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Books and Documents

Books and Documents

The causes of Muslim backwardness are multiple. Some are rooted in history, while others are related to contemporary factors, such as discrimination on the part of agencies of the state and the wider society as well as the neglect of Muslim leaders of Muslim substantive interests—such as economic and educational empowerment—and an overwhelming focus on emotive, identity-related and religious concerns instead. In contrast to caste Hindu localities, the Muslim-dominated slums, the book notes, enjoy miserably low levels of public service provisioning—schools, drains, electricity, drinking water, hospitals and so on.-- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Ms Lodhi is pretty brutal in her criticism of successive governments, including the two she served in. She was at the heart of Pakistan's foreign policy establishment in the Musharraf regime in the run-up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, first as Ambassador in Washington from 1999 to 2002 and then in London from 2003 to 2008. Before that (between 1993 and 1996) she served Benazir Bhutto's government as its top diplomat in Washington. Yet, in her account of their failings she comes across simply as a passive bystander. Arguably one of the best pieces is historian Ayesha Jalal's, “The Past As Present”, a withering examination of what she calls the “reality deficit” of Pakistanis and their “tendency for paranoia” — a result of years of peddling of “myths” as historical truths in an attempt by the Pakistani state to assert an imagined “Islamic superiority”. -- Hasan Suroor

 

About the only redeeming feature in the recent unseemly furore in India over Joseph Lelyveld’s book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India is that the governments of India and of the states refused to ban it. The only and ugly exception was the government of Gujarat, headed by Narendra Modi, under whose watch a pogrom of Muslims was staged in 2002. He hoped to win kudos for being the first to ban and now finds himself alone and ridiculed. Book-banning is inspired by the same mentality which promotes book-burning. It is no function of the state to prescribe a select bibliography to its citizens and undermine the fundamentals of democracy. Before pursuing this theme, however, one must reckon with a certain trend in the West which justifies wilful intentional insult as an exercise of free speech; specifically insult to the faith of Islam and to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In truth, the trend has only accentuated in recent months; for, as James Carrol recalled, in an article in The New York Times earlier this month, “Contempt towards the religion of Muhammad is a foundational pillar of western civilisation. That it is unacknowledged only makes it more pernicious.” -- A.G. Noorani

The two best books written on Sindh in the last few years have been the works of two writers who are ‘Sindhi by option’ and not by accident. I think this term — Sindhi by option — needs to be explained because it puts the political, social and economic role of the post-partition migrants in Sindh into perspective. both books have been written by Marxist democrats, Syed Mazhar Jamil and Tanvir Tahir Ahmed. In their younger days, they had been at the forefront of the workers, democracy and provincial rights movement. Syed Mazhar Jamil wrote Jaded Sindhi Adab, which was published in 2004. It is a History of Sindhi literature. Mazhar Jamil’s researched work on Sindhi literature, which is in Urdu, has been accepted by most leading Sindhi writers as one of the best contributions. And the research dissertation of Tanvir Ahmed Tahir, Political Dynamics of Sindh, 1947-1977, , for which he was conferred a doctorate. As a true Marxist, Tanvir first dilated on the theory of ethnicity as it puts the political dynamics of Sindh in the right perspective in Pakistan-- Babar Ayaz

The concept of education in Islam is a deeply contested one, Jhingran argues in her conclusion, and a plurality of voices compete with each other, each claiming to represent Islamic authenticity. The traditionalist ulema, she shows, make a sharp distinction between what they regard as ‘religious’ or dini knowledge, on the one hand, and ‘worldly’, ‘secular’ or duniyavi knowledge, on the other, and they privilege the former over the latter. This notion, she indicates, is a relatively new one, which dates to colonial times, and does not apply to the pre-colonial period, when madrasas taught both sorts of knowledge, and produced not just religious specialists but also scientists and administrators. She highlights the arguments of Muslim reformists, who hark back to what they regard as the authentic Islamic notion of knowledge, one that is holistic and is, by definition, opposed to the rigid dualism that the colonial powers introduced, which, following in their footsteps, post-colonial states continue to advocate, and which the traditionalist ulema so fervently uphold in order to maintain their claims of representing Islam and the Muslims. In other words, according to these reformists, what is regarded by the ulema as ‘worldly’ knowledge is also Islamically- authentic and legitimate, and, therefore, is to be willingly embraced, even in the madrasas. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Sensitively crafted and deeply evocative, Jimmy the Terrorist is about the best novel I have read on the unenviable predicament of Muslims in current times. It describes remarkably realistically, and without being preachy, sensationalist or apologetic, the painful dilemmas that vast numbers of Muslims are today faced with in the wake of mounting Islamophobia and increasing anti-Muslim prejudice, on the one hand, and radicalism and hatred in the name of Islam, on the other. Focussing on the momentous transformations wrought in the lives of members of a single north Indian Muslim family in post-Partition India, Ahmad masterfully brings out the range of social, economic and cultural processes at work behind the frightening demonization of Muslims and their religion, as well as the despair and defiance that these are rapidly engendering.

Remarkably realistically, and without being preachy, sensationalist or apologetic, the painful dilemmas that vast numbers of Muslims are today faced with in the wake of mounting Islamophobia and increasing anti-Muslim prejudice, on the one hand, and radicalism and hatred in the name of Islam, on the other. Focussing on the momentous transformations wrought in the lives of members of a single north Indian Muslim family in post-Partition India. -- Yoginder Sikand, New Age Islam.com

 

In northern Nigeria, Tayler encounters Christian and Muslim extremists, whose politics of hate in the name of faith have resulted in the deaths of several thousands in the last few decades. He visits emirs, who rule over their subjects like medieval potentates. In Chad, he encounters African Muslims increasingly resentful of their Arab co-religionists for promoting Arab hegemony under the guise of Islam, and who still harbour bitter memories of being poached upon by Arab slave traders. He encounters Muslims who treat others (Christians and ‘pagans’) as despicable ‘infidels’, being bloated with an irrepressible sense of superiority. In Mali, he finds remnants of the slave trade still alive and thriving, and African customs and traditions of the local Muslims being menacingly denounced by Saudi-inspired Wahhabis, who propagate a brutal, drab and fun-less version of Islam in the name of religious authenticity. In Niger, he discovers desperate poverty, hunger and venial corruption. By the time he arrives at the Senegal coast, at the end of his journey, he seems quite glad to be going back home, although with some fond memories of a daunting journey that few outsiders have undertaken before. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

 

Someone recalls seeing the ‘legend’ from a distance once at a duck shoot. An Imran Khan sighting generally sent mortal men, women, children and tabloids into frenzy. Not here. As this chap sheepishly admitted, “a fighter pilot’s ego will rival that of a highly sought after cricketing legend”. And so Imran remained seated in the car seemingly oblivious to the trio while they stayed rooted to the spot pretending to gawk at the ducks. No duck has stolen Khan’s thunder before or since. Imran Khan’s popularity can be gauged by a passage that claims that dignitaries from other Commonwealth countries reportedly asked to see two things, one of which was our great Khan and the other was the Khyber Pass. -- By Afrah Jamal

 

Have you heard about Vakkali, the Buddhist sage who attained Nirvana while slicing his own throat? Of all the major faith traditions, Buddhism is often seen as the most peaceful, but Buddhist Warfare exposes its darker side. The eight essays in the collection describe twisted teachings on phenomena such as “Soldier-Zen”, and atrocities carried out by groups such as the Buddhist cult army of Faqing. In 515 AD, Faqing declared the arrival of the new Buddha and led more than 50,000 men to war. “When a soldier killed a man he earned the title of first-stage Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be). The more he killed the more he went up the echelon towards sainthood ... the insurgents were given an alcoholic drug that made them crazy to the extent that fathers and sons no longer recognized each other and didn’t think twice before killing each other; the only thing that mattered was killing.” Buddhist Warfare forms an accurate history of violence in the name of religion. Its most shocking material is the studies of various sutras that justify killing with detailed reference to the Buddha’s central philosophical tenets. The book therefore presents a uniquely Buddhist “heart of darkness”. -- Katherine Wharton

As Esposito explains in the introduction, his goal is “to understand the struggle for reform in Islam, to explore the religious, cultural, and political diversity of Muslims facing daunting challenges in Muslim countries and in the West, to clarify the debate and dynamics of Islamic reform, to examine the attempt to combat religious extremism and terrorism” – in that context – “to look into the future of Muslim-West relations.”

His conclusion?: “The future of Islam and Muslims is inextricably linked to all of humanity.”

What Esposito presents between that introduction and conclusion is one of the finest examples of the study of Lived Religion since Wilfred Cantwell Smith laid the foundations for that methodology. -- Tamara Sonn

In 1999, the Algerian journalist Mohamed Sifaoui settled in France to escape Islamist terrorism. Since then, he has fought against every form of Islamism, often in an objective manner, but, on occasion, he has no qualms about engaging in polemics or provocation. Such is the case with his recently published comic book, a collaboration with the graphic artist Philippe Bercovici, entitled "Bin Laden Unveiled," and, as announced in the subtitle, makes no less a claim than being "a comic book assassination of al-Qaida." Sifaoui employs humour as his weapon to tackle the terror propagated by radical Islamists and to bring his reader to laugh at their most horrible traits – hate, barbarism, stupidity, and fanaticism. And there is another feature to add to this list, their supposed obsession with sex. The comic book alleges this to be one of the chief character traits of Bin Laden – and he isn't alone here. -- Joseph Croitoru

Rauf Ceylan : "The Preachers of Islam"

This treasure chest of a book consists of some 40 interviews conducted by Ceylan. It quickly becomes clear that imams are not some sort of religious robots, having led strictly pious lives since their early childhood. Take the 43-year-old Ismail Z., who recalls with a sigh how he had received offers from the Turkish premier league, but left his dreams of a football career to languish. Under pressure from his father, he became an imam. -- Thilo Guschas

This fascinating book provides a general picture of the status and conditions of women in Muslim communities around the world faced with the challenge of Islamic scripturalist assertion. Shirazi admits that patriarchy is, of course, not a Muslim-specific phenomenon, but argues that the forms that it takes in Muslim communities and Muslim-majority countries makes it particularly problematic and difficult to oppose in that it is generally sought to be legitimised in the name of religion. Hence, challenging such patriarchy is a particularly arduous task as it is easily branded as a challenge to religion itself. -- Yoginder Sikand

Dr Nagi writes that Che, who had entered Bolivia to struggle against the system, was cold-bloodedly murdered by Bolivian agents of the US on October 9, 1967 after being captured, wounded but alive. To emphasise the poignancy of the murder, the author quotes a powerful couplet: “Jis sajh dhaj sey koi maqtal sey gaya woh shaan salamat rehti hei/Yeh jaan to aani jaani hei, is jaan ki koi baat nahin.” The couplet reflects the heroism of the sacrifice of one’s life for an ideal — a feat that Che achieved by struggling for his ideas until the very end. --Dr Amjad Parvez

 

In his book In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin depicts the pursuit of happiness in Pakistan, a society marked by feudalism. In particular, it focuses on the stories of women. In a society where they are often regarded as property, women see love as a kind of business. Claudia Kramatschek read the book. "Anyone who wants to understand Pakistan, should also understand feudalism"; Daniyal Mueenuddin's novel offers glimpses of a hitherto unknown world.....Every page of this collection of stories, which has won numerous awards and has been translated into more than 14 languages, bears witness to this love of the land. The reader can smell, taste and see it. Above all, Mueenuddin, who was born in 1963 in Los Angeles, yet grew up in Pakistan, conjures up characters made of flesh and blood from a world that is necessarily foreign to us, yet suddenly appears so near.

This is the story of the singing, dancing mujahideen that evolved into a dreaded inquisition squad which ran Afghanistan for five years, as told by Mullah Zaeef — who was once a high profile member of the said squad. But he is neither a defector nor an apologist and remains an ardent supporter of his former colleagues. Originally written in Pashto, his memoir has been translated by Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn — permanent residents of Kandahar and apparently the only two westerners brave enough to live there sans elaborate security measures.

The man, who went from being a veteran and Talib to ambassador before ending up as Prisoner 306 at Guantanamo Bay prison, has a selective memory. “The Taliban had given beauty to the region,” he gushes, hastening to add some feel good stories and touching imagery to the terrifying mythology. He contrasts the world he inherited as a child raised under the shadow of the Soviets with the land he defended as a jihadist, and one he helped forge as a young Talib. -- Afrah Jamal

 

Born in a poor family in a village in Egypt in 1926, Qaradawi studied at Cairo’s Al-Azhar, then the largest seat of traditional Islamic learning, after which he shifted to Qatar as emissary of his alma mater. It was there, we are told, that Qaradawi established himself as a noted scholar and activist, traveling widely across the world and establishing a number of Islamic institutions. The editors provide a pen-portrait of a passionate, dedicated scholar-activist, seeking to revive the rapidly disappearing tradition of socially-engaged ulema, who Qaradawi believes, should lead Muslims in the twenty-first century.— Yoginder Sikand

Syafiq Hasyim, author of the recently-published Understanding Women in Islam—An Indonesian Perspective, works with the Jakarta-based International Centre for the Study of Islam and Pluralism, that has been at the forefront of efforts to evolve socially progressive and contextually relevant understandings of Islam, particularly as regards women and relations between Muslims and others. Last week, I read his simply unputdownable book in one single sitting. Hasyim’s principle contention is that while Islam regards men and women as ontologically equal, this has not been reflected in the Muslim historical tradition, noteworthy exceptions notwithstanding. Muslim historiography, theology as well as jurisprudence continue to bear the stamp of patriarchy, and Islamic discourse, generally speaking, continues to be heavily male-centric. All this has served to uphold patriarchal rule, which Hasyim contends, is un-Islamic—because male supremacism is akin to associationism or shirk, a heinous sin in Islam. -- Yoginder Sikand

For Muslims, as with followers of other monotheistic religions that make exclusive theological claims of representing the sole truth, this issue has continued to be deeply troublesome. The vexed relations between Muslims and others in large parts of the world owe, in part, precisely to this dilemma. This book, by an Indonesian Muslim scholar, marvelously addresses this problem head-on, critiquing exclusivist and supremacist understandings of Islam while seeking to explore alternate understandings of Islamic theological resources in order to develop an Islamically-grounded theology of harmonious inter-faith relations. Surveying the corpus of traditional Muslim jurisprudence or fiqh, Zainun Kamal argues that it is unable to accommodate the vital inter-faith question that we are today faced with. This is because, he writes, traditional fiqh is premised on an antagonism towards others and their truth claims, refuses to respect or even acknowledge them, and views other religions and communities with contempt. It actively seeks to discredit other religions completely, and so, obviously, is not conducive to dialogue and harmonious relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. Hence, there is an urgent need, Kamal says, to transcend the views of the earlier ulema on these matters by engaging in a process of creative, contextual interpretation or ijtihad in order to make fiqh formulations on inter-community and inter-faith relations relevant to our new context.

This, he cautions, might be wrongly portrayed by narrow-minded critics as an attack on the Islamic shariah itself, but he hastens to point out that this would be far from true, indicating the clear distinction between the shariah as the divine path, on the one hand, and fiqh as a cumulative, historical and human enterprise, on the other. While the former is immutable, the latter can, indeed should, change, based on the recognition that, being a human product, it is liable to error. Pre-empting his critics, he argues that we need to recognize that the fuqaha, scholars of fiqh, were products of their own times and contexts, and, hence, were not infallible. He castigates the tendency to glorify, as unchangeable and immutably Islamic, the corpus of medieval fiqh and its creators, calling for developing fiqh rules appropriate to today’s times, including on the issue of inter-faith relations. To refuse to do so, he rightly indicates, would only lead to further stagnation of Muslims and to widening the existing conflicts and suspicions between Muslims and others. -- Yoginder Sikand

Here and there in her book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali gives you the impression that she is battling “Wahhabi Islam”, “radical Islamists”, “extremist Islam”. But just when you think you might be on the same page as her, she reverts to her emphatic Islam-itself-is-the-problem view. Ali loves Christians who no longer take every word of the Bible literally, perhaps allows for the fact that even holy text must be read in context. What she can’t stand for a moment, however, is the “tortuous struggle” of “intelligent and well-meaning (Muslim) men and women to reinterpret Muslim scripture”.

Ali selectively plucks a few passages out of the Quran to “prove” how Islam is a violent and anti-woman faith at its core: “Islam is not just a belief: it is a way of life, a violent way of life, Islam is imbued with violence, and it encourages violence.” Ali tells us she has no intention to convert, but for her any day it is “God” over “Allah” and compassionate Christianity over violent Islam. -- Javed Anand

Two famous saints of the 17th and 18th centuries, Shah Mohammad Kazim Qalandar and Shah Turab Ali Qalandar, come in for detailed discussion. Their texts — “Shant Ras” and “Amrit Ras” — have been made the object of a focused study. According to the author, Krishna emerges as the most shining symbol of the ‘quest for ultimate truth'. Muslim poets always look up to him for spiritual attainment and intellectual guidance. Their poetry betrays the equal measure of their love for Shri Krishna and the prophets. Tariq regrets that Shah Mohammad Kazim Qalandar and Shah Turab Ali Qalandar are not included in the list of Bhakti poets whose hero is Krishna though they have composed poetry even in Braj Bhasha. The book is braced to provide a complete understanding of the Indian mind and culture and its close affinity with Islamic tradition. It also makes it clear that Urdu poetry is invested with the tremendous potential to bind the whole nation together. -- Shafey Kidwai

 

Incidentally, nobody quite knows how many rubais Khayyam actually wrote. In the oldest extant manuscript, copied 500 years ago in Shiraz and now held in the Bodleian Library, there are 158. In later versions, succeeding scribes added more until the total swelled to nearly 1200. Edward Fitzgerald culled out the essential ones and rendered them in a free English translation, or as he called it a “transmogrification,” in 1859. He did not pretend to be too faithful to the original, often combining more than one rubai to make a brilliant whole that reads as one poem and not as separate epigrammatic quatrains. Incidentally, there was an Indian connection: his colleague, Prof. Edward Cowell discovered a Persian manuscript of the rubaiyat in the Asiatic Society of Calcutta and sent it to him. The resulting book went almost unnoticed and was soon in the one-penny boxes on the streets until it found admirers in the poets Rosetti and Swinburne (followed by Hardy, Elliot and Conan-Doyle) and went on to become one of the most famous, essential and oft-quoted books for the next 100 years. – Navtej Sarna

His diary notings carry fascinating insights into cultural, political, and economic aspects of contemporary life. They also reveal his own view on several global issues of tremendous significance.

What was the status of women in the Arab world of those times? While commenting on his celebration of Id in Mecca on March 12, he says he found Arab women in Western attire, while the young were roaming without the veil. Another interesting account is the role muallims (guides) played in making Hajj arrangements — he found them irresponsible and exploitative. This is documented during his visit to Medina. He writes: “May my countrymen have the foresight to stay clear of those muallims who are not present in Mecca during the time of the Hajj and leave their clients to fend for themselves!”-- Shaikh Mujibur Rehman

 

Reviewing The Compassionate Revolution: Radical Politics and Buddhism By David Edwards, David Cromwell says that the book’s message is perhaps counter-intuitive, but a compelling one. Compassion - not anger, facts, action or even protest - should be central to the effective struggle for freedom and democracy.

He quotes David Edwards: The Buddhist principle of unconditional generosity, which seems so outlandish from a conventional perspective, makes perfect sense in the context of dissent. ... It is a counter-intuitive message perhaps, but a compelling one. Compassion - not anger, facts, action or even protest - should be central to the effective struggle for freedom and democracy. The compassionate way might initially strike us as incredibly difficult, but it is at least possible, and therefore preferable to the impossible attempt to achieve a compassionate society through violence and hatred.

 

Justice M. Munir commission investigated the large-scale riots against the Ahmadya sect in Pakistan in 1953. His report is an eye-opener. It shows that our ulema are not even able to agree on a definition of who a Muslim is. Justice Munir had called heads of all Islamic schools of thought and asked them the definition of a Muslim. No two ulema agreed. It also exposes the pusillanimity of our so-called scholars of Islam and their near-total disregard of the beauty and generosity of Islam. --Editor

It is fitting to review the whole situation. Everybody was agreed that the Ahrar were a subversive force. They were opposed to the creation of Pakistan and even Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar thinks that they were anxious to “rehabilitate” themselves. In 1950 and again in 1952, Mr. Anwar Ali, then D. I.-G, (C. I. D.) strongly recommended that they should be declared an unlawful body. Mr. Qurban Ali Khan wrote very strong and prophitic notes on the possible consequences of neglect. One lawlessness breeds another. One damn thing leads to another. But whenever there was a conference, either they were persuaded to change their strong views, or official decorum restrained them from protesting. Mr. Daultana, therefore, says that everybody agreed with whatever decision we find on the files, and the officers concerned have not contradicted him. We ought to hold, therefore, that the responsibility was joint, though we feel differently. Further, we feel that the Ahrar were treated as members of the family and the Ahmadis as strangers. The Ahrar behaved like the child whom his father threatens with punishment for beating a stranger, but, who, knowing that he will not be punished, beats the stranger again. Then, out of sheer embarrassment, since other people are watching, his father does strike him—but gently.

 
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