It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am asked a lot about what the best books are to read about Islam. To be honest, this question is a lot harder than it might seem to answer. People have different interests and what might be good for one, is not necessarily good for another. That being said, I do make an effort to make recommendations that I feel offer a fair 360-degree view of the tradition.
These are the six books I often recommend and a few sentences on why I think they are important:
1. A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad
This is a newer book that addresses Islam through a series of questions. The author is a member of the Jordanian Royal Family and a double PhD holder from Cambridge and al-Azhar. The newer editions have a supplemental section dealing with plurality in Islam as well as the problem of ISIS. This book is written in clear English for a Western audience.
2. Revelation: The Story of Muhammad by Meraj Mohiuddin
This is a very approachable biography of Prophet Muhamad (God bless him and give him peace). It is based completely on secondary sources and the author is not a trained Islamic scholar. While I would usually consider this a great weakness, in this particular case, these are two of its strengths. The book is very approachable for the layperson and has been vetted by scholars for accuracy.
3. The Vision of Islam by Murata & Chittick
This was one of the most impactful books on Islam I read as an undergraduate student. It is essentially a commentary on the hadith of Gabrieln(see my Core Principle Articles) and explains what Islam-Iman-Ihsan are. There are a few sections that are not 100% accurate, but these are so minor given the great spread of the book that I continue to recommend it.
4. Introduction to Islamic Creed by Ibrahim al-Bajuri
This is a simple book of Sunni creed that is standard at al-Azhar Seminary and explains simply what Muslims believe. The reason I include this book is that this serves as a standard in English to Sunni orthodoxy. Some of the passages of The Vision of Islam can be corrected by this book of creed.
5. Al-Ghazali’s Forty Principles of the Religion by Imam al-Ghazali
One of Imam Ghazali’s greatest books and a summary of his magnum opus The Revival of the Religious Sciences. This an in depth look at the major principles that form Islamic thought and practice by one of Islam’s most celebrated and trusted scholars.
6. The Great Exegesis: al-Tafsir al-Kabir: The Fatiha by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi
This book is extremely dense and not bedside reading. The reason I include it is that this is what a commentary of the Quran should look and read like. Imam al-Razi is one of Islam’s most scholastic and prolific scholars. I seldom recommend people start learning about Islam by reading the Quran as this could lead to great misunderstanding and confusion. By looking at this commentary on the very first chapter of the Quran, readers are introduced to how Muslims approach their holy book for guidance.
Unfortunately, not everyone is a reader. In the case that books aren’t what people are looking for I typically recommend the following two:
1. Muhammad Legacy of a Prophet (Movie)
This movie is well done and available for free online. This is a wonderful introduction to Islam’s most central figure, our beloved Prophet (God bless him and give him peace).
I typically don’t self-promote, but one of the reason’s I started my podcast is to give people bitesize information about Islam in a simple English. Specially, the 25 episodes I dedicate to first principles is a great, short introduction to Islam for those who prefer to listen rather than watch or read.