Monday, July 20, 2009

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Koran

I promised my friends (and boyfriend) in Turkey that I would read the Koran this summer. They are very concerned about the fate of their Christian friend’s soul. I appreciate their concern, so I agreed to study about Islam to alleviate some of their fears.

My first step, of course, was to buy an English translation of the Koran. I realized immediately, though, that I was entering into complex and confusing ground. My next step, then, was to put the Koran down and read, instead, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Koran.

This was my first foray into The Complete Idiot’s world. The book is clearly organized and easy to read. However, I never felt as if I was actually an idiot or that the book was written for a child or an adult with below-average intelligence. Instead, it has an easy-to-follow layout and stays with the basics.

I was expecting an explanation of the Koran itself, but the guide provides background information on the prophet Muhammad, the origins of the religion, and even addresses modern Islam. Although it makes many references to the Koran, most of the content deals with issues outside the book.

I believe I am approaching the Koran with an open mind. I live in an Islamic country. All of my friends there are Muslim. My boyfriend is a believer. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly manipulated by The Complete Idiot’s Guide. Rather than provide a subjective discussion of the Koran, the guide almost feels like a missionary tract—or something produced by a PR firm.

Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar, the author, is clearly concerned with Islam’s bad rap in Western countries, and justifiably so. I know from firsthand experience that much of what I hear about Islam in the Western media and popular culture is absolutely false, and Sarwar does his best to reverse and explain these misconceptions.

Yet, he paints an almost too rosy picture of the religion. No culture is perfect. I also know from firsthand experience that the culture (though not specifically the religion) can be deeply flawed (the same, of course, can be said of most religious cultures). I hoped for a more balanced view of the religion and culture. I wanted to know the good and the bad. I turned to the guide to learn the basics of the Koran and not to be proselyted to.

In the end, Sarwar invites the reader to pick up the Koran and decide for herself if it is really the word of God. I should have just done that in the first place instead of relying on The Complete Idiot’s Guide for background information.

1 comment:

notaconnoisseur said...

I wonder if Cliff Notes does a version of the Koran. Maybe that would serve the purpose better.