Anne Marie Schimmel’s novel Islam an Introduction reviews a part of Islamic history, beginning of Islam at the Prophet’s first revelation by God and how from that point on expresses the laws of the religion and how it is part of the Abrahamic religions. Annemarie Schimmel sets the theme of her book by describing the path of the Islamic faith. By spreading her chapters out to organize the Prophets Birth, to the laws and Qur’an, to traditions, the divisions of Muslims and modern life till the 20th century Schimmel does this in such a way that makes the reader feel apart of the history. In studying what Islam was like in the past and the present, we draw upon its founder Muhammad and his revelations from God, in which shaped the religion we now know today as Islam.
Schimmel’s novel describes how Islam formed as a religion over time. She discusses in her introduction that the Prophet Muhammad was born in the pre-Islamic period and that as he grew older he started hearing revelations by God through the angel Gabriel, however, he did not share them with people until at least three years later1. She (Schmmiel) says that he was the last to hear of Gods word and so that it must be true that Islam is the last Abrahamic religion2. Noor Mohammad writes in his journal; “Islam which, identifies Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as Islamic figures because of their monotheistic teachings, was completed in the seventh century by the Prophet Muhammad”(Muhammad 382). This quotation from Noor Muhammad’s The Doctrine of Islam shares with Schimmel’s assertion that Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions to form and that the last of Gods words’ were brought to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. During this time, the Prophet believed he was merely just preaching what both Christians and Jews had already been preaching for many centuries.
Schimmel’s text says that the first year of Islam began with the first Hijra or pilgrimage to Mecca3. “At age forty, Muhammad announced his divinely revealed mission as the Prophet. The divine revelation, which he received, directed him to exhort his people against paganism, idol worship, and other social ills. They were recorded, preserved, and today constitute the Islamic scripture the Quran.” Noor Mohammad shares with the reader that, Muhammad, is the last one to gain revelations by God. However, a Caliph or friend of the prophet Abu Bakr began collecting his teachings from around the Middle East. After his death, other Caliphs of the Prophet began to collect the last of his teachings. Although the other three significant Caliphs as Schimmel noted the Caliphs took Islam into their own hands4. So much that followers of Islam were not sure which way to turn or who to believe. By the end of the reigns of these Caliphs, Muslim groups broke off into two groups the Shiites and the Sunni Muslims. Schimmel explains that Shite Muslims believed in the words of the Imams rather than Muhammad himself. “To become a Muslim one must affirm the Shahada (testimonial) La-Allah-ill Allah-Mohammad-Rasul-Allah”(“there is no god but God (Allah) and Muhammad is the Prophet”). The Islamic concept of God (Allah) is critical and central to the Islamic faith. Islam believes in the absolute Oneness or Unity of God (Allah)”. Noor suggests that anyone that wants to conform to Islam must affirm to the Shahada the testimonial of the oneness of God.
Schimmel goes on to say in the progression in the timeline of Islam that after the Qur’an or holy book was written down scholars began to interpret them in Madrasas or religious schools of thought. Schimmel brought many key terms into focus. One of which was the Hadith or spoken word of the prophet. One of these terms was called tawhid the oneness of God. She also brought up the five pillars of Islam which are; Faith, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, and Pilgrimage. These five pillars can be done by the oneness of God as mentioned by Schimmel observing the five pillars, which is professed. Schimmel also talks about the practice of Absolution before praying and also the pilgrimage to Mecca. These were the key things talked about in her section describing the Qur’an. “The term Sharia means the ‘highway to good life’; i.e., religious values expressed functionally and in concrete terms”. Noor expresses the next topic mentioned by Schimmel, which is Sharia law and how it forms its traditions as a religion. Noor confirms what Schimmel talks about in the sense that she discusses that traditions are formed upon the Sharia law. Sharia means a path to water or following the road straight. Meaning if you follow the words of the Prophet, says Schimmel, then you conform to the traditions of Islam5. Schimmel also discusses the consequences of not being a good Muslim. She says in the time shortly after the prophet those who did not follow the Prophet exactly by being shirk, i.e. not wearing the appropriate dress or eating food that is halal. Those people were whipped many times, sort of as a price to pay6. Also in those chapters Schimmel discusses male and female circumcisers and how female circumcision is outlawed, yet still practiced in seclusion. As well as honor killings, that if a woman disobeys her husband she is killed. In today’s society, one may view this as domestic violence. “Families that kill for honor will threaten girls and women if they refuse to cover their hair, their faces, or their bodies or act as their family’s domestic servant; wear makeup or Western clothing; choose friends from another religion; date; seek to obtain an advanced education; refuse an arranged marriage; seek a divorce from a violent husband; marry against their parents’ wishes; or behave in ways that are considered too independent, which might mean anything from driving a car to spending time or living away from home or family”. Phyllis Chesler discusses that Schimmel’s argument about disobeying the laws of Islam pose a threat on a human sacrifice, is a valid point.
Moving into her next section, Schimmel discusses, the difference between Shite and Sufi practices. Shi’ite Muslims believe in the word of the Imam rather than Muhammad. They view the word of the Imam to be in the here and now of God’s word. Sufism is the mystical interpretation of Islam in that they instead of following the road straight follow a narrow path to Islam. They focus on the word of the Prophet in a very aesthetic and literal way, says Schimmel. Jihad under Islam is also a religious act and hence subject to the rules spelled out by the Prophet and his successor Caliphs. “The Prophet upon appointing a commander over an army would instruct him to fear God in relationship to himself and the treatment of the soldiers”(Noor). Noor explains that Jihad is the holy war inside all Muslims to protect their faith.
In Schimmel’s last section, she describes how in the 18th and into the 20th century many transformations began to take place in the spread of Islam. By this time she explains that Islamic culture spread into Egypt, And India. In India we see the Hindus have been in that land before the Muslims. But by the time the Muslims settle in with the Hindu nations like France and England are going in and colonizing and modernizing India and also Egypt. For Muslims, this calls for a modernization or an adaptation to how religious life needs to become modern life.
In all Anne Marie Schmmiel’s novel Islam an Introduction makes very good use of what Islamic culture has to offer. Her structure in the novel was easy to follow. By breaking down the parts of the history of Islam Schmmiel makes her novel very easy to read. By using, her own commentary and examples from other scholars. In all Anne Marie Schmmiel represents Muhammad ( peace be upon him) and the Islamic traditions in the best possible light,that explores another one of the Abrahamic religions.
1 Schimmel chapter 1
2Schimmel Chapter 1
3 Schimmel Chapter 3
4Schimmel Chapter 4
5Schimmel Chapter 3
6Schimmel Chapter 4
Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam an Introduction. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Chesler, Phyllis. “Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence.” Middle East Quarterly 16, no. 2 (2009): 1. Accessed November 10, 2015. Doi: 10739467.
Mohammad, Noor. 1985. “The Doctrine of Jihad: An Introduction”. Journal of Law and Religion 3 (2). [Cambridge University Press, Emory University, Journal of Law and Religion, Inc.]: 381–97. doi:10.2307/1051182.