Book Review

God is One: The Way of Islam
R. Marston Speight, Friendship Press, New York, NY, 139 pp. $5.95, Paper.

With the global resurgence of Islam, there is a keen desire in the western world, particularly in the United States, to know more about the Muslim faith. There is frequent mention about Islam in the news media, and it is sometimes a topic of conversation whenever groups of people assemble, but their knowledge if Islam is usually shallow and superficial. They usually possess distorted views and misconceptions about the Muslim faith. For example, what is frequently heard from these sources are that Muslims can have four wives, that Islam was spread by means of the sword, that Muslims can keep their wives in veils as slaves, etc. Now an excellent opportunity is offered to the Muslims to present their faith in a fair, factual and unbiased way to the non-Muslims in the form of this interesting book on Islam, from a surprising source, and in its fourth printing in 1991.

The author of "God is One..." is R. Marston Speight. He is an ordained Methodist Minister, who is currently Director of Office on Christian-Muslim Relations of the Council of the Churches of Christ, U.S.A. Mr. Speight holds a Ph.D. degree in History of Religions from the Hartford Seminary Foundation, and has been intimately involved, throughout his professional career, with Christian-Muslim Relations, and spent 28 years in Algeria and Tunisia as a committed Christian missionary.

First and most importantly, Dr. Speight has tried his very best to remove some misunderstandings about Islam by helping Christians to overcome the tendency of stereotyping the Muslims. He outlines the worldwide distribution of Muslim population, identifying the predominantly Muslim countries, as well as those where they are in minority, thereby pointing out their geo-political importance.

Dr. Speight discusses beliefs and worship of the Muslims, rightly emphasizing the highest esteem and the exalted place to which the Holy Quran and Hadith are held by the Muslims. He briefly discusses how the Holy Quran repeatedly makes mention of the prophets of the Jews and Christians, and other stories and incidents, also reported in the Bible.

Dr. Speight briefly touches upon moral values, social justice, human rights as well as practice of politics and economics as emphasized in Islam. Family life, marriage, divorce and position of women in Islam are discussed and also similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, with a recommendation to be open-minded and understanding. Dr. Speight is forthright in giving credit to Muslims contributions in the advancement of modern science, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, culture and civilization, etc., which got Europe out of the "dark age". Though he notes only a few examples and very briefly, yet he has belied the popular and favorite theme of the news media of today, which paints the Arabs, nay all Muslims, as uncivilized, uneducated and barbarous terrorists. Two prayers of Hazrat Ali Zainul Abidine (pbuh) are also included herein.

However, some of his assertions need clarification and comment. For example, on Page 42, Dr. Speight mentions that Abraham (pbuh) "repudiated" Hagar. This is actually the Biblical version, which differs from the Holy Quran and Hadith. The Holy Quran reports Abraham saying, "O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House..." (Quran 14:37)

This arrangement of keeping his two wives at separate places was to keep peace in the family.

On page 45, Dr. Speight writes, "The Quran does not give the name of the son who was offered" in sacrifice, but the Hadith refers to Ismail (pbuh) as the son who was sacrificed by Abraham (pbuh), whereas the Bible refers to Isaac as that son.

In addition, on Page 68, Dr. Speight in his discussion of the Shi'a sect, he offers the opinion that the Shia's maintain that Muhammad "really did prefer his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and that this preference was suppressed by the leaders who had another opinion on succession." They believe that Ali's selection as Muhammad's successor was divinely ordained and not strictly dependent upon the will of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). However, Dr. Speight does go on to point out that " is safe to say that the elements of unity [previously discussed] ...hold Sunni and Shi'a together more strongly than their divergences keep them apart."

"God is One" is an introductory descriptive neat little book written in simple and easy to understand language. It is nevertheless, very informative not only for non-Muslims but also for Muslims who are not knowledgeable about contributions of early Muslims to modern civilization. This book may help fill the gap, at least a little, in removing a misunderstanding about Islam. He has rightly mentioned that misunderstanding about Islam is due to environment. No doubt this book is written for the Christian laity to adapt their approach and behaviors toward understanding Islam for the propagation of Christianity. However, on balance, "God is One" is a positive contribution to the better understanding of Islam.


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March / April 1993
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