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ISLAM: AN INTRODUCTION
Islam is the monotheistic religion articulated by the Qur’an, a text considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God, and the teachings and normative example (called the Sunnah composed of Hadith) of Muhammad, often considered by the adherents of Islam as the last Prophet of God. In addition to referring to the religion itself, the word Islam means 'submission to God,' 'peace', and 'way to peace'. An adherent of Islam is called a Muslim. Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable. Muslims also believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed at many times and places before, including through the prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Muslims maintain that previous messages and revelations have been partially changed or corrupted over time, but consider the Qur'an to be both unaltered and the final revelation from God. Religious concepts and practices include the five pillars of Islam, which are basic concepts and obligatory acts of worship, and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, encompassing everything from banking and welfare, to warfare and the environment.
Most Muslims belong to one of two denominations; with 80-90% being Sunni and 10-20% being Shia. About 13% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, 25% in South Asia, 20% in the Middle East, 2% in Central Asia, 4% in the remaining South East Asian countries, and 15% in Sub-saharan Africa. Sizable communities are also found in China and Russia, and parts of the Caribbean. Converts and immigrant communities are found in almost every part of the world. With about 1.5 billion Muslims, comprising about 21-23% of the world's population, Islam is the second-largest religion and one of the fastest-growing religions in the world.
The pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, is the supreme expression of global Islam. This year more than 2.5 million Muslims will undertake the journey from towns and villages around the world; during their absence, they will be in the thoughts and prayers of a much larger circle of family and friends. Setting out in their own national dress, speaking different languages, and espousing widely varying versions of Islam, by the time they arrive at Mecca these Indonesians, Afghans, and Nigerians will, in important ways, have become one. While in the sanctified area of Mecca and its neighborhood, wearing identical garb (the men at any rate, in lengths of seamless white fabric), they will speak the same Arabic prayers, perform the same rituals, and abstain from the same chores and pleasures. For many, including large numbers of women, these five days of spiritual and social togetherness will be the most important time of their lives.
Pilgrimage is not, of course, unique to Islam. Other faiths have found a place for it—as a means of connecting with some historical or mythical event, or of symbolically “ascending” (by climbing a ziggurat, for example) toward God. What sets Islam apart from other religious traditions, including Judaism and Christianity, is that its founder elevated a pilgrimage into a binding obligation for all able-bodied believers who can afford it. As a test of religious mettle, the Hajj is clearly more arduous than the other obligations laid down by the Prophet Muhammad—the declaration of faith, the ritual prayer, alms-giving, and the Ramadan fast. For more on the Hajj go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/apr/26/supreme-shrine/
Islamic fundamentalism is an Islamic ideology. It originated in the Middle East, and, according to Benjamin Schett, an independent researcher, was spread with the help of several western powers to further political agendas. Definitions of Islamic fundamentalism vary. It is deemed problematic by those who suggest that Islamic belief requires all Muslims to be fundamentalists, and by others as a term used by outsiders to describe perceived trends within Islam. Exemplary figures of Islamic fundamentalism are Sayyid Qutb, Abul Ala Mawdudi, and Israr Ahmad. Wahhabism is often described as the main cause of Islamic fundamentalism. For a reaction to the islamic fundamentalism of Hamas go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5S2mJGMwsOs&sns=em For more on this subject go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_fundamentalism
In a Muslim context, Islamic Studies is the umbrella term for the Islamic Sciences, both originally researched and as defined by the Islamization of knowledge. It includes all the traditional forms of religious thought, such as kalam or Islamic theology, and fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence, but also incorporates fields generally considered secular in the West, such as Islamic science and Islamic economics.
In a non-Muslim context, Islamic Studies generally refers to the historical study of Islam: Islamic Civilization, Islamic History and Historiography, Islamic Law, Islamic Theology and Islamic philosophy. Academics from diverse disciplines participate & exchange ideas about Islamic societies, past and present, although western, academic Islamic Studies itself is in many respects a self-conscious and self-contained field. Specialists in the discipline apply methods adapted from several ancillary fields, ranging from Biblical Studies and Classical Philology to Modern History, Legal History, and Sociology. A recent trend, particularly since 9/11, has been the study of contemporary Islamist groups & movements by academics from the Social Sciences or in many cases by journalists, although since such works tend to be written by non-Arabists they belong outside the field of Islamic Studies proper. For more on this subject go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_studies
The following paragraphs come from a review in the London Review of Books back in 1996. These paragraphs open the review of these books: Lords of the Lebanese Marches: Violence and Narrative in an Arab Society by Michael Gilsenan(Tauris, 377 pages,1996); The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World edited by John L. Esposito(Oxford, 480 pages, 1995); Unfolding Islam by P.J. Stewart(Garnet, 268 pages, 1995), and Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East by Fred Halliday(Tauris, 256 pages, 1996).
For too long Islamic studies have existed in an academic ghetto which reinforces the essentialist view shared by the Islamologues, that Islam was somehow ‘different’ from the West. A more fruitful approach is taken by Michael Gilsenan in Lords of the Lebanese Marches, based on field work he conducted in a Sunni Muslim rural area of North Lebanon during the early 1970s, before the recent civil war. This beautifully written book describes the culture of masculinity in its multiple refractions through violence and narrative, joking and play, a world where status and power are organised vertically, where big landowners use the small landowners as their strong-arm men to control the sharecroppers and labourers at the bottom of the social hierarchy and to compete for supremacy with their rival lords.
Sharaf, ‘the honour of person and family, which is particularly identified with control of women’s sexuality, is crucial to the public, social identity of men.’ The sharaf of the mighty is linked with the destruction of the sharaf of others: great lords gain honour by ritually humiliating subordinates, whom they force to transgress their own codes of honour. Not surprisingly, life at the bottom is brutish and insecure. The poorest women and their children must undertake work that others regard as shameful. They are powerless to resist sexual exploitation or abuse by their masters. It is not so much these actions themselves, as the stories to which they give rise and which give them meaning, that interest Gilsenan. ‘Men struggle to reproduce, memorialise and guarantee narratives of being and place in the world against life's ruptures, absences and arbitrariness. These forces continuously seem to subvert their lives.’ For more go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v18/n15/malise-ruthven/politics-and-the-prophet
Islamic philosophy is the systematic investigation of problems connected with life, the universe, ethics,society, and so on as conducted in the Muslim world. Early Islamic philosophy began in the 2nd century AH of the Islamic calendar (early 9th century CE) and lasted until the 6th century AH (late 12th century CE). The period is known as the Islamic Golden Age, and the achievements of this period had a crucial influence on the development of modern philosophy and science. For Renaissance Europe the influence represented “one of the largest technology transfers in world history.” This period began with al-Kindi in the 9th century and ended with Averroes (Ibn Rushd) at the end of 12th century. The death of Averroes effectively marked the end of a particular discipline of Islamic philosophy usually called the Peripatetic Arabic School, and philosophical activity declined significantly in Western Islamic countries such asIslamic Spain and North Africa.
Philosophy persisted for much longer in the Eastern countries, in particular Persia and India where several schools of philosophy continued to flourish: Avicennism, Illuminationist philosophy, Mystical philosophy, and Transcendent theosophy. Ibn Khaldun, in his Muqaddimah, made important contributions to the philosophy of history. Interest in Islamic philosophy revived during the Nahda(awakening) movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and continues to the present day. For more go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_philosophy
OUR KORAN PROBLEM
The following is an essay by Garry Wills(1934-) a prolific Pulitzer Prize–winning American author, journalist, & historian, specializing in American history, politics, and religion, especially the history of the Catholic Church. Wills has written nearly 40 books and, since 1973, has been a frequent reviewer for the New York Review of Books. He became a faculty member of the history department at Northwestern University in 1980, where he is currently an Emeritus Professor of History. For more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garry_Wills
In the summer of 2015, I was asked by the directors of a university political science program to lecture about Americans’ attitudes toward Islam. I asked at the beginning how many in the audience (of about eighty students and faculty) had read the Koran. Four hands went up. Later, at lunch with faculty members, I was asked if the small number of politics students who knew the Koran surprised me. I had to answer, “Yes and no.” Yes, because 1.6 billion people live by this book, try to memorize it, quote it against each other as well as against the outside world. And now we are engaged in tense—potentially hostile—engagements with Muslims around the world. It made sense in dealing with Germany before World War II or with Russia during the cold war for serious people to have read Mein Kampf or Das Kapital. Yet many of those fighting for Germany or Russia had themselves not read Mein Kampf or Das Kapital. The same cannot be said of Muslims and the Koran.
But I could not feign surprise that others had not read the Koran, since I was slow to begin reading it and even slower to work at less inadequate readings of it. Not long after President Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, I was asked by a friend if I had ever read the Koran. I was embarrassed to answer her, “No.” I have spent most of my life studying in one way or another both Jewish and Christian texts and practices. It was ridiculous that I would remain completely ignorant of what a quarter of the world’s people not only believe in but live by (in different ways).
Jointly the two leading religions, Christianity and Islam, number over half the inhabitants of the globe—2.2 billion Christians (31 percent of the population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23 percent of the population). By 2050 the numbers will be roughly equal. Yet few Christians know or care about the Koran—a fact to which I bore melancholy testimony. And even now my reading of it continues to be uninformed on many levels. How, then, can the two most believing communities in the world communicate over such a high wall of ignorance? That would not matter if you believe (as some still do) that religion is not important in world affairs. This can, however, be a perilous attitude, as we found out in invading Iraq with little or no knowledge of the Sunni–Shia divide there. George Bush and Dick Cheney had clearly not read the Koran, or any of the traditions (Hadith) of Islam. But can the rest of us live down to that terrifying ignorance? For more: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/03/24/my-koran-problem/
The Quran, literally meaning "the recitation"; also romanized Qur'an or Koran, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Arabic: الله, Allah).It is widely regarded as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language. Quranic chapters are called suras and verses. Muslims believe the Quran was verbally revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel (Jibril), gradually over a period of approximately 23 years, beginning on 22 December 609 CE, when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632, the year of his death. Muslims regard the Quran as the most important miracle of Muhammad, a proof of his prophethood, and the culmination of a series of divine messages that started with the messages revealed to Adam and ended with Muhammad. The word "Quran" occurs some 70 times in the text of the Quran, although different names and words are also said to be references to the Quran.
According to the traditional narrative, several companions of Muhammad served as scribes and were responsible for writing down the revelations. Shortly after Muhammad's death, the Quran was compiled by his companions who wrote down and memorized parts of it. These codices had differences that motivated theCaliph Uthman to establish a standard version now known as Uthman's codex, which is generally considered the archetype of the Quran known today. There are, however, variant readings, with mostly minor differences in meaning. For more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran
Arabs, or Arabic-speaking people, are a major panethnic group. They primarily inhabit Western Asia, North Africa, parts of the Horn of Africa, and other areas in the Arab world. Arabic groups which inhabit, or are adjacent to, the Arabian plate and Arabic speaking people include: Syrians, the Lebanese,Emiratis, Qataris, Saudis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, Iraqis, Omanis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Yemenis, Sudanis, Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Libyans & Egyptians. Arabic-speaking populations in general are a highly heterogeneous collection of peoples, with different ancestral origins and identities. The ties that bind the Arab peoples are a veneer of shared heritage by virtue of common linguistic, cultural, and political traditions. As such, Arab identity is based on one or more of genealogical, linguistic or cultural grounds, although with competing identities often taking a more prominent role, based on considerations including regional, national,clan, kin, sect, and tribe affiliations and relationships. If the Arab panethnicity is regarded as a single population, then it constitutes one of the world's largest groups after Han Chinese.
After the death of Muhammad in 632, Rashidun armies launched campaigns of conquest, establishing the Caliphate, or Islamic Empire, one of the largest empires in history. It was larger and lasted longer than the previous Arab empires of Queen Mawia or the Palmyrene Empire, which were predominantly Syriac rather than Arab. The Rashidun state was a completely new state & not a mere imitation of the earlier Arab kingdoms such as the Himyarite, Lakhmids or Ghassanids, although it benefited greatly from their art, administration & architecture. For a brief history of the Umayyad Era(661-750), the Abbassid Era(750-1513), the Golden Age of Islam, the Ottoman Caliphate, the Modern Era--the complex religiosity of these peoples go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabs#Islamic For more on the Arabs, their literature, music, culture & architecture, & the place of other religions in the Arab regions go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arabs
For a review in the 9/10/'14 issue of The New York Review of Books entitled: 'The Pillars of Arab Despotism' by Robert F. Worth go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/oct/09/pillars-arab-despotism/?insrc=toc The 2 books in question are: The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East by Juan Cole(Simon and Schuster, 350 pages), and Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East by Shadi Hamid(Oxford University Press, 2014, 300 pages). I will leave it to readers with the interest to access this review. John Ricardo I. "Juan" Cole(1952-) is an American academic and commentator on the modern Middle East and South Asia. He is also the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, Informed Comment which is also syndicated on Truthdig.com.
Shadi Hamid is a fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy. He served as director of research at the Brookings Doha Center until January 2014. Prior to joining Brookings, Hamid was director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and a Hewlett Fellow at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Hamid is currently vice chair of POMED, a member of the World Bank’s MENA Advisory Panel and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. For more on Hamid go to: http://www.brookings.edu/experts/hamids For more on Cole go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Cole
ISLAM: THE FIRST TWO CENTURIES
In The Sectarian Milieu, John Wansbrough discusses the emergence and formation of the early Muslim community. Islam arose, says Wansbrough, from within a preexisting “sectarian milieu.” That milieu was a welter of “hardly distinguishable confessional groups” (Wansbrough, The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History, p. 98). Contemporary historical sources disclose “the fact of Arab hegemony in the Fertile Crescent but virtually nothing of the confessional community called Islam” (The Sectarian Milieu, p. 118). What, then, led to the emergence of “Islam” as a distinct ethos, beyond the Arab ethnos? It was not the Arab conquests in which the self-definition of Islam inhered: “The elaboration of Islam was not contemporary with, but posterior to the Arab occupation of the Fertile Crescent and beyond.” (The Sectarian Milieu, p. 99) Islam, as a religion, was not coeval with conquest. The political force of the early Arab expansion of the first two Islamic centuries did little to advance the ethos of the religion itself.
A religious ethos requires interpretation and development. Imagery reifies the abstract. The ethos of Islam was shaped, in part, by a constellation of powerful, thought orienting symbols. Fundamental to the documentation of confessional identity,” Wansbrough asserts, “was selection of various & appropriate insignia from the monotheist compendium of symbols, topoi, and theologoumena.” (The Sectarian Milieu 99) When these took shape and crystallized into their final form, they became “schemata of revelation” which “eventually generated a kind of subsidiary imagery,” fixed within an “initial range of symbols.”(The Sectarian Milieu, p. 100). Rather than the military & political fact of conquest by Arabs who professed Islam, it was “the collection of confessional insignia which,” according to Wansbrough, “eventually crystallized as ‘Islam.’”(ibid., p. 128). “Similarly,” continues Wansbrough, “the ecclesiological imagery of Aphrahat and Ephrem exhibits the successful, if occasionally strained, adaptation of an extraordinary range of motifs whose original symbolic value for the authority of the Church was anything but obvious.”(ibid., p.102-3). Whether in Islam or in early Syriac Christianity, symbols serve to orient the thoughts of the believer, inspiring and modeling strategies for action. An emergent symbol canon plays an emblematic role in communal self-definition. Symbols migrate. They can be taken up or assimilated from one tradition by another. This phenomenon involves a process of “symbolic transfer”(ibid., p.102) resulting in a “transmission history of symbols."(ibid., p.103) For more go to: http://bahai-studies.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/8.4-Buck.pdf
A NEW UMMAH
Ummah is an Arabic word meaning "nation" or "community". It is distinguished from Sha'b, an Arabic word which means a nation with common ancestry or geography. Thus, it can be said to be a supra-national community with a common history. It is a synonym for "ummat al-Islamiyah", an Arabic term meaning "the Islamic Nation." It is commonly used to mean the collective community of Islamic peoples. In the Quran the ummah refers to a single group that shares common religious beliefs, specifically those that are the objects of a divine plan of salvation. In the context of Pan-Islamism and politics, the word Ummah can be used to mean the concept of a Commonwealth of the Believers(the ummat al-mu'minīn). For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ummah
The following statements have some truth.(1) Suicide bombers suffer not from a sense of having lost their place in a community but from a sense that they have failed in their quest to find a new, Westernised form of individuality. (2) Muslim fundamentalists. and born-again Muslims in families living in the West, owe their new-found religiosity more to the process of Western secularisation than to the culture they inherited from parents; and (3) What is developing among Western Muslims is not an attachment to Islam as a religion but a highly personal religiosity so dissociated from any particular country that political Islam has no collective reality.
If you agree with these propositions, or if you think they account for various acts of extremism like the London bombings, then your views are close to those of Olivier Roy. You might like to read his new book in order to confirm your opinions. If, however, you find any of these propositions debatable you will need to work your way through his entire argument in an attempt to sort things out, a task that will have its frustrations, as well as its rewards. Roy is enormously knowledgable and well aware of the problems faced by young Muslims, but his discussion is neither consistent nor clear. The above paragraphs come from a review of these books: Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah by Olivier Roy(Hurst, 349 pages, 2004), and The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West by Gilles Kepel, translated by Pascale Ghazaleh, Harvard, 325 pages, 2004. For more of this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n15/lawrence-rosen/homesick-everywhere
Ummah.com, formerly known as The Islamic Gateway, is a website best known for the Ummah Forum, a large English internet forum for Muslims. As of April 2015 the forum had a guesstimated 100,000 members. Ummah.com is based in the UK, as are the majority of its voluntary contributors and active forum users. The Ummah forum membership is mainly composed of Muslims of Pakistani & Indian origin residing in the United Kingdom.
A caliphate, a word from the Arabic 'khilāfa' is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph in Arabic 'khalīfah'. A caliph is a person considered as a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community. The Rashidun caliphs, who directly succeeded Muhammad as leaders of the Muslim community, were chosen through shura, a process of community consultation which some consider an early form of Islamic democracy. During the history of Islam after the Rashidun period, many Muslim states, almost all of them hereditary monarchies, have claimed to be caliphates. For more go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caliphate
Malise Ruthven reviews Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate by Abdel Bari Atwan(London: Saqi, 250 pages, 2015) in The New York Review of Books (9/7/'15). Ruthven begins: "In November 2001, two months after the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, James Buchan, a novelist & a former Middle East correspondent, published an article in the London Guardian in which he imagined the triumphant entry into Mecca of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist: 'It was no ordinary evening, but possibly the holiest in the holiest month of Islam, the so-called Lailat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, on which, according to the Koran, God’s revelation was sent down to the Prophet Mohammed…. More than 50,000 people had gathered on the hot pavement of the mosque enclosure and in the streets outside to pass the evening in prayer. Millions of others were watching on a live television broadcast at home. As Sheikh Abdul Rahman, famous all over the Islamic world for the beauty of his voice, mounted the pulpit, a hand reached up and tugged at his robe. There was a commotion, and in the place of the Imam stood a tall man, unarmed and dressed in the white cloth of the pilgrim…, and recognisable from a million television screens: Osama bin Laden, flanked by his lieutenants….For more of this review go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/inside-islamic-state/
THE MYSTERY OF ISIS
For a review of (i) ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan(Regan Arts, 300 pages), and (ii) ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger(Ecco, 400 pages) go to: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/aug/13/mystery-isis/ This anonymous review in The New York Review of Books(13/8/'15) begins as follows: Ahmad Fadhil was eighteen when his father died in 1984. Photographs suggest that he was relatively short, chubby, and wore large glasses. He wasn’t a particularly poor student—he received a B grade in junior high—but he decided to leave school. There was work in the garment & leather factories in his home city of Zarqa, Jordan, but he chose instead to work in a video store, and earned enough money to pay for some tattoos. He also drank alcohol, took drugs, and got into trouble with the police. So his mother sent him to an Islamic self-help class. This sobered him up & put him on a different path. By the time Ahmad Fadhil died in 2006 he had laid the foundations of an independent Islamic state of eight million people that controlled a territory larger than Jordan itself.
A SECULAR HISTORY OF ISLAM
A young muslim's story
For this article in the London Review of Books, February 2002, entitled "Mullahs and Heretics" byTariq Ali go to this link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n03/tariq-ali/mullahs-and-heretics The article begins with an account of the early life of this young man in a Muslim society, as follows: "I never believed in God, not even between the ages of six and ten, when I was an agnostic. This unbelief was instinctive. I was sure there was nothing else out there but space. It could have been my lack of imagination. In the jasmine-scented summer nights, long before mosques were allowed to use loudspeakers, it was enough to savour the silence, look up at the exquisitely lit sky, count the shooting stars & fall asleep. The early morning call of the muezzin was a pleasant alarm-clock. There were many advantages in being an unbeliever. Threatened with divine sanctions by family retainers, cousins or elderly relatives – ‘If you do that Allah will be angry’ or ‘If you don’t do this Allah will punish you’ – I was unmoved. Let him do his worst, I used to tell myself, but he never did, and that reinforced my belief in his non-existence."
"My parents, too, were non-believers. So were most of their close friends. Religion played a tiny part in our Lahore household. In the second half of the last century, a large proportion of educated Muslims had embraced modernity. Old habits persisted, nonetheless: the would-be virtuous made their ablutions and sloped off to Friday prayers. Some fasted for a few days each year, usually just before the new moon marking the end of Ramadan. I doubt whether more than a quarter of the population in the cities fasted for a whole month. Café life continued unabated. Many claimed that they had fasted so as to take advantage of the free food doled out at the end of each fasting day by the mosques or the kitchens of the wealthy. In the countryside fewer still fasted, since outdoor work was difficult without sustenance, and especially without water when Ramadan fell during the summer months. Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, was celebrated by everyone."
ISLAM THE DARK AGES AND AN AGE OF LIGHT
Waldemar Januszczak(1954- ),a British art critic, former art critic of The Guardian, now writes for The Sunday Times. He has twice won the Critic of the Year award. Januszczak is also a film maker of television arts documentaries and the Director of ZCZ Films. The ZCZ YouTube channel is an online location where you can watch short videos about the most interesting exhibitions happening at the moment, as well as extracts from films about art and travel at this link: http://www.zczfilms.com/
Januszczak gives viewers a four-part series entitled The Dark Ages: An Age of Light on BBC4. He argues that the Dark Ages were a time of great artistic achievement, with new ideas and religions provoking new artistic adventures. He embarks on a fascinating trip across Europe, Africa and Asia, visits the world’s most famous collections and discovers hidden artistic gems. He does this as he tries to prove that the Dark Ages were actually an ‘Age of Light’.
Unlike other historians, Waldemar Januszczak does not shy away from using words like ‘Muslim or Islāmic scientists’. In episode 3, the audience is left with their ears ringing with the word ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islāmic’. In that episode he sends a cascading torrent of Islāmic images through the mind’s eye. One of the unique aspects of this latest documentary on the artistic and scientific brilliance of the middle ages is Januszczak’s ability to step away from the usual taboos surrounding the middle ages. He gives viewers the rightful praise of the “Islāmic” influence on the dark ages. An era which was in all sense of the word, dominated by Islāmic values; its tastes, art, knowledge and not to mention the architecture.
The Dark Ages saw the emergence of a vital religion: Islam. After emerging in the near East it spread across North Africa and into Europe, bringing its unique artistic style with it. Waldemar examines the early artistic explorations of the first Muslims, the development of their mosques and their scientific achievements. To close, I have to give credit to Waldemar Januszczak, for what he has done. He seems to have stepped out of the wood work and re-envisaged the true sense of the ‘dark ages’, by mentioning the ‘ISLAMIC’ influence on that era. Not to mention the lengths at which he goes to use Arabic words in explaining the symmetrical nature in which Muslim artists tried to capture the spirit behind their works in art, design & architecture. He often interlaces Quranic verses within the works of art to give it a spiritual meaning.
ISLAM: THE ETHICAL DIMENSION
The International Journal of Social Science and Humanity(Vol. 3, No. 6, November 2013)has the following essay entitled "Understanding Islamic Ethics and Its Significance on Character Building" by Adibah Abdul Rahim. The most critical challenge facing Muslims today is the lack of a spiritual ethical dimension in life. One of the most powerful means to overcome this problem is the adherence to a code of ethics. This essay attempts to clarify the concept of Islamic ethics as a basic pillar for a healthy society. It explains the need for ethics in the development of the individual and society, & discusses the significance of ethics for the building of character. The author presents ethics as the key to all the sciences and arts: lawand politics, science and economics. The sciences and the arts become soulless, or insignificant, if detached from ethics. The essay concludes that Muslim character should develop along with Islamic ethics. The application of ethics in the daily affairs of Muslims’ lives should be given its due attention. For more go to:http://www.ijssh.org/papers/293-B00007.pdf
ISLAM AND CHARITY
Mohammed Maarouf has written an essay in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture(Volume 24, Number 1, Spring 2012) about the subject of charity in Islam. It is argued in his paper that within Islam charity exists within and through a fundamental receptive pre-existing cultural framework. This framework exists in Muslim countries and is embedded within popular Islamic ideas and practices. These Islamic groups are not alien others but, rather, they are part and parcel of the history of Islam. They are, therefore, amenable to being classified in types and recognized as identities within the broad context of Islamic culture. In Morocco, for example, the cultural embedding of Islamist movements involves the still-working heritage of maraboutic institutions and beliefs and practices of popular Islam that reconstruct the Islamist lived experience. Maraboutic is a term used for hermits, saints and their tombs in north Africa.
The Islamist practice of charity is explored in this essay as an example to demonstrate how the cultural bed incorporates the Islamist rising cultural model of philanthropy. Islamist generosity is schematically fashioned upon the already existing maraboutic and monarchic cultural models as “distributing centres” of charity. It is embedded within a gift-exchange charitable model that juxtaposes alms-giving with loyalty. This may, without doubt, lubricate the way for attracting new recruits. This practice smooths power by turning the donee into a position of a willing loyal supplicant under the power of the dominant donor. The Islamists’ popular practice of charity to those in need empowers them to spread their particular version of Islam, thus displaying how their lived experience and socialization to the cultural bed where they are born further inspires them than any of their written dogmas. For more of this essay go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_religion_and_popular_culture/v024/24.1.maarouf.html
HOW DOES ISLAM AND ISLAMISM RELATE TO EACH OTHER?
A full 28,000 words long, Paul Berman’s June 2007 New Republic article “Who’s Afraid of Tariq Ramadan?” is either a long essay or a short book, but either way it has justly become a talking point among all the intellectuals, whether in Europe, America or elsewhere, who are engaged in discussing the question of how Islam and Islamism relate to each other. For what you might think Clive James's view is worth, this is the most significant stretch of writing on the subject yet to have appeared. The same might have been said for the relevant chapters in Berman’s essential book Liberalism and Terror, but this time he is fully focussed on only one form of totalitarianism instead of all of them.
Though Berman is often tagged as a neo-conservative in the sense that has by now become pejorative, in fact he has never been an advocate of the so-called Bush Doctrine: quite the opposite. Berman seems to me a classic liberal in almost every respect, not least for the humane tact and sense of responsibility of his forensic style, which remains sober even when he is taking somebody else’s argument apart. For more on Berman and his article or small book go to:http://www.clivejames.com/prose-finds/paul-berman
ISLAM AND THE MULTIPLICITY OF AUTHORITIES
Islamic scholars and logicians, for many reasons, completely lost sight of unity of action for the religion as a whole. They rendered explanations of this unique book and gave those explanations authority, in whatever way was possible for them with their scanty temporary and localized knowledge. By declaring.as a matter of religious faith, their individual commentaries as definite and conclusive they lined up people behind them, and sectarian conflict was inevitable. The reality of the Divine Message of the Quran became veiled in multiplcity. Go to this link for more:https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/13c889a64c29d52e
The following words come from a review of Robert D. Crews's book For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia (Harvard University Press, Cambridge,MA, 460 pages, 2006) The review is written by Alexander Morrison of the University of Liverpool, School of History.
Morrison concludes his review with these words: "Crews is to be applauded for his aims in this work, for the amount of archival research which he has done, and for the often fascinating detail of Muslim litigiousness which the anecdotes he uses reveal, but his thesis is overambitious. The evidence he cites, and in many cases misunderstands, is insufficientto support even his conclusions about the continued centrality of Islam to thetsarist state’s administration of Muslim regions of the Empire after 1860, letalone his argument that the state itself became central to Muslim belief: http://www.academia.edu/466457/Review_of_Robert_D._Crews_For_Prophet
MORE BOOKS ON ISLAM
What follows is a review of these books in 2011 in the London Review of Books: My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist by Sadanand Dhume(Skyhorse, 271 pages, 2009), Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power by Robert Kaplan(Random House, 384 pages, 2010, and Understanding Islam in Indonesia: Politics and Diversity by Robert Pringle(Hawaii, 220 pages, 2010). "In the late 1990s it seemed quite possible that Indonesia was going to disintegrate, to become a South-East Asian version of Pakistan or Nigeria. The collapse of the long-lasting dictatorship of Suharto in 1998, together with the Asian financial crisis, battered Indonesia’s economy and released the cork that had kept contained religious, ethnic, class and other divisions in this very diverse archipelago. The result was political and social meltdown.
The economy, already in a worse state than, say, South Korea’s, shrank by 13 per cent in 1998, and tens of millions of Indonesians fell below the poverty line. Prices for staple goods like rice and cooking oil soared, and in Jakarta rioters targeted enclaves lived in by the small, often wealthy ethnic Chinese community. Mobs burned down Chinese homes, looted Chinese-owned stores and reportedly gang-raped Chinese women. From the skyscrapers of the financial district, one could see fires burning across the city, the flames skipping from one neighbourhood to the next. For more of this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n05/joshua-kurlantzick/back-to-the-graft
ISLAM AND TAMERLANE
The following review of Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World by Justin Marozzi(HarperCollins, 449 pages, 2004) may interest readers. "The figure of the blood-boltered Oriental despot has haunted the Western imagination for centuries. Tamerlane, who put cities to the sword and built pyramids of skulls, was preceded by Sardanapalus, King of Assyria, Byronically bored even as he contemplated the immolation of his harem. Then, perhaps, Herod commanding the slaughter of innocent babies: as De Quincey put it, ‘Herod’s sword swept its nurseries of Innocents.’ Tippoo Sahib, the tigerish Sultan of Mysore, was another of the Asian monsters who peopled De Quincey’s night-fears. There was also Nadir Shah, the 18th-century Afghan adventurer, notorious for his cruelty and rapacity, who conquered Persia and invaded India, and in his time was described as a latter-day Tamerlane.
Timur(1336-1405), historically known as Tamerlane, conquered West, South and Central Asia and founded the Timurid dynasty. He was the grandfather of Ulugh Beg, who ruled Central Asia from 1411 to 1449, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur Beg, founder of the Mughal Empire, which ruled parts of South Asia for around four centuries, from 1526 until 1857. For more on Tamerlane go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timur
Islam Karimov, the current president of Uzbekistan, is one of the most recent, but not the least sinister of those Oriental despots of whom stories can be told that chill the blood. In 1999, he boasted that he was ‘prepared to rip off the heads of two hundred people, to sacrifice their lives in order to save peace and calm in the republic . . . If my child chooses such a path, I myself would rip off his head.’ With Karimov, strong government shades easily into mass sadism. Oriental despots have proved useful in the West for pointing morals and adorning tales. Go to this link for more of the review:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n10/robert-irwin/quite-a-gentleman
MOZART AND SHAYKH AHMAD
The years from the 1770s to the 1790s were the last years of Mozart’s life and the first years of the adult life of Shaykh Ahmad.(2) They were the years of the French Revolution, the beginning of modern history and the reign of terror before the rise of Napoleon. Mozart created in the last years of his life(1775-1791) an almost incomparably rich legacy of works for keyboard, beginning with the six solo sonatas of 1775 and extending to such pieces as the final Concerto in B flat, K. 595, from 1791.(1) My prose-poem here attempts to examine what defies comprehensive elucidation by any scholar or poet--the specificities of the lives and the brilliant repertoires of these two geniuses, these two men gifted beyond all measure. Both of their lives remain complicated puzzles in their respective worlds of classical music and Islamic mysticism.-Ron Price with thanks to (1) William Kinderman, Mozart's Piano Music, Oxford UP, 2006; and (2) Nabil’s Narrative, Wilmette, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974(1932) , pp. 1-3.
His contemporaries found the restless(1)
ambivalence and complicated emotional
content of his music difficult to understand;
and the ‘ulamas professed themselves unable
to comprehend the meaning of his mysterious(2)
allusions, but that movie enthralled audiences(3)
and emblazoned the Amadeus theme blatantly,
claiming as it did a grand storyteller----license
to embellish that tale with a fictional ornament,
a surrealistic distortion, a metamorphosis, of a
life, the life of mirabile dictu Amadeus Mozart.
How does one characterize an unexplainable
phenomenon, the mind of a musical savant?
A rather ordinary turn of mind, silly jokes, an
irresponsible way of life distinguished him in
society; and yet what depths, what worlds of
fantasy, harmony, melody, feeling concealed
behind this unpromising exterior in which we
now freely interpret his biographical-psyche..
And the Shaykh from the town of Ahsa in the
district of Ahsa in the northeast of the Arabian
peninsula, luminous Star of a Divine guidance
who arose with unerring vision, fixed purpose
and sublime detachment at the age of forty to
prepare the way for a new Revelation of God---
what can we say about this controversial mystic,
this imaginative writer on metaphysical planes?(4)
2 Shaykh Ahmad
3 Amadeus, a film directed by Milos Forman, released 1984.
4 Juan Cole, “The World as Text: Cosmologies of Shaykh Ahmad
al-Ahsa’i,” Studia Islamica, Vol. 80, 1994, pp.145-163.
30 March 2009
AND EVEN MORE NEW BOOKS
The following three books were reviewed back in 1988. Twenty-five years ago, as time flies these days, is just about ancient history, but I will mention them here: (i) Europe and the Mystique of Islam by Maxime Rodinson, translated by Roger Veinus(Tauris, 163 pages, 1988; (ii) The Political Language of Islam by Bernard Lewis(Chicago, 168 pages, 1988), and (iii) Islam and Revolution in the Middle East by Henry Munson(Yale, 180 pages, 1988). Maxime Rodinson(1915-2004) was a French Marxist historian, sociologist and orientalist. He was the son of a Russian-Polish clothing trader and his wife who both died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. After studying oriental languages, he became a professor of Ethiopian at École Pratique des Hautes Études, France. He was the author of a rich body of work, including the book Muhammad, a biography of the prophet of Islam. I first came across Rodinson back in the 1970s some time and enjoyed both the content and style of his writing. for more on this historian go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxime_Rodinson#Works_by_Maxime_Rodinson
Bernard Lewis(1916-) is a British-American historian specializing in oriental studies who is also known as a public intellectual and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Lewis' expertise is in the history of Islam and the interaction between Islam and the West, and is especially famous in academic circles for his works on the history of the Ottoman Empire. Lewis is a widely read expert on the Middle East, and is regarded as one of the West’s leading scholars of that region. His advice has been frequently sought by policymakers, including the Bush administration. In the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Martin Kramer, whose Ph.D. thesis was directed by Lewis, considered that, over a 60-year career, Lewis has emerged as "the most influential postwar historian of Islam and the Middle East." I have read some of his work in the last 40 years since first coming across his books. I know nothing of Henry Munson, the author of the last of these three books. For more on Lewis go to:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Lewis
EVEN MORE BOOKS
Islamic Architecture by Robert Hillenbrand(Edinburgh, 645 pages, 1994), The Art and Architecture of Islam 1250-1800 by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom(Yale, 348 pages, 1994), The Mosque: History, Architectural Development and Regional Diversity edited by Martin Frishman and Hassan-Uddin Khan(Thames and Hudson, 288 pages, 1994), and Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey by Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby(Alexandria Press/Laurence King, 384 pages, 1994)...these books are reviewed by Robert Irwin in the London Review of Books in 1995. The review begins: ‘Je vous salue, ruines solitaires, tombeaux saints, murs silencieux!’ In 1782, Constantin-François Chassebeuf, alias Volney, travelled through Egypt and Syria. Everywhere he was struck by the contrast between the region’s present misery and the architectural evidence of its former wealth and grandeur. It was while meditating in the ghost city of Palmyra that he was inspired by the spirit of the place to write Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791), a treatise in which reflections on the moral causes of the downfall of ancient Oriental despotisms led on to a declaration of faith in progress and the principles of the French Revolution. Eastern palaces had been transformed into graveyards and, in Volney’s little book, ruins became teaching aids in a series of lectures on the sinfulness and transience of tyranny.
Robert Hillenbrand’s meditations on Eastern ruins may similarly lead his readers to thoughts of mortality and transience. Many of the buildings he studies in Islamic Architecture have an overt function – whether prayer, teaching, interment or pleasure – yet seem to have been built with other, covert aims, as patrons used their constructions to boast of empire and attempted to build against Time. Medieval Islamic society was much preoccupied by mortality. Writing of the Ayyubid and Mamluk architecture of late medieval Egypt, Hillenbrand observes: ‘Not since Pharaonic times had Egypt witnessed such an obsession with the architecture of death.’ Funerary monuments perpetuating the everlasting memory of princes and generals came to dominate the streets of Cairo, yet inscriptions over the doors proclaimed that God alone was eternal. For more of this review go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v17/n16/robert-irwin/ozymandias-syndrome
A HETERODOX AND SEEMINGLY NEGLIGIBLE OFFSHOOT OF SHI'I ISLAM
It is impossible to assess the relevance of what will one day be the architectural archive of the Baha'i Faith, say, in two and a half thousand years. What will be the story told of these generations of the half-light in this first century of a Formative Age when a heterodox and seemingly negligible offshoot of an insignificant sect of Shi’i Islam finished its transformation into a world religion? What will they say of the architectural achievement that helped to give form and beauty to the institutionalized charismatic Force that was about to play a crucial role in the establishment of a global and peaceful civilization?
FLOWERS IN CRANNIED WALLS
The poetry of America, some have said, is in its bridges; the poetry of Christianity is, following a similar line of emphasis, in her churches; the poetry of Islam in her Mosques and of the Baha’i Faith in what has come to be known as the eighth wonder of the world, its Handing Gardens, located precisely 530 miles due west of Babylon whose Hanging Gardens were one of the legendary seven wonders of the ancient world. Poetry, of course, grows out of many flowers in the various crannied walls of countries, religions and locations where flowers grow, as Tennyson put it:
FLOWER in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
-Alfred Tennyson, 1809–92.
Some of my internet posts on Islam are found below:
The film The Matrix was released in Australia the very week I taught my last classes as a full-time professional teacher, April 8th 1999. I had been teaching for thirty years. I won't summarize the details of the plot and all the characters. But some of the theme is as follows: a fundamental discovery is made about the world that it doesn't exist. It's actually a form of Virtual Reality designed to lull people into lives of blind obedience to the system. People obediently go to their jobs every day without knowing that Matrix is the wool that has been pulled over their eyes. The reality of life is that people are slaves. The rebels want to crack the framework that holds this Matrix in place thus freeing humankind. Some believe a messianic One will lead a social uprising; this messianic One will possess both mind power and physical strength. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 November 2006 with thanks to Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, March 31st 1999.
The world has been in a great sleep
from which it is slowly waking
thanks to that messianic One
and the uprising has begun
silently, unobtrusively, for
the revolution is global and
out of man's control--it is also
spiritual--having begun within
the Shaykhi school of the Ithna-
Ashariyyih sect of Shiah Islam.
But don't tell anyone--it's the
best kept secret-non-secret in
the world and it is slowly rising
from the obscurity in which it
has been shrouded for 160 years.
4 November 2006
ISLAM: A BAHA'I PERSPECTIVE
"Justice, Fairness and the Meekness of God" by Susan Stiles Maneck. An essay which speaks indirectly about islam from a Baha'i persepctive:
Justice is an important concept to Baha'is. We speak of it as the "best-beloved of all things." We think of the coming of the Baha'i Revelation as the "advent of divine justice." But there have been various ideas as to what this concept means. Where some insist that the Baha'i Faith stresses justice over mercy, (1) others would associate Baha'u'llah's concern for the oppressed with Liberation Theology. (2) This paper looks at the concepts of justice and fairness as they are found in the Baha'i Writings, examining how they relate to the responsibilities laid upon the rulers, whether Baha'i or civil, but even more especially as it relates to the learned, be they clerics, scholars or members of the Institution by that name. The thesis of this paper is that Baha'u'llah's concepts of justice and fairness can only been rightly understood against the background of His own willingness to endure suffering and sacrifice in manner which transcended the supposed dichotomy between justice and mercy. At the same time, this introduces a very different dynamic for overcoming oppression than the one typically promoted in Liberation Theology or other social-political forms of resistance.
Some Baha'i apologists have compared Christianity unfavorably to the Baha'i Faith, (3) applauding the fact that the Baha'i Faith supposedly favor justice over mercy. In connection with this, the famous passage form the Hidden Words is often cited:
O SON OF SPIRIT!
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not
away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I
may confide in thee. By its aid thou shall see with thine own
eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of
thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy
neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to
be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My
loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. (4)
1. This appears to have been the theme of the 1998 annual meeting of the Association of Baha'i Studies German-Speaking which was entitled "Religion Between Mercy and Justice." The announcement of the conference made this implied critique of the so-called Christian emphasis on mercy as compared to the supposed greater emphasis on justice in the Baha'i Faith. "In a society which is dominated by Christian thought, the Mercy of God is given far greater importance than His Justice. The designation "Houses of Justice" already gives a glimpse of the importance attached to this attribute of God in the new world order and in the Golden Age."
2. See for instance "Baha'u'llah and Liberation Theology" in Revisioning the Sacred (Los Angeles, 1997.) Pp. 79-98.
3. See for instance Udo Schaeffer in The Imperishable Dominion (Oxford: 1983, pp. 180-81) Schaeffer blames Martin Luther for the devaluation of justice in Protestant Christianity and writes the following: "The low estimation of justice in Protestantism, the recourse to the freedom of a Christians and the one-sided emphasis on love, the evangelical antinomian element was a rich breeding ground for the dissemination of anarchical ideas." He goes on further to complain, "the central value of justice has lost it place in the world of order. Love has infiltrated the dwelling place of justice. Love has its rightful place in the life of the individual and in personal relationships, but it is presently being misapplied in the sphere of the social order." I think this misrespesents the Christian position. Luther never denied the need for justice and law in the social sphere, he simply denied it any sotierological role. (For a further discussion of Luther's view of antinomianism see Luther and the False Brethren, Stanford: 1975 pp. 156-79.) Far from devaluing justice, the bulk of Western Christian theology (both Catholic and Protestant) has held since Anselm, hat the crucifixion was the only means by which the Mercy and Justice of God could be perfectly balanced. I would think that from a Baha'i standpoint the problem with this formulation is not that it devalues justice, but rather that it makes God's activity bound by human conceptions of His attributes rather than acknowledging "He doeth whatsoever He willeth."
4. Baha'u'llah, Hidden Words, Arabic 2.
MORE OF MANECK
For the rest of this essay and many of Maneck's other essays go to:
In July 2002 the following book was reviewed in the London Review of Books. Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel, translated by Anthony F. Roberts(Tauris, 454 pages, 2002). The review began as follows: "In 1989, an earthquake in Tipasa, just west of Algiers, left thousands of people homeless. Three years later, another shook the densely packed outskirts of Cairo. In both cases, the state’s response was no better than it might have been in any developing country with high population concentrations and feeble services.
The way was open for well-funded, efficient organisations to step in. The initiative in Algeria was taken by the FIS – the Islamic Salvation Front – and in Egypt by the Muslim Brothers. When the earthquake struck in Tipasa, the FIS had only been in existence for about six months. It arrived on site with its own teams of rescue workers, nurses and doctors, in ambulances carrying the party insignia. It was widely praised for its efforts. The Muslim Brothers in Egypt, too, were widely praised. After years of uncertainty and persecution dating back to the 1950s, the Brothers were on the rise. They had made gains in the professional associations: they controlled the Bar, the hospitals and the guild of engineers. At the time of the earthquake they had already put together a consignment of tents for displaced Muslims in Bosnia. In the event, these were diverted. The dedication and dispatch of the Brothers in the wake of the Cairo earthquake won them an impressive haul of donations, although the Mubarak Administration duly froze the bank accounts. For more on this subject go to:http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n14/jeremy-harding/the-great-unleashing