This book by the 2001 Nobel Prize Winner is a chronicle of a seven-month journey
Naipaul made in 1979/80 to Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia in search of Islam. On his travels
through these countries he always picks people who serve him as guides and witnesses of the country's
political and religious ideas. These people are all trapped in a dilemma between rejection and dependence as to western civilization.
They reject it with its liberal lifestyle, but depend on western countries as they provide good universities and
education. Naipaul even chides Moslems for being 'made' by the western world they reject.
That dilemma is represented in the character of Behzad, a science student in Teheran, who is disappointed
at both the Shah and also by Ayatollah Khomeini and his mullahs. They both could not deliver the ideal society Behzad
had hoped for to be established. He favours socialism and communism which could best materialise Islamic
principles. The same disappointment applies to Ahmed, a devout Muslim in Pakistan whose dream of a Moslem state
has gone bad. But he does not put the blame on the Islamic faith, but on the people who failed the faith.
Equally torn between religion, economy and political institutions is Shafi, a 32-year-old Malay from Kuala Lumpur.
Once a building contractor in a small village he now works for ABIM, a major Moslem youth movement.
In Indonesia Naipaul meets Imaddudin who wants Islam to cleanse the country, so he offers 'mental training
courses' to members of the young middle class.
Although the author tries hard to get to the core of Islam and see Islam in action, he seems to fail in this attempt
because all the people he meets remain strange and hidden to him. In the end Naipaul himself is disappointed
that he has not got a satisfying answer to his question as to how Islam and political institutions are compatible and what
the ideal Islamic state looks like. He again and again is told that all the answers can be found in sacred texts, but whether they
can be applied to a modern state remains unanswered.