In the current political moment there is widespread anti-Muslim rhetoric and it would be easy to conclude that a large portion of white Americans see Islam at odds with American values. But a longer view of history reveals a long-standing appreciation for Islam and even conversion to the tradition among white Americans.
Patrick D. Bowen, and independent scholar, uncovers this rich history in A History of Conversion to Islam in the United States, Volume 1: White American Muslims before 1975 (Brill, 2015). Bowen outlines Americans view Islam in 19th century and early 20th century and demonstrates the various motivations for conversion. Early converts who ‘Turned Turk’ were seen as renegades by most of their peers but the broadening of American liberal religiosity throughout the 19th century fostered further intellectual engagement with the tradition. Early 20th century saw significant changes in the social landscape that shaped conversion. It was now social relationships rather than esoteric interests that aided white Americans in their conversion. Greater contact with immigrant Muslims and greater participation in Islamic organizations, publications, and social activities further increased conversion throughout the second half of the century. Continue reading →
Mayanthi Fernando‘s The Republic Unsettled: Muslim French and the Contradictions of Secularism (Duke University Press, 2014) is an important and provocative book. Drawing on years of field work, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex interactions between religion and politics in contemporary France. Considering the Islamic revival and public debates provoked initially by the “headscarf crisis” of the late 1980s, the book examines the ethical, social, and political lives of the Muslim French men and women whose religiosity is so often regarded as “incommensurable” with the democratic culture and politics of the nation. Continue reading →
by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 7, 2016:
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) was a colossus among Muslim scholars. Stephen Frederic Dale gives us a portrait of this extraordinary man in his new intellectual biography, The Orange Trees of Marrakesh: Ibn Khaldun and the Science of Man (Harvard University Press, 2015). “Ibn Khaldun,” he writes, “created the world’s first known example of historical sociology, a philosophically inspired discipline commonly thought to have originated in Western Europe.”
Dale’s book stands out in the large library of books and studies about Ibn Khaldun for its sharp focus on the philosophical foundations of his work. Philosophy is at the heart of Ibn Khaldun’s method, according to Dale. He states that Ibn Khaldun “forcefully and repeatedly indicates he has adopted Greco-Islamic philosophical ideas and methodology to revolutionize historical research, which he then employs to produce a comprehensive study of North African Muslims in his era.” Continue reading →
In her fascinating new book Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran (Duke University Press, 2015), Afsaneh Najmabadi, Professor of History and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University, explores shifting meanings of transsexuality in contemporary Iran. By brilliantly combining historical and ethnographic inquiry, Najmabadi highlights the complex ways in which biomedical, psychiatric, and Islamic jurisprudential discourses and institutions conjoin to generate particular notions of acceptable and unacceptable sexuality. Moreover, she also shows some of the paradoxical ways in which state regulation enables certain possibilities and spaces for nonheteronormative sexuality in Iran. Continue reading →
Much attention is paid to Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East, especially the contentious role of women’s rights in those countries. Less attention has been paid to Muslim democracies in Africa. Kang’s book focuses on the politics of women’s rights in one such country: Niger. Women’s rights activists in Niger have fought to participate in democratic governance, but haven’t won every recent battle. Kang highlights several successes as well as policy areas where women’s organizations have failed to win policy victories. The book has much to say about social movements and also the evolving way Muslim majority democracies grapple with human rights.