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Issue 233, Friday 26 September 2008 - 26 Ramadan 1423

Book Review - One hundred influential Muslim personalities

The Muslim 100, The Lives, Thoughts and Achievements of the Most Influential Muslims in History. By Muhammad Mojlum Khan. Leicester. Kube Publishing Ltd. 2008. 460pp. This book is an anthology of biographies of one hundred influential Muslim personalities whom the author has selected according to their influence on Muslims throughout the 15 centuries of Islam. Influence, based on their contributions and achievements, was therefore the main criterion for selection and inclusion in this book. But this raises an interesting question, namely how the nature and extent of each person’s influence was to be measured? The author explains that he began by examining their lives and thoughts, and then proceeded to assess the nature of their contribution by evaluating what they actually did and what was so special or extraordinary about their deeds, actions and accomplishments. In so doing, he claims to be able to determine whether their contributions and achievements had made them national, regional or international figures. The Muslim 100 is a bold attempt by the young writer Muhammad Moljum Khan to explore Islamic history through the lives, thoughts and achievements of a selection of most influential Muslims. Perhaps, the figure one hundred was inspired by M Hart’s book The 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, which has been highly celebrated in the Muslim World as it ranks Prophet Muhammad as number one Character among the hundred. For Khan, a Muslim journalist and social scientist to start his book with the last Messenger is unquestionable. But he had to acknowledge the difficulties faced him if he tried to rank his 100 especially if he has chosen not to arrange them chronologically. The selection was meant to be representative of all periods from the advent of Islam to modern times, who belong to a vast area that extendss from China to Morocco and whose contributions have covered all fields of human knowledge. Yet, some readers would wonder why Abu Bakr al-Siddiq is placed after both ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and why ‘A’ishah bint Abi Bakr was ranked higher than Khadijah bint Khuwaylid. Against this the author claimed that he could evaluate the intellectual, social, political, economic or cultural importance, value and impact of their contributions and achievements over time. For example, by pursuing this approach he was able to include Muhammad Yunus (the great Bangladeshi economist, banker and the pioneer of the system of micro-credit) in his book, but exclude Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (the founding father of Bangladesh) since the latter’s accomplishment has been largely ‘national’ or, at best, ‘regional’, while the former is today widely considered to be an important ‘international’ figure whose contribution and achievement has become ‘global’, thanks to the increasing popularity of micro-credit across the world. The 100 names included 20 personalities from modern times which indicates the gap between the bright past of the Ummah and its stagnant present situation. It is sad that among the 100, the author listed only four females. It is a fact that men have had a much higher profile in public life in every civilisation, but I am sure that with more research Khan would have added few names to ladies ‘Aishah, Khadijah, Fatimah and Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyyqah. Despite the obvious care which contributed to presenting the work in its elegant form there are two small defects which I hope will be considered in next edition. First, is the absence of a consistent system of transliteration throughout the book. The other remark is regarding the use of calligraphy in writing the Arabic form of the personality name and chapter title is a good idea for ornamentation purpose, but unfortunately the amateurish execution has not been convincing. The artist used the same pen thickness throughout and that made the long names or titles jam in the small space indiscriminately provided to each of them. This could be avoided by using a thinner pen. It is also noticed that the artist does not follow any recognisable style of Islamic calligraphy, hence many of his works lack the usual harmony which characterises Islamic calligraphy works. The book is ended by useful supplements; a chronological list of the main events in Islamic history, a select bibliography and two indices one of names and places and the other of ideas and concepts. It is easy to read and the author avoided using technical language or unnecessary jargon words. The Muslim 100 is aimed primarily at students and lay readers and it has filled a gap in the modern Islamic authorship, where the demand is urgent for quick desk reference books on the lives and thoughts of Muslim leading personalities in various epochs of Islamic history. I recommend it especially to Muslim youth who are eager to learn more about their heritage. Both Moljum Khan and Kube Publishing Ltd deserve credit for filling such gap.

Dr M F Elshayyal, MIHE.

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