Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, 5th Ed.

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Andrew Rippin, Teresa Bernheimer
The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices
  • New York, NY: 
    , September
     338 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


“Religious literacy” is often cited as a primary justification for teaching world religions, especially at public, state-funded institutions–of course without running afoul (in the American context) of the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause,” which has been interpreted as prohibiting both promotion and demotion of religions by government-funded institutions. Nowhere is religious literacy more sorely needed than in the context of Islam today, especially since ISIS (along with other radical Islamist groups) have so negatively impacted public perceptions of mainstream Islam, thereby exacerbating “Islamophobia” as a result. Therefore, a good, solid textbook on Islam and its adherents (Muslims) is a valuable resource, academically as well as socially. 

Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices is an effective and reliable textbook that has withstood the test of time (nearly two decades). Although sales statistics are unavailable, the fact that Muslims has now appeared in its 5th edition speaks volumes. New editions often feature new elements, and the most significant addition in this title is the new co-author, Teresa Bernheimer. This change was presumably necessary since the original author, the late Andrew Rippin (Professor Emeritus, University of Victoria, formerly Professor of History and Dean of the Faculty of Humanities), passed away on November 29, 2016.  

In her preface, Bernheimer mentions a companion website for the 5th edition, the URL for which is printed on the back cover as One cannot say enough as to the pedagogical and practical merits of this textbook’s companion website, designed “to support teaching and learning.” This companion website is a valuable asset for both students and instructors alike. This site features “Useful web resources”; “Film, video, and audio material”; “Chapter annotations”; “Glossary terms with a pronunciation guide”; “Glossary flashcards”; “Research and essay topics.”

For instance, on the “Chapter annotations” page, the “Introduction” explains: “These documents contain additional bibliography and further clarifications of points that arise in each chapter of the book. The document provides relevant material for each sub-heading of the chapter.” Notes on chapter 17, “Perceptions of Muslims in the twenty-first century,” feature sections on: “Islamophobia”; “Islamophobia as ‘hate speech’”; “The fear of sharīʿa”; “Fear and suspicion”; and “The Muslim conception of Islam.”

What sets Muslims apart from most, if not all, competing textbooks in the academic marketplace is the “critical thinking” approach that Rippin consistently adopted over his many years of teaching experience. These critical questions are framed as “issues” under “Research and Essay Topics,” for example: Issues in the History of the Origins of Islam; Issues in the Formation of Islamic Identity; Issues in the Emergence of the Islamic Empire; Issues in the Cultural Manifestation of the Early Empire; Issues in the Expression of Islamic Identity; Islam in Modern Times; Analysis of Primary and Secondary Sources. Take, for instance, the following “Issues in the Formation of Islamic Identity”:

Issues in the Formation of Islamic Identity; What was the nature of the early community of Believers?; How clear-cut were the community’s boundaries in the beginning (i.e., in the time of the prophet Muḥammad himself)?; How did the early Believers define themselves in relation to other religious communities, particularly Christians and Jews?; What role did ideology, ritual, and social practices play in this self-identification?; If the early community’s identity was “porous” to some extent, when and how did it harden to become the clear-cut Muslim identity that is visible toward the end of the first century A.H. (7th C.E.)?” In what measure were the teachings of Muḥammad a natural outgrowth of religious trends discernable [sic: discernible] in the late antique Near East?; What role, if any, did such concepts as gnosis, apocalypticism and messianism play in the movement’s dynamic?; How (if at all) did the core beliefs of the new community evolve between the time of Muhammad and the crystallization of “classical Islam” a century and more later?; How did religious polemics and inter-confessional relations affect the articulation of religious identities?; How did the notion of an Arab–Muslim identity develop during the Umayyad period and how was it contested by the Abbasid movement and revolution?

These critical-thinking questions are quintessentially Rippin’s forte as a master teacher, and are the primary strength of Muslims. It appears as though Rippin—and now co-author Bernheimer—are training undergraduate students to think critically and independently as if they were graduate students. Although Routledge has an “Instructor Resources” website as well, this reviewer had no login privileges so as to review the relevant content. 

Muslims is structured in seventeen chapters, organized in six parts. A distinctive feature of this textbook, Parts 5 and 6 are of great topical interest today, thereby rendering Muslims an even more valuable pedagogical and learning resource, given its curricular and contemporary relevance. In “Part 4: Modern visions of Islam,” chapter 12 (Describing modernity) presents a thought-provoking framework of analysis, (i.e., typology of Islamic “responses to modernity.") In an earlier edition of Muslims, Rippin invoked a fivefold “responses to modernity” paradigm, based squarely on William E. Shepard, “Islam and Ideology: Towards a Typology,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 19 (1987), 307–35. However, in this fifth edition, Rippin and co-author Bernheimer offer a simpler, “tri-part division of religious ways of interacting with the modern age” (189), to wit: (1) Traditionalist (a.k.a. Normative or Orthodox); (2) Islamist (a.k.a. Fundamentalist, Neo-Normative, or Revivalist); and (3) Modernist (a.k.a. Acculturating or Modernizing). 

Muslim attitudes towards polygamy versus monogamy provide perhaps the clearest examples of each of these three Islamic “responses to modernity.” Traditionalist Muslims, as a prime example, allow for polygamy (i.e. multiple-wife marriages). Islamist Muslims, however, hold a more nuanced view in that, while the Quran allowed polygamy in order to accommodate ancient Arab customs, the Quran, in principle, was “aiming for monogamy all along” (189). Modernist Muslims, “based on the premise that men and women are equal,” maintain that monogamy is “morally good” because it is better for the welfare of society as a whole (189). 

Although this threefold typology is attractive in its simplicity and clarity, the typology is not carried forward structurally throughout the rest of the book, since these three divisions are “too schematic and reductive to provide structure for full analysis” (190). So, although these three divisions are “heuristic” in value, they remain “theoretical categories only” since Muslims, in real life, “can rarely, if ever, be fitted neatly into one position or the other” (190). 

That said, the discussion of various Islamic “responses to modernity” is sustained throughout the rest of the book, especially in the next chapters 13 (Muḥammad and modernity) and 14 (The Qurʾān and modernity). Muslims concludes with what is undoubtedly the most challenging and stimulating section of the entire volume: Part 6: Re-visioning Islam (16. Women, intellectuals, and other challenges; 17. Perceptions of Muslims in the twenty-first century). 

At the end of each chapter throughout the book, a sidebar is presented as a topic or item of interest or as a case study, for illustrative and discussion purposes. All figures (including photographs) are printed in black-and-white, presumably to conserve on the cost of printing, especially considering the high cost of color printing.

This textbook, while academic, remains respectful in tone, yet thoughtful in the issues raised throughout. It seems that the primary pedagogical purpose of Muslims is not only to inform, but to stimulate critical and reflective thinking, not only on questions of approach and method, but also on issues that are alive and well—and also alive and dangerous—in the contemporary situation today. It is in this latter sense that Muslims is very useful in preparing today’s university students for an increasingly globalized—and Islamicized—world in which we now live.

Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices can be recommended as a required textbook for undergraduate survey courses on Islam, as well as graduate courses and would be a worthwhile asset for community college, college and university libraries.  This 5th edition of Muslims, as a tried-and-true textbook, has a venerable history and wide pedagogical appeal.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher Buck is an Independent Scholar.

Date of Review: 
January 5, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andrew Rippin was Professor of History and former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Victoria, Canada, and among the foremost scholars of the Qur'an.

Teresa Bernheimer is Gerda Henkel Fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, Germany, working on religious extremism in the early Islamic period. 



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