Monday, May 23, 2005

The Guru of Interfaith Understanding

The Guru of Interfaith Understanding

I didn't realize that two books by one of my favourite authors Karen Armstrong, A History of God and Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet have recently been banned in Malaysia, until a friend mentioned it by chance the other day. I have both of these books in my library, and for the life of me I cannot understand what the authorities found so objectionable about them. Furthermore The History of God has been selling in our bookstores since 1993! I bought my paperback copy at the Times bookstore in Parkson Grand, Damansara Jaya on August 20th, 1994 (as noted down in my handwriting on the title page).

An ex-Catholic nun herself, Karen Armstrong is an internationally acclaimed scholar of religions. Her works have also been recognized by international Muslim groups as contributing towards promoting greater understanding between the major faiths of the world.

I read The History of God ten years ago and it helped me a lot in understanding the history and significance of God throughout the ages. I even bought an audio version of the book and listened to it repeatedly over the years. Since then I've tried to read everything that she has written, including Through the Narrow Gate, which is an autobiographical account of her abortive attempt to pursue a vocation as a Catholic nun.

No reasons were given by the Malaysian authorities for the ban. I'm not even sure if it was the Christian or the Muslim scholars who objected to her two books. The authorities have always lamented the fact that Malaysians don't read enough books; so why even bother to ban them at all? And these are not even popular books like the Da Vinci Code that appeal to the mass reading public. Whatever it is, banning these books will only result in stirring up more public interest in them. Maybe it's a good thing :-)

I am glad to have read many of Karen Armstrong's works and have learnt immensely from them. Her books taught me a lot about the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her impeccable scholarship and her deep empathy towards the social, historical and spiritual significance of religions have been a great source of inspiration to me. I try not to miss any books from Karen Armstrong. And needless to say, bibliophiles like me will always insist on buying both the hardcopy and the audio version (read by the author herself) of her works.

I certainly look forward to reading more books from Karen Armstrong in the future. To me, when it comes to the subject of interfaith understanding, there is no better exponent than Karen Armstrong. She is truly the guru of interfaith understanding.

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