Usually I do not pay too much attention here to textbooks on Islam. The simple reason is that there are too many and I do not have the time to review them. This is an exception, although it is not a thorough review but instead meant as a way to call your attention to a new textbook, Introducing Islam, written by William Shepard. William Shepard is Associate Professor, Retired, of Religious Studies at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. His previous publications include Sayyid Qutb and Islamic Activism (1996) and numerous articles and translations. Introducting Islam has just been published by Routledge:
What exactly is ‘Islam’ and what does it mean to be a ‘Muslim’ in the world today? Since the events of 9/11 and 7/7, Islam has become one of the most controversial and misunderstood religions in the world. Introducing Islam encourages students to put aside their preconceptions and explore this fascinating religion.
William Shepard, an experienced teacher in the field, traces the history of Islam, from its early environment and origins in the life and career of Mohammed, through its classical expressions to its interactions with the West in the modern world. Shepard devotes a chapter each to important topics such as The Qur’an, Islamic law, Islamic theology, and the Sufi movement. In addition to this, four chapters are devoted to studies of Islam in individual countries: Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, and Shepard explores Islamic civilization through discussion of Islamic art and culture, and community rituals.
Introducing Islam is the ideal introduction for students wishing to gain a sympathetic understanding of Islam. Illustrated throughout, the book also includes text boxes, summary charts, a glossary of key Arabic terms, and a list of further reading to aid students’ understanding and revision.
It is designed for university level students who know little or nothing about Islam beyond what the media provides. The topics the book covers are more or less standard but it does engage with current concerns and (political) issues. Topics are for example: the Greco-Iranian world on the eve of Islam, Islamic political history to 1700, the Qur’an, the Sunna, major rituals and ceremonies, law, theology, Sufism, culture (art, literature, etc.), the modern period include one each on Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Indonesia. For the complete content see HERE.
But what is more. The textbook is accompanied by a fantastic (although under construction) website with resources such as additional material, powerpoint slides, model course description and test questions such as these:
1.1 What is the difference between empathy and sympathy in the study of religion?
1.2 What is the problem with asking what is “true Islam”?
I dare my readers to answer these questions.
Fortunately there are more and more textbooks with an online companion. I think this is really the way to go forward.