing part of this discussion on the five daily prayers is the authors account that there are times when one must not pray such as ‘when the sun is its height or from the beginning of sunset until it is set’ (page 40).

In the middle chapters of the book the author gives a detailed and very riveting account of the life history of the holy prophet of Islam. He charts his life from birth in 570 AD until his passing away in 632 AD.  Here the reader will realise the sheer amount of research and analysis that the author must have done as he ably gives a panoramic view of the holy prophet’s life as a messenger of Allah. The numerous battles such as Badr fought against the disbelievers in 624 AD(page 105) and that of Khandaq fought in 627 AD were graphically described. The diplomacy of the prophet such as his letter to Heraclius, the Emperor of Byzantium and to the rulers of Ethiopia are also fully discussed to show that the spread of the religion was also facilitated by diplomacy. The prophet of Islam’s ‘Farewell Address’ delivered at Arafat before 120,000 people to mark the end of his mission, reproduced on page 116 is worth reading.

The author also ably traces the life stories of the caliphs who came after the prophet such as Umar, Uthman and Ali (page 131). It was these who helped to narrate the sayings of the prophet or hadith (page 195).

In the latter chapters, the author narrates the aspects of Islamic life such as Shariah law, family life in Islam, economic system in Islam and the political system of Islam. Here the reader will realize that Islam as a religion is also a way of life encompassing all aspects of human endeavor.

This new edition comes with a map showing the majority and minority Muslim countries. This section will indeed require constant updating as the religion is a fast growing one especially in the west and as a result of the refugee crisis occasioned by unrest in the Middle East.

The book is well illustrated such that it is extremely practical and user friendly. After every chapter, the author tests the understanding of the reader with relevant follow up questions.

I recommend this book to students of Islamic studies in the senior secondary schools, and to all who want to have a fair knowledge of Islam as a religion and its practices.

Available at Timbooktoo, tel 4494345.