"The Other Islam - Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony," by author Stephen Schwartz was interesting to this reporter because Schwartz points out in a personable writing style the complexities of a little-known subject. I say "little-known" I mean to us Westerners.
Most often people in the United States are acquainted only with the very faint outline of Sufism, the "Whirling Dervishes." Yet, the entire Middle East has a very complicated and detailed history - one that at first glance is not easy to comprehend.
Yet it seems to me, Schwartz places his point of view at an angle that is approachable for a Western audience. Sufism, a part of Islam is often best known for poetry.
Such poetry and dance (via the dervishes) is obviously a more appealing way to learn about Islam then just jumping into cold facts as if one is taking a cold shower.
For most people in the West, these complexities of history and sect and culture within the Middle East seem distant, foreign and difficult to understand. I think books like Schwartz' is valuable because it helps us to better understand a part of the world that is taking more of a spotlight on the world-stage now more than ever.
Schwartz shows the complicated, but by focusing on Sufism he uncovers the complex by way of the beautiful aspect, intelligent and illuminated.
His writing also discerns the "pit-falls" which really is present in just about any culture, place or religion around the world. He describes the differences between "Sunni" and "Shia" in Islam.
And, while it is easy for us Westerners to say to ourselves, "oh those foreigners with their fanatical beliefs." We here in the West, as I see it, need to recognize the same complexity within ourselves. For while the United States may not be as old as the Middle East, we have our share of fractions, divisions and extremes too.
For example, I have heard it said that when trying to describe the difference between "Shia" and "Sunni" in Islam, think of the differences between "Catholic and Protestant" in Christianity. Many conflicts, even wars in Western history have been waged because of fractions within a religion.
And, we here in the West have had plenty of that type of religious and cultural conflict within our own history, true? It seems to me taking the time to study just a bit of another culture, religion and so forth helps us to better understand the world we live in. And, that learning, hopefully helps to avoid mistakes of strife and more conflict between peoples.