May 2007

by Khalid Blankinship

[This is the second part of a post uploaded on Tabsir on May 30; to read the earlier post, click here.]

When we look for ten or more best books to use to teach about Islam, I would first of all recommend that all blatant, blaming propaganda be completely excised from consideration, including Bernard Lewis’s book mentioned by House. Secondly, while I would not want to exclude books by non-Muslims that are better, and while I myself in my introductory course use Carl Ernst (Following Muhammad), while my wife in her introductory course uses Denny (Introduction to Islam, 3rd. ed.) and Bloom/Blair (Islam), I would recommend that books by Muslims also be included in such a list, all the more so as these books are little known among non-Muslims and as Muslims should be accorded the right to represent themselves just as Jews and Christians are. The single book of this kind my wife and I have used most consistently over the years is Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick’s The Vision of Islam (New York: Paragon House, 1994). A list of books by Muslims mostly classifiable in the classical genres of literature follows below. This list includes books that are not suitable for classroom use, such as some large multivolume reference compendia. Also, some of these books are not in the kind of English acceptable to many American English speakers. So it might be viewed more as a list of Muslim resource books. It contains no works on modern history or politics. (more…)

[left, Islamophobia button, Gates of Vienna blog; right, “Cheikh lisant le Coran,” c. 1880, Abdullah Freres, Collection Pierre de Gigord, Paris]

by Khalid Blankinship

In November 2006, Karen Elliot House proposed in an article a list of books she considered essential for understanding Islam (Karen Elliot House, “Sense of Ummah: These books are essential to understanding Islam,” The Wall Street Journal, Saturday, November 11, 2006. While the comments by House herself are just what one would expect from the leading neocon organ in the US, The Wall Street Journal, the books themselves, apart from the one by Bernard Lewis, all have various positions and may present some worthwhile material.

That said, the problem of the official public line on Islam informed by neoconism and promoted by The Wall Street Journal and other official and semiofficial institutions remains, and, to appropriate the title of the book by Nathan McCall, “makes me wanna holler.” Neocons and imperialists together have constructed an imaginary discourse about Islam that is almost entirely false and deceiving. Because it is so detached from reality and because the neocons and imperialists dominate the world’s most powerful state, neocon-imperialist discourse on Islam is almost a certain recipe for violence and oppression, with the potential for the disasters caused thereby to become the worst that the world has ever witnessed. (more…)

War is mainly a man’s game. Men like Osama Bin Laden send men like Muhammad Atta to bomb a New York building. Men like George Bush and Tony Blair react like, well like men, and take it out on men like Mullah Omar and Saddam Hussein by sending young men to dodge bullets and iuds in a real video-game scenario. Men like Nouri al-Maliki are purple-fingered into a Green Zone political club so that mostly men can wear uniforms or hide bombs in order to kill other men, as well as women and children. Even a pacifist like Jesus predicted no end to war and rumors of war.

Everyone, not just men, suffers in the manly game of war. But while some men think it honorable to kill others, the burden of war probably hits women harder than anyone else. Suicide bombs are as likely to tear apart female bodies as male bodies, as able to cut short the life of a child as trump the survival of the elderly. In Iraq we see the blood smears that mark death and hear the mourning that haunts the grieving of the left behind. But beyond the battlefield and the car-blown open markets the exercise of war bears more fruit, one that harks back to the forbidden fruit in the innocence of Eden. (more…)

[One of the great moral tales of the 18th century is Voltaire’s (1759) Candide, a book well worth reading and rereading from time to time. Here is an excerpt from the end of the book, but it is not Orientalism in the Saidian sense of negative portrayal; indeed it is the honest Turk which stands in contrast to tyrants of all stripes.]

During this conversation, news was spread abroad that two viziers of the bench and the mufti had just been strangled at Constantinople, and several of their friends impaled. This catastrophe made a great noise for some hours. Pangloss, Candide, and Martin, as they were returning to the little farm, met with a good-looking old man, who was taking the air at his door, under an alcove formed of the boughs of orange trees. Pangloss, who was as inquisitive as he was disputative, asked him what was the name of the mufti who was lately strangled.

“I cannot tell,” answered the good old man; “I never knew the name of any mufti, or vizier breathing. I am entirely ignorant of the event you speak of; I presume that in general such as are concerned in public affairs sometimes come to a miserable end; and that they deserve it: but I never inquire what is doing at Constantinople; I am contented with sending thither the produce of my garden, which I cultivate with my own hands.” (more…)

[left to right: Djamila Bourhiredf; Women waiting for bus at University of Algiers, photo by Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times; scene from “The Battle of Algiers”; “Algerian Women in Their Apartments” by Eugene Delacroix, 1834

One of the lead articles in yesterday’s New York Times was titled “A Quiet Revolution in Algeria: Gains by Women” by Michael Slackman. Revolutions, no matter where they erupt, tend to be noisy, even when they are not successful. The French stormed the Bastille; America had its Boston Tea Party; the Russians knocked off the Czar and his family. The Algerian Revolution, which took eight years from 1954-1962, claimed an estimated one to one-and-a-half million lives, not to mention the French military casualties of some 18,000. In the past decade or so more than 100,000 Algerians have died as a direct result of partisan extremist religious fighting. So if Algeria is now having a quiet revolution, where did all the noise go? (more…)

Tawfiq Hakim, by Sabry Ragheb

As a young nation, only two centuries plus of age, America is still very much in love with itself. Despite the blemishes, America’s mirror image continues to shine with the noble ideals of justice and freedom. There are many reasons why others might hate what America does in the political arena, but for most this hate is more over the failure of the government to live up to the ideals than jealousy of a political ideology as malleable and demogogueried as democracy.

One of the most famous short-story writers in Arabic is the Egyptian Tawfiq al-Hakim, who died in 1987. One of his last pieces was called “The Case of the Twenty-first Century.” The words that were created more than a decade before the turn of the century that buried the author are worth repeating. (more…)

The Bodleian Library in collaboration with The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, announces the electronic publication of The Book of Curiosities of the Sciences and Marvels for the Eyes, a newly discovered medieval Arabic treatise on the depiction of the Heavens and the Earth. The treatise is one of the most important recent finds in the history of Islamic cartography in particular, and for the history of pre-modern cartography in general. The publication of the treatise is mounted on a dedicated website employing a new method for publishing medieval maps. (more…)

By George N. El-Hage

Thirty years of prosperity, patriotism, harmony and florescence, ruined in one year, it is true that destroying is easier than building, but it is also true that a year in which the masks fell and the buffoons stepped from their disguises into the shadows, was more real to them and to us than the thirty years they masked themselves in falsehood, hypocrisy and exploitation.

2 –
There were those who sold Lebanon and lost their families, their children and their villages. Then the strangers spit in their faces and cursed them. Their shekels were plundered, the price of treason. Do not ask those of their honor and patriotism. How can they give you what they do not possess?

3 –
The youth of Lebanon who abandoned their books and embraced rifles, know that they will triumph, because those who know how to live life, know how to live death and resurrection. (more…)

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