August 2009

New Book Stokes Fear of a Muslim Europe
Religion Dispatches, By Bruce B. Lawrence
August 13, 2009

Review of: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West
By Christopher Caldwell(Doubleday, 2009)

This is a full-throttle polemic, a meanspirited book meant to raise alarms, stoke fears, and tame a danger at once unseen and misunderstood yet pernicious and widespread.

The danger is Islam, the villains are Muslim immigrants, the terrain is the West, and the outcome is certain defeat for European culture—unless the tide of Muslim immigration, which threatens to become a tsunami, can be stemmed.

But how? This book, despite the myriad cases set forth in its 350 pages of rant and rave, offers no explicit steps to stem the Muslim immigrant tide allegedly sweeping Western Europe, ravaging its European culture, and threatening the future of Western civilization. (more…)

This illustration from a Persian treatise on chess, possibly dating from the 14th century, is notable for its expressive faces that hint at the “different kinds of pleasantry and jests” Mas‘udi recorded as customary among players at that time in Baghdad.

[The latest issue of Saudi Aramco World has an interesting article on the history of chess in the Middle East. Here is an excerpt.]

The Game of Kings

by Stewart Gordon

Arab writers on chess acknowledge that the game spread west from Persia, probably soon after the Islamic conquest in the mid-seventh century. The Arabic term for the game was and is shatranj, a standard linguistic shift from the Persian chatrang, and all the names of the chess pieces (with the exception of the horse) are Arabic versions of their Persian names. As it spread, however, the game did not always find itself welcome. The Eastern Church at Constantinople condemned chess as a form a gambling in 680, and al-Hakim, the Fatimid ruler of Egypt, banned it in 1005 and ordered all chess sets burned. (more…)

islam is of the devil shirtIs it just me, or do all the biggest nuts live near me? A few years back the pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville’s 20,000 member mega-church, made inflammatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad. Now, just a short drive further south, in Gainesville controversial t-shirts produced by a local church are saying that “Islam is of the Devil.” The real issue is that some kids have worn these shirts to public schools and have been told that they violate the dress code.

The front of the shirt quotes John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me.” The inflammatory message on the back is the result of the verse on the front, according to the pastor of Dove Word Outreach Center. In the video available through the above link, the father of the students disciplined by the school district explains that being told that they cannot wear the shirts to school is like being told that you cannot wear shirts that say “I love my momma” on them. Mr. Sapp (you can’t make some stuff up) does not understand analogies well. The shirts are not analogous to “I love my momma” shirts but to shirts that have a nice poem about mothers on the front and the declaration, “Your Mother is a Whore” on the back. (more…)

In 2005 I published Islam Obscured, a critical assessment of four books widely read as “the” anthropology of Islam. The books I examined were by Clifford Geertz, Ernest Gellner, Fatima Mernissi and Akbar Ahmed. Having wielded an iconclastic hammer over the first four chapters, I concluded the book with a brief question-and-answer survey of the ways in which “Islam” has and should be studied by anthropologists who value the role of ethnographic fieldwork. At the time, the publisher failed to send the book out for review, although some review copies finally went out over a year ago. There are many, many books out there on “Islam,” but my text was, to not mire myself in humility, somewhat unique. It faulted these texts for not using ethnographic data but rather essentializing their own views of what Islam should be.

I recently received a lengthy review by Ken Lizzio, whose research was on Sufi texts, in The Journal of North African Studies (14:309-316, June, 2009). Having written my book in large part for non-anthropologists, I was quite interested in how a specialist in Near Eastern Studies would react to it. The thrust of the reviewer strikes me as quite positive, especially when he states: “As Varisco proceeds to fell some of the giants in the anthropological forest, he does so with an axe sharpened with impeccable logic and refreshing intellectual honesty” (p. 310). The reviewer agrees with me that both Geertz and Gellner both fail to apply data from fieldwork to their assertions. So far, so good. (more…)

[Note: The following account is by the English traveler William Wittman, who commented on the foods and crops he saw while passing through the Levant in what was then Syria. The spelling is that of the original, from a time when proof reading was a distant concern and spelling was a democratic venture. The picture above is from the original 1803 edition.

Wherever the land is susceptible of cultivation, and has not been neglected, it affords abundant crops of wheat, barley, Indian corn (dourra), tobacco, cotton, and other productions. Fruits and vegetables are in equal abundance. Among the former are pomegranates, figs, oranges, lemons, citrons of an uncommonly large size, melons, grapes, and olives. The melons are large, and have a delicious flavour; as have also the grapes. of which we partook so late as the month of December, when we found they still retained their exquisite flavour. I have already adverted to the uncommon size of the water-melons, many of which weight from twenty to thirty pounds. they are a great and valuable resource to the inhabitants, who are so passionately fond of them, that, during the summer months, they form a great part of their subsistence. Notwithstanding they are as cooling and refreshing, as grateful to the taste, I was surprised to see the natives eat them in such immoderate quantities, without experiencing any unpleasant consequences. (more…)

In the run up to Ramadan on Saturday, the Jakarta Globe ran an interesting article on what Ramadan means to non-Muslims in the the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. The full original article is here.

Eat? Smoke? Take It Easy? Ramadan for Non-Muslims

by Armando Siahaan

Once the Ramadan season begins, life will change for most of Indonesia’s residents, and not just for Muslims. People of other faiths, as residents of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, will see their usual routines altered, whether they like it or not.

Ivanhoe Semen is a Protestant, but he refrains from eating in front of his fasting friends and colleagues during Ramadan as he doesn’t want to tempt them. “I’m not concerned at all about [refraining from eating],” he said.

Yunita Anindya, 25, on the other hand, eats in front of friends who are fasting, “because they insist that I do so,” she said. “They’re relaxed when it comes to eating and they don’t want to be separated from me during lunchtime.”

But smoking is a different matter.

“Most of my friends smoke,” she said. “[Not] smoking is harder for them, and so I always avoid smoking in front of them.”

President Barack Obama

Ramadan Kareem
Posted by Rashad Hussain, The Official White House Website, August 21, 2009

As the new crescent moon ushers in Ramadan, the President extends his best wishes to Muslim communities in the United States and around the world.

Each Ramadan, the ninth month on the lunar calendar, Muslims fast daily from dawn to sunset for 29 or 30 days. Fasting is a tradition in many religious faiths and is meant to increase spirituality, discipline, thankfulness, and consciousness of God’s mercy. Ramadan is also a time of giving and reaching out to those less fortunate, and this summer, American Muslims have joined their fellow citizens in serving communities across the country. Over the course of the month, we will highlight the perspectives of various faiths on fasting and profile faith-based organizations making real impacts in American cities and towns. (more…)

The New York Times has a video report on the voting yesterday in Afghanistan.

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