Shrouded in mystery, the Islamic presence in the Middle East evokes longstanding Western fears of terrorism and holy war. Our media have consistently focused on these extremes of Islam, overlooking a quiet yet pervasive religious movement that is now transforming the nation of Egypt.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews, No God But God opens up previously inaccessible segments of Egyptian societyfrom the universities and professional sectors to the streetsto illustrate the deep penetration of "Popular Islamic" influence. Abdo provides a firsthand account of this peaceful movement, allowing its moderate leaders, street preachers, scholars, doctors, lawyers, men and women of all social classes to speak for themselves. Challenging Western stereotypes, she finds that this growing number of Islamists do not seek the violent overthrow of the government or a return to a medieval age. Instead, they believe their religious values are compatible with the demands of the modern world. They are working within and beyond the secular framework of the nation to gradually create a new society based on Islamic principles. Abdo narrates fascinating accounts of their methods and successes. Today, for example, university students meet in underground unions, despite a state ban. In addition, sheikhs have recently used their new legislative power to censor books and movies deemed to violate religious values.
Both fascinating and unsettling, Abdo's findings identify a grassroots model for transforming a secular nation-state to an Islamic social order that will likely inspire other Muslim nations. This model cannot be ignored, for it will soon help organized Islamists to undermine secular control of Egypt and potentially jeopardize Western interests in the Arab world.
In focusing upon the extremes of Islam, the Western media have generally overlooked the peaceful religious changes that have recently, and gradually, taken place in Egypt. On all levels of society, many Egyptians have come to reject Islamic groups that resort to violence. These people realize that religious values and spiritual ideals can be adapted to peacefully and thus co-exist with the demands of contemporary life. Abdo, a correspondent for the Guardian and the Economist, conducted hundreds of interviews within previously closed segments of society "to present the true face of Islam." Along the way, she discovered a great diversity of religious expression in a social transformation that poses a greater challenge to Western interests than the militant movement now in decline. Partially funded by the United States Institute for Peace, this firsthand account will serve as a role model for Islamic reform in the 21st century. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Michael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.