In This Review

Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
By V. S. Naipaul
408 pp, Random House, 1998

Returning to Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, and Pakistan, which he chronicled in his Among the Believers (1981), Naipaul provides an update in his familiar distinctive style. In-depth interviews with a handful of the near-great and the obscure from each country produce brilliant writing and somber stories. Do they add up to a representative sample? What about his framing argument that these non-Arab Muslims are still measuring themselves according to the Arab prototype? Has Naipaul never known Western intellectuals who laud the legacy of the Greeks while dismissing modern Greece? Doesn't Naipaul, in positing an essentialist Islam that must be inflexibly fundamentalist, deny Islam's rich diversity, while ignoring the fundamentalist impulse in most religions? Even so, Beyond Belief is rewarding. His subjects are memorable, for example the hanging judge of those early days of the Iranian Revolution (Ayatollah Khalkhalli), revisited 15 years later and now mercifully out of favor; a prot‚g‚ of Indonesian President B. J. Habibie, in and out of prison, now flourishing in a mix of high-tech entrepreneurship and fundamentalism; or a would-be Pakistani Che Guevara who even after countless lost causes has no regrets. One injustice must be corrected: The late Fazlur Rahman of the University of Chicago was no "fundamentalist fanatic" but an eminent liberal Muslim scholar.