A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad

Book review by Farah El-Sharif

Our world is awash with a barrage of data and information, but wisdom and knowledge are harder to come by. This is especially true when it comes to the oft-discussed topic of Islam; a religion that is heavily discussed in global news, but so often without a semblance of grounding in the actual sources of the faith or the beliefs of the majority of its practitioners. In our present historical moment, a minority of deviant practitioners have hijacked Islam’s true essence, leading misinformed onlookers to be thoroughly anxious and confused. Moved by the state of our times and a sense of urgency to explain the most fundamental basics of what Islam simply is, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan puts forth twelve elucidating chapters in his latest book: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam (White Thread Press and Turath Publishing, 2016). In the Introduction to the book, Prince Ghazi states: “The book is intended only as an educated primer on Islam—a brief guide to the religion, its outlook and its counterfeits—for anyone willing to think about it a little bit.” The emphasis on the reader exerting some thought into the topic at hand is of paramount importance, as it implies that with a little reason and mental receptivity, any confusion surrounding Islam and its place in the world today will easily falter after putting the book down.

A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam lives up to its promise of being an “educated primer”: It is elegantly divided into 12 chapters, with each chapter corresponding to a single Qur’anic verse that manages to capture the entirety of an overarching question relating to Islamic thought and practice. Each chapter is titled in question form. The First Chapter, ‘What is Religion?’ begins with the verse: “Truly this is in the former scrolls,” (Al-A’la: 87:18). In this chapter, Prince Ghazi begins by situating the pre-eternal significance of religion on humankind, and the timeless message of Islam as one that is inextricably tied to its Abrahamic predecessors, Judaism and Christianity. Before delving into “what Islam is,” the reader is thus invited to begin the book by situating Religion, broadly speaking, as a positive force in the world, one that (if understood correctly) offers “a complete program for human life” (p.19). Each chapter ends with a helpful codicil that prompts the reader reflect on “why is it important for me to know this?” The repeated deployment of this question summarizes the key point of the chapter, and situates the relevance of the ideas mentioned within “the bigger picture”.

Though it is indeed a primer, the book is far from reductive and simplistic. It possesses a lucid way of prompting the reader to what seems like a simple idea, but in actuality, beneath may lay an entire ocean of ideas. In that sense, the book poses an invitation to discover more deeply the sheer beautiful multitudes of Islam. For example, in Chapter 8, ‘What is the Heart?’ Prince Ghazi adeptly links the hadith of the Archangel Gabriel and the idea of Ihsan (which is heavily explained prior in Chapter 1) to the remembrance of God as means to the purification of the heart, thereby making central “the heart” to understanding Islam; this link and many others are not readily seen in other introductions to Islam. Furthermore, the book does not only cite Islamic sources, but is rather interwoven with universal wisdom as Prince Ghazi draws on lines of poetry and anecdotes from the greatest works of world literature across time and civilizations.

Though the perspectives and sources of the work are rich, it is still manages to be a highly accessible page-turner that will surely leave both Muslims and non-Muslims in deep thought, as is prescribed in the title of the book. Suffice it is say that A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam has been endorsed by some of the world’s greatest living scholars today. Its timely publication makes it a welcome and necessary addition to novice and expert preliminary readings on one of the world’s most important religions.

What is Inside:

  • Conclusive chapters on key topics in Islam such as “What is the Qur’an?” “Who is the Prophet Muhammad?” “What is Jihad?” and “What is Shari’ah?”
  • Arabic calligraphy drawings of each of the key 12 verses in the book (available for free at FreeIslamicCaligraphy.com)
  • A Postscript on “What is Happiness?”
  • An Appendix on the “Big Tent of Islam” and the ideological diversity of the faith’s practitioners.
  • An Appendix entitled: “Three Questions for Every Muslim”

About the Author:

Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan (b. 1966 CE) was educated at Harrow School, UK; received his BA Summa cum Laude from Princeton University, NJ, USA; his first PhD from Trinity College, Cambridge University, UK, and his second PhD from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. He is a Professor of Islamic Philosophy. His book  Love in the Holy Qur’an has been widely acclaimed, gone into ten editions, and been translated into a number of languages. He also serves as Chief Advisor for Religious and Cultural Affairs to H.M. King Abdullah II ibn Al‑Hussein of Jordan.