This is by far my favourite biography of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Tariq Ramadan overcomes the problem of different understandings of ac...moreThis is by far my favourite biography of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Tariq Ramadan overcomes the problem of different understandings of actions of the prophet by finding the transcendent moral lessons of his life, not only narrating what happened but detailing spiritual significance and moral implications that are relevant in all times.
It's also a thoroughly European text, by a European scholar, rather than a translation; it rarely uses Arabic words, all excerpts of the Quran are English translations, and is presented with a much more culturally relevant mindset whilst remaining faithful to the facts.The narration differs in minor aspects to other versions of the seerah that I've read before, but the author, as well as being a graduate of Al-Azhar, provides detailed references for each chapter, so I'm not concerned about the accuracy.
I don't often buy books but I'm going to get this one, to make sure I can absorb it fully over time and implement what I've learnt. It's also an ideal first book for a new Muslim, or someone looking to re-connect with the faith, and is guaranteed to make you love the prophet even more. To an outsider looking for an insight into Islam you will fully understand why 3 billion Muslims around the world repeat "May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him" every time his name is mentioned, to this day, 1400 years after his death.(less)
I found this book fascinating. It argues that the theory of contagion can be applied to ideas, and epidemics can be controlled looking at three main l...moreI found this book fascinating. It argues that the theory of contagion can be applied to ideas, and epidemics can be controlled looking at three main laws that govern their spread: The Law of the Few, The Law of Stickiness and the Power of Context.
The first is about the messenger - specifying three types of people who an idea must rely on in order to go from small-scale viral. The connectors, who straddle many different social groups and make 6 degrees of separation possible. The Mavens, experts in a field, who seek andtrade in information. And the persuaders, the natural sales-people.
The second law talks about how some very good ideas or products become massively wide-spread, whilst other equally good ones remain unknown, simply because the way they are presented is less "sticky", and might persuade but fail to inspire action.
The third discusses nature vs nurture and the way the environment can overpower the character of anyone and cause them to behave in certain ways uncharacteristically. It draws on Broken Window Theory for evidence, and applies it to the crime epidemic in New York until the 90s.
These laws, in short, combine to form "tipping points" - the points where a small change in converging factors can cause massive change, even if before that relatively large change does not make a difference. For example, social research on the presence of "high-class" role models in a community and their effect on social issues; if they number between 40% and 5% of the community there is little change, but suddenly if the figure drops 2% below that there is an explosion in drouput rates and a doubling in teenage pregnancy.
The book was short, giving the bare minimum to set out these ideas, and if you're interested you'll be left with many questions (and further research, references are provided). There is so much room to develop them into practical usage, and it's certainly a must for those interested in marketing, or social change.(less)
"How the United States both manipulates and accommodates the principal geostrategic players on the Eurasian chessboard and how it manages Eurasia's ke...more"How the United States both manipulates and accommodates the principal geostrategic players on the Eurasian chessboard and how it manages Eurasia's key geopolitical pivots will be critical to the longevity and stability of America's global primacy."
The most comprehensive geopolitical analysis I've read, it taught me a new way of thinking about international relations as well as strategy. The former National Security Advisor to President Carter charts the most likely directions of the foreign policies of Russia, Central Asia/Eastern Europe, China and Japan over the coming decades, as well as evaluating the probable consequences of each of the options they face. Everything is related back to the interests of America and the potential strategic threats it faces.
The ambition of Russia to exert control and re-consolidate it's empire in Eastern Europe and the competition between it, Turkey, and Iran on influencing the central Asian states; the fine balance between Japan's ambition for a larger global role and provocation of China's growing power; the dilemma China faces in needing America too much to be able to join forces with the other states who resent its power; and America, sitting on top of this intricate web of sometimes mutual interests and tweaking threads to play them against each other in an effort to maintain it's precarious position.
He offers suggestions regarding the widening of the EU and NATO to tie Russia more closely to Europe and consolidate democracy, as well as the independance of post-soviet states. He also talks about bringing Turkey into Europe to ensure it's compliance (although the worst-case scenario he identifies, rejection and increasing Islamic character, has come to pass). Interestingly, he also states that it is not in American's interest to perpetuate hostility with Iran - showing not only that they do not control all of the strands, but also that they are incredibly adaptable. Japan should remain under US protection in order to prevent a remilitarisation which would threated china, and should reconciliate with Korea, which China has no reason to wish to see independent at present. However, attempts to "contain" China should be avoided, as it's emergence is inevitable though overstated, he claims.
Whilst justifying the unique role America plays in maintaining the global order, and emphasising its unique responsibility given realities, but asserting that America will be not only the first but the last global superpower, working towards a future of more shared responsibilities and no single global power. The ambition for continued global hegemony over the next few decades is laid out completely unapologetically - the struggles for strategic control, involvement in affairs that by the author's own admission do not hold any interest for the US merely because the nudge of an insignificant pawn today can have reprecussions decades down the line, limiting options, cornering potential alternative powers, co-opting rivals and continuing American geopolitical primacy for at least another generation on the Grand Chessboard.(less)
An incredible adventure. In the 1930s Knud Holmboe sets out from Morocco for hajj, having been persuaded to make the journey by car in order to see th...moreAn incredible adventure. In the 1930s Knud Holmboe sets out from Morocco for hajj, having been persuaded to make the journey by car in order to see the civilization through Arab eyes. Advice he is given: Try to avoid the war going on in the area between Tripoli and Egypt...and wear Arabic clothes! “Because I believe that you can be happy if you live according to the teaching of the prophet Muhammad and the prophet Isa (Jesus).”
"Because Islam is clarity itself. By following its rules you get nearer to God than through any other religion."
“Because I believe Islam to be the true Christianity.”
The writer's voice feels incredibly genuine, and his quaint explanations of Islam are very touching. It doesn't explain his journey to the faith, but he has to continuously explain to people along the way that he has "joined Islam" and speaks Atabic, and is often treated with great suspicion by the natives (as well as perplexment by westerners) until he reveals that he knows a few Arabic suras (chapters of the Qur'an) by heart - "a practice that is not very common among the Algerian population".
Almost everywhere he goes, this white European convert is asked to read from his copy of the Qur'an to the natives. At one point it saves him from being killed after being mistaken for an Italian spy. Another time, he finds an isolated settlement which has been unable to bury a dead man as nobody knows "the death sura", and he is thanked profusely for leading the prayer and thus facilitating the funeral.
Ya-Sin (chapter 36 of the Qur'an) is repeatedly referred to as "the death sura", a reminder of the fascinating period in which colonialism has uprooted knowledge and Islam had faded almost to a cultural memory. All manner of fascinating unorthodox religious practices which no longer exist in Libya are described.
After suffering countless vehicle breakdowns and almost dying in the desert he reaches Cyrenaica which, unlike Tripolitania (western Libya), still has a fierce resistance ongoing in the green mountain led by Omar al-Mukhtar. He encounters Italian bureaucracy intent on preventing him from continuing his journey by land, and as the Graziani campaign is beginning and the rare administrators who see Arabs as human beings are being sidelined, he is struck by the arrogance of the colonialists and their disregard for the humanity or natural rights of the native population.
"Get to know them better and you will find that the Arabs are a lot of uncivilized wretches who put as many obstacles as possible in our way, now that we are trying to build up in the country...Has such a gang of dirty creatures the right to live when they are depriving a young active nation of all the essential conditions of life?”
Slowly gaining sympathy as he travels through an eastern Libya in which the Italians use planes, gas attacks and machine guns to ravage the population. He sees bedouins forced into pens and concentration camps, executed daily for as much as communicating with their relatives is the mountains. Struck by the brutality, and knowing that all Europe is being told is that the peaceful Italians are being attacked by savage Arabs on their civilising mission, he resolves to write about it and inform the world.
Encountering the Islamic revivalist movement of the Sennusis, which resonates with him, and hearing tragic stories of the freedom fighters in the mountains and their reasons for fighting, he eventually announces his rejection of the European model of civilisation, solely focussed on industrial and material development, for that of "the Orient" - of Sufism and spiritual focus.
He eventually meets the future King of Libya, and informs him that as he left, all Senussi mosques in eastern Libya were being shut down by the Italians.
Sidi Senoussi looked at me sharply. “do you know the teaching of the Senoussi?”
“I have embraced Islam, and I have heard much about your teaching, but I have not myself studied it,” I replied.
“The Senoussi only aim at piety and nobility of heart. And how small this be attained? By excluding everything but God from our thoughts, by moderation, and by abstaining from all enjoyments which do not bring us nearer God.”
“Why then do the Italians take action against the Senoussi?”
“Because the man who follows our teaching becomes healthy in body and mind. The Italians are interested in making the entire population of Cyrenaica degenerate, as in so many places in the world of Islam. If that happens the Italian civilization can advance more rapidly. So long as our teaching rules it will not happen.”
By far the best travel-writing I have read, and one of the best for a view of historical Libya. A beautiful account which filled me with nostalgia for a world long gone, and excitement for the same Ibn Battuta-esque journey across North Africa I have wanted to make for several years.(less)
A friend of mine summarised it best when he called it "uncanny". The author's ability to get into your head, to blur the lines so that emotion seeps f...moreA friend of mine summarised it best when he called it "uncanny". The author's ability to get into your head, to blur the lines so that emotion seeps from the book into you, is uncanny.
The premise of the book, which the title alludes to, is that in the author's apartment there is a conference of books where the Islamic civilisation convenes nightly. Voices of geniuses and giants long dead debate from their covers, and his role as keeper of the conference is to chronicle this until such a time that Muslims are ready to reclaim their intellectual heritage.
The book consists of 85 essays, varying in length between a page and around 15, mostly personal reflections of the author. Some of them address personal experiences, including his studies with sheikhs in Egypt, living under a totalitarian regime and the arrests and torture of numerous teachers and friends. Others deal with issues of importance to the Muslim community, particularly treatment of women, domestic violence, abuse of scripture and authority by religious leadership, islamophobia, ignorance and the dearth of serious Islamic scholarship today.
He pulls no punches in those essays which are bitter and mocking polemics against religious literalists. Others are highly technical; coming from his position as an accomplished expert in Islamic law himself he either systematically demolishes their positions on a particular issue (as he does in his book The Authoritative and the Authoritarian) or shows the ludicrous inadequacy of legalism. Sometimes the essays read like a tragic farce. Sometimes they are elating. Offence, betrayal and outrage. Sorrow. Serenity. Soaring joy. All are emotions that Khaled Abou El Fadl communicates exquisitely in his uniquely beautiful prose, and the intensity is such that it is one of the few books to have ever made me cry.(less)
The aim of this book is ambitious: to come up with a comprehensive theory as to why some nations are rich and some are poor today. And the authors suc...moreThe aim of this book is ambitious: to come up with a comprehensive theory as to why some nations are rich and some are poor today. And the authors succeed brilliantly; it's probably the best thing since Ibn Khaldun. Their theory links economic and political change and shows why each happened throughout history and how they impacted each other.
Central to the book is the concept of extractive institutions - these are institutions which are designed to extract political power or wealth from the majority of the population and concentrate it with a minority. They trace these institutions through history, showing the slow drift between the way they worked in different societies around the world and the way critical junctures (such as the black death, the collapse of the Roman empire, the development of Atlantic trade) interacted differently with these institutions because of the drift, leading them to collapse in some countries and become strengthened elsewhere.
This can be mapped very closely to the historical process by which many regions of the world came to be lagging behind Western Europe and America in the 20-21st century even though for most of history it had been the reverse. The theory explains how certain critical junctures led to inclusive institutions developing to replace extractive ones in western Europe rather than the rest of the world, and why ultimately the UK became the birthplace of the industrial revolution and not anywhere else in the world.
The great value of this theory is that it entirely discredits other theories as to why certain countries didn't develop, most of which rest either on poor premises (environmental inferiority, poor climate for living/farming), or on discriminatory ones such as inferiority of culture or certain societies being inherently better. Instead, although the way the world developed is historically contingent it is only through the tiniest of differences and sometimes even coincidences that Europe ended up colonising the rest of the world and plunging it into sustained poverty through strengthening their extractive institutions, and it wasn't, say, Peru that did this. It also disproves the idea in modern neoliberal circles that countries remain poor simply because they do not know how to manage their economies, and only need policy advice in order to modernise and become prosperous. Instead, they show a consistent pattern throughout history in which those in power manage to thwart the development of a dynamic economy because of the fear that the creative destruction it would bring would ruin them, and the more open opportunities for wealth would allow power to be exercised by someone outside their narrow group. This is why railways were discouraged and prevented in Russia and Austria-Hungary for so long, why the Ottomans prevented the use of the printing press and why before the glorious revolution elites in England refused to allow the adoption of technology in industry even when it was invented and ready to be used.
The authors are master story tellers, managing to dispense with the main bits of theory quite early in the book and spending the rest of it developing a highly enjoyable narrative showing the applicability of their theory and its explanatory success on societies through history including the Roman empire, the Ottoman empire, Venice, the Spanish Empire, Britain, USA, Latin America, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Botswana. This edifice of precedents in which the theory fits perfectly is extremely convincing, and challenges you to look for your own examples elsewhere. I only give 5 starts to a book that was paradigm-changing, and this was definitely one of them.(less)
The best thing I've read on what an "Islamic state" looks like. Beginning with a historic view, it concisely explains in terms of political theory and...moreThe best thing I've read on what an "Islamic state" looks like. Beginning with a historic view, it concisely explains in terms of political theory and separation of powers how the original system during the Islamic caliphate worked, with shari'a acting as an unwritten constitution and the scholarly class being an (informal) check on the powers of the executive, from whom the judiciary were appointed. The second part then delves into precisely how this went wrong, leading to the downfall of the Ottoman empire.
In the final part he analyzes the shape of the state which modern Islamist movements advocate, how it would function, and the reasons for its lasting appeal in the Islamic world. It's a refreshing and nuanced analysis lacking in prejudice or fear-mongering, well-researched historically and avoiding the pitfalls most contemporary commentators make when discussing Islamic political movements. I recommend it to anyone who's interested in the convergence of Islam and politics, and its aim for the future.(less)
This book takes the form of an account of the author's interactions over the course of a few weeks with Lenny, an ambitious and driven salesman who ha...moreThis book takes the form of an account of the author's interactions over the course of a few weeks with Lenny, an ambitious and driven salesman who has a business idea and needs venture capital. It was full of insights from his work in Silicon Valley as a start-up incubator - a consultant and advisor to entrepreneurs founding a company. Not very technical, only briefly touching on business concepts, but very meta-business; he discusses over-arching concepts and attitude do's and don'ts of going into business (doing it for the money, surprisingly, being a massive no).
It was a great insight into the lifestyle that comes with the territory, and prompts introspection and self-understanding. There are more reasons someone would want to start a company than you'd expect, and he greatly emphasises higher purposes, including the social impact entrepreneurship can have. Randy has a simple and flowing writing style, but this isn't wishy-washy like other similar literature - it changed some of my perspectives. And the author has credibility as a man who's "been there and done that", with legal counsel for Apple, CEO of LucasArts, CFO of GO Corp and founding director of TiVo as some of his credentials.(less)