Understanding Living Islam: Spirituality, Structure, Society and Sects by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, (Isaac Publishing, May 2020) 518 pp including glossary and index £19.99 + p&p £5.61 from barnabasfund.org/resources/

Understanding Living Islam is the second volume in a trilogy being developed by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo. The first volume, Understanding Islamic Theology, published in 2013, covered how the core texts of Islam were used to develop Shariah, the system of law that governs the lives of Muslims. It describes the core beliefs that unite the 2 billion Muslims worldwide, who control 50 out of 180 countries, focusing on their view of God, divine judgement and the future destinies of believers and non-believers.

This second volume carefully expounds, using original Islamic texts and sources, how Muslims are supposed to practice their faith. Dr Sookhdeo sets out their religious duties and rituals, family life, and the many sects that comprise the worldwide Islamic community. Volume three will cover the history of Islam.

A political as well as religious phenomenon.

Most significantly his study is grounded in the notion that Islam must be understood in its own terms rather than through the prism of a framework that seeks to harmonise and synthesise all seekers after God. For Islam is “a political as much as a religious phenomenon”. To be faithful Muslims “must be part of an Islamic political entity”. Thus Western democracy is “ a heinous error” because “to attribute sovereignty to the people as a whole is to assert that they share in God’s rule , and thus to commit the sin of assigning partners to God (as in polytheism)”. Loyalty to the global Muslim nation is to override loyalty to any nation state. “Politics becomes the means of advancing the cause of the worldwide Muslim community” which “has always aimed at expanding Muslim control over as much territory as possible and governing it according to shariah”. This process is 'taking place in Muslim-majority states, but also in non-Muslim countries with significant Muslim minority populations“. But ”Islam..has not evolved a theology of how Muslims should live as a minority“. This emphasis on honour and power for the Muslim community derives from the sense of power that belongs to God, and ”must be protected whenever it seems to be threatened". Thus attacks in the media and arts provoke outrage and violent demonstrations. Conversion to another religion is treason punishable by death, either through due process or by extra-judicial means. The vulnerability of Muslim-background believers can easily be understood against this setting.

Where Islam, which means submission, is not in the ascendant, a “position of permanent victimhood is so prevalent among Muslims”. The weakness of Islam has triggered many reform movements who accounted for it by citing departure from orthodoxy. This becomes the primary motivation for terrorists and suicide bombers who engage in ‘holy war’ to remove the shame and humiliation of ‘imperialistic oppression in the past, dependency on the West in the present, non-Muslim conquest of Muslim lands ( such as Islamic Spain) and ’invasion' by globalized Western culture".

Relations between men and women

Under Shariah, only mature males have full legal rights. In his time Mohammed’s provision for women provided them with protection in comparison with the surrounding culture but no further advance has been made since then. Thus, to prevent women being tempted to sexual misdemeanours which would bring shame on them and their families, the clitoris is removed ( FGM) to prevent them feeling sexual pleasure. It is far harder for a woman to divorce her husband than for a husband to divorce his wife. Victims of rape are assumed to have initiated sexual infidelity. There are fewer women in heaven than men. The implication is that multiculturalism keeps women segregated in muslim communities and thus in subjection. Sex between men is punished by imprisonment or stoning. The reviewer notes that the LGBT community seems not to have addressed this issue, but concentrates rather on the church.

Soohkdeo rounds off with a detailed history and analysis of the many Muslim sects of which we are aware in the news but ignorant about their distinctives: not only the Sunni - (90% of Muslims) of whom the most powerful are in Saudi Arabia through its oil wealth, and Shia (mainly in Iran) but also the Ahmaddiyas, Bahais, Ismailis, Alawis, the Druze (prevalent in Lebanon), and Sufis. Folk Islam is popular among women since the restrictions that apply to their attendance at the mosque do not apply. It is most visible through the shrines built over the tombs of dead saints.

An extensive bibliography, glossary of terms and full index fill a fifth of the book.

While there are risks involved in publishing such a study, every claim and analysis is rooted in extensive fully referenced quotes from Islam’s own sources and recognized authorities. Any suggestion of a “religious ecumenism” in a multicultural society needs to take account of this very clear exposition of the principles and practices of Islam which are at such variance from biblical and Christian faith which affirms a common humanity rather than a superior and exclusive religio-political community.