The book is excellent and gives the history from the time of Prophet Muhammad to the current status of Islam in the world.
Reza Aslam rejects Patricia Crone’s conclusion that “everything about prophet Muhammad and rise of Islam is a complete fabrication created by Arab story tellers in the 8th and 9th centuries”, and relies on traditions to an extent, for the history at the time of Prophet Muhammad, and the first few centuries after his death.
Our preference would be Dr Fred Donner’s research on how Islam began. Per Dr. Donner only two documents are authentic from the time of Prophet Muhammad – the Quran and the Medina Agreement (Mīthāq al-Madīnah) between Muhammad and the tribes of Medina. As pointed out by Donner and Aslan, the Christians and Jews were considered part of the single Ummah together with the followers of Muhammad.
The Quran does not look kindly upon religious scholars (9:31). This book points out the sway of scholars in the eleventh century, “..institutionalize their legal and theological opinions into distinct schools of thought but also to formulate a binding, comprehensive code of conduct called Shariah, forever transforming Islam from a religion into all-embracing way of life: one that the Ulama claimed the sole authority to define.”
Reza Aslam points out, “But it was the Modernist demand that the Shariah be withdrawn entirely from the civil sphere that cause the greatest concern among the Ulama.”
The book provides an excellent summary of scholarly thought from Iqbal, Maudoodi, Hasan Al Banna, Sayyid Qutb and others in the last 100 years. He traces the world’s first Islamic socialist movement – Muslim Brotherhood, Islamism, Salafism, Wahabism and Jihadism.
All these movements, most of which include violence, claim the Quran and Shariah as their source. However, none of them could claim only the Quran as their source. Adding the Shariah as a source brings in the human element and human words and thus one can choose words of their choosing to justify anything they want.
Reza Aslam mentions Islamic Reformation, “Indeed, one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic movements within Islam today is being led by an international community of Muslims, called Quranists, who reject all sources of authority in Islam – the hadith, the Sunnah, The Shariah – save the Quran.”
We take issue with Reza Aslan on the following:
“Three years after revelation began 613, the declaration of faith was: there is no god but God and Muhammad is God’s messenger.”
The declaration of faith according to the Quran is “there is no god”. The declaration in the Quran does not have Muhammad’s name next to God’s. This ‘double shahaada’ was fabricated by the scholars about 70-100 years after prophet Muhammad’s death. Anyone can verify this by searching for early Islamic coins which had the correct declaration which did not include Muhammad’s name.
“The Quran itself repeatly affirms the importance of blood relations (2:177, 215), and endows Muhammad’s family – the ahl al-bayt – with an eminent position in the Ummah, somewhat akin to that enjoyed by the families of the other prophets.”
Righteousness is not turning your faces towards the east or the west. Righteous are those who believe in GOD, the Last Day, the angels, the scripture, and the prophets; and they give the money, cheerfully, to the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the traveling alien, the beggars, and to free the slaves; and they observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat); and they keep their word whenever they make a promise; and they steadfastly persevere in the face of persecution, hardship, and war. These are the truthful; these are the righteous. [2:177]
They ask you about giving: say, “The charity you give shall go to the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, and the traveling alien.” Any good you do, GOD is fully aware thereof. [2:215]
These verses do not blood relations in Muhammad’s family for significance for political or religious control.
When we abrogate any miracle, or cause it to be forgotten, we produce a better miracle, or at least an equal one. Do you not recognize the fact that GOD is Omnipotent? [2:106]
The Quran contains a mathematical miracle per verses 74:30-35 plus numerous other verses revealed to the current computer literate generation.