Middle East bookshelf: Islam

Continuing our effort to compile a list of 10 books that introduce new readers to the Middle East, I think there's room for two about Islam. Obviously there are a lot to choose from and Islam stretches far wider than the Middle East – though, as I said earlier, it plays such a central role in the region that it must be included.

The development of Islam is already covered in our history section, so we don't need a separate book about that. Some readers might like to explore the historical interactions between Muslims and Europeans a bit further. For that, I'd suggest Mongomery Watt's A History of Islamic Spain (1965), plus Amin Maalouf's The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (1989) – though I'm not including them in the list of 10.

Narrowing down the choice to focus on contemporary Islam, I think we need something about Islamic extremism because of its topicality. Again, there are many options, but I'm going to choose The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global by Fawaz Gerges (2005). The book is about jihadist politics – an aspect not much covered in the media – and internal debates about whether to concentrate on changing the Muslim world or attacking the west.

I feel that the second book ought to expose readers to the existence of more liberal Islamic points of view and so, from the opposite end of the spectrum, I've chosen Progressive Muslims: on Justice, Gender and Pluralism (2003), edited by Omid Safi.