This book actually exceeded my expectations. The author touches on almost every "controversial" issue by which the false puritans have made a divisive...moreThis book actually exceeded my expectations. The author touches on almost every "controversial" issue by which the false puritans have made a divisive criterion between "true" Islam and tradition. He cites numerous hadith as the basis of all his contentions, supported by quotes from authorities who are indisputably recognized in their fields, clarifying what Muslims throughout the generations have actually believed. Above all, the tone of the book is refreshingly positive - something which is uncommon in a refutational piece such as this. (less)
I was first referred to Fethullah Gulen by Sh. Faraz Rabbani during a SunniPath seerah class after previously been completely clueless to his name. Th...moreI was first referred to Fethullah Gulen by Sh. Faraz Rabbani during a SunniPath seerah class after previously been completely clueless to his name. This is one of the best contemporary books that I have read on the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). It is not a work of seerah, rather, it is more along the lines of the Shifa` of al-Qadi `Iyad, in describing the personality of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his functions, as opposed to giving a chronological view of his life.
Gulen gives a literary presentation of the topics discussed in the nubawwat section of any `aqida text and he clarifies a number of issues with a specific audience in mind. This book is a must read for new converts, as it addresses many mistaken notions and intentional lies/distortions that almost everyone is subject to. After discussing the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and a wide array of subjects related to him and his public functions, he then gives a very well written, extremely accessible defense of the hadith corpus AND the necessity of following the Sunna for everyone who claims to love the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
I regret waiting so long to read this book, as the introduction includes a description of Fethullah Gulen's interfaith outreach and I have developed a great deal of skepticism towards such activities, as it typically involves placing Islam on the buffet table of religious ideologies, as someone once put it. Far from that, Gulen not only is someone with complete conviction in the Prophet's (Allah bless him and give him peace) mission, status and rank before God, but he also is clearly a lover of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the entire book is an attempt to instill this love in the minds and hearts of the reader. I also admit that it was rather refreshing to see an author unapologetically and lovingly mention the names of the heads of several Sufi orders in a work about the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
I believe it was Sh. Abd al-Hakim Murad who said that the Islamic revival will more than likely be lead by Turkish intellectuals and after reading this book, I can only hope such a prediction comes true. The modern Turks (who are not military secularists) do not seem to have the hang-ups that the modern Arabs have and had it been the former instead of the latter who currently enjoys a leadership role in the religious psyche of the ummah, I would imagine that things would be much different.
It is only because this book is better suited for people who have not had much reading/study in Islamic theology that I have not given it 5 stars. For people whom fit that category, it goes in my required reading list.(less)
It has actually been a while since I read this book, but it is a thorough description of the attitude that students should have with teachers. Anyone...moreIt has actually been a while since I read this book, but it is a thorough description of the attitude that students should have with teachers. Anyone who is interested in acquiring knowledge from classically trained scholars should begin with this book.(less)
It reads like a textbook and is an obvious Oriental work of scholarship, hence in regards to religious themes, works off of a few questionable premise...moreIt reads like a textbook and is an obvious Oriental work of scholarship, hence in regards to religious themes, works off of a few questionable premises (e.g. the alleged agreed upon closure of the gate of ijtihad, the Hanbali school being the premier Traditionalist school that is more faithful to the sources of Islamic law than the others, popular Sufism being tied to "Orthodox" Sufism - though the distinction is made, constant references to saint worship, etc.). I imagine much of this is based on the perceptions of the writers Lapidus relied upon (the bibliography alone is about 60 pages). That being said, I believe the book is unparalleled in the scope and encylopedic amount of informative it gives. Ira Lapidus seeks to weave socio-political backdrops into his telling of history and generally avoids making judgments on purely religious matters and for that reason, the book is quite tolerable and is about as objective as a Western scholar can possibly be. It is not a religious history and someone looking or expecting such will be disappointed. Pre-Islamic Arabia, the Prophetic Era and age of the Rightly-Guided Successors are a chapter each and span a mere 50 pages total. Given the period of which he is covering (which represents 800 pages in 10 pt font) one would have to refer to supplemental material to get alternative views on some of the debatable details he mentions.
For example, Abdal Hakim Murad's article "The Spiritual Life of Ottoman Turkey" provides some missing information and clarifications in respect to the strands and role of Sufism in the Ottoman Empire. Ira Lapidus has a very positive view of the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the Naqshbandi Order - presumably because of the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi role in hadith scholarship during the modern Reform era. Others, however, are not described as frequently in the same light and often little distinction is made between groups like the Qalandariya (which Abdal Hakim Murad clarifies was a heterodox synergic popular movement) and the Shadhilis of North Africa. For instance, the Darqawa are claimed to have had little regard for the "repetition of prayers" (which is presumably dhikr), in favor of Sufic dancing and singing, and are purported to have a legacy of the charismatic strain of Sufi influence. It seems unclear whether or not Ira Lapidus properly understood the relationship between the various personalities. He credits Abu Madyan with reforming Sufism in North Africa, proliferating what he calls the "Sunni-shari'a-Sufi" model, declares Abul Hasan al-Shadhili to be his main heir, and then describes the Darqawa as I have mentioned, implying that they were a shrine-centered popular Berber expression at varous places - perhaps confusing the esteem in which certain Sufis were held by rural populations to be the mark of shrine-worship and popular religion. Even a cursory read of Mawlay al-Arabi's Rasa'il will demonstrate how off such a description is. Though I clearly have personal reasons and biases (or first-hand knowledge depending on your point of view) to be so annoyed at such a characterization, my greater concern is that someone who already has a distorted or ideological view of Sufism and its people will only walk away with increased disgust and/or confirmation.
All that being said, minus an equally comprehensive English alternative amongst Muslim literature, it is indespensible to any student of Muslim history. I gave it a star automatically for the sheer magnitude of what he accomplished, despite mistakes such as the above.
This is my second read (I don't think I completed a first one as I was looking for a more religiously oriented history at the time) and it was recommended to me by a dear friend (along with A History of Arab Peoples - another book which has collected dust on my various book shelves). It is an excellent starting point, but given its length and academic/collegiate style, people who are not interested in history as a discipline may have trouble completing the work and will feel the effects of boredom rather quickly. It isn't one of those books that you can breeze through. His aims in not to entertain, but to inform and I believe the book was written with the specific intention to serve as a university textbook. Of note is his description of the geo-political circumstances which lead to the eventual eclipse of Muslim dominance by a progressive European hegemeny, which seems to be the springboard by which he takes the reader through the rise and fall of the various empires. There is a great deal of emphasis on political and institutional foundations - which again makes the book more of a political science textbook. I imagine that this makes the chapters on the contemporary Muslim world all the more relevant, but that will have to wait until I reach the sections which discuss the contemporary world - God willing.(less)
DISCLAIMER: Because of my own personal affinity to the author and what this book means to me practically, I was hesitant to write anything at all. Wha...moreDISCLAIMER: Because of my own personal affinity to the author and what this book means to me practically, I was hesitant to write anything at all. What follows, therefore, is more of a devotional summary than a literary review.
Shaykh Nuh said this book is part of his legacy and that is indeed what it is. It is composed of three parts, which he titles: Men of the Path, The Way and Bearings.
"Men of the Path" is composed of five original biographies of five Sufis that the author personally met and spent much time in the company of. The first is of his own mentor, Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri. He then gives the biographies of three other Shadhilis connected to Shaykh al-Hashimi (Shaykh Abd al-Wakil Durubi, Shaykh Yunus and Shaykh Adel) and concludes with a biography of his wife's shaykh, Hajji Baba, a traditional old school Turkish Naqshbandi whom he affectionately refers to as "The Last Ottoman". Far from being a simple biography, it contains personal insights and reflections that reveal a level of humanity of the author that is quite refreshing and unusual, though just as instructive.
"The Way" is a re-write of Tariqa Notes and serves a general manual of the Sufi life that the author teaches and lives himself. In addition to the previous material, the author included chapters on family life, past times (i.e. internet usage, restaurants, music, etc.) and friends, each giving injunctions relating directly to one's suluk (spiritual progress). That being said, perhaps the most brilliant aspect of the book is a chapter called "The Shadhili Rule" which is an original point-by-point summary of the path along the lines of Sidi Ahmad Zarruq's Usul al-Tariqa and rivals anything like it that has been written. It is in brief, a code of ethics, simplified and refined, summarizing the entire spiritual travel of the author that is able to be penned. As to the importance and practicality of this section, the author states:
These usul are the basis of tawfiq in this path, and whoever exalts them will find they exalt him. Simply put, the tariqa is a means to raise the veil between the slave and Allah. Its condition is the above rule, which comprises the validity of one's Islamic faith and practice; the traditional Sufi method of knowledge ('ilm), practice ('amal), and resultant spiritual state (hal); and the three great aims of suluk: repentance (tawba), nonattachment to other than Allah (zuhd), and tahqiq al-'ubudiyya or realizing one's slavehood. Allah has created the path, the sheikh and the salik to allow this to happen.
This entire section for aspirants delineates the expectations and goals one should have and for those unfamiliar with the Hashimi Order, lays out what exactly this tariqa thing is all about from an insiders perspective.
Lasty, "Bearings" is a collection of articles that answer what are perhaps the most important (and perhaps most controversial) contemporary theological questions relating to the spiritual life. Of this section perhaps the most profound is a 30-page answer to the issue of theodicy (the problem of evil) from a practical perspective.
In summary, anyone who is interested in what Orthodox Sufism looks like in the 20th century, one could do a lot worse. As for those already connected to the author, it is a manual for what we should be doing and a model of what we should eventually become.(less)
Professor Ehrman writes in a highly accessible and entertaining style. The message is profound: forgery was a widespread practice in Early Christianit...moreProfessor Ehrman writes in a highly accessible and entertaining style. The message is profound: forgery was a widespread practice in Early Christianity - so widespread that in one way or another, it found its way into almost half of the books of the New Testament. But as it is not a new claim, I got the book to serve as a comparison between the canonization of Christian scripture and hadith authentication. With that aim in mind, I appreciate Ehrman's focus on the discipline of textual criticism and how it applies to Christian religious literature. He purposely avoided duplicating his previous works, only mentioning their content as needed to provide examples to demonstrate his contentions.
Having not entirely read his previous works (this is all the local library had in stock at the time), I would imagine it is not as profound or have the shock value of something like Jesus Interrupted or Misquoting Jesus for a general audience. I would also assume that it was written in part as an answer to his critics and for that reason, it will probably not be as well received.
All I can think of when reading this book is the Prophetic curse, "Whoever lies on me, let him take his seat in the Hell-fire" and how fearful the early Muslim community was of making even unintentional mistakes. Much could be said on that topic... Giving the more academic nature of this particular work, I would recommend this as a companion piece to his previous publications. It would be more readily appreciated by people concerned with methodology and jurisprudence - two subjects which bore most people. (less)
I'm too close to this particular publication to give it a proper rating or review, but in a word: it is awesome. The original text is an important sta...moreI'm too close to this particular publication to give it a proper rating or review, but in a word: it is awesome. The original text is an important statement, ranking up there with his Fayasl al-tafriqa which Dr. Sherman Jackson recently translated and published under the title On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam: Abu Hamid Al Ghazali's Faysal Al Tafriqa. They both serve similar ends, though the intent differs.
A Return to Purity in Creed is a cautionary text that sought to remove the unnecessary confusion and complication that colored the discipline of ilm al-kalam in his time. The original title of the work is actually Iljam al-Awwam an Ilm al-Kalam (Restraining the Laity from [Endulging in] Speculative Theology) and it is precisely that. As a polemical treatise, it is important in that this work is considered among Imam al-Ghazali's last and although praised by none other than Ibn Taymiyyah - it nonetheless makes clear what Imam al-Ghazali's final stance on certain matters was. In this, Imam al-Ghazali attempted to reconcile the Traditionalists and Theologians in re-establishing and re-affirming the proper role that ilm al-kalam is supposed to play.
If people in our times would listen to the wisdom and advice that Imam al-Ghazali conveys in both of these works, much of the unnecessary argumentation that ordinary people have no business getting involved in would be resolved (let alone the wreckless takfir). And given those who have praised it, I am only left to wonder if they had in fact read it themselves or are simply parroting the praise of the book by Ibn Taymiyyah - as the claim that this work represents his "repentance" from Ash'ari creed is clearly dubious and they themselves violate many of his injunctions. The Iljaam is a slap on the wrist to both camps and reading it as only as a repudiation of the theologians is a clear mistake.
I am left wondering if part of the problem between the two camps is that the battle-lines were drawn, the gauntlet thrown and sectarian emotion would not allow either side reconcile. Though Ibn Taymiyyah is on record for saying, "After that he (al-Ghazzali) came back to the path of the scholars of hadeeth and wrote Iljaam al-Awwaam an Ilm al-Kalaam", A Return to Purity in Creed reflects clearly the same tenets expressed in the Ihya Ulum al-Din. Thus, this praise by Ibn Taymiyyah is something that I do not believe has been properly explored. But that is a discussion for another day. (less)