Recently I’ve been reading ‘Islam and the Destiny of Man’ by Charles le Gai Eaton (a contemporary of Martin Lings) and so far have found it to be by a good margin the best comprehensive introduction (note: introduction, not attempted conversion) to Islam for Western audiences. The prose is excellent and Eaton writes with the measured pace of a literary master, sweeping up decades of philosophy in a few paragraphs. Here’s a taste:

“This term [fundamentalist] is ambiguous and only serves to confuse the issue. If it is taken to refer to believers who treat their Scripture as the revealed Word of God, which is what it meant in the context of Christianity, then all Muslims are fundamentalists and there is no more to be said. But the West makes a distinction between fundamentalists and what are described as ‘moderates’; in practice this means that the term applies to the political rather than the doctrinal order. A Muslim fundamentalist, then, is someone who objects to secular forms of government, modelled on Western exemplars, and wishes to live under an Islamic government which operates, so far as may be possible in the modern world, in accordance with the norms of the Faith and acknowledges God as the only true Legislator. But this still falls short of providing a useful definition. Islam is a self-sufficient totality; it includes the political realm, economics and the social structure. A great number of Muslims whom Westerners would describe as ‘moderate’ would none the less prefer to live within an Islamic political and social framework rather than a secular one, particularly in view of the ruthlessness and corruption of a number of secular regimes in the Islamic world. In other words, they would prefer to live in a just society, and who can blame them?”

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