What Do Muslims Believe?: The Roots and Realities of Modern Islam

A fascinating and concise primer on one of the world’s most widespread religions.

Islam is one of the great monotheistic religions of the world. Its teachings emphasize unity, humility, forgiveness, and love of God. The Qur’an sings the virtues of knowledge and rationality. The life of Muhammad demonstrates the importance of tolerance, social justice and brotherhood.
So why is Islam so often associated with hatred, violence, obstinacy, and bigotry?
What Do Muslims Believe? presents readers with an accessible and incisive explanation of the roots and beliefs of Islam, published at a time when more than ever we need an objective view of this often misinterpreted religion.
Parsing fact from misstatement in elegant prose, Ziauddin Sardar gives a clear-eyed view of what makes a Muslim; where Muslims come from and who they are today; what, exactly, they believe and how they reflect those beliefs; where Islam is headed; and how you can apply Islam in your life. With a useful chronology of Islamic history from A.D. 632 to the present, a glossary of terms, selections from both the Qur’an and the Hadith, as well as a list of further reading, What Do Muslims Believe? is an ideal primer for anyone who wants to understand what it really means to follow Islam.
Ziauddin Sardar is a writer, broadcaster, and critical commentator on Islam, culture, and science. He is the author of more than forty books, including, most recently, Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Skeptical Muslim, and Why Do People Hate America. He contributes regularly to the New Statesman, and lives in England.
Islam is one of the world’s most widespread religions. Its monotheistic teachings emphasize unity, humility, forgiveness, and love of God. The Qur’an identifies knowledge and rationality as virtuous qualities. The life of Muhammad demonstrates the importance of tolerance, social justice and brotherhood. But Islam is often associated with hatred, violence, obstinacy, and bigotry.
What Do Muslims Believe? presents an accessible and incisive explanation of the roots and beliefs of Islam.  Parsing fact from misstatement in elegant prose, Ziauddin Sardar gives a clear-eyed view of what makes a Muslim; where Muslims come from and who they are today; what, exactly, they believe and how they reflect those beliefs; where Islam is headed; and how one could apply Islam to his or her life. With a useful chronology of Islamic history from A.D. 632 to the present, a glossary of terms, selections from both the Qur’an and the Hadith, as well as a list of further reading, What Do Muslims Believe? is a primer for anyone who wants to understand what it means to follow Islam.
“Just over 100 pages of tightly formatted highlights of the history, significance and practice of the [faith] and concludes with suggestions for further study . . . well-indexed . . . offer[s] more than facts . . . In describing how Muslims are expected to follow the daily life practices of the Prophet by how they eat, dress, even clean their teeth, Sardar adds that among his followers, ‘the Prophet’s generosity and forgiveness, compassion and civility, his strong sense of justice and equality, his passion for thought and learning are often conspicuous by their absence.'”—Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today
“Just over 100 pages of tightly formatted highlights of the history, significance and practice of the faiths and concludes with suggestions for further study . . . well-indexed, in case a reader wants to cut through the detailed chapter on the life of Mohammed to learn about the prophet’s crucial night journey when he received the revelations of the Quran . . . offer[s] more than facts . . . In describing how Muslims are expected to follow the daily life practices of the Prophet by how they eat, dress, even clean their teeth, Sardar adds that among his followers, ‘the Prophet’s generosity and forgiveness, compassion and civility, his strong sense of justice and equality, his passion for thought and learning are often conspicuous by their absence.'”—Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today
“Pakistani-born and British-educated Sardar, author of 40 other books on Islam, pens this elucidating and very original introduction to the religion. He describes the basics of Islam, including the Qur’an and hadith, the life of Muhammad and the history of Islam and Muslims, in an easy-to-read and cogent manner. Sprinkled throughout are surprising facts, including that Muslims do not believe in original sin and that there are as many Muslims in China as in Egypt. Sardar clarifies some troubling aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, explaining polygamy as mainly alliance building and Muhammad’s participation in battle as more limited than generally described. He criticizes Muslims for their rigidity and for losing touch with reason—which, in his opinion, is a cornerstone of Islam. He decries the literalism behind the creation of sharia law, the rejection of free interpretation of the Qur’an (called ijtihad) and unfair treatment of women, but sees these behaviors as anomalies. In contrast, Sardar acknowledges Muslims’ tolerance, such as their acceptance of other prophets, their flourishing book trade and societal advancements. With its manageable length and optimistic outlook, this introduction to Islam is a cut above the rest.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Among the many sanguine introductions to Islam, Sardar’s moves immediately to the front rank for its readability . . . and salutary perspective. Very much a Muslim progressive, Sardar allows, without going into specifics, that Muslims have often violated and contradicted the faith’s essence, which he assures us is peaceful. He exalts the classical age of Islam, from the eighth through the fourteenth centuries, with its many great thinkers and writers, stressing that its accomplishments attest to Islam’s great respect for and exploitation of reason. Reason, he suggests, will bring Islam to greatness again as, having finally shed colonialism and, he foresees, Islamic Fundamentalism and puritanism, Islamic societies assimilate and Islamically adapt modern science and technology. Recent developments, such as Morocco’s reformation of Shariah law, show that such modernizing is under way, he says. Sardar’s progressive argument undergirds a précis of Muslim history, beliefs, sectarian divisions, religious practices, and historic effects that one would expect of any similar primer.”—Ray Olson, Booklist

What Do Muslims Believe?: The Roots and Realities of Modern Islam