A Guide to Islam: An Advanced Level Textbook on Islam
by Brian Maregedze
Shaibu Asali in, A Guide to Islam: An Advanced Level Textbook on Islam is a 2019 publication grounded on an insider’s perspective on Islam as a religion. Shaibu Asali’s eight chapter book of 95 pages captures the essentials of Islam from Tenets of Islam to natural environment as prescribed by the Family and Religious Studies syllabus for advanced levels under the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. More notable is that the book goes beyond addressing demands of advanced levels’ learners and teachers in FRS but “anyone interested in studying Islam (p.3).”
The author, Shaibu Asali is a Zimbabwean Islamic scholar, researcher, consultant, resource person and Arabic English translator. He holds a degree in Islamic Jurisprudence from Saudi Arabia, and a Master’s degree in Contemporary Islamic Jurisprudence from Qatar. He is not a new name to interreligious dialogue and programmes on Islam through the national television in Zimbabwe as well as local radio stations. As such, Shaibu Asali becomes an important voice on, Islam in Zimbabwe, so to use the late Ephraim Mandivenga’s most cited book title in Islamic Studies published in 1983. Asali is also the Head of the Arabic Department at New Hope College in Harare and a Senior Lecturer in Islamic Studies and Arabic Language.
Due to Shaibu Asali’s linguistic academic prowess in Islam, the book in some chapters has linguistic meaning/s on important key terms such as basics of definitions of Islam, Quran, ethics and marriage. In striking the balance on meanings of terms, the author also invoked technical and scholarly citations which address Islamic daily discourses usually misinterpreted. The first chapter covers the essentials on the tenets of Islam.
The second chapter is well engaging since unlike existing textbooks on the topic, Mohammad, prophecy and revelation offers the historical and political background of Arabia Peninsular before the Advent of Islam. Again, the role of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the spread of Islam answers the generally asked questions by learners and teachers with an insider’s tone. This is so, since, Asali made it clear from the onset in his foreword that the book, “provides authentic and verified information about Islam from primary sources and secondary sources of the religion (p.3).” More illuminating is the way Asali opens up to the way Islam spread beyond the claims of “the sword narrative” with three main reasons posited which readers may want to read on their own. The centrality of Muhammad’s legacy in championing monotheism, being an agent of sanity in Arabia, promotion of knowledge and literacy, doing away with racism and alcoholism through divine legislation and ensuring that women be given due rights and respect forms important aspects in this 2019 publication (p.51-52).
In chapter three of the book, the author demonstrates his judicious handling of sources on Ethics in Islam as the Oxford dictionary is frequently cited in defining terms of words under study. Also important is the Quranic citations and explanations from Asali using his vast research skills.Chapter four focuses on Islam and gender relations. Far from the conventional view that women are oppressed and denied their rights, Asali worked hard to dispel and demystify such notions (p.69).Again, it is within this same chapter that Asali dealt with the arguably controversial issue of polygamy. The question on whether it is a necessity to have polygamy or not in society is addressed (p.72). The chapter ends with women and politics, citing both Islamic scholars and the Quran.
Chapters, 5, 6 and 7 confronts issues such as social responsibility, governance and marriage in Islam respectively. Humanitarian services in Islam encompasses making people happy, alleviating their suffering, and empowering them (p.79). Another myth dispelled by Asali is that of Jihad which is misinterpreted as military action. The centrality of New Hope Charity Trust, Majlisul, Zakat Fund and Direct Aid among others as charitable organizations is articulated (p.80). Furthermore, the meaning and importance of marriage using Islamic texts is addressed. Relying on Islamic scholars, the contested issue of forbidden marriages and divorce are analysed (p.90-93).The last chapter focuses on Islam and the natural environment. The Quran and the Sunnah are used as key texts to instruct on issues relating to the natural environment. The book ends with emphasis on planting of crops as an imperative activity among Islamic believers.A closer reading of the book indicates that it cannot be read on its own as there is the need to engage with practice questions as per demands of the FRS curriculum. The history of Islam in Zimbabwe, which the late Ephraim Mandivenga addressed remains with case studies not updated.
Last but by no means least, Asali could have at least offered a list of references for the Islamic scholarly works cited in the whole book to assist learners and teachers have access for further reading. Above that, it is clear that Asali’s book is not the last one but a new journey in the life of an author who has the desire to immensely contribute to Zimbabwe’s New Curriculum in FRS in fulfillment of the multi-faith approach. To reinforce the cross-cutting themes articulated in the FRS syllabus that is, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Asali has his website, www.shaibuasali.net, for “Islamic content, media, articles, insights and beliefs.” Personally, I visited the online website and the information generated by Asali exhibits his unending commitment to the teaching and learning of Islam in Zimbabwe.
With Islam being the second largest religion from Christianity, the book is worth buying especially students and teachers in FRS. The book is affordable, readable with well appealing Islamic terminology to novices and advanced learners. A Guide to Islam: An Advanced Level Textbook on Islam is a welcome contribution which I am proud to have in my library. Local bookshops in Zimbabwe already have the book in large quantities as it is one of the best offers in 2019 first term in FRS advanced levels.
*Brian Maregedze is an author, historian and columnist writing in his own capacity. Brian has written advanced levels History, and Family and Religious Studies textbooks in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Author, historian & columnist
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