In This Review

In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam
In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam
By Milton Viorst
Anchor Books, 1998, 355 pp

Viorst is in the other camp from Hunter. His is "an exploration into what, after a dazzling beginning, went amiss in Arab society." Dealing not with the entire Muslim world but only the Arab states and Iran, Viorst sees the present-day "painful religious wars" as revolving largely around aspects of Islamic religion and culture set centuries earlier. Viorst has diligently consulted many standard sources to discuss the role of Muhammad, the development of Islamic law, and the historical roots of the struggle between Muslim modernists and traditionalists. Many specialists will dispute his thesis as too essentialist. More nuanced treatments of the 14 centuries of Muslim Middle Eastern history are available (for example Albert Hourani's 1991 A History of the Arab Peoples or Bernard Lewis' 1995 The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years). That aside, Viorst has much to offer. A veteran Middle East hand, he presents perceptive accounts of religious and political issues now being played out in Egypt, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Jordan, plus a solid chapter on the Muslims of France. Viorst is a master interviewer. Moreover, he has done the hard work of tracking down representative figures on all sides of these issues, presenting many individuals not that well known even to experts.