Book Review:

Islam in Context:  Past, Present, and Future

by Peter G. Riddell and Peter Cotterell, published by Baker Academic, New York,  2003. 216 pages of text,  diagrams, plus Bibliography.  ISBN 0-8010-2627-X

There are many books on Islam which may help explain the religion to non-Muslims, but Islam in Context may be one of the best. Certainly it is an excellent book to start with.

The book has three parts. The first, called "Looking Back", outlines the beginnings in the life of Mohammad, explains the roles and disagreements between the Caliphs and has a very helpful section on the beliefs of Islam. The first section concludes with a section on the relation of the Qur'an and Christianity.

This first section is very readable (as is the whole book) and provides a full picture of the beginnings of Islam. It has more detail than Gabriel's book "Jesus and Mohammad" and provides lots of quotations from the Qur'an and Hadith so that the reader can hear Islam speak for itself.

The second part is called "In Between: The Ebb and flow of Empire".  The sometimes confusing history of Islam after 661 is outlined here with very helpful insights into the different forces and powers that led to the expansion and then the collapse of the Muslim empires.  There is an excellent section to do with the context and conduct of the Crusades.

The third section, "Looking Around", brings us up to date with the various groups and tensions in the modern Islamic world. After reading this section the reader should have a good idea of the different groups and the tensions both between moderate an radical Islam and also between Islam and the West.

Overall this is a terrific book and provides a wide ranging view of Islam that allows readers to understand where Muslims have come from, what makes up their core beliefs, and why they think and act as they do today.

Dale Appleby

October 2008