By NABIL MATAR for INSIGHT TURKEY, JANUARY 14, 2013
Britain and the Muslim World: Historical Perspectives
Edited by: Gerald MacLean
This book shows how much opportunity the field of Anglo-Islamic studies still offers future scholars. Based on papers that were presented at a wonderful three-day conference held at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in April 2009, this collection brings together a wide range of topics. The papers are organized chronologically, and, like all collections produced after conferences, vary in approach, originality and scope. Given Britain’s extensive historical, cultural, commercial, and religious interactions with various parts of the Islamic world, from the early modern period until today, the essays point in different directions, from an interesting discussion of Lady Wortley Montagu’s son (by Bernadette Andrea) to the manner in which Muslims are portrayed on British television (by Peter Morey whose discussion has now morphed into a full-length book with Amina Yaqin, Framing Muslims) and the role that Muslim women play in today’s Cardiff, a city taken as a case study (by Marta Warat) to the BBC’s biased coverage of the Middle East (by Tim Llewellyn, whose book, Spirit of the Phoenix, was released in 2010).
Such a wide scope is a bit bewildering, but also inevitable in a book that attempts to sweep through four centuries of history. At the same time, it is eye-opening because it shows that there is much interesting work on literary texts as well as on portraits (such as the excellent study of Robert and Teresa Sherley by Kate Arthur), and Owen Jones’s diagrams and designs (by Abraham Thomas). And while some essays show the continuity of scholarship from earlier publications, others point in new directions. Ziad Elmarsafy discusses the English translations of the Qur’an, addressing some of the criticisms that has been leveled at them. He argues, cogently, for separating the quality of the translation from what sometimes is seen as their purported ideological biases, and concludes with a wish: notwithstanding his (and my) admiration for Tarif Khalidi’s recent Penguin translation, he believes there should be a committee of scholars to undertake a translation on the scale of the Jerusalem Bible translation.