Imperial Cities of Morocco by Mohomed Metalsi, Cecile Treal, Jean-Michel Ruiz is a wonderful collection of photographs of architectural landmarks in F...moreImperial Cities of Morocco by Mohomed Metalsi, Cecile Treal, Jean-Michel Ruiz is a wonderful collection of photographs of architectural landmarks in Fes, Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat in Morocco. Introductory text accompanies the photos. If you are traveling to these places or simply like architecture, check this book out. If you're exhibiting something related to Morocco or screening the film Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World, have this book for the public to thumb through. If you have an office with a waiting area, this would be a good book for that as well.(less)
I first heard about Edward Osborne ("E.O.") Wilson from a 2007 interview with Bill Moyers.
This is another of the books on science I've discussed. As I...moreI first heard about Edward Osborne ("E.O.") Wilson from a 2007 interview with Bill Moyers.
This is another of the books on science I've discussed. As I was listening to it, I wondered what humans fifty years from now, assuming humanity survives, will think about the humans who preferred acquiring consumer goods over preserving our planet's biodiversity? Or worse, the humans who were too busy killing each other, most assuredly for justifiable reasons, to notice that the planet was preparing to cull its most destructive species, home sapiens? Or even more unfathomable, large swaths of humanity spent all their time and effort worrying about which humans were indeed closer to God and immersed themselves in endless disputes over texts whose authors would be horrified that their works were cited as reasons for ego-assuaging religious one-upmanship.
In high school, I dabbled in forensic 2-peson policy debate. Every policy (or failure to enact a policy) would result in global thermonuclear war or species extinction, and it was a toss-up which one was worse. This book helps you understand why species extinction is happening, the incredibly serious consequences for the viability of the human species, the extent of aesthetic loss in our lives and efforts and strategies which show the greatest promise in slowing the rate of species extinction.
There were a few points which stuck in my craw, and I list them here with the caveat that I'm no specialist or expert.
The underlying assumption of the range of solutions is that no solution which challenges the dominance of techno-capitalism is viable. In fact, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, through their participation in reserve-creating non-governmental organizations, in some of which Professor Wilson participated. The world's poor are a threat to be managed. He doesn't say this, but their only agency in this story is that they stop reproducing so quickly and that they accept NGO bribes to preserve their forests.
I would have liked Professor Wilson to mention that the United States and other governments of the industrialized nations support the militaries which protect the oligarchies and multi-national corporations which plunder the resources of the planet, suppress indigenous peoples and labor unions and perpetuate poverty, when these governments are not knee-deep in wars and occupation in mineral-rich regions of Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Nevertheless, I do believe doing something is better than doing nothing, and it seems like our ecological consciousness had not matured to the point where we can set our thermostats to 68 in winter, stop eating industrially-produced poultry or even deep-sea drilling after BP's disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. So maybe the best we can do for now is praise the super-rich.
Note that I have not even fully implemented a recycling program at my house, so the preceding passages were quite a hypocritical rant!
Despite these reservations about Professor Wilson's presentation of political economy, this book is tremendously important for its presentation to the layman of the ecological situation and the components of an environmental ethic which would lay the foundation for changing human behavior.
One of the motivations I had for this blog is guiding people to good introductory materials for non-Muslims to learn about Islam. If we can call books...moreOne of the motivations I had for this blog is guiding people to good introductory materials for non-Muslims to learn about Islam. If we can call books like Suzanne Haneef's What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims the first generation of Muslims' attempts to educate non-Muslims about Islam using contemporary English and mass, high-quality publications, Dr. Mattson's book represents a new generation of mass outreach books.
"First" generation books typically avoided difficult issues such as sectarian splits, slavery, marginalization of women and values not held by liberal European and American audiences. The authors were more concerned with filling a void of ignorance with a general, positive impression of Muslims.
The flood of pseudo-scholarship post September 11, 2001 about Islam has reduced the effectiveness of these first generation books by claiming to tell readers about Islam through out-of-context quotes from individual Muslims and scriptures. Anybody who has actually attempted to refute this kind of literature knows the frustration of attempting to counter a simplistic, positivistic, non-contextual 2-3 line quote with the 2-3 pages of necessary technical discourse. I believe we should adopt the phrase Dr. Mattson uses to describe these critics of Muslims: "non-Muslim Islamic fundamentalists." (p. vi)
What I'm calling "second" generation Muslim mass outreach books is characterized by starting from a more-or-less manageable topic, which may or may not be the object of United States or Muslim culture wars, and telling a story of how contemporary Muslims came to hold beliefs on that topic and adopt practices related to it. These books are characterized by a degree of accssible scholarship which, while not cutting edge for scholars in the field, causes the general reader to hesitate from adopting a "fundamentalist", unsophisticated, fossilized, ahistorical position based on reading statements such as "Islam advocates X" or "The Quran says X." The reader comes to appreciate that Muslims have cultural and intellectual history, just like other religious groups, and that revelation, reason, socio-economic factors, historical events and outstanding individuals have all played roles in shaping that history.
I think a good example of this distinction is Martin Lings's tremendous book, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. I'd classify this, with reservations, as a "first" generation book, because it does not go into the dialogical process by which Muslims came to view the Messenger Muhammad salla Allah alayhi wa sallam. It does not discuss the factors which caused al-Qadi `Iyad to write al-Shifa, and how his ideas dominated pre-modern Muslim thinking about the topic, despite the existence and persistence of alternatives. This first generation book is unique in that Martin Lings did not allow contemporary concerns to dominate the narrative, and this independence and authenticity to the traditional Muslim viewpoint is why I still recommend this book over other English biographies of the Messenger salla Allah alayhi wa sallam.
Dr. Mattson's book, therefore, will not be a simple read for the reader who wants a simple answer to the question, "Does the Quran instruct Muslims to kill non-Muslims indiscriminately?" The reader must enter the book either seeking to understand the Quran as a Muslim does or develop that desire (or else skip to Chapter 5, which of course I don't recommend!). Chapters 1 and 2 try to convey what it means to have God speaking to humans through a messenger whom God has commanded to convey His religion. Chapter 3 details the attempts Muslims have made to preserve this speech from that time fourteen centuries ago until our time. Chapter 4 shows how the speech and its written pneumonic aids function in Muslims' architecture, ritual life and popular culture. These chapters distinguish Dr. Mattson's book from the discourse which constrains itself to the contemporary audience's concerns, thereby entrenching the concerns and never guiding them to more productive questions. The problem with simply answering "Does the Quran instruct Muslims to kill non-Muslims indiscriminately?" either affirmatively or negatively is that it neither opens a door for the non-Muslim religious seeker to see the religious value of the Quran nor does it open a door for the ardent non-seeker to come to an accomodation with his/her Muslim neighbors who want to build a masjid next door, sacrifice animals for the eid or take time off work for jumu'a or pilgrimage.
A particularly effective technique Dr. Mattson uses in these chapters is illustrating how these aspects of Muslim cultural and religiously history appear in contemporary life. She relates the story of a Chicagoan Muslima named Reem who acquired an ijaza to read the Qur'an just like the people we read about in the musty books which express this history. She tries to convey to the reader how the Qur'an is perceived aurally. She tried to explain how Guantanamo Bay prisoners could be more concerned with the mistreatment of the mushaf than their own mistreatment. She gave examples of how the words of the Quran are used in medicine, social occasions such as births, deaths and weddings, and even naming children.
For the impatient and polemical, chapters 5 and 6 more directly answer the demands of contemporary audiences. But here again, Dr. Mattson takes the reader (gently) through the development of Qur'anic hermeneutics. In this, she echoes the writings of many good authors such as Mohammad Hashim Kamali, John Obert Voll, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Wael B. Hallaq and some new publications from the International Institute of Islamic Thought. The reader is forced to reject absolute certainty in facile interpretations of multi-faceted issues, such as "Islam liberates women" and "Islam subjugates non-Muslims."
Chapter 6, "Listening for God," is a beautiful explanation of the tension between charismatic and gnostic religious authority for Qur'an interpretation and scholastic hermeneutical methods and the tension between elitist and (my terms) instictive, humane or fitri interpretation. Elites struggle among themselves to choose scholastic or gnostic methods, but it is "only with such accountability [to the greater community] and oversight that any sector of Muslim society can carry and trasmit the values their community ascribes to the Qur'an." Dr. Mattson goes on to note that "Ordinary people will never demand such accountability, however, if they do not have a certain level of confidence in their convictions and courage to articulate them. This is why we need not only to study the history of the dominant leaders and institutions in Muslim societies, but also to search for the voices of marginalized individuals and grouops - to see how they articulated and maintained their faith when they had little power." (p. 226) Yet, all involved in the interpretive project must do so in community and with introspection to avoid distortions resulting from each person's individual emotional scars and secular self-interest.
Lastly, each chapter has endnotes. The book has a bibliography, glossary and index.
I first must say that this is the first review I’ve done of a book by an author who openly questions things that are widely-held tenets of Muslims suc...moreI first must say that this is the first review I’ve done of a book by an author who openly questions things that are widely-held tenets of Muslims such as the divine origin of the Qur’an, its complete transmission to us today, the infallibility of the Messenger Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم , the necessity of obeying the shari’ah (doing the ritual prayers, avoiding the consumption of prohibited items such as wine, etc.) and the reality of the Day of Judgment. While I do believe in these statements and I hope that one day my actions catch up with them, I have felt for a long time the necessity of embracing those who don’t subscribe to these items.
The first benefit of embracing these people is that they often are producers in their societies, meaning driving them away impoverishes the nation. How many cities in the United States thrive because of concentrations of gays and lesbians? Did not Iran lose a lot when so many Iranians left the country after the 1979 revolution? And while there are many reasons people leave predominantly Muslim countries, there’s no need to add repression to that list.
Second, and more importantly, the energy we “orthodox” Muslims spend discussing the errors of their ways distracts us from improving ourselves. We can even get to the point where we think attacking the kāfir, zindīq and fāsiq is a substitute for good deeds. When I was in Egypt and would read in the paper of a mob attack on Christians, I often suspected that the very people who would rush to “defend” Islam by attacking Christians may never have done a rak`a. Or at least I could not imagine how someone with an iota of fear of Allah could participate in these activities.