Once in a while I encounter a book that, well to be honest, leaves me a little conflicted. Do I love it ? Do I hate it ? Can I recommend it or not ? Richard Henry Drummond’s 2005 book Islam for the Western Mind: Understanding Muhammad and the Koran is that kind of book.
Some of you might remember from an earlier post, (“Library loot: Once again it’s time to pillage”), this book was in that recent haul from my public library. Over the last few years I’ve enjoyed reading books on Islam and the Muslim world. In addition, I’m participating in the World Religion Reading Challenge. Therefore, I guess it’s no surprise I grabbed the Drummond’s book when I saw it on the shelf. But did I like it ? To help make me decide, let me weigh the pros and cons.
On the positive side, Drummond, although perhaps a bit dry, was incredibly methodical and thorough with his approach in examining Islam from a Christian’s perspective, while at the same time trying to be as evenhanded as possible. Drummond, currently an ordained Presbyterian minister as well as a classicist and a former professor at several Protestant seminaries, attempts to be true to all three of his convictions: the Christian believer, the respecter of Islam and the intellectually honest academic. It’s a difficult path to walk, but I think for the most part Drummond is successful. I was impressed with his interpretations of the Koran and the teachings of Muhammad, but I was especially impressed by many attempts to compare and contrast that Islamic material with passages from the Christian Bible. I also appreciated his attempts to reconcile the beliefs of Islam within a greater context of religious universality, but unfortunately you have to get to the last few pages of the book to enjoy reading it.
As for the con, Drummond is not only dry but a tad long-winded. Much like some geriatric college professor, who while intellectually gifted and erudite, has lost the vigor of his youth and now performs as a third-rate lecturer; Drummond’s writing lacks energy and sharpness. The knowledge is there while the impassioned delivery is not.
So, what’s the final verdict ? Taking into account everything this book does and tries to do as well, as the nature of its author and where he’s coming from, perhaps this isn’t a book you merely love or hate. In the end, maybe this is a book you just simply respect.