June 2007

Market in Lahj, southern Yemen

[Note: Arthur John Byng Wavell (1882-1916) was a British soldier and adventurer who traveled in disguise to Mecca in 1908 and went on to Yemen in 1911 to witness fighting between the Zaydi imam’s troops and the Ottoman Turks. This account was originally published in 1912.]

The events in that country [Yemen] are worthy of a chapter in the history of these prosaic days. The counter-currents of human interest and activity that run up and down the Red Sea, linking the civilizations of the East and West, leave undisturbed this backwater. Western Europe knows little and cares less about what goes on there. (more…)

By Shaker Nabulsi for Saudi Debate

Nobody – from Western ‘unbelievers’ to Eastern ‘infidels’ – has harmed Islam as much as its own scholars of darkness.

While those “scholars” issue erroneous fatwas to cover every eventuality, they think they are serving Islam in the Twenty-First Century, when in reality they are abusing Islam and sending it down the path of obscurity. For example, some Islamic jurists have quoted the words of Al-Bukhari, who wrote that the Prophet Muhammad was a superman who regularly had sex with all ten of his wives in one night. However, it is known today that Al-Bukhari lied in many of his accounts of the Prophet’s sayings. For example, he wrote that the Prophet said camels’ urine cured certain diseases, and that some of the Prophet’s companions were drinking his own urine.

We may well ask: who are these jurists who have proclaimed such absurdities, and put Islam in such a bad light? Why have they – and there are many Egyptians and scholars from Al-Azhar among their number – descended to such a low level in their abuse of Islam? All of the events they describe occurred in a society that existed over 1,400 years ago. There is no one alive from that society today. How can Islam benefit in the Twenty-First century from resurrecting the behaviour of people who lived so long ago, especially since no one knows for certain how they lived or even what they believed?

The scholars of darkness and obscurity are making Islam look bad through their trivial and nonsensical fatwas. They are not enhancing Islam in the eyes of the global community, but portraying this great faith as a barbaric and primitive religion. These scholars have transformed Islam into an encyclopaedia of ‘urinary science’, and promoted the ethics of a primitive and savage era – an era that offers little enlightenment to the people of the present day. (more…)

By Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt

Almost two years ago the citizens of London were victims of a great atrocity. Those who perpetrated those crimes would like you to believe that they were inspired by the religion of Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is nothing in Islam that could ever justify these blatant acts of aggression. Islam calls on Muslims to be productive members of whatever society they find themselves in. Islam embodies a flexibility that allows Muslims to do so without any internal or external conflict. This is why we see a vast variety of cultural, artistic and civilisational phenomena all of which can be described as Islamic, ranging from the Taj Mahal in India to the winding streets of Fez to the poetry composed by English converts that represents not only the rigor of English verse, but also encompasses the beauty of Islamic piety. (more…)

Islam Obscured: The Rhetoric of Anthropological Representations

reviews extracted from http://www.amazon.com/Islam-Obscured-Anthropological-Representation-Contemporary/dp/1403967733/ref=sr_1_2/102-0304020-0917735?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1182880175&sr=1-2Amazon.com

A Great Theoretical Treatise

By Ronald Lukens Bull (University of North Florida)

Varisco’s Islam Obscured is an excellent review and theoretical analysis of the “anthropology of Islam.” It is also written with an acerbic wit and a poetic control of the English language rarely found in academic writing. Organized around four key texts, it is not limited to them.

It is not really a book about Islam or even about Muslims. It is a book about Anthropologists who try to study Islam (or as Varisco insists correctly is more appropriate — study Muslims). It is a must read for those who want to think about the theory and method of studying Islam/Muslims from an Anthropological perspective. (more…)

I think it would interesting and important to have a review of the books of each of the contributors. I will try to take this task on bit by bit. To start with, I will post someone else’s review of my own book extracted from Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Peaceful-Jihad-Negotiating-Contemporary-Anthropology/dp/1403966605/ref=sr_1_1/102-0304020-0917735?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1182881345&sr=1-1

It follows:

Is Peaceful Jihad possible? By Raymond Scupin

Ronald Lukens-Bull’s book Peaceful Jihad is one of the most recent ethnographic attempts to understand Indonesian Islam. The major topic addressed in this ethnography is how the process of modernity has been innovatively and selectively modified by Muslims in Indonesia (especially east Javanese)to reconstruct their own unique forms of Islam. In this work, Lukens-Bull recognizes the early pioneering understandings of Indonesian Islam by Geertz as too limited in representing Islam as a thin lacquer spread over the Hindu-Buddhist cultural fundamentals. Geertz had viewed Indonesian Islam as a struggle between the Santri, an urban, modernist strain of Islam, versus the rural traditionalist or popular syncretic abangan believers. Lukens-Bull building on the research of more contemporary anthropologists such as John Bowen, Robert Hefner, Suzanne Brenner, Mark Woodward has shown that these early Geertzian categories were too crude. Lukens-Bull has added to this anthropological research by focusing on the dynamics of the Islamic schools in east Java known as pesantren. He did in-depth research in the 1990s on how the Islamic teachers and leaders within the pesantren were incorporating the political and symbolic-cultural matrix into the curriculum. Lukens-Bull describes how various symbols of Sufism, modernity, and secular elements were drawn into the debates about what ought to be incorporated into the curriculum within the pesantren. He also adds an interesting postmodern reflexive insight into this process by illuminating how a particular Sufi leader used him as a Westerner as an example to the students of how to purify and dissolve incorrect “Christian” teachings from his consciousness.

[Illustration: Miniature illustrating the treatment of a patient, Serefeddin Sabuncuoglu. Jarrahiyatu’l-Hâniya. Millet Library, Ali Emiri, Tib 79.

In the 7th century Muhammad set in motion one of the world’s great religions, Islam. As an Arabian prophet, Muhammad spoke of the same God known to Jews and Christians for centuries. The message received by Muhammad, and revered today by over a billion Muslims, is contained in the Arabic Qur’an. Although the focus of this scripture is on the spiritual health of mankind, there are also numerous statements regarding physical health and emotional wellbeing. Muhammad himself often spoke regarding medicine and diet, and his words are accepted as authoritative only beneath the level of God’s revelation in the Qur’an. As Muslim scholars in later centuries encountered the medical traditions of classical Greece, Syriac tradition, and India, they compared this indigenous knowledge with the Qur’anic view of man and the prophet’s statements about health. Eventually, a specific literary genre called the “Prophet’s Medicine,” or al-tibb al-nabawi in Arabic, came into existence. In the texts of this genre Muslim scholars tried to merge the most accepted and current scientific knowledge about medicine with the folklore of Muhammad’s Arabia. (more…)

OK Baytong (2003), directed by Nonzee Nimibutr,
addresses troubles in Muslim southern Thailand.

In recent years, with increased attention to Muslim-attributed violence, Islam has become of greater interest to the scholarly community. Scholars who have had no prior interest in Islam are now suddenly fascinated enough to start submitting grant proposals. Granting agencies are more interested in Islam, as are publishers. No where does this seem to be more true than in Southern Thailand. The unrest in the southernmost provinces, especially Patani, in the past two years has led to an unfortunate double association of Violence (which has now become a Social Fact, like Anomie and Bureaucracy) with Islam and Southern Thailand.

How will the history of the world be written in another century? I am glad I will not be around to find out, although I suspect future historians will look at the post-9/11 operations at home on the patriot front and abroad with patriot missiles as a low point in America’s future past. We can always look back and see how history was written a century ago. Here is a passage from a popular “History of the World” by John Clarke Ridpath, who penned it near the end of the 19th century. Although dated in its racial and ethnocentric overtones, it is refreshing to see some critical assessment on Western stereotypes at work as well. As an exercise, read the excerpt below to sort out the prejudice from the attempt, even if not up to present-day standards, to be less rather than more subjective.

Some allowance, however, must be made for the judgment which the Western peoples have passed upon the Turks. There is no denying the fact that a part of this judgment is prejudiced. The Aryan races have always shown a disposition to reject and contemn those usages with which they themselves are unfamiliar. They have done so. Not because the usages in question have contradicted the laws of right reason, the interests of the state, of the principles of morality, but simply because such facts have been strange, unfamiliar. The intolerance of the Western people in this respect has been as severe and inexcusable as many of the usages which they have contemned and despised. (more…)

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