John Renard
John Renard

Islamic theology is generally understood or approached in terms of its systematic or speculative forms. In Islamic Theological Themes: A Primary Source Reader (University of California Press, 2014), John Renard, Professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University, has produced a collection of primary sources that thinks through theological deliberation far beyond the narrow strictures of kalam. 51N6Tkri8UL._SL160_This inclusive model is both chronologically expansive and geographically diverse. Renard offers relevant passages from the Qur’an and hadith, the tafsir tradition, narrative histories, manuals of moral direction, texts from spiritual guidance, creedal statements, and political theology.

All of these sources are artfully introduced leading the reader through the diversity of the Islamic tradition. In our conversation we discussed human responsibility, the nature of God, the evaluation of non-Muslim beliefs, what merits community membership, the spiritual journey, functions of poems, stories, and letters, Iblis, mercy and justice, political succession, governance, and questions of leadership, and the social consequences of theological thinking. Continue reading


A recommended selection of books forthcoming in early 2015:

sultan_smThe Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars, by Youssef Rakha, trans. Paul Starkey. Interlink.

A ground-breaking title. From the publisher:

It’s hard to imagine a debut more thrilling than Youssef Rakha’s groundbreaking The Book of the Sultan’s Seal. The novel is made up of nine chapters, each centered on a drive our hero, Mustafa Çorbacı, takes around greater Cairo—city of post-9/11 Islam. In a series of visions, Çorbacı encounters the spirit of the last Ottoman sultan and embarks on a mission the sultan assigns him. Çorbacı’s trials shed light on the contemporary Arab Muslim’s desperation for a sense of identity: The Book of the Sultan’s Seal is both a suspenseful, erotic, riotous novel and an urgent, unparalleled examination of accounts of Muslim demise.

Oh, Salaam! by Najwa Barakat; trans. Luke Leafgren. Interlink.

ohI’m still not entirely sold on the English title, but a great book in great translation:

Najwa Barakat’s Oh, Salaam! tells the story of three friends—an explosives expert, a sniper, and a torturer—whose lives are transformed by their involvement in a civil war in an unnamed Arab country, and by their relationship with the novel’s anti-heroine, Salaam. Two of the friends live to see the end of the war but struggle to survive the arrival of peace and to make a life for themselves in a society that has no use for ex-paramilitaries. As the characters seek to find love, make it rich, or get out of the country alive, they use and torment each other, revealing the ultimate consequences of war and gender violence in a “city that no longer resembles itself.”

Read an excerpt from Barakat’s The Bus of Good People, also trans. Leafgren.

Continue reading

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Islamic Studies Professor Carl W. Ernst has shared the beginning of the draft with TIRN. The entire draft can be accessed on his website

by CARL W. ERNST (draft prepared for Duke University Arabic Halaqa on December 8, 2014): 

Carl Ernst
Carl Ernst

(EXCERPT) The early Sufi movement arose in the society of the `Abbasid Empire, an environment that by the late ninth century was saturated with the culture of Arabic literature. Poetry had been enormously important for the pre-Islamic Arabs, and it continued to serve as a powerful means of communication both in the heartland of the caliphate and in the far-flung provinces from North Africa to central Asia. It is not surprising to find that the mystics resorted to the dense literary medium of poetry to convey both deep emotion and abstract insight. Poetry became a natural ancillary to the exposition of Sufi discourse on the soul and its experiences, and it was pervasive in Sufi discourse. As Sarraj related,

I heard al-Wajihi say, I heard al-Tayalasi al-Razi say, I visited Israfil, the teacher of Dhu al-Nun (may God have mercy on them both), and he was sitting and drumming his fingers on the ground, chanting something to himself. When he saw me, he said, “Can you recite something beautiful?” I said, “No.” He replied, “You have no heart.”[1]

Arabic verses are sprinkled liberally in the collections of Sufi teachings that emerged in the late 10th-century works of Sulami, Sarraj, Kalabadhi, Khargushi, and Sirjani. The Baghdadian Sufi Ja`far al-Khuldi claimed that he knew by heart the collected poems of 130 Sufis.[2] Many of the verses quoted in early Sufi writings, when they are not anonymous, are credited to the famous pioneers of Baghdadian Sufism, including Junayd, Abu `Ali al-Rudhbari, Sari al-Saqati, Abu al-Husayn al-Nuri, Sumnun al-Muhibb, and others. Surprisingly, this body of Arabic mystical poetry has received very little scholarly attention.

One of the problems in the study of early Sufi poetry is related to a widespread tendency to identify this mystical tradition primarily with its Iranian and Indian examples, in contrast to the supposedly inferior spiritual and intellectual capacities of the Semitic races, particularly the Arabs. This attitude was an example of the larger prejudice against Arabic poetry, which many Orientalist scholars considered to be extravagant and lacking in literary merit.[3] In part this opinion could be charitably interpreted as a result of the widespread recent popularity of the Persian poetry Rumi, which tends to eclipse other figures in Sufi tradition. Continue reading

Academic publication introduces readers to the history of Islam in Nigeria, and tackles the Boko Haram insurgency; internal splits of the Salafi movement in Nigeria; dynamics generated by the mobilization for ‘political Sharia’ in the years 2000s; contemporary and varied Islamic movements and trends (Tijaniyya, Salafism, Shiism) that are the protagonists of a constant (and usually non-violent) competition for religious space; the dynamics of the ‘sacred space’ of the mosque; overviews of Islamic writings and of contemporary pop-culture, and more. 



arton410The twelfth issue of ARIA - Annual Review of Islam in Africa (formerly ARISA – Annual Review of Islam in South Africa) is published as a special issue on “Islam in Nigeria.” (ANNUAL REVIEW OF ISLAM IN SOUTH AFRICA • ISSUE NO. 12/1 • 2013-2014)

The full “Islam in Nigeria” issue (hard copy), can be ordered by contacting Cathlene Dollar ([email protected]). To access and download past articles in the Review see HERE or here: Below is an editorial summary of the issue and list of contributors. 


Its publication was about to be announced at the beginning of 2014, when the sudden increase in the intensity and brutality of the ‘Boko Haram’ crisis prompted us to postpone its release in order to host more contributions on the topic. Having sacrificed punctuality for scientific comprehensiveness, we hope we are now able to offer our readers a mix of articles that capture at least some of the complexity of the drama that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and for too many Nigerians, inside their very lives.

Even though this particular issue is the fruit of the collaboration of one of the editors with a number of Nigerian colleagues, this is also the occasion to announce the constitution of a new editorial board, composed of Andrea Brigaglia (University of Cape Town), Muhammed Haron (University of Botswana) and Mauro Nobili (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). This editorial board will be responsible for a second, forthcoming issue (12/2, 2013-2014), as well as — we hope—of a number of future ones. With the constitution of this new board, we believe that the transition from the South African focus of the first series of the Review, to a broader, continental one, started with the 2008-2009 volume, can now be considered as definitively accomplished. Continue reading


These articles are freely available until 31 January 2015!*

Islamic Law in the Modern World
Author: Aharon Layish
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 276-307)

An Epistemic Shift in Islamic Law
Author: Aria Nakissa
Islamic Law and Society, (Volume 21, No. 3, pp. 209-251)

Reconstructing Archival Practices in Abbasid Baghdad
Author: Maaike van Berkel
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 7-22)

The Early Ḥanafiyya and Kufa
Author: Christopher Melchert
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 23-45)

The Prayers of Abū Muslim and al-Maʾmūn. An Exercise in Dating Ḥadīth
Author: Stijn Aerts
Journal of Abbasid Studies, (Volume 1, No. 1, pp. 66-83) Continue reading