Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim by Ziauddin Sardar
This book was recommended to me about 5 years ago, I bought it but never got around to reading it. That was a mistake. I reviewed a book on chaos theory earlier in the year and discovered that its author was the same.
Sardar is a scientist and deep intellectual. Moreover, he is a learner and a seeker, and so I felt an instant connection to him. Sardar has traveled the world and seen all sides of the umma, and desperately wishes to save it from itself. The book chronicles years in England spent learning from Muslim scholars, years spent in Saudi Arabia bemoaning the Kingdom's destruction of history and ruining the hajj by clogging it with modern pollution, and years spent watching the Muslim world turn more and more insular and backward.
Sardar's circle of intellectual scholars write articles and advise governments to seemingly no avail. He was at a meeting in Pakistan when Osama bin Laden and others in the mujahideen could not find a way to reconcile their differences, and the future was clear. They reached a ghastly depression when their fears were realized on 9/11 and afterward.
I enjoyed Sardar's observations in his travels to places like Turkey, Syria, and Iran. I learned about how much hope the umma placed in the Iranian revolution, and how bad it was when those hopes were dashed by the violent tyranny that emerged.
All along the way, Sardar explains ancient Muslim history and philosophy, illustrating the different schools of thought and what they mean for today. I learned a great deal about Islam that I never knew before. Sardar's problems with Muslim clerics today are very similar to the ones I have with evangelical pastors.
If you're an American who thinks he knows a decent amount about Islam, or has read several books on the subject, think again and afresh and read this book. Sardar believes in a pluralist Islam. It's not clear to me why he rejects Christianity. It seems to me that what he's looking for is clearly found in Jesus and the teachings of the Bible. I'd love to have a conversation with him.
This book was better than I could have imagined, and much different. Wish I had read it 5 years ago.
5 stars out of 5.