It is hard to imagine a better book than this about the current state of Islam, and what could be done to better its prospects. Husain was in born in London to Muslim immigrants from India. As a teenager, he became a part of international Muslim radicalism, which he subsequently abandoned and wrote about in his book, The Islamist. Later, he studied Arabic under Muslim scholars in Damascus, and then went to Saudi Arabia as a teacher, but was distressed to find that his students welcomed the terrorist bombings on the London underground, so he returned to the UK. He now works in think tanks in London and Washington.

It is one of the merits of the book that it identifies a potential bridge between the West and Islam: the conservative political tradition, particularly the British one.  Unlike the negligent West, Islam is intent on preserving the collected inherited wisdom and goodness of the past. The political philosopher Edmund Burke`s (1730-1797) assertion “society is a partnership between the dead, the living, and generations yet to come,” would be congenial to Muslims. What they want to conserve are worship of one God, the Koran, an honoured prophet, a celebrated family life, and emphasis on the soul`s journey to the next life.

Islam also favours free trade (Muslims were always great traders), the rule of law (Islam is a religion of law and obedience), and pluralism (Muslims are used to different cultures). The conservative government in Britain seems to suit their interests best, although the Christian Democratic government in Germany should have appeal.

Right now, the house of Islam is ablaze, and Husain has no doubt about who the arsonists are: they are the terrorist groups spawned by the Salafi-Wahabi version of Islam. Salafi means “the predecessors” and refers to the first three generations of Muslims. Following an 18th century  preacher in Arabia, Al Wahab,  they had a literalist interpretation of the Koran, and maintained that anyone who disagreed with them deserved death.  To-day, Salafism is the majority form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, which has spent billions of dollars spreading it throughout the world. Even so, Salafi-Wahabis represent fewer than 5% of the world`s Muslims. Terrorist groups like the Salafi jihadi, have appeared before, and were outlawed by mainstream Islam, which, Husain argues, should be repeated.

In sharp contrast is Ahmadu Bamba, born to pious Muslim parents in Senegal, West Africa in 1853. His father was a marabout, or learned religious scholar, who taught the boy Arabic, the Koran, poetry, and Muslim jurisprudence, which he took to without difficulty. He became a Gandhian before Gandhi, and was religiously committed to non-violence against the persecuting, imperialist French. A charismatic personality, he attracted an enormous following, and the French, alarmed, sent him into exile in 1895 to neighboring Gabon for seven years. On his return in 1902, the crowds he attracted grew even more, and the French sent him to jail in bordering Mauritania for four years.

On his return, his crowd appeal continued, and the French, by then convinced of his pacifism, permitted him to stay. He died in 1927. The village he founded as a haven for peace in 1887, Touba, is now Senegal`s second largest city. About a quarter of the population is in the Mouride, a Sufi  order he founded. Senegal is a rare model of democracy in Africa.

The House of Islam is published by Bloomsbury, London. 2018. p. 320. $29.99. ISBN TPB 978-1- 4088- 7227- 7

Reg Naulty, Canberra Regional Meeting


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