I’m ashamed to say it, but other than a brief study of the Arab-Israeli conflict in High School, my knowledge of Islam is extremely limited. Like most of us, I rely entirely on the television and tabloid media to provide a frame of reference for this complex part of the world. And like all media, it’s difficult to separate the sensationalism from the actual facts. So when I came across a copy of this book I was keen to give it a go and find out what one of Australia’s most respected journalists, and one that I have great admiration for, had to say about the issue.
The book is not a history of the Muslim world – actually it’s far from it. The tag line on the back cover reads – “Not everything, but a hell of a lot of what you always wanted to know about Muslims, but no one got around to telling you.” And that’s exactly what the book delivers. Negus presents his information through a series of colourful anecdotes that he has written over 25 years of travel and reporting from this region. Along the way we meet some interesting characters who make up Negus’ extended Islamic family and we share in the ups and downs of their lives.
Somehow Negus manages to demystify many things that seem foreign to residents of the Western world – the burka, Ramadan, insh’allah (god willing) and the Qur’an (or Koran). And surprisingly, what becomes most clear in this book is that despite the obvious differences in religion and culture, the Muslim world also shares many similarities with the West. We are not as different as we may think!
During one period of his travels throughout Islam, Negus was accompanied by his young son. It was Negus’ numerous accounts of his son’s reactions to some of the more terrifying and violent events that have occurred in the area that I found most interesting. Seeing these events through the eyes of an innocent child who is unaffected by political scare tactics really puts everything into a simplified perspective. We learn that Muslims are human - just like us - and that they want the same things out of life – a happy family and a safe home.
The real beauty of this book is that Negus manages to provide a rational and balanced account of the Islamic world. In the September 11 aftermath, governments are hell-bent on instilling a fear of Muslims and terrorism amongst their constituents. It is refreshing to listen to a voice of reason. Negus declares with unabashed certainty that “more than 99.99% of Muslims are not, repeat not, terrorists”, and after reading this book I agree wholeheartedly. Negus has certainly managed to illuminate this young mind with his human insight.(3.5 Stars)