Dec
02

King of the Castle

I picked up King of the Castle by Gai Eaton (1990) largely by accident. I saw someone reading the book on a flight; both the author and the book brief sounded unique, so I ordered a copy. A few quotes:

"Since unbelief lies at the root of almost all that is said or thought or done in our time, it follows that the believer's critique of the modern world cannot be less than radical." (p. 18)

"Before our eyes in the course of decades, not centuries, a new kind of world is coming into being, a world populated almost exclusively by dependants; but dependent upon whom and with what safeguards? Whether those who control the machinery of the State, the leaders in one country or another, have seized power or been elected by a mass-electorate which votes only on immediate, bread-and-butter issues, and whether they are motivated by self-interest or good intentions, one thing is sure: they are themselves controlled by forces of change which they do not understand and, in obeying these forces, they are restrained neither by immutable principles nor by the weight of custom and tradition. The brakes have been taken off; and there is nothing to suggest that these people know where they are going." (p. 60-61)

"The arrogance of the West in relation to other cultures is decently cloaked in our time, for this is an age of polite falsities; but it has not been outgrown. The fact that non-Europeans are expected to adopt Western patterns of government and 'post-Christian' morality (as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations) is evidence of this." (p. 165)

"What the Muslims call the Holy War is in fact the opposition of the unified and God-centred man to the forces of dissipation and chaos both within and outside himself. Such warfare is likely, in our times, to provide a history of defeats and failures - at least so far as our environment taken as a whole is concerned - but this is precisely why we are told that less is expected of us than was expected of the men of earlier periods. Defeat does not matter, because it is by fighting this war that we become what we are, and the achievement of integrity is not dependent upon the quantitative and temporal outcome of that struggle. Our concern is only with doing what we are capable of doing. The rest is out of our hands." (p. 198) 

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Sep
27

What is an American Muslim?

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im's "What is an American Muslim? Embracing Faith and Citizenship" (2014) is an Oxford publication, written in what seems like a world away in terms of US identity politics. The book is largely not what the title reads "What is..." but rather "What should...". Although the author has produced some interesting works (for example, a 1995 book Human Rights in Cross Cultural Context), this one does not stand out. In the ten years since publication, there have been 26 citations, several of which are critical book reviews. This book sat on my shelf for some years, and I can't recall where or how this book came to my attention. Some (debate-starting) notes:

"To realize this vision of citizenship and meaning for themselves, and to uphold it for others, American Muslims must join general political and social life—in solidarity and common cause with other citizens—and begin exercising their rights to democratic self-governance. To earn the rights of citizenship, Muslims must assume the responsibilities of citizens. In engaging a proactive citizenship, American Muslims should seek to integrate on their own terms as persons and communities, rather than abandoning their religious self-determination through passive assimilation. This includes the constant evolution and reformation of American Muslims' identities in relation to national identity." (p. 6-7)

"The idea of an Islamic state that enforces Sharia as the positive law of the state is, from an Islamic point of view, both conceptually untenable and practically counterproductive. It is untenable because, once Sharia norms are enshrined in law, they cease to be the religious law of Islam and become the political will of that state. Moreover, given the wide diversity of opinion among Muslim scholars and schools of thought, enacting any of those norms as state law will mean having to select among competing views that are equally legitimate. Since that selection will be made by whoever happens to be in control of the state, the outcome will be political, rather than religious. Why will this process be counterproductive? By suppressing competing views, it will necessarily deny some Muslims their religious freedom. I am therefore advocating the institutional separation of religion and the state, while recognizing and regulating the unavoidable connection between religion and politics." (p. 22)

"My own answer for such questions, for which I believe to be religiously accountable, is that Islamic religious doctrine is historically contextual, a product of human interpretation, and not immutable or divine as such. Accordingly, I would first oppose the application of any Sharia norm as the positive law of the state, as explained in chapter 1. Second, I would oppose the community-based practice of dated human interpretations of Sharia that are no longer appropriate in today's context." (p. 172) 

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Sep
02

Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa

Rudolph T. Ware III published "The Walking Qur'an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa" in 2014, with the University of North Carolina Press. Am arriving at the text late, after having it in my "too read" pile for too long. A few notes:

"We must see beyond race and put Africans back at the center of Islamic Studies. To be fair, West African Muslims have drawn their fair share of attention, but the inner working of Islam as a system of religious meaning in their lives has not. Redressing this oversight is imperative, in part because of the huge (and growing) demographic weight of Islamic Africa. Reckoning with role of religious meaning in the past, present, and future of hundreds of millions of African Muslims requires that we pay attention for their engagements with Islamic knowledge." (p. 30)

"In ways both obvious and subtle, the French school was the leading edge in that colonial assault on African Muslim ways of knowing. Until the 1920s, a direct competition for students existed, and the French were losing. An early report on Qur'an schooling by the head of Muslim Affairs Office, Paul Marty, acknowledged, "It is painful to watch certain of the rural [French] schools stagnating with only a dozen students, while taken together the little marabout schools flourishing nearby reach a hundred." For decades, the colonial state crafted legislation designed to move African children out of Qur'an schools and into French schools." (p. 165)

"… the école française posed a more fundamental problem to the basis of Qur'an schooling. From the outset of colonial expansion, the colonial state promoted French schools in direct opposition to Qur'an schools. Louis Léon César Faidherbe, the chief architect of French military expansion, saw the colonial school as a crucial tool for naturalizing and legitimating French rule. In a March 1857 letter to the minister of the marine, he wrote, "the affairs of the schools... I regard as the most important of all those with which I am charged." The statement was only a minor hyperbole. This was heyday of assimilation discourse in the French Empire, and Faidherbe took the idea more seriously than most. Michael Crowder has defined the notion of assimilation in French imperial discourse as the belief that "there were no racial and cultural differences that education could not eliminate. Thus the French, when confronted with people whom they believed to be barbarians, believed it their mission to convert them to Frenchmen." Perhaps Faidherbe did not wish to convert Africans into Frenchmen, but he certainly hoped to use French schools to assimilate them to the colonial enterprise." (p. 191-192)

"Colonial racism and Francophone education have certainly produced plenty cultural estrangement, but more is at work here than just alienation… In African society, Islamic society, and in many societies that are both African and Islamic, educating children was not left to the nuclear family. Schooling is a community responsibility. This idea is explicit among Mālikī scholars in West Africa, who usually characterize learning and teaching and Qur'an as a fard kifāya (collective obligation) of the community. If some people diligently are attending to it, it is not incumbent upon each and every individual who knows something of the Qur'an to teach it. But if it is neglected or endangered, it becomes an individual obligation a fard 'ayn, mandatory for every capable person, male or female." (p. 241) 

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Jul
29

Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam

Adam Sabra's historical work "Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam: Mamluk Egypt, 1250-1517" (2000) is a unique contribution of historical studies (shifting the gaze to everyday life). The book covers ideas regarding poverty (in contrast with forms of asceticism), an assessment of poverty of the era, forms of charitable giving (and the jurisprudence thereof), and a chapter on endowments (Ch 4). I was most interested in the content on endowments, although this aspect was relatively brief in the context of the book. A few notes:

"The establishment of hospitals to provide free medical care to the public required the endowment of huge amounts of property, perhaps due to the fact that these hospitals were surprisingly few in number and were expected to provide care to a large number of patients. Indeed, the waqfs established to benefit hospitals, invariably established by rulers, constituted some of the largest endowments made in medieval Cairo. The best example of this phenomenon was the hospital established by Sultan al-Manşūr Qalāwūn in 1284, as part of a larger waqf complex. This hospital was not only one of the largest endowments, it was also one of the most long lasting. By the end of the eighteenth century, it was in considerable disrepair, but was put to new use by Mehmed 'Ali in the first half of the nineteenth century. After several attempts at reconstruction, it was finally demolished in the early twentieth century." (p. 73)

"Much has been written about the importance of waqfs in funding Islamic education in Mamluk Egypt, and in the Islamic Middle Period in general. For the most part, this literature has focused on the madrasa and the khanqah. While many of the students who studied in these institutions of higher learning were no doubt dependent on their stipends for the continuance of their study, the madrasa was not primarily intended to serve the poor. The endowment deeds of these madrasas did not stipulate that the student be poor... In the case of Qur'an school, however, orphaned and poor boys were specifically targeted by founders to receive a free education. While many children received home schooling, and others attended private Qur'an schools (maktab, pl. makatib), at least forty-six waqfs were established between 1300 and 1517 in Cairo to provide a basic education to boys whose families could not be expected to pay for it themselves. Many of these waqfs stipulated that these lessons should be given at an existing or newly created institution such as a mosque, but by the late ninth/fifteenth century maktabs were being built independent of other wafq institutions. Typically, they took the form of a maktab build over a cistern (sabil) which provided water to the public." (p. 80-81) 

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