U.S. News & World Report has published a collector’s edition with the rather ominous title “Secrets of Islam.” In it, I came across this sentence in the article “No God but God” by Thomas W. Lippman: “Fear of God’s inexorable judgment, rather than love of the deity, is the most powerful motivator in Islam.” Really? How did Lippman arrive at this conclusion? He does not say. The uncritical reader may be swayed by the sweeping statement to swallow it but that would be unfortunate. I speak for myself, and for most Muslims I know, when I say that love and longing for the Creator is, in fact, the most compelling aspect of my faith and its most powerful motivator. But I also acknowledge that it would be easy to believe Lippman if one were to listen to the fire-and-brimstone Friday sermons in many mosques around the world. The relish with which imams condemn their captive listeners to eternal damnation for perceived breach of faith (these imams know!) can only evoke the image of an unforgiving and vengeful God. Yet the refrain that shapes a Muslim’s life is: “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful!”
But this (and a few similar unfounded assertions) constitutes only a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent production. The subtitle suggests that “Secrets of Islam” is “the essential guide to the world’s fastest growing religion.” In many ways it lives up to its billing. The four sections, “Faith,” “History,” “America,” and “Conflict,” convey both context and perspective and prove invaluable in overcoming easy generalizations about Islam in a world torn apart by the events of 9/11.
For me the test of any publication that attempts to explain my faith is this: If my neighbor were to ask me for a readable, informative and illustrated guide to Islam, would I recommend this collector’s edition from U.S. News and World Report?
Yes, I would.
(“Secrets of Islam” will be available in major bookstores through August 23, 2005. For more information, visit http://www.usnews.com)