Quick Thoughts on Three Books I Received from ZI Publications
Sunday, 25th September, 2011 § 2 Comments
For some strange reason, ZI Publications enjoys sending me complimentary copies of their books if only I could write something about those books in this blog (though they understand that I have no obligations to do so…but y’know, it’d be nice if I did). Previous reviews of their gratis books can be read here, here, here, here and also here. A couple of reviews of their books which I actually bought can be read here and here.
Last week, I received two of their latest books in the mail and another one which I received a few months ago but only started reading it just now. Here are quick thoughts on them:
CATATAN PENGINGAT BUAT KAWAN DAN LAWAN by Azmi Sharom is a collection of articles written by him in English for The Star plus a couple which first appeared in the Malaysia Today website. If you’ve read his columns in The Star from 2007 to 2009 then there’s nothing new here for you in this book except that in this book, Azmi’s opinions are in Malay. Why bother translating his articles? Azmi Sharom, in the foreword, states that he writes for an English language daily because he feels more comfortable writing in English, plus he is doubtful any Malay medium newspaper would print his articles which are usually critical of the (Malay dominated) Establishment. Which is a pity because Malaysians and especially the Malays today need to lift themselves out of the proverbial coconut shell and see that what we are arguing about almost daily is pretty trivial in the larger scheme things. A sex scandal? A grab for power? Ketuanan Melayu? *Pfftt* Azmi argues that we should instead focus on freedom and the right to practice said freedom as is our right even if it means differing with the status quo. Translating his amusing and thought provoking articles to Malay is a wise move. There’s no guarantee that many of the target audience would actually read it but at least the book is there waiting to be read.
FOUND IN MALAYSIA vol. 2 has more interviews with prominent Malaysians about what it’s like to be a pendatang in this country because let’s face it, we are all children of immigrants especially those who claim to be *ahem* pure Malays. Just like the first volume, this one asks the interviewees where their family hailed from, what’s it like growing up in Malaysia, what’s wrong with Malaysia today and what they hope to see Malaysia become. If volume 1 tickled your fancy then you can’t go wrong with volume 2. If volume 1 didn’t do anything for you then skip this one as well.
I actually received TIADA TUHAN MELAINKAN ALLAH by Reza Aslan some months ago and realised I had already read it in its original English version, No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. I knew the author’s name sounded familiar! This is the Malay version of that book where Reza Aslan tells the history of Islam, its evolution after the Prophet’s death and then moves on to Islam’s fate in the face of western colonialism of Muslim lands and what he argues as the ‘Islamic Reformation’ going on today. I admit that seeing as how I have already the original English version I merely skimmed through the Malay one and this short ‘review’ (if you want to call it that) is based on what I thought of the English version. The English version that I read was very good and I expect the Malay edition should be as well. The arrival of Islam as was taught by the Prophet was so egalitarian that it transformed a backward nation of goat herders into a world empire within 100 years after his death. However Reza Aslan argues that the Islam practiced today is an Islam interpreted by the ulama’ (religious scholars) and may not necessarily be the same as what the Prophet originally taught. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for example stressed on social justice and tolerance. He was also responsible for raising the status of women to a respectable one when before his Prophethood women were considered as mere chattel. Yet some ulama’ (then as now) are quite intolerant of different views even within Islam and are quite misogynistic, all in the name of defending the faith. Nevertheless, Reza argues that Islam is evolving and reforming itself in accordance to the challenges it faces and this is why that despite the many biased views on the religion, it is still the fastest growing faith in the world today.
A slight criticism I may have of the book may be aimed at what I perceived as his bias towards the ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs’ other than Ali. Being Iranian and therefore probably a Syiah, Reza Aslan can’t help but write (especially in the chapters on Islamic history) with a pro-Syiah stance. Or perhaps the bias lies with me and my pro-Sunni views? His accusations of the third Caliph, Uthman bin Affan, does not jibe with the popular view and yes, while I realise the popular view may not be the right view it also means that a differing view may not necessarily be the right one either. Reza sees Uthman as how the Syiah see him; a weak and incompetent leader who appointed his relatives to important positions. This is a view that is challenged by other historians like Dr. Ali Muhammad As Sallabi who argues in his own biography of Uthman that while true the Caliph could be seen as a cheerleader for nepotism to the untrained eye, he appointed those relatives whom he thought were qualified (it was under their governorship that the borders of the Islamic empire expanded and stabilised). Allah knows best.
A cracking good book that annoys your prior conceptions of what Islam is all about.