Even for a person like me who has read a little about Islam and its history, and therefore, has some idea about its origins and evolution, the book still makes an interesting read. One has to concede that Reza Aslan writes very well.
This book provides an important introduction to Islam, without delving into depths/semantics of Islamic theology. People who have some interest in Islamic history should read it. It will introduce them to the lives and times in pre Islamic Arabia, a glimpse into the life of the Prophet, the genesis and basic beliefs of the two sects of Islam, Shias and Sunnis. There is also a chapter devoted on Sufi Islam and it’s silsilas, which a Sanatani (Hindu) like me, found most interesting. Having read a little about many of these silsilas (except the Naqahbandi Silsila, which for me is qualifies as “orthodox” amongst Sufis, at times more orthodox than even the Deobandis (remember Shah Waliullahs writings)) the other Sufi traditions are pretty close to Sanatani (Hindu) sacred texts and rituals.
Reza is an Iranian American, and belongs to a family which left Iran post the Islamic revolution. The penultimate chapter of the book provides an overview about the Islamic revolution in his country of birth, Iran, and the unique style of Islamic governance that was established there by Ayatollah Khomeini, post the 1979 Islamic revolution. This Islamic (Shia) governance framework/regime found expression in the concept of “Vilayat e Faqih” and also embedded within itself concepts such as democracy and representative government. While much can be critiqued about this conception of democratic governance, it cannot however be denied, that Iran today remains the only (well Tunisia after the Arab spring, is gradually building itself towards one) democracy in the Islamic world, howsoever imperfect.
The last chapter of the book deals with the future of Islam and Reza believes that Islam is going through an internal struggle, and like the Christian world, Islam will surely see a reformation in future. One hopes that he is proved right for Islam has had a history of intellectualism, scientific temper, adaptation and absorption of ideas. Speaking at a totally personal level, the problem in my view arose with the rise of the Asharis‘ and the complete destruction of the Mutazilite school of thought. (अरे ये एक काफिर का ओपिनियन है, मुर्शिद लोग, डंडा ले के मत दौड़ा देना )