Learn More About Islam

Muslims say their evening prayers August 17, 2010, at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia.

By Craig Farmer

John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, produced this magisterial survey of the history, theology, and politics of Islam. Now in its fourth edition, the book provides a primarily historical review of the development of Islam, including an analysis of its contemporary resurgence.


Michael Anthony Sells, Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations (Ashland: White Cloud Press, 1999).

Michael Sells, professor of Islamic history at the University of Chicago, produced an introduction and translation of the Koran (also written Qu’ran and Quran) that makes the Islamic scriptures more accessible to non-Muslim readers than most other English translations. Because the Koran is not chronologically or thematically arranged, it can be bewildering to non-Muslims. Sells provides a translation and commentary of the short suras (chapters) that appear at the end of most Korans. An accompanying CD contains examples of Koranic recitation (an Arabic art form) by some of the world’s most famous reciters.


Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick, The Vision of Islam (St. Paul: Paragon House, 1995).

One of the best introductions to the theology of Islam is this popular text by professors at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In a direct and friendly style, Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick explain the fundamental religious ideas of Islam, focusing on the Koran and hadith (the sayings and acts of Muhammad).


Tayeb Salih, The Wedding of Zein and Other Stories (Boulder: Three Continents Press, 1994).

Those who prefer a more literary approach to Islam might enjoy this delightful novella by Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih (1929–2009), regarded as one of the most important Arabic novelists of the 20th century. Set in a small village on the upper Nile, The Wedding of Zein tells the comical and poignant story of how Zein, the eccentric and beloved village idiot, comes to marry the most beautiful girl in town. The novella artfully reveals Islam’s diversity. For even in this small town there are different factions of Muslims: the nonobservant Laodiceans, the hyperlegalistic revivalists, and the mystically oriented Sufis.

Craig S. Farmer is professor of history and humanities at Milligan College in Tennessee.

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