Book review: Islam and the Destiny of Man by Charles Le Gai Eaton
I feel a little hesitant writing a review about this book because it has earned itself a place as a ‘classic’ piece of English Islamic literature. So to review something that has been unanimously praised and accepted by the Muslim community seems a little pointless. But as copies of it are becoming rarer, I think something needs to be done to revive this great text. I first heard about the book from a close friend of mine who is a revert, and when looking into it found out about its popularity and status amongst the relatively new world of English Islamic literature. The author Charles Le Gai Eaton sadly passed away earlier this year, which renewed my desire to read it. After failing to find a used copy at a decent price I decided to wait and hope someone might have the clever idea to start printing it again now the author has passed away and interest has been rekindled. Thankfully the Islamic Book Trust of Malaysia has reprinted it and it is slowly creeping back into sale. (Despite the fact that it states it should not be available for sale outside of Malaysia and Indonesia).
On reading a small section one begins to understand why this book is so popular. In very eloquent, yet easy to understand English, Gai Eaton presents a portrait of classical orthodox Islam to the reader. He goes through its history, its cultures, its beliefs and practices, and touches upon what we can learn from all of them and what we can understand from their deeper inner meanings. This is a great book to give to non-Muslims, it by far surpasses all of the pamphlet dawah literature that I have ever come across. For Muslim readers it provides an opportunity to understand what it means to be Muslim, and what is expected of us as being a billion strong community whose bonds are in some cases tighter than blood.
There are unfortunately a few minor criticisms I have of the book. Gai Eaton was a believer in Frithjof Schuon‘s school of perennialism. Though the school has many likeable ideas, some ideas of which can be considered correct, it is on the whole not acceptable as part of orthodoxy. (For a thorough refutation of universalism in Islam the following is worth reading: http://www.htspub.com/1429issue6.pdf). As a result of this a large number of quotes in the book are taken from the works of Schuon and other adherents of perennialism. Gai Eaton also spends quite some time in the beginning of the book promoting the school, but he fails to do so convincingly.
Aside from that, it is an exceptional read. I would recommend this for Muslims who are looking to renew their faith, or non-Muslims who are looking to learn about the religion.