by ELLIOTT BAZZANO for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on MAY 4, 2016:

Asma Afsaruddin
Asma Afsaruddin

Unknown-1As the title of the monograph suggests, Contemporary Issues in Islam (Edinburgh University Press, 2015) by Asma Afsaruddin, guides the reader through an organized and compelling narrative of reflections on hot-button topics in the modern world. The monograph offers a provocative balance of historical contextualization, close reading of texts, review of key scholars, and political analysis. Given its treatment of topics such as Islamic law, gender, international relations, and interfaith dialogue, the book should prove useful in a graduate or undergraduate context–either as a whole or as individual chapters–particularly as a conversation starter, given the depths to which each chapter points. Although the scope of the book may appear ambitious, Professor Afsaruddin is well-equipped to manage the breadth of her study into a concise, lucid, and well written text. Given her research background in jihad and violence as well as Quranic hermeneutics, moreover, Contemporary Issues in Islam is a mature work that reflects decades of careful research and intellectual synthesis with ample attention to both primary and secondary literature. The monograph will likely appeal not only to scholars and students in religious studies and Islamic studies, but also political science and history as well as journalists.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW WITH AFSARUDDIN

In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project of which TIRN is a part), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.

Shrine of Cheikh Moussa Kamara. (photo by Mbaye Lo)
Shrine of Cheikh Moussa Kamara. (photo by Mbaye Lo)

a Scholar’s Notebook feature 

by MBAYE LO for ISLAMiCommentary on APRIL 19, 2016:

Professor Mbaye Lo (far right) with some acquaintances in Fuuta Toro
Professor Mbaye Lo (far right) with some acquaintances in Fuuta Toro (photo courtesy of Mbaye Lo)

After 15 hours of traveling by buses, taxis and horse-drawn carriages, I finally arrived at a border village on the bank of the river that divides Senegal and Mauritania. The village of Ganguel Soulé is located in Fuuta Toro, a West African region of cultural influence, learning and resilience. This is the land that produced the family of *Cheikh Usman dan Fodio, the 18th century leader of Nigeria’s Islamic revival movement and the founder the Sokoto Caliphate in Northern Nigeria. (henceforth the French spelling of Sheikh - Cheikh - will be used)

From this land also came Abdoul Kader Kane (d.1807), founder of the Almamate dynasty that sought to put an end to the Atlantic slave trade by imposing martial control of European ships passing through their territories. Cheikh el-Hadji Omar Tall, the last leader of the jihad movements against the French West Africa Federation project in 1850s also hailed from here. Fuuta Toro is also likely to be the birthplace of Omar Ibn Said, the Muslim American slave whose Arabic autobiography serves as a valuable sourcebook for antebellum black writing and history.

My visit here had both an academic and personal purpose. My mother’s side of the family is from Fuuta, and it was never clear to us growing-up why my ancestral great-great-grandfather left this region of Fuuta Toro in the early nineteenth century to move to the most western region known as Kajoor. Most aspects of family oral history talk about the devastation caused by Kane’s resistance against the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. However, these issues are considered long-gone memories that people are neither interested nor comfortable remembering. Only a few Senegalese academics, for example Ibrahima Seck, are spending their lives looking at the local and cross-continental intricacies of the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

My host, Cernoo Kamara, wasn’t interested in yesterday’s questions either. He is a marabou (a sufi religious leader) who has become accustomed to silence, and people around him are also used to him speaking only in time of extreme need.

“Welcome home,” he murmured when his personal driver picked me up at the bank of the river. (“Birds also go home when is dark-out there,” were his last few words as we parted later that night.)

“This is a house of service: reading and writing,” he told me early the next day as he walked me through the compound of his esteemed grandfather Cheikh Moussa Kamara. There were books, clusters of old papers, and manuscripts everywhere. Kids from the neighborhood were up at dawn rehearsing the sacred text at the compound’s Quranic school before breakfast and regular schooling. Continue reading

Mary and Jesus in Persian miniature (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Mary and Jesus in Persian miniature (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

compiled by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary on DECEMBER 22, 2015: 

Zeki Saritoprak
Zeki Saritoprak

41JOC1bsy7L._SL160_Islam’s Jesus (Interview with Zeki Saritoprak by Elliott Bazzano, New Books in Islamic Studies, December 17, 2015)In Islam’s Jesus (University of Florida Press, 2015), Zeki Saritoprak explores an old topic from a fresh perspective. The status of Jesus in Islam has been of interest for centuries, and relates to both Christianity and Islam, but the level of synthesis that Professor Saritoprak’s monograph offers is remarkable.

He draws on a variety of Islamic literature, including commentaries on the Qur’an, works of theology, and collections of prophetic sayings. Moreover, he surveys not only the vast Arabic sources on his topic but also Turkish sources, and his research covers multiple schools of thought and time periods. Another hallmark of the monograph is the attention it gives to Jesus’ role in Islamic eschatology. Notably, Saritoprak demonstrates how mainstream as well as lesser known Islamic discourses on eschatology encompass numerous hermeneutical strategies; some, for example, understand the descent of Jesus as a physical phenomenon while others understand it as a non-material, spiritual phenomenon. The book highlights a number of other competing discourses as well, which are likely to challenge and even surprise the reader. The author’s clear writing style, combined with meticulous attention to scholarly rigor and textual engagement, makes the text accessible to a range of readers, which should render it useful to general audiences, as well as scholars of eschatology, Christian-Muslim relations, and Qur’anic studies. LISTEN TO INTERVIEW HERE

In September 2014 the Duke Islamic Studies Center (which manages the Transcultural Islam Project, which includes TIRN and ISLAMiCommentary), announced its official institutional affiliation with New Books in Islamic Studies — a bi-weekly audio podcast featuring hour long conversations with authors of exciting new research. For an archive see HERE.

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05-110Jesus in the Quran: Pious, Obedient, Favored Servant of God (Francis X. Clooney, American Magazine, December 21, 2015): EXCERPT: Then God will say, “O Jesus son of Mary! Remember My Blessing upon thee, and upon thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit, that you mightest speak to people in the cradle and in maturity; and when I taught thee the Book, the Wisdom, the Torah, and the Gospel;” and how thou wouldst create out of clay the shape of a bird, by My Leave; and how though wouldst breathe into it, and it would become a bird, by My Leave; and thou wouldst heal the blind and the leper, by My Leave; and thou wouldst bring forth the dead, by My Leave; and how I restrained the Children of Israel from thee, when thou didst bring the clear proofs, and those disbelieved among them said, “This is naught but manifest sorcery.” And when I inspired the apostles to believe in Me and in My messenger, they said, “We believe. Bear witness that we are submitters.” (5:110-111) KEEP READING

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., is the Parkman Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, where he has taught since 2005, after teaching for 21 years at Boston College. Since 2010 he is the Director of Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions. Continue reading

by ALEX MASSAD for NEW BOOKS IN ISLAMIC STUDIES on NOVEMBER 15, 2015: 

Paul L. Heck
Paul L. Heck

413Wv-tcxYL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Skepticism is a familiar term to many of us conjuring up notions of doubt, uncertainty, and perhaps even unbelief. Yet, Skepticism did not always have such a narrow meaning. In fact Skepticism has helped formulate a number of important religious and intellectual positions throughout history. Paul L. Heck‘s new book Skepticism in Classical Islam: Moments of Confusion (Routledge, 2013) is perhaps the first major treatment of skepticism in the Islamic context. This book explores the critical role skepticism played in the development of Islamic theology from the 10th through 14th centuries.

Paul Heck suggests we should not understand skepticism as atheism. Rather, it is the admission that one cannot convincingly demonstrate a truth claim with certainty. Heck surveys a number of important Islamic scholars, such as Al-Jahiz, al-Amiri, Al-Ghazali, and Ibn Taymiyya, concluding they all acknowledged such impasses only to be inspired to find new ways to resolve the conundrums they faced. In his book Paul Heck examines the way these key thinkers, among others, in classical Islam faced perplexing theological and philosophical questions, all the while walking a fine line between belief in God’s message as revealed in the Qur’an and the power of the mind to discover truths on its own. Continue reading

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by JULIE POUCHER HARBIN, EDITOR, ISLAMiCommentary with NAZEEH ABDUL-HAKEEM on NOVEMBER 16, 2015: 

Nazeeh Zul-Kifl Abdul-Hakeem
Nazeeh Zul-Kifl Abdul-Hakeem

In 1981, a Durham city planner, Nazeeh Zul-Kifl Abdul-Hakeem, helped found the Durham, North Carolina-based Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman Inc. (an Islamic center). He served as its president from 1983 until 1994 and continues to be actively involved through the present day.

This summer he self-published a book — “The Athaan in the Bull City: Building Durham’s Islamic Community” — which Duke Asian & Middle Eastern studies professor Mbaye Bashir Lo has called “a welcome entry into the local stories of Islam in America.”

“Nazeeh Abdul-Hakeem’s personal stories of transformation and ongoing struggle to establish a Muslim community in the Bull City are a must read for anyone who is interested in the local discourse on Americanizing Islam and/or Islamizing America,” wrote Lo in a review.

Nazeeh estimates that about one-quarter to one-third of the more than 5,000 Muslims living in Durham County today are black. (A documentary produced by local WRAL-TV in 2012 estimated that there were around 26,000 total Muslims in North Carolina, or less than 1% of the state’s population.)

From the 1880s to the 1940s Durham was known as the “Black Capital of the South,” and blacks in Durham have been politically active since the Civil Rights Movement. Against this backdrop, Nazeeh writes, the Nation of Islam developed “a very strong presence” in Durham. This was during the time of Elijah Muhammad (the founder of NOI) and of Malcolm X, who came to Durham in 1963 to debate “the future of the Negro” with Floyd B. McKissick Sr. For a long time the Nation of Islam was the very face of Islam in America.

One of the major objectives of the Jamaat Ibad Ar-Rahman community, however, was to provide Islamic education for black Muslims in Durham that Nazeeh and others felt was lacking.

“Having escaped the woefully lacking Islamic understanding of the Nation of Islam and the World Community of Islam in the West, black American Muslims were faced with the onslaught of propagators of foreign Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat Islami, Jamaat Tabligh, and Sufism, along with Shee’ah Islam, which had a false standing among some black American Muslims as a result of the Iranian Revolution,” Nazeeh writes in his book. “Many of us found ourselves longing for the time when American Muslims would have their own scholars to help us follow the right way and focus on specific issues that Muslims faced in our country.” Continue reading