Islamic Texts



Rustam fighting a Jinn from a medieval Islamic manuscript

Anyone who has read about Aladdin knows about the genie in a lamp. The English term “genie” stems from the Arabic “jinn,” a reference to spirits in various physical forms that are said within traditional Islamic theology to have been created from fire. Artistic representations of the jinn are varied, but often show monstrous and distorted bodies. A collection of illustrations can be found online here. From our modern perch, such depictions belong to fantasy and science fiction. But literalists who seek to return to the way of thinking, although selectively, of what they think was thought at the time of the Prophet seem to believe in the jinn as part of an apocalyptic scenario for the end of the world.

While denouncing those who would walk into a bar and order gin and tonic, the extreme salafi belief in a real-life jinn is just as toxic, and not simply to one’s sobriety. I grew up in a Fundamentalist Baptist church where belief in the Devil, evil spirits and angels was prominent. It was convenient to have the Devil. a.k.a. Satan, around to explain why bad things kept happening to otherwise good people. The philosophical question of the “problem of evil” and how a just and loving God could allow such evil in the world was evaded by saying that God was allowing Satan to control the world. Life, thus, was a test and one that no one could win alone. Hence the need to put a “Jesus saves” bumper sticker on your car and condemn the “unsaved.”

There are few greater evils in the world today than belief in an unseen evil power that serves as the excuse to explain why there is so much hatred, prejudice, violence and killing. The Christian doctrine of “original sin” shifts the blame back to a naked Adam and Eve, who dared to seek the knowledge of good and evil. Islam avoids original sin, but nevertheless there have been many Muslims who justify evil in this life. Reports of ISIS fanatics who rape Yazidi women as a duty to their faith is a case in point. So is the mantra that the caliph or ruler must be obeyed, no matter how unfair, corrupt and evil he is. The old Manichean dualism of an eternal battle of good vs. evil is not only maintained, but magnified.

I wish there really were jinn and that they would show themselves so that modern day Rustam’s could battle them and conquer the fear of such beasts. It is the fear of the invisible that is the greatest fear to overcome.

The Library of Congress has a very nice website with online resources regarding its collection of Near Eastern materials.

There is an excellent analysis of ISIS as a cult recently posted on War on the Rocks.

Here is the start, but click here for the full article…

Why Cults Work: The Power Games of the Islamic State and the Lord’s Resistance Army
by Eleanor Beevor

Graeme Wood’s article “What does ISIS really want?” has become the most discussed foreign policy article of the year. Yet the piece’s power lies not in the title question, but in Wood’s blunt assessment of a paradox that leaves Western leaders flummoxed: How does one explain the traction of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while also denying its religious legitimacy, in order to combat anti-Muslim bigotry? Wood didn’t mince words in refuting this hesitancy:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic… the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

What follows is a fascinating piece of research, and a frustrating read. Despite addressing all the right aspects of ISIL’s ideological content to understand its power, Wood’s argument is guided by the wrong question: “How Islamic is ISIL?” For him, denial of ISIL’s Islamic nature is why we fail to understand it. The analytical pitfalls of quantifying “Islamic-ness” should be self-explanatory. Are some of Islam’s 1.6 billion practitioners less Muslim than others if they are less violent? How do we explain the religious devotion of politically “quietest” Salafism, compared to the British ISIL fighters who purchased Islam for Dummies pre-departure? This is not to say that religion is irrelevant in the analysis of ISIL. ISIL uses Islam as an existential anchor, so its actions have to be influenced by it in order to work. It also freely capitalizes on global Islamist sentiment. But to say the whole structure is uniquely, potently Islamic is not just a logical fallacy, but part of the very illusion that sustains loyalty to it. Actually, the features that Wood claims represent ISIL’s Islamic orthodoxy – its obsession with “purity” and the apocalyptic prophecy it stakes its claim on – have “been done,” and not just by Islamists. This is revealed by comparing ISIL with another notoriously violent army, led by another self-styled holy man.

ISIL and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) represent grabs for power, but power of a cosmic kind, beyond what human society can grant them. In examining both, I suggest a word substitution. The ways in which ISIL works, to extraordinary success, are not uniquely Islamic. They are uniquely “cultic.” And to examine ISIL as a cult is to see chinks in its armor. ISIL’s territory may be shrinking, but that alone won’t kill the loyalties of its cadres, nor slow the spread of its bloody sectarian ideology. In ISIL, as in the LRA, knowledge is power. If we can challenge the leaders’ tight hold on that power, ISIL’s ideological grip on its fighters might just begin to crumble…


Johann Gottfried Wetzstein (1815 – 1905)

by Christoph Rauch, H-Net

Arabic manuscripts and Oriental studies: Symposium on the occasion of the 200th birthday of Johann Gottfried Wetzstein.

The international symposium “Studies on Johann Gottfried Wetzstein (1815-1905): Manuscripts, Politics and Oriental Studies” will be held at Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin from 19th to 21st February 2015. (Venue: Potsdamer Strasse 33, 10785 Berlin)

The symposium will be inaugurated Thursday, 19th February 2015, 6:00 PM with a keynote lecture by François Déroche (Paris): “The Qur’anic collections acquired by Wetzstein”; and a musical-literary program by Claudia Ott and her ensemble. Furthermore, some original documents and manuscripts related to Wetzstein will be exhibited at the opening.

If you plan to attend the conference please register before 31st January at the secretary of the Oriental Department, Mrs. Muenchow, orientabt@sbb.spk-berlin.de.

The symposium is generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen-Stiftung and the Verein der Freunde der Staatsbibliothek e.V.; and is organized in cooperation with the Oriental Institute of Leipzig University.

Here is the list of contributions in alphabetical order:

Ibrahim Akel (Paris), Wetzstein in Arabic sources and remarks on some manuscripts from his collections

Kaoukab Chebaro and Samar El Mikati El Kaissi (Beirut), Manuscript ownership and readership at the American University of Beirut at the turn of the 20th century

Alba Fedeli (Cambridge), Tischendorf and the Mingana Collection: Manuscript acquisition and Qur’ānic Studies

Ludmilla Hanisch (Berlin), Semitic studies at the University of Berlin during Wetzstein’s lifetime.

Michaela Hoffmann-Ruf (Bonn), The Wetzstein collection at Tuebingen University Library – its history, its content and its reception in Oriental Studies

Ingeborg Huhn (Berlin), Some remarks concerning the official correspondence of Johann Gottfried Wetzstein

Robert Irwin (London), The Arabist and Consul in Damascus Sir Richard Burton and the problematic nature of his translation of The Thousand and One Nights
(more…)

These articles are freely available until 31 January 2015 on the Brill Website.

Islamic Law in the Modern World
Author: Aharon Layish
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 276-307)

An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law
Author: Aria Nakissa
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 209-251)

Reconstructing Archival Practices in Abbasid Baghdad
Author: Maaike van Berkel
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 7-22)

The Early Ḥanafiyya and Kufa
Author: Christopher Melchert
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 23-45)

(more…)

Throughout history in almost every culture there has been the sordid practice of beheading. John the Baptist lost his head to King Herod. Louis XVI lost his under a French guillotine. But few would argue that beheading is just today, no matter what the rationale. The recent choreographed beheadings of ISIS have brought the issue once again to a head. Unfortunately, such video propaganda only feeds Islamophobia, even though there is no legitimate justification for such a practice in Islamic law or the sunna of the Prophet. Not one of the companions of the prophet is recorded as having decapitated an enemy; certainly the Prophet himself never committed such an act. Indeed, the blood-soaked ISIS spectacles are pornographic.

I recently came across a lengthy fatwa on the Islamic Sham Organization in response to the question if beheading is sanctioned in Islam. I attached it below as it is well worth reading.

السؤال:
ما حكم ذبح أسرى الأعداء بالسكين؟ وهل هو فعلاً سنة نبوية يمكن اتباعها؟

الجواب:
الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:
فقد أرسل الله سبحانه وتعالى رسولَه بالهدى والعدل والرحمة، فكان مما شرعه الإحسان في استيفاء العقوبات والحدود والقصاص، بأن تكون بأيسر طريقة وأسرعها، ومنعَ من كل ما فيه تعذيب وتمثيل، كتقطيع الأعضاء والذبح بالسكين، فإنها من الطرق الشنيعة والمنكرة في القتل، وبيان ذلك فيما يلي:
(more…)

The Egyptian intellectual Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 67, made a major contribution to the study of the Qur’an and other important aspects of Islam, for which he was branded an apostate in Egypt. For a summary of his life with links to videos and major works, check out the page on him in the series of “A Profile from the Archives” on al-Jadaliyya. For a film on his thinking, Youtube has the Lebanese film في إنتظار أبو زيد .

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