Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State by Noah Feldman

August 27, 2008

Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University begins this work by pointing out that when “government systems fall, they tend to stay dead.” Few people are worried about a comeback of monarchy or communism. Yet there are exceptions. Feldman mentions that the concept of “democracy” was resurrected after two thousand years of laying dormant and that the Islamic State, which existed in some form from the time of the Hijrah of the Prophet (saw) in 622 CE until the First World War, is, a hundred years later, everywhere gaining popularity amongst Muslims as the hope of the future.

Feldman is an excellent writer and is very skillful in distilling complicated historical and legal concepts in ways which are intelligible to the average educated reader while still remaining substantive. Feldman begins the book by trying to describe what the Islamic State was, that is, to take a brief look at Islamic constitutional theory as it developed over those 13 centuries. Feldman is writing primarily for a western audience and he realizes that most of his audience will come to the topic thinking of Shari’ah as almost the quintessential example of a legal system which is backward, barbaric and tyrannical. This modern western perception comes from the triumph of secularism in the west and from a domination in the western mind of a few corporal punishments in Islamic criminal law and some gender related issues as being the only thing the average westerner thinks of when he or she thinks of Islamic Law, or the Shari’ah. This is of course, not accidental but the result, in addition to general ignorance, of the purposeful distortion and propaganda against Islam and the Shari’ah that is not only a recent phenomenon but which has been part of the long rivalry between first Islam and Christendom, and later Islam and “the West.”

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Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim: Islam and the Secular State

May 14, 2008

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a lecture a couple of weeks ago given by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim. The event was sponsored by the Loyola University Islamic World Studies Program (directed by Dr. Marcia Hermansen, translator of Shah Wali Allah’s Hujjat Allah al-Baligha) and co-sponsored by the Chicago Muslim Bar Association. I am extremely grateful that the sponsors allowed me to attend a dinner with Dr. An-Naim after the event where I was able to discuss his ideas in a little more detail and I hope they didn’t regret it based on the fact that I heatedly disagreed with Dr. An-Naim on some issues. May Allaah (swt) forgive me, I am generally extremely calm and mild-mannered but when that Irish temper gets going, it’s all over!

Dr. An-Naim discussed his new book Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’ah. There is a lecture about the book available on Dr. An-Naim’s website as well. I have not read the book yet, so I am just tentatively addressing some of the issues that came out in discussion, and I pray I do not misstate or misrepresent Dr. An-Naim’s postion in any way.

As background, Dr. An-Naim is an extremely prolific scholar based at Emory University in Atlanta. He writes on a wide variety of Islamic and African issues. He comes from the background of a political activist and has a strong ‘progressive’ outlook. I use the term here in the sense of politically progressive and not to necessarily associate him with the “Progressive Islam” movement or mode of thinking. Although as I state, Dr. An-Naim is very prolific as a scholar he is best known to me as being a former student of Ustadh (Teacher) Mahmoud Taha. Dr. An-Naim also translated one of Taha’s works into english. I have not read Taha’s work either, but he was an opponent of and was executed by a Sudanese dictator who used religion as a justification for persecuting Taha. Again, I have not read it so I don’t claim to understand the ideas in their entirety or in depth, but they do seem to be unorthodox. One point usually emphasized in discussing these ideas is that the Makkan suras of the Qur’an (revealed pre-hijrah or before the Prophet(saw) had any political power) are a universal message valid for all times and peoples while the Madinan suras (revealed while the Prophet (saw) was a political leader) were in their specifics directed towards that particular time and place and those specifics are not necessarily binding for other times and places. Something that probably doesn’t sound too controversial to the non-Muslim modern western ear but which is, as I said, very ‘unorthodox’ to Muslims.

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Steve Coll talks about his new book with Michael “Anonymous” Scheuer

April 23, 2008

Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars, has a new book out entitled The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century.  I am reading the book now myself and hope to do a longer post about it when I’m done.  In the meantime, I really encourage anyone interested in Saudi Arabia or in issues of Islam, modernity, terrorism, the U.S.-Sa’udi relationship,  etc. to watch this CSPAN BookTV interview of Steve Coll by Michael Scheuer, the former CIA head of the Bin Laden unit, who has authored several books post 9/11.

Steve Coll has done a ton of research for this book, and Mr. Scheuer is (to me at least) quite an interesting character with an interesting perspective himself.

The CSPAN interview can be watched here.

The Siege of Mecca by Yaroslav Trofimov

April 4, 2008

siege-of-mecca-cover.jpg

The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam’s Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al-Qaeda

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi begins his set of cd lectures on the concept of the Mahdi in Islam by transporting the listener to the taking over of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by the Saudi Juhayman al-‘Utaybi and his followers in 1979 (1400 on the Islamic Hijri Calendar). This is because al-‘Utaybi claimed that his brother in law Muhammad Abdullah al-Qahtani was the Mahdi. From reading Trofimov’s book it seems that at the least al-‘Utaybi was able to convince Muhammad Abdullah himself and at the least scores of his followers that this was the truth.

al-utaybi.jpgJuhayman al-‘Utaybi

mahdi-yasir-qadhi.jpgThe Mahdi — Shaykh Yasir Qadhi

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the concept of the Mahdi in Islam, however, but to discuss Trofimov’s book. The book centers itself around the action in the Sacred Mosque in Mecca over several days beginning on November 20, 1979 which was the beginning of the year 1400 After the Hijrah of the Prophet (saw) on the Islamic calender. It is written as a thriller, fast paced with short chapters. The narrative is driven by accounts of the battle that took place in the mosque and its surroundings but the scene shifts to centers of power and decision making in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at an Arab summit in Tunis, in Washington, D.C. and Tehran, and to scenes of violence that broke out in wake of the takeover of the mosque. This included anti-U.S. demonstrations and violence in places like Libya, Turkey, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. There was also an uprising against the Saudi royal family among the discriminated against Shi’a population of the Eastern Province. After detailing the events involved, Trofimov attempts to tie these events into much that would follow including the escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan, the assasination of Sadat, the conditions for the fallout between Osama bin Laden and the Saudi government and the resulting Al-Qaeda movement. (more…)