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.

“Violence in Islamic Thought from the Qur’an to the Mongols” (Gleave & Kristó-Nagy, eds.)

This month, Edinburgh University Press will release “Violence in Islamic Thought from the Qur’an to the Mongols” edited by Robert Gleave (University of Exeter) and István Kristó-Nagy (University of Exeter). The publisher’s description follows:

How was violence justified in early Islam? What role did violent actions play in the formation and maintenance of the Muslim political order? How did Muslim thinkers view the origins and acceptability of violence? These questions are addressed by an international range of eminent authors through both general accounts of types of violence and detailed case studies of violent acts drawn from the early Islamic sources. Violence is understood widely, to include jihad, state repressions and rebellions, and also more personally directed violence against victims (women, animals, children, slaves) and criminals. By understanding the early development of Muslim thinking around violence, our understanding of subsequent trends in Islamic thought, during the medieval period and up to the modern day, become clearer.

Afsaruddin, Striving in the Path of God

JihadThis May, Oxford University Press will publish Striving in the Path of God by Asma Afsaruddin (Indiana University). The publisher’s description follows.

 In popular and academic literature, jihad is predominantly assumed to refer exclusively to armed combat, and martyrdom in the Islamic context is understood to be invariably of the military kind. This perspective, derived mainly from legal texts, has led to discussions of jihad and martyrdom as concepts with fixed, universal meanings divorced from the socio-political circumstances in which they have been deployed through the centuries. Asma Afsaruddin studies in a more holistic manner the range of significations that can be ascribed to the term jihad from the earliest period to the present and historically contextualizes the competing discourses that developed over time. Many assumptions about the military jihad and martyrdom in Islam are thereby challenged and deconstructed. A comprehensive interrogation of varied sources reveals early and multiple competing definitions of a word that in combination with the phrase fi sabil Allah translates literally to “striving in the path of God.”

Contemporary radical Islamists have appropriated this language to exhort their cadres to armed political opposition, which they legitimize under the rubric of jihad. Afsaruddin shows that the multivalent connotations of jihad and shahid recovered from the formative period lead us to question the assertions of those who maintain that belligerent and militant interpretations preserve the earliest and only authentic understanding of these two key terms. Retrieval of these multiple perspectives has important implications for our world today in which the concepts of jihad and martyrdom are still being fiercely debated.

Boroujerdi (ed.), “Mirror for the Muslim Prince”

This month, Syracuse University Press published Mirror for the Muslim Prince: Islam and the Theory of Statecraft edited by Mehrzad Boroujerdi (Syracuse University).  The publisher’s description follows.Muslim Prince

In this volume, a group of distinguished scholars reinterpret concepts and canons of Islamic thought in Arab, Persian, South Asian, and Turkish traditions. They demonstrate that there is no unitary “Islamic” position on important issues of statecraft and governance. They recognize that Islam is a discursive site marked by silences, agreements, and animated controversies. Rigorous debates and profound disagreements among Muslim theologians, philosophers, and literati have taken place over such questions as: What is an Islamic state? Was the state ever viewed as an independent political institution in the Islamic tradition of political thought? Is it possible that a religion that places an inordinate emphasis upon the importance of good deeds does not indeed have a vigorous notion of “public interest” or a systematic theory of government? Does Islam provide an edifice, a common idiom, and an ideological mooring for premodern and modern Muslim rulers alike? The nuanced reading of the Islamic traditions provided in this book will help future generations of Muslims contemplate a more humane style of statecraft.

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