Who is Allah?
Lawrence, an emeritus professor of Islamic studies and humanities at Duke, authors the newest in UNC's intriguing Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks series (for which he also serves as co-editor). Lawrence alternates between abstract discussions of the meaning and presence of Allah and faithful retellings of the works of other authors. He also includes dramatic modern Islamic art, a rarely covered and welcome topic. The dynamic structure of the book is like an homage to the celebrated ninety names of Allah, an Islamic tradition extolling and quantifying the various attributes of Allah such as kindness, mercy, and strength. Lawrence makes some surprising choices: a section that reads like a graduate level book report, focusing on modern artists and authors such as Christopher Hitchens, a brief argument that Al-Jazeera was key to the success of Osama bin Laden, and other topics that have very little to do with the conceptualization of Allah. On the whole, however, the author bravely expresses and explores a thesis that is hard to grasp, reflective of the paradoxically known and unknown nature of the deity. (Apr.)