INSIGHT: The writer highlights two books to help readers understand Islam
AS always in my trips to Malaysia I often buy books, or on those lucky occasions, I am given one as a gift. My friends and colleagues know that I like books, so I am fortunate in this respect that when they think of me, books also come to mind.
I must attest to the fact that whenever I receive a gift of a book, a great feeling of joy and thankfulness comes over me. I cannot explain why exactly but of all the things people can give me, a book always seems to resonate with me the most.
Two books that I received lately seem to be worthy of drawing my readers attention to. In later columns I intend to draw upon the themes and concerns of these books in more detail.
However, for the moment I want to suggest that these two books pursue and articulate interests and themes that are of relevance not only to Malaysian concerns but universal ones as well.
The first book is authored by Professor Chandra Muzaffar. Its title is Muslims Today: Changes within, Challenges without. The first chapter of the book starts with a discussion of The Concept of Equality in Islamic Thought.
This way of beginning the book is an excellent opening to the critical importance of social justice in Islam. The opening lines of the chapter are instructive.
According to Chandra: "Equality as an idea is deeply embedded in Islamic philosophy. Its sociological manifestations are also lucidly expressed in both the Quran and the Sunnah (the way of the Prophet Muhammad) on the one hand, and in other Islamic traditions, on the other (see Chandra Muzzafar, Muslims Today, Emel Publications, 2011, page 3)."
The quest for equality is, according to Chandra, a critical aspect within Islam since it informs the concept of universal justice. Suffice it to note for readers concerned about the concept of equality, it does not mean the sacrifice of difference or diversity in the world.
The beauty of Chandra's discussion is that it is deeply informed by a spiritual understanding of the universalism of Islam and its unwavering commitment to justice.
Other concerns of the book relate to the manner in which Islam can help shape and contribute a global ethic and the ways in which the universal message of Islam is being distorted by those whose knowledge of Islam is either deficient or perhaps whose agenda is more cynical.
Either way, my opinion is that those readers who are interested in Islam should avail themselves of this important and illuminating book.
Those readers who have negative views on Islam should read this book as well. Perhaps, the result may be a more informed and considered understanding.
The second book is titled One Kaabah, Two Mosques and the Quest for Sustainability. This book is published by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) (2012).
The project editors for this book are Ilias Said, Mohd Wira Mohd Shafiei and Mohamad Abdullah. In this book, we are introduced to the work that USM is spearheading in partnership with its collaborative partners in Saudi Arabia, Al-Qassim University and Umm Al-Qura University. All three tertiary institutions have worked on the Haj Research Projects with the aim of "infusing sustainable practices into the holy pilgrimage activities (see ibid. page iv)."
The research itself began with a joint project between Professor Mohd Omar Abd Kadir from USM and D. Sultan Al-Sultan, a researcher from Al-Qassim University. Later Professor Kamarulazizi Ibrahim led the team.
The research and projects are now growing and expanding to include topics such as Intelligent and Integrated Haj Mobilisation Systems, Training and Education for Haj Pilgrims; Creating Awareness with the Support of Multimedia and Virtual Reality Systems; Solid Waste Management in the Holy City of Makkah and, finally and very importantly, the Evaluation of Facilities for Women during the Haj Pilgrimage (see, ibid. page 48).
Despite the obvious importance of these research projects and the significance of the international collaboration between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia through the auspices of their respective educational institutions, I also want to draw readers' attention to the beauty of the book itself. For Muslims and non-Muslims alike, this book through the beauty of the images is an elegant and eloquent introduction to the beauty of faith and the holy pilgrimage.
I think that the words of Senator Major General Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom capture my sentiment when in the foreword to this book he writes: "This book transcends the boundaries of religion and race as it is merely a frank and forthright depiction of man's struggle in bettering himself for both the present and future generations (see ibid. page v)."
These words also capture what I feel unites the two books. The common commitment to human betterment is what ties together them together and animates them.
I think that, understood and engaged in an informed way, these two books provide a stimulating and inspiring insight into both the philosophical and practical issues that characterise our universal search for a better and more just and sustainable world.
My sense is that reading these books can help us to understand Islam and the good work done in its name in a fuller and more informed light.
Reading, understanding and engaging with an open mind the positive contribution that Islam makes to universal principles of decency, justice and human betterment is critical for all of us, irrespective of our differences in faith or creed.
Both books in their different ways provide such reading material which can contribute to a fuller, better and more informed understanding that may help enlighten many of us and help us transcend our narrow bigotry and ignorance.
These books also provide practical examples of engagement with the project of human betterment.
In these respects and many others, they are worth directing my readers towards.