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Islam: A Concise Introduction by Neal Robinson

Article  in  Middle East Studies Association Bulletin · January 2001


DOI: 10.2307/23063387

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Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA)

Islam: A Concise Introduction by Neal Robinson


Review by: Steve Tamari
Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Summer 2001), p. 72
Published by: Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA)
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72 MESA Bulletin 35 2001

Islam: A Concise Introduction, by Neal Robinson. 176 pages, appendices,


bibliography, index. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1999. $18.95
(Paper) ISBN 0-87840-224-1

In the to Islam,
preface Robinson says his book is aimed specifically at college
students preparing for tests: "In many colleges and universities, course tutors
are required to recommend preparatory reading to be undertaken during the va
cation. Despite the ever-increasing number of introductory texts on Islam, there
is none which really meets their needs" (p. xiii). Robinson has written thirteen

chapters covering the following topics: 1) representations of Islam; 2) definitions


of Islam; 3) Islam in history; 4) Islam in the modern world; 5) the Quran; 6) Is
lamic theology; 7) Muhammad; 8) satat, 9) zakat, 10) Ramadan; 11) the hajj,
12) the sharia; and 13) Shiism. The book also includes two appendices, one on
Arabic and one on the Islamic calendar. Given that there are a host of introduc

tory texts on the market,1 the question that strikes this reviewer is: does the au
thor filla niche that needs to be filled?
This book was first published in Britain and may serve the purposes of
British university students as they prepare for their exams. Robinson's chapter on
Islamic history provides the beginning student with a handy means of memoriz

ing the key phases of Islamic history. Nevertheless, the American college instruc
tor, at least, is just as interested in an engaging introductory text that can be
used in class. Some, but not all, of Robinson's chapters serve this purpose.
The chapter on defining Islam clarifies the use of key words such as 'Mus
lim,' 'muslim,' and 'Islamic' and the substantive issues related to these semantic
distinctions. In this short chapter, Robinson demonstrates his command of the

original Islamic sources—the Quran and the hadith—and the degree to which he
relies on these to explain Islam. His chapter
on the Quran both the ad reveals

vantages and pitfalls of this kind of expertise in writing an introductory text. Rob
inson successfully uses Quranic passages to explain the collection, meaning, in

terpretation, and coherence of the Quran. However, he lets his expertise get the
better of him in adding a section on English translations of the Quran that is not
necessary in an
introductory text.
Thechapters on Islamic worship will be the most useful for beginning
students because they provide concrete specificity without being overly aca
demic. For example, the book provides a description of performance of sa/at as
well as a map of the hajj itinerary. In sum, Islam is not consistently concise or
sufficientlyintroductoryto set it above other similar books.
Finally, many typographical errors mar the text. Here are just a few:
"Russian" should be "Russia" (p. 49); "hale from" should be "hail from" (p. 29);
"Arab lands east of Iraq" should be "Arab lands west of Iraq" (p. 80); and some
places (such as Carlowitz and Diyarbakir) are spelled more than one way (pp. 40,
41, 28, 30).
Steve Tamari
Southern Illinois University

1
Frederick Denny, Islam and the Muslim Community {Waveland Press, 1998); and John
Sabini, Islam: A Primer (Middle East Editorial Association, 1990) are just two that come
to mind.

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