I am so glad Reza Aslan gave that hilarious interview to Fox News on that wonderful wonderful day. I did not know of him till then.
I have thoroughly enjoyed No God but God. Learned many new things and unlearned many more. In the beginning of the book, Reza describes pre-Islamic Mecca; how it was an economic hub dependent on the annual pilgrimage with powerful families jealously maintaining the status quo. Reza is unusually adept at painting vivid pictures of times and places. Just like he did to Jerusalem in Zealot, here he has made pre-Islamic Mecca a real place for me.
The book narrates the history of Islam. Having read a sanitized and glorified version of this history in school this book is very refreshing. The squabbles between the companions right after the death of the prophet and the thinly veiled hunger for power make those giants of Islam seem very human. Reza describes the Muslim dynasties and their rise and fall. He explains the various interpretations of Islam. I especially liked the chapter on Sufism.
I LOVED his treatment of the clerics. Here is a paragraph:
Throughout Islamic history, as Muslim dynasties tumbled over one another, Muslim Kings were crowned and dethroned, and Islamic parliaments elected and dissolved, only the Ulama, in their capacity as the link to the traditions of the past, have managed to retain their self-imposed role as the leaders of Muslim society. As a result, over the past fourteen centuries, Islam as we know it has been almost exclusively defined by an extremely small, rigid, and often profoundly traditionalist group of men who, for better or worse, consider themselves to be the unyielding pillars upon which the religious, social, and political foundations of the religion rest. How they gained this authority, and what they have done with it, is perhaps the most important chapter in the story of Islam.
It is an optimistic book. Reza acknowledges that Muslims are going through a dark period but he expects this diversity of views and this stirring up of the Muslim thought-pot to bring tolerance and a wiser outlook .