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Book Review
An honest book on Islam by a non-Muslim
By S Ubaidur Rahman

Book: Muslim Friends - Their Faith and Feeling
Author: Roland E Miller
Publishers: Orient Longman
Pages: 429

Muslim Friends by Roland E Miller can simply be described as an honest attempt to understand Muslims. Though several other books have hit the shelves in the market by non-Muslims on the topic, very rare or none of these books can truly be called an honest attempt.

There have been numerous attempts to study Islam but the writer himself says that most of these attempts were done basically to search for its loopholes and thus suffered from 'blurred vision'. The orientalists have always tried to see Islam from their set mindset that have been raised to oppose the basic tenets of Islam and search for its draw backs.

The book shows that, Miller, a Catholic priest and a well-known scholar on Islam, who spent some twenty three years in a Muslim suburban locality in Kerala, India, has made sincere attempt not only to evaluate Muslims but also the basic tenets of Islam. What seems amazing is the depth of his knowledge on the topic he is tackling. From Tawhid to Risalat, Shirk and Bid’at, concept of God to resurrection and judgment, he has a clear concept about all these fundamental aspect of Islam. Even on some of the most contentious issues like Jihad he seems to have his ideas clear. His eulogizing tone about different aspects of Islam make his points more appealing. Even when he criticizes something about Muslims it seems like a reproach from within and never seems as if someone alien is rebuking Muslims for some faults in Islam, like many of his predecessors. Miller admires Muslims for their true belief in God, the only God, the Omnipresent, All Knowing, the Creator, and All Powerful God. He also admires Muslims for their belief in oneness of the community and concept of Ummah.

He extensively quotes Muslim scholars like Syed Qutb and Imam Al-Ghazali on the concept of Ummah. He writes, 'At the bottom of this urging is the Muslim sense of togetherness. The feeling is best captured by two English words and a hyphen: community-family. The word community suggests a commonality of concerns. The word family points to a personal relationship. The hyphen could be interpreted by a third word: oneness. The hyphen is bridge, the bridging spirit of oneness.

He further elaborates the concept, 'All this is summed up by the word Umma, the term for Muslim community. This almost magical word in terms of emotive power, really means 'mother'. The Muslim community, in one sense, is the mother of all Muslims. it gives the individual members of the community a sense of fellowship and security. In every religion, no matter what it is, its members feel that they have a special relation with each other. In Islam that feeling runs very powerfully. The fellowship with other Muslims transcends all other forms of human relationship. Within its embrace, individual Muslims feel as though they are part of a family, a family of familiar friends. In turn, it is the Muslim's duty to love and to support the whole of Islam.'

He feels sad over the fact that though Muslims are supposed to act as one body and they are supposed to feel all things in common, but in practice it doesn't always turn out that way. 'In practice it does not turn out that way. Human realities take over and Muslim societies fail to live up to the noble theory of one community and one family.'

He adds that 'pressure of disunity is also felt, we may say specially felt in the realm of political relationships. The modern spirit of nationalism is a powerful challenge to the Umma ideal. The unity of Muslim family has not been able to survive all the pressure of these differences.'

His view of Muslims' relation with God is most fascinating. He says that Muslims are people who are alive to God and adds that it means that a sense of God pervades Islamic life and dominates Muslim thought and behavior.

Understanding concept of God for a non-Muslim scholar is one of the most difficult task, but Miller seems to be a fearful Muslim himself when he elaborates this concept. He says, 'The entire religious context of Muslim life underlines the reality of God, and is designed to make and keep Muslims aware of that reality. The creed, the fivefold call to prayer, the annual fast, the steady mutual exhortation of Muslims, in short, the whole of Islam emphasizes the place of God in human life. He then elaborates how Muslims always remember God during their whole life and how near they feel themselves to the God. 'From birth to death, and in all that lies between, the Reality of God encompasses Muslim life.'

Though he tries to raise questions about the nature and existence of God, but he never crosses the limits of decency, never plunging in anything that goes beyond decency. He affectionately discusses attributes of Allah and His names that denote His numerous qualities.

Miller also discusses Islamic history elaborately and makes a fundamental flaw clear-the wrong perception that Islam started with the arrival of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He has also discussed the intricate issues of tackling Jews in Medina by the Prophet and his relations with his companions, neighbors, Kuffar, Munafiqeen and others who came in contact with him. He also discusses affectionately the respect and love expressed by the Muslims for the Prophet.

He has tried to understand the concept of Jihad also. He has also made the difference between Jihad and violence clear. He says, 'The basic Muslim theory on the subject of violence is that it is always exception and peacefulness is truth. There are some situations where the use of violence is, in fact, required, but it must always be regarded as last resort. The controlling principle is established by the second meaning of the term Islam, which is peace. Muslims are to be peace loving and peace-makers. They are not to be aggressors against others.'

But then there are some major flaws that stem from the lack of basic conceptual knowledge on the part of the author. In the case of Ahmadiyas or Qadiyanis he has been misled. He categorizes them as a sect of Sunni Muslims.

This is a small error when seen in the context of his sincere and enormous effort to present Islam in a manner that has rarely been done. Even among Muslim scholars very few have attempted to take up the topic so successfully. It is a treasure for every one who wants to understand the true light. The light that guides towards salvation.
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