Naipaul on Islam

Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey

Naipaul writes unflinching and often unflattering stories about his travels in Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. This book was written in the late 1970s, around the time the Shah was deposed and the American embassy in Tehran was overrun by student radicals. Despite its age, the book feels like it could have been written last year. Naipaul’s directness on this thorny topic is refreshing: he describes a populist Islam that is unsurpassed at seduction but weak at construction. Again and again he hears magical faith being prescribed as the cure for all ills, particularly those imposed by external forces of Westernization. Since Islam defines itself as a religion that also encompasses politics, economics, and law, its cultural scope in an Islamic country is almost boundless.