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The Two Faces of Islam : The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror

The Two Faces of Islam : The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror

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Rating: 3 stars
Summary: "Two Faces": First four chapters and the rest
Review: After I completed reading of this book, I have got an impression that the heyday of the great Islamic civilization is definitely over. Author very eloquently describes how Islamic cultures of the past contributed to the world progress in many different aspects such as math, medicine, philosophy and architecture. At the same time, he makes the reader believe that the face of contemporary Islam (in its infiltrated everywhere Wahhabi form) is incredibly intolerant and brutal and totally incompatible with the present day realities.

Pros: The book is very informative and contains many interesting factual details and historical perspectives: it is obvious that the author made quite extensive research across the whole corpus of Islamic written heritage from the Quran to the latest works of Bosnian clerics. The book very well depicts the world of Islam, in its past as well as in its present, as highly mosaic with multitude of very different branches and sometimes diametrically opposite understandings of such things as music or poetry. The book provides the reader with basic knowledge of the Islamic varieties that can be important for understanding of Islam. Christendom consists of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches and a great deal of denominations; we know this fact well here in the West but general perception of Islam is that it is monolithic, usually mysterious and sometimes suspicious, religion. Author does a good job in general and historical description of Islam.

Cons: I do understand that it is really hard to write on such a topic and stay objective and not emotional, especially on such a sensitive issue as Arabic-Israeli relationship. It is hard and author understandably provides reader with his point of view, which may be very different from the point of view of others, or a reader's.
For example, the author compares the motives for jihad of contemporary mujahids and soldiers of Ottoman Empire. He asserts that Ottoman soldiers were "overwhelmingly ordinary, normal men, even when they were called by their faith, and exalted by Sufi spirituality, to combat for God". I think it is very hard to judge correctly what exactly was the driven force for Ottoman soldiers to fight Greeks, Serbs and other nations in 14-19 centuries especially taking into account the fact that many janissaries were Greeks and Serbs themselves. Also, the author speaks of ayatollah Knomeini and his passion for poetry and philosophy but does not comment anyhow a well-known fatwa against Salman Rushdi.

I would definitely recommend reading first four chapters of this book to anybody who is interested in basic knowledge of Islam in historical perspective. The rest of the book may generate some disagreement with the author's point of view and may need to be read in juxtaposition with other sources on the topic.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: The two-faced Wahhabi-Saudi regime - Be Alert!
Review: An enlightening book. A favorite passage: "The Wahhabi-Saudi Brotherhood were young sons of the desert who had emerged from a hopeless nothingness of petty rivalries and banditry, and who viewed life in terms devoid of sophistication and cosmopolitan understanding. They could not imagine learning from the rest of the Islamic teachers, much less the rest of global society. Rather, they would teach the world about the emptiness of their hearts, which reproduced the void of their social existence." p. 104.

Rating: 1 stars
Summary: Full of lies
Review: First a quote from the book:

"Muhammad's message included warnings not to ignore the righteous among among the Jews and Christians, who are collectively known to Muslims as People of the Book. Islam, from its beginnings, banned compulsion in matters of faith and mandated the protection of Jews, Christians, and other religious believers. Yet Muslims are accused, largely falsely, of a savage forced Islamization of subject peoples, supposedly inspired by the narrow, fanatical, and ignorant Muhammad. The Prophet of Islam is typically described as a desert bandit who claimed to have invented a new religion on his own."

I totally disagree with this. It is a flagrant lie. Muhammad (and I refuse to call him Prophet), was violent right from beginning. In fact he was disbarred from entering Mecca for many years because of his violence and he lived in Medina many years. All these years he kept on receiving messages from Allah ... continued. He lived in a time when Arabia was overrun by Pan-Hinduic idolatrous and polytheistic and largely pacifist people. Of course you cannot be really pacifist if you are being killed and your women are being violated. Mahammad used to recieve one fifth the share of loot which Islamic killers recovered from victims. History of Islam is replete with jihadic wars whose sole aims were to fill the treasuries of many barabaric rulers (Muhammad included) with wealth obtained by ... of non-believers and to convert these peoples...Although some arguments and evidence are far fetched you cannot reject all the material Ms. Aditi Chaturvedi presents in those pages.

Rating: 2 stars
Summary: Uninformed, Poorly Written and Full of Subconcious Prejudice
Review: First of all, Saudi Arabia is NOT what 84% of Muslims submit to as a system of rightful Islam. In fact, most of Saudi Arabian people dont follow appropriate steps of the religion and should not be correlated to any form of islam except primitive and conservative tribalism. Schwartz obviously opposes Islam and has pro-zionist thoughts, however, as an Arab myself I know what Islam is all about (although im catholic). It is basic fact the house of Sa'Ud is a form of rabid prehistocal version of early men who were thrown in a well of Petroleum. Given the money, and the great position of their political stature that made them brainwash half the Islamic population, and of course, having the Qaba in their territory, the whole system of saudi arabia splattered islam with impunity. Morever, the writer chose to neglect the other representatives of Islam and stuck to the SaUd house although knowing through extensive research that it is not the rightful face of islam, having either 1 or 100 faces. This is totally a misleading read and shouldnt be approached by anyone seeking proper enlightenment on the subject.

Rating: 3 stars
Summary: AtheistWorld.Com Book Review
Review: Good book but too many false statements.
A BETTER read would be "Islam Exposed" by Solomon Tulbure

Rating: 3 stars
Summary: Certainly topical, if flawed it'll inspire you to learn more
Review: Having finished this book just as headlines about Saudi charities and U.S. recipients emerged, Schwartz's overview appears timely. His Jewish background and interfaith efforts in the Balkans enrich his study. Too often, Christian readers receive in such journalistic introductions comparisons between their faith and Islam, while Jewish readers are often ignored--it's assumed Israeli issues suffice! Many reviews here have pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of his book already.

I might add that the attempt to pit Wahhabism against Sufi/Sh'ia interpretations does make for a rather unwieldy combination. So much of the book involves Saudi machinations, and so little by balance opens up alternative versions of Islam. Certainly his sympathies are defended, but the book cannot seem to settle for either a sustained exploration of the narrow Saudi ideology or a convincing insider's defense of the expansive Sufi/Sh'ia messages.

Too often, Schwartz seems to rely upon his earlier journalism (and it's not often the Albanian Catholic Bulletin, the Anderson Valley Advertiser [as in that great Boonville brewery!], and the Forward share bibliographical mention). His accounts of the Balkans fragment, and the reader hops with him from noted figure to infamous tragedy without really feeling the depth of the human impact of either war or enlightenment. Likewise, with his Saudi chapters, the destruction committed by the regime against its Sh'ia and other dissident Muslims lacks the telling detail needed for a new reader to this topic to enter fully into what obviously for the author is a heartfelt as well as intellectual issue of the utmost importance. His connecting the Saudi to U.S. academia and think-tanks and mosques is intermittently revealing, but he does not delve in-depth as I expected, say, on Saudi funding of American mosques and centers.

Lacking footnotes: he lists many works in the text but without hardly any citations. One must guess from the authors he cites what texts he has quoted from and as for the page references of 98% of what he mentions, forget it. I do applaud his inclusion of URL's and acknowledge his reliance on Net sources, but since the vast majority of his research listed is from traditional print, his lack of scholarly adherence to convention leaves readers eager to find more having to make more of an effort than is customary to do so. He could have put endnotes in for more than a few of his sources--only a handful appear at the back of the book.

For instance, he notes Khalid Duran's "Children of Abraham: An Intro to Islam for Jews" book and some Sufi sources that I found intriguing. But, again, no exact page or even title citations discourage the reader faced in his works consulted with pages of titles and very little guidance. And, as others have noted on amazon.com, why he plays his evident embrace of Sufism up and down simultaneously dampens his credibility. Surely his example would strengthen and not weaken his claim to have both observed the faith he had studied first without and then within to defend what he sees as its proper form. He isn't a dispassionate academic but an involved pilgrim, and I would have liked to have had Schwartz more throroughly blend the two rather than piece together much of what seem to have been his articles over the past decade.

What could have been included more often? One example: in a few pages on Marin County and John Walker Lindh, he mixed his Bay Area perspective with a take on Lindh that could have become its own book! I look forward to more from Schwartz, and thanks to his own blending of Western analyst, Balkan-languages speaker, and Sufi practitioner, he brings a rare perspective to the topic.

Rating: 4 stars
Summary: A serious omission
Review: He describes Bosnian Mulsims as the very model of Islamic tolerance for other religions, but he omits their widespread participation on the side of the Nazis in World War II which included rounding up and murdering their Jewish neighbors. While this is not to suggest they deserved the cruelties of the recent horrors in Bosnia, "every ten years or so they blew something up."

Rating: 2 stars
Summary: Puerile
Review: I found Schwartz's retelling of the founding of Islam sophomoric and completely uncritical. If you read this book, read something - anything - to balance it's slanted perspective. Let's face it, Islam (like its Christian progenitor) spread by the sword. With regard to it's contemporary "analysis", i.e., that the House of Saud is the primary funder of Wahhabist terrorism: duh. Duh. Save your money.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: Two Faces of Islam
Review: I have made a conscientous effort to understand the beginning, middle and present day situation concerning the Muslim faith. This search has involved many books and lots of late night reading, but this particular book, "Two Faces of Islam" is the best yet. It not only identifies Muhammed's express teachings written in the Qur'an, but outlines the beginning of Wahhabism and the Saud family. Because of this book, I can now understand how the teachings of mercy and compassion as taught by the Prophet, have been dissolved by the actions of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and his joining up with the bandits and criminals of the family known as Al Su'ad. I strongly urge all those who seek to understand what we are up against in the United States to read this important book. Statistics are frightening: 30% of Muslims residing in this country are Wahhabi and 80% of the mosques teach violence and death to the Americans. If knowledge is power, then we need this knowledge to discern just who our enemies are and what to do about them. We are in a monstrous crisis.

Rating: 1 stars
Summary: Overshooting the mark
Review: In line with its title, the author of this book comes himself across as a bit of a Janus Head: an adherent of Sufism and religious pluralism on the one hand, a staunchly patriotic political conservative, on the other. The Two Faces of Islam is not the work of a detached analyst of political Islam, but an unabashed diatribe against `Wahhabism' and the Saudi role in promoting this strand of Islam. Here lies the main weakness of this book: although Schwartz provides us with many interesting facts and noteworthy observations regarding the rich pluralist heritage of Islam, he is so selective in his argumentation against Wahhabism that it undermines his credibility.

For example, in one and the same chapter, "Sword of Dishonor", Schwartz claims that the US should let Uzbek president Karimov get on with exterminating the Muslim extremists who are terrorizing his country, but that Washington should protest on every occasion against Russia's repression of the Chechens. His argument for this inconsistency: The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb al-Tahrir are of a distinctly Wahhabi signature and thus a menace to Central-Asia's centuries-old pluralist Islam. Therefore they must be routed. What are the guarantees that Karimov will only target `Wahhabis' and leave `Traditionalists' alone? Chechnya's Sufi tradition, on the other hand, has supposedly survived intact and its representatives are in the vanguard of the struggle against a Russian-Orthodox threat. Since the assault on a Moscow theater it can hardly be denied that extremism has also taken root in Chechnya.

Schwartz is so eager to lump all Sunni extremists together that he refuses to believe Bin Laden is anti-Riyadh. It is all a ploy to mislead the West. Yet at the same time he engages in what amounts to an apologetics of Khomeini and the Iranian revolution. Because he was educated as a philosopher and initiated in 'Irfan or gnosticism, the Ayatollah does not fit into Schwartz' paradigm of militant Islam. Instead Khomeini is credited as a "standup guy" who at least makes no secrets about his anti-Western views. Anti-Khomeinism in the West was fed by the Saudis because of their vehement anti-Shi'ism. Schwartz goes even further, Khomeini is implicitly dubbed a tolerant pluralist because he taught philosophy, was mystically inclined and wrote poetry in the same vein as the great Sufis. In furthering the cause of Sufism Schwartz could have selected a more convincing argument.

In making his case against Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism, Schwartz is further hampered by having never visited the Kingdom and the use of secondary sources only. His selection of these is also questionable. It features Said Aburish but not Mamoun Fandy's excellent study of Saudi dissidents. Schwartz reviles explorer and royal confidant Harry St. John Philby although there is no evidence in the bibliography that he has read any of Philby's books or even Elizabeth Monroe's biography. T.E. Lawrence, however, is presented as a pure idealist, while certain studies shed a very different light on his persona, revealing both a deeply disturbed psyche and political duplicity.

This selective use of material also explains his erroneous assessment of the succession question in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, and former intelligence chief (now envoy to London), Prince Turki al-Faisal, are certainly high profile figures. But in the line-up for the throne the governors of Riyadh and the oil-rich Eastern Province -- one a full brother, the other the oldest surviving son of ailing King Fahd -- figure more prominently, yet their names - and those of some other key contenders -- are not even mentioned.

His report of the Najran uprising in early 2000 fails to notice that the Shi'ites clashing there with security forces are Ismai'ilis (Seveners), while those in the Eastern Province belong to the Twelvers branch. Although the regime does regard the former also as a liability, failing to make the distinction is not only factually incorrect but also a misjudgment of the potential political impact.

In his description of Wahhabism Schwartz lowers himself to the level of outright demonization. While it can hardly be denied that Wahhabism is rife with bigotry, difficult to engage in constructive debate, and generally not conducive to intellectual maturing, an attempt should be made to understand how and under which circumstances it developed, and how it is rooted in Islamic tradition. Whether we like it or not, Wahhabism is a factor of very considerable significance in the Muslim World as Schwartz is admitting by writing a book about it. Instead Schwartz makes himself guilty of what he accuses Wahhabism of: dualism and the inherent demonization of "the Other".

Schwartz qualifies its namesake, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, as a "monster" and calls the inhabitants of Central Arabia "savages", prone to sedition since the time of early Islam. He also implies that Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was bound to dissent due to his affiliation with the Bani Tamim: because the Bani Tamim had once joined the Kharijites, a descendant of the tribe is bound -- a millenium later - to concoct an equally uncompromising form of Islamic revivalism! In an attempt to further soil the Saudis' reputation, Schwartz wrongly represents them as belonging to the Bani Hanifa, a tribe associated with Musaylama, `the false Prophet' active in Central Arabia during the days of the Prophet Muhammad. The Al Saud descend from the eastern Arabian Dur'u and the clan's ancestor Mani al-Muraydi was only in the 15th century invited by the Bani Hanifa to take up residence in Najd .

With his eclecticism and invectives Schwartz has undermined his in itself sympathetic plea for pluralist Islam. Militancy, extremism, and other intolerant forms of Islamic revivalism have rendered the atmosphere in the Muslim world rather insalubrious and Saudi politics have some very unsavory aspects, but Schwartz' approach will do little to clear the air. There are certainly two faces of Islam, but readers would have been better served if the writer had elaborated more on that pluralist Islam instead of this negativist account of what Islam should not be about.

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