Ahmed, “Afghanistan Rising”

9780674971943-lgGiven the announcement last week that the United States is recommitting to its military strategy in Afghanistan, this forthcoming book from Harvard University Press seems especially relevant. In Afghanistan Rising: Islamic Law and Statecraft between the Ottoman and British Empires, historian Faiz Ahmed (Brown University) argues that at the turn of the 20th Century, Afghanistan attempted to create a modern, constitutional state within the Islamic law tradition. Very few Americans know about this historical episode, or why the attempt to modernize the country ultimately failed. This book looks to be a useful resource for scholars and policymakers. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Debunking conventional narratives of Afghanistan as a perennial war zone and the rule of law as a secular-liberal monopoly, Faiz Ahmed presents a vibrant account of the first Muslim-majority country to gain independence, codify its own laws, and ratify a constitution after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Afghanistan Rising illustrates how turn-of-the-twentieth-century Kabul—far from being a landlocked wilderness or remote frontier—became a magnet for itinerant scholars and statesmen shuttling between Ottoman and British imperial domains. Tracing the country’s longstanding but often ignored scholarly and educational ties to Istanbul, Damascus, and Baghdad as well as greater Delhi and Lahore, Ahmed explains how the court of Kabul attracted thinkers eager to craft a modern state within the interpretive traditions of Islamic law and ethics, or sharia. From Turkish lawyers and Indian bureaucrats to Pashtun clerics trained in madrasas of the Indo-Afghan borderlands, this rich narrative focuses on encounters between divergent streams of modern Muslim thought and politics, beginning with the Sublime Porte’s first mission to Afghanistan in 1877 and concluding with the collapse of Ottoman rule after World War I.

By unearthing a lost history behind Afghanistan’s founding national charter, Ahmed shows how debates today on Islam, governance, and the rule of law have deep roots in a beleaguered land. Based on archival research in six countries and as many languages, Afghanistan Rising rediscovers a time when Kabul stood proudly as a center of constitutional politics, Muslim cosmopolitanism, and contested visions of reform in the greater Islamic world.

 

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Lawrence, “The Koran in English”

For English-language scholars trying to learn about Islamic law, the lack of authoritative sources in English can be a real problem. Most Islamic scholarship is in languages that are inaccessible to Americans; one has no choice but to rely on translations, which may or may not be reliable. This is especially true of the Quran itself. For pious Muslims, of course, the Quran exists only in Arabic; anything else is only a summary or explanation that can never capture the original. Most English speakers use one of three twentieth-century translations–the Pickthall, the Asad, or the Ali versions–but each of these has its own issues, and it’s easy to get confused.

A new book by Duke professor Bruce B, Lawrence discusses the attempt to translate the Quran into English in his new book, The Koran in English: A Biography (Princeton). Here’s a description from the Princeton University Press website:

j10947The untold story of how the Arabic Qur’an became the English Koran

For millions of Muslims, the Qur’an is sacred only in Arabic, the original Arabic in which it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century; to many Arab and non-Arab believers alike, the book literally defies translation. Yet English translations exist and are growing, in both number and importance. Bruce Lawrence tells the remarkable story of the ongoing struggle to render the Qur’an’s lyrical verses into English—and to make English itself an Islamic language.

The “Koran” in English revisits the life of Muhammad and the origins of the Qur’an before recounting the first translation of the book into Latin by a non-Muslim: Robert of Ketton’s twelfth-century version paved the way for later ones in German and French, but it was not until the eighteenth century that George Sale’s influential English version appeared. Lawrence explains how many of these early translations, while part of a Christian agenda to “know the enemy,” often revealed grudging respect for their Abrahamic rival. British expansion in the modern era produced an anomaly: fresh English translations—from the original Arabic—not by Arabs or non-Muslims but by South Asian Muslim scholars.

The first book to explore the complexities of this translation saga, The “Koran” in English also looks at cyber Korans, versions by feminist translators, and now a graphic Koran, the American Qur’an created by the acclaimed visual artist Sandow Birk.

Shavit, “Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam”

This month, Routledge released Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam: A Critical Reading of the Modernist-Apologetic School by Uriya Shavit (Tel Aviv University). The publisher’s description follows:

Scientific and Political Freedom in IslamThe modernist-apologetic approach to the relation between revelation and science and politics has been a central part of Arab discourses on the future of Muslim societies for over a century. This approach introduced historical and theological narratives and interpretative mechanisms that contextualize reason and freedom in Islamic terms to argue that, unlike with Christianity, it is possible for Muslim societies to be technologically and politically advanced without forfeiting revelation as an all-encompassing, legally-binding guide.

Scientific and Political Freedom in Islam critically examines the coherence and consistency of modernist-apologetic scholars. This is done through a discussion of their general theorizing on reason and freedom, which is then followed by discussions of their commentaries on specific scientific and political issues in light of their general theorizing. Regarding the former, the focus is Darwin’s theory of evolution, while the universality of the “Biblical flood,” the heliocentric model, the Big Bang model and Freudianism are also discussed. Regarding the latter, the focus is Islam’s desired structure of government and concept of participatory politics, while individual freedoms are also discussed. The book argues that the modernist-apologetic approach has great potential to be a force for liberalization, but also possesses inherent limitations that render its theory on the relation between revelation and freedom self-contradictory.

Introducing a significant body of new information on the reasons for the failure of secularism and democracy and the attitudes towards Darwinism in the Arab world, this book is a valuable resource for students and scholars of Islamic Studies, comparative religion, democracy studies and evolution studies.

Eltantawi, “Shari’ah on Trial”

In April, the University of California Press will release “Shari’ah on Trial: Northern Nigeria’s Islamic Revolution,” by Sarah Eltantawi (Evergreen State College).  The publisher’s description follows: 

In November of 1999, Nigerians took to the streets demanding the re-implementation of shari’ah law in their country. Two years later, 9780520293786many Nigerians supported the death sentence by stoning of a peasant woman for alleged sexual misconduct. Public outcry in the West was met with assurances to the Western public: stoning is not a part of Islam; stoning happens “only in Africa”; reports of stoning are exaggerated by Western sensationalism. However, none of these statements are true.  Shari’ah on Trial goes beyond journalistic headlines and liberal pieties to give a powerful account of how Northern Nigerians reached a point of such desperation that they demanded the return of the strictest possible shari’ah law. Sarah Eltantawi analyzes changing conceptions of Islamic theology and practice as well as Muslim and British interactions dating back to the colonial period to explain the resurgence of shari’ah, with implications for Muslim-majority countries around the world.

Neale, “Jihad in Premodern Sufi Writings”

In December, Palgrave MacMillan released Jihad in Premodern Sufi Writings by Harry S. Neale (UC Berkley). The publisher’s description follows:

jihad-in-premodernThis book is the only comprehensive study in a European language that analyzes how Sufi treatises, Qur’anic commentary, letters, hagiography, and poetry define and depict jihad. Harry S. Neale analyzes Sufi jihad discourse in Arabic and Persian texts composed between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, providing access to many writings that have hitherto been unavailable in English. Despite the diversity of practice within Sufism that existed throughout the premodern period, Sufi writings consistently promulgated a complementary understanding of jihad as both a spiritual and military endeavor. Neale discusses the disparity between contemporary academic Sufi jihad discourse in European languages, which generally presents Sufis as peaceful mystics, and contemporary academic writing in Arabic that depicts Sufis as exemplary warriors who combine spiritual discipline with martial zeal. The book concludes that historically, Sufi writings never espoused a purely spiritual interpretation of the doctrine of jihad.

Rahemtulla, “Qur’an of the Oppressed”

In April, Oxford University Press will release Qur’an of the Oppressed: Liberation Theology and Gender Justice in Islam by Shadaab Rahemtulla (University of Wales). The publisher’s description follows:

Quran of the Oppressed.jpgThis study analyzes the commentaries of four Muslim intellectuals who have turned to scripture as a liberating text to confront an array of problems, from patriarchy, racism, and empire to poverty and interreligious communal violence. Shadaab Rahemtulla considers the exegeses of the South African Farid Esack (b. 1956), the Indian Asghar Ali Engineer (1939-2013), the African American Amina Wadud (b. 1952), and the Pakistani American Asma Barlas (b. 1950). Rahemtulla examines how these intellectuals have been able to expound this seventh-century Arabian text in a socially liberating way, addressing their own lived realities of oppression, and thus contexts that are worlds removed from that of the text’s immediate audience. Through a close reading of their works, he underlines the importance of both the ethico-social content of the Qur’an and their usage of new and innovative reading practices.

This work provides a rich analysis of the thought-ways of specific Muslim intellectuals, thereby substantiating a broadly framed school of thought. Rahemtulla draws out their specific and general importance without displaying an uncritical sympathy. He sheds light on the impact of modern exegetical commentary which is more self-consciously concerned with historical context and present realities. In a mutually reinforcing way, this work thus illuminates both the role of agency and hermeneutical approaches in modern Islamic thought.

Ahmed, “Before Orthodoxy”

In April, Harvard University Press will release Before Orthodoxy: The Satanic Verses in Early Islam by Shahab Ahmed (Harvard University). The publisher’s description follows:

Before Orthodoxy.jpgOne of the most controversial episodes in the life of the Prophet Muhammad concerns an incident in which he allegedly mistook words suggested by Satan as divine revelation. Known as the Satanic verses, these praises to the pagan deities contradict the Islamic belief that Allah is one and absolute. Muslims today—of all sects—deny that the incident of the Satanic verses took place. But as Shahab Ahmed explains, Muslims did not always hold this view.

Before Orthodoxy wrestles with the question of how religions establish truth—especially religions such as Islam that lack a centralized authority to codify beliefs. Taking the now universally rejected incident of the Satanic verses as a case study in the formation of Islamic orthodoxy, Ahmed shows that early Muslims, circa 632 to 800 CE, held the exact opposite belief. For them, the Satanic verses were an established fact in the history of the Prophet. Ahmed offers a detailed account of the attitudes of Muslims to the Satanic verses in the first two centuries of Islam and traces the chains of transmission in the historical reports known as riwāyah.

Touching directly on the nature of Muhammad’s prophetic visions, the interpretation of the Satanic verses incident is a question of profound importance in Islam, one that plays a role in defining the limits of what Muslims may legitimately say and do—issues crucial to understanding the contemporary Islamic world.

Haleem, “Exploring the Qur’an: Context and Impact”

In April, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release Exploring the Qur’an: Context and Impact by Muhammad Abdel Haleem (University of London). The publisher’s description follows:

ibtauris_logoThe teachings, style and impact of the Qur’an have always been matters of controversy, among both Muslims and non-Muslims. But in a modern context of intercultural sensitivity, what the Qur’an says and means are perhaps more urgent questions than ever before. This major new book by one of the world’s finest Islamic scholars responds to that urgency. Building on his earlier groundbreaking work, the author challenges misinterpretations of particular Qur’anic verses from whatever quarter. He addresses the infamous ‘sword’ verse, frequently cited as a justification for jihad. He also questions the ‘tribute’ verse, associated with the Muslim state subjugating Jews and Christians; and the idea of Paradise in the Qur’an, often viewed by the West as emphasising merely physical pleasures, or used by Islamic fighters as their just reward for holy war. The author argues that wrenching the verses out of the context of the whole has led to dangerous ideologies being built on isolated phrases which have then assumed afterlives of their own. This nuanced, holistic reading has vital interfaith ramifications.

Sloane-White, “Corporate Islam”

In March, Cambridge University Press will release Corporate Islam: Sharia and the Modern Workplace by Patricia Sloane-White (University of Delaware). The publisher’s description follows:

corporate-islam

Compelling and original, this book offers a unique insight into the modern Islamic corporation, revealing how power, relationships, individual identities, gender roles, and practices – and often massive financial resources – are mobilized on behalf of Islam. Focusing on Muslims in Malaysia, Patricia Sloane-White argues that sharia principles in the region’s Islamic economy produce a version of Islam that is increasingly conservative, financially and fiscally powerful, and committed to social control over Muslim and non-Muslim public and private lives. Packed with fascinating details, the book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Islamic politics and culture in modern life.

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