Religion and religiosity may be on the decline world over but Islam invokes varying responses in every mind. It may not be an exaggeration to say that perhaps no other religion has invoked so much attention as Islam in recent times.

There is a wide range of emotions invoked by this religion in India as well as globally. The turn of politics in different countries from America to India is in some way linked to popular perceptions about Islam and muslims. There is curiosity about Islam as people want to know more about a religion that has invoked so much debate.

A lot of people view it with fear or prejudice. People view Islam based on geo political developments, acts of terrorism, ISIS narratives, so-called global war on terror, the various bans on women in Saudi Arabia etc… People view Islam based on actions of muslims. World over there are political narratives linking ISIS/ jihadi violence to religion. The collective actions of muslims become very important in this context.

The latest book by Sanjiv Bhatla becomes important reading for anyone who wants to know more about Islam. And the title says it all – Islam is Good, Muslims Should Follow It. If only… was the feeling I got on reading the book.

What makes this book important is the treatment given to the subject by interweaving the birth and spread of a great religion in the socio-political context of the time. This is done alongside a portrayal of benevolent character of the Prophet. Bhatla’s smooth flowing narrative invokes the link between the present realities of muslims and milestones in Islamic history.

The Prophet comes across as a modern mind, a reformer, a just and fair leader, a statesman who is at once human in his dealings with fellow beings. The ambience of secularism, tolerance and peaceful co-existence was laid down by Prophet of Islam. The Constitution [Charter] of Medina encouraged democratic values by prescribing representation of all sections in any important decisions.

The chapter on the Quran lists down all the important principles enshrined and their relevance in the modern times. Fair play, decency, trust, honesty in daily transactions are emphasized in the Quran. Peaceful co-existence, non-violence, non-dynastic rule, freedom of religion, impartiality, compassion, kindness, justice, decorum, good behaviour are some of the values explained at length quoting from various verses. There is a particular emphasis on women’s equality throughout beginning with the statement of the fact that the first muslim [after the Prophet] was a woman.

Equality between Man and Woman is almost axiomatic in the Quran. The promise of equal reward for man and woman, the use of the word spouse rather than wife, the complementary nature of the sexes, the emphasis on friendship rather than rivalry between spouses all point towards equal treatment of women. This was in stark contrast to condition of women in pre-Islamic Arabia. The Quran advocates respect towards women, gives them inheritance rights, right to divorce and prohibits female infanticide. There are several instances of womens’ participation in consultative processes in society and in governance.

The epilogue called The Third Factor poses a direct question to muslims and to Islamic jurists. What would the Prophet Muhammad have done in the present case, if he were with us at this moment? It goes on to provide a way forward if they can evoke the Prophet’s spirit of kindness and fair play, their judgments would match with the best in the world.

This is not the first book on Islam; nor is it the most scholarly of writings. But this is a laudable work in that it speaks directly to the reader and goads her to think. The well researched account of the Prophet’s life and the society that he was trying to change leaves the reader with deep reflections. It is a must read for believers and for those with stakes in a just and peaceful world.

Islam is Good, Muslims Should Follow It
Sanjiv Bhatla, Crabwise Press, 2017

(Zakia Soman is co-Founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan)