Tag Archives: Islamic Law

Ndzovuis, “Muslims in Kenyan Politics”

In September, Northwestern University Press will publish Muslims in Kenyan Politics: Political Involvement, Marginalization, and Minority Status by Hassan Ndzovuis (Moi University, Kenya).  The publisher’s description follows:

Muslims in KenyaMuslims in Kenyan Politics explores the changing relationship between Muslims and the state in Kenya from precolonial times to the present, culminating in the radicalization of a section of the Muslim population in recent decades. The politicization of Islam in Kenya is deeply connected with the sense of marginalization that shapes Muslims’ understanding of Kenyan politics and government policies.

Kenya’s Muslim population comprises ethnic Arabs, Indians, and black Africans, and its status has varied historically. Under British rule, an imposed racial hierarchy affected Muslims particularly, thwarting the development of a united political voice. Drawing on a broad range of interviews and historical research, Ndzovu presents a nuanced picture of political associations during the postcolonial period and explores the role of Kenyan Muslims as political actors.

The Dhimma Returns in Iraq

al arabiya

Photo: Al Arabiya

Sad news from Iraq this weekend. In response to an ultimatum from ISIS–the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” or, if you prefer, just the “Islamic State–Christians have evacuated the northern city of Mosul. For thousands of years, Mosul has been a center of Christianity, particularly the various Syriac Christian communions: Chaldean-rite Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East, a church that once spread as far as China. As recently as a decade ago, tens of thousands of Christians lived in Mosul. After this weekend, virtually none remain.

The expulsion of Christians from Mosul suggests something very worrying about the possible future of Islamism. And it serves as a reminder of what can happen to religious minorities when secular dictatorships in the Arab world collapse.

Mosul lies within the territory of the “caliphate” that ISIS, a militant Sunni Islamist group, has proclaimed in parts of Iraq and Syria. Its ultimatum to the Christians of Mosul is the same it gave the Christians of Raqqa, Syria, last spring. “We offer them three choices,” ISIS announced last week: “Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.” In recent days, ISIS operatives went through Mosul marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter “Nun” for “Nasara,” from “Nazarenes,” a word that refers to Christians. The implications were clear.

Some readers may be unfamiliar with the term dhimma. The dhimma is the notional contract that governs relations between the Muslim umma and Christians (and Jews) in classical Islamic law. Theoretically, it dates back to the “agreement” one of the early caliphs made with the Christian community of Syria. The dhimma allows Christian communities to reside in Muslim society in exchange for payment of a poll tax called the jizya—in Mosul, ISIS was requiring a jizya of about $500—and submission to various social and legal restrictions. The dhimma forbids Christians from attracting attention during worship, for example, from building new churches, and generally from asserting equality with Muslims.

It’s wise to take ISIS at its word. On Saturday, ISIS operatives expelled the 52 Christian families who remained in the city–after first requiring them to leave all their valuables behind. For good measure, ISIS also burned an 1800-year-old church and the Catholic bishop’s residence, along with its library and manuscript collection.

One could say much about this sad uprooting of Christianity from a place where it has survived for millennia, but here are two observations. First, a psychological line has been crossed, and this may have dire consequences in future. For the moment, ISIS is unique among Islamist groups in calling for formal reinstatement of the dhimma. Although Islamists everywhere reject the idea of equality for Muslims and Christians, they typically avoid calling for the dhimma, as they understand that most contemporary Muslims find the concept abhorrent. Nothing succeeds like success, however. ISIS has now shown that it is possible to reestablish the dhimma at the center of the Muslim world. Other Islamist groups will no doubt take notice. Christians who remain in the Middle East have great cause for worry.

Second, although principal responsibility for this outrage lies with ISIS, and with Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose misgovernment has created a situation in which ISIS can gain a following, the United States bears responsibility as well. Its invasion of, and hasty withdrawal from, Iraq set in motion a chain of events that has allowed radical groups like ISIS to succeed. In the Middle East, secular dictatorships can be very brutal. But they are often the only thing that stands in the way of the absolute destruction of minority religious communities. Toppling such dictatorships and hoping for their replacement by “moderate” elements is not a good bet. Incredibly, this seems to be a lesson the United States still has to learn.

Katz, “Women in the Mosque”

In September, Columbia University Press will publish Women in the Mosque: A History of Legal Thought and Social Practice by Marion Holmes Katz (New York University).  The publisher’s description follows: Women in the Mosque

Juxtaposing Muslim scholars’ debates over women’s attendance in mosques with historical descriptions of women’s activities within Middle Eastern and North African mosques, Marion Holmes Katz shows how over the centuries legal scholars’ arguments have often reacted to rather than dictated Muslim women’s behavior.

Tracing Sunni legal positions on women in mosques from the second century of the Islamic calendar to the modern period, Katz connects shifts in scholarly terminology and argumentation to changing constructions of gender. Over time, assumptions about women’s changing behavior through the lifecycle gave way to a global preoccupation with sexual temptation, which then became the central rationale for limits on women’s mosque access. At the same time, travel narratives, biographical dictionaries, and religious polemics suggest that women’s usage of mosque space often diverged in both timing and content from the ritual models constructed by scholars. Katz demonstrates both the concrete social and political implications of Islamic legal discourse and the autonomy of women’s mosque-based activities. She also examines women’s mosque access as a trope in Western travelers’ narratives and the evolving significance of women’s mosque attendance among different Islamic currents in the twentieth century.

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Haseeb, “State and Religion in the Arab World”

On July 22, Routledge Publishing will release State and Religion in the Arab World, by Khair El-Din Haseeb (Centre for Arab Unity Studies).  The publisher’s description follows:

This collection focuses on the controversial relationship between religion and the state within the Arab Spring context and the evolving debates on democratic transition. In this book, democracy is not questionable; it is hailed by all those vocal on the political scene. The array of opinions presented here varies from a call for a secular state based on Islamic philosophy to a call for setting democratic institutions before working on solving this religion-state dichotomy. Meanwhile some prefer to have an ambiguous stand on which side to back up, the liberals or the Islamists, despite a detailed criticism of the ossified ways of those calling for a religious state (Al-Majd). The book starts with an analysis and a detailed account of how the sensitive issue of the relationship between state and religion developed in Arab though and society and it goes on to employ less the religious discourse in presenting their positions thus focusing on actual cases of this struggle for power in different Arab countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. The collection also provides insights and analysis of the ongoing debates and views on the role of religion in Libya and provides an analysis of the case of Morocco. In addition to this there is a special chapter that deals with how Muslim communities living in the West adapt to secular state politics. The collection ends with a thorough discussion by a number of Arab intellectuals and activists, Muslims and Christians alike, whereby core issues related to the debate on state and religion are presented. This discussion, in addition to reflecting the Islamist-secular dichotomy, demonstrates the richness of the ongoing debates that extend well beyond the discourse on this dichotomy.

This book is a compilation of articles published in Contemporary Arab Affairs.

Haider, “The Origins of the Shī’a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa”

This July, Cambridge University Press will publish The Origins of the Shī’a: Identity, Ritual, and Sacred Space in Eighth-Century Kūfa by Najam Haider (Barnard College). The publisher’s description follows.

The Sunni-Shi’a schism is often framed as a dispute over the identity of the successor to Muhammad. In reality, however, this fracture only materialized a century later in the important southern Iraqi city of Kufa (present-day Najaf). This book explores the birth and development of Shi’i identity. Through a critical analysis of legal texts, whose provenance has only recently been confirmed, the study shows how the early Shi’a carved out independent religious and social identities through specific ritual practices and within separate sacred spaces. In this way, the book addresses two seminal controversies in the study of early Islam, namely the dating of Kufan Shi’i identity and the means by which the Shi’a differentiated themselves from mainstream Kufan society. This is an important, original and path-breaking book that marks a significant development in the study of early Islamic society.

Jackson, “What is Islamic Philosophy?”

Earlier this year, Routledge released What is Islamic Philosophy? by Roy Jackson (University of Gloucestershire, UK). The publisher’s description follows:

What is Islamic Philosophy? offers a broad introduction to Islamic thought, from its origins to the many challenging issues facing Muslims in the contemporary world. The chapters explore early Islamic philosophy and trace its development through key themes and figures up to the twenty-first century.

Topics covered include:

  • ethical issues such as just war, abortion, women’s rights, homosexuality and cloning
  • questions in political philosophy regarding what kind of Islamic state could exist and how democratic can (or should) Islam really be
  • the contribution of Islam to ‘big questions’ such as the existence of God, the concept of the soul, and what constitutes truth.

This fresh and original book includes a helpful glossary and suggestions for further reading. It is ideal for students coming to the subject for the first time as well as anyone wanting to learn about the philosophical tradition and dilemmas that are part of the Islamic worldview.

Winston, “The Rushdie Fatwa and After”

This month, Palgrave Macmillan will release The Rushdie Fatwa and After: A Lesson to the Circumspect, by Brian Winston (University of Lincoln). The publisher’s description follows:

The freedom to create was rocked by the Imam Khomeini’s death sentence on Salman Rushdie 25 years ago. Ever since Khomeini’s fatwa called for Rushdie’s murder because of what he wrote in his novel The Satanic Verses, the zealous of many faiths have been moved on more than one occasion to protest – often with extreme violence – artistic expression in all its forms. The Rushdie Fatwa and After untangles that original event and the other major attacks on creative freedom it presaged. It argues that our ability to resist this assault has been seriously undermined by Western tolerance. The ripples of the stone the Imam cast that day in 1989 are travelling yet, disturbing the waters of the Western Enlightenment, circles within circles, like the stories of The 1001 Nights. Now Winston presents this sorry history as what that book might well call ‘a lesson to the circumspect’.

Munt, “The Holy City of Medina”

In June, Cambridge will release The Holy City of Medina: Sacred Space in Early Islamic Arabia, by Harry Munt (Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

This is the first book-length study of the emergence of Medina, in modern Saudi Arabia, as a widely venerated sacred space and holy city over the course of the first three Islamic centuries (the seventh to ninth centuries CE). This was a dynamic period that witnessed the evolution of many Islamic political, religious and legal doctrines, and the book situates Medina’s emerging sanctity within the appropriate historical contexts. The book focuses on the roles played by the Prophet Muḥammad, by the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphs and by Muslim legal scholars. It shows that Medina’s emergence as a holy city, alongside Mecca and Jerusalem, as well as the development of many of the doctrines associated with its sanctity, was the result of gradual and contested processes and was intimately linked with important contemporary developments concerning the legitimation of political, religious and legal authority in the Islamic world.

Sirry, “Scriptural Polemics: The Qur’an and Other Religions”

On June 2, Oxford University Press will publish Scriptural Polemics: The Qur’an and Other Religions by Mun’im Sirry (University of Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows.Scriptural Polemics

A number of passages in the Qur’an criticize Jews and Christians, from claims of exclusive salvation and charges of Jewish and Christian falsification of revelation to cautions against the taking of Jews and Christians as patrons, allies, or intimates. Mun’im Sirry offers a novel exploration of these polemical passages, which have long been regarded as obstacles to peaceable interreligious relations, through the lens of twentieth-centurytafsir (exegesis). He considers such essential questions as: How have modern contexts shaped Muslim reformers’ understanding of the Qur’an, and how have the reformers’ interpretations recontextualized these passages? Can the Qur’an’s polemical texts be interpreted fruitfully for interactions among religious communities in the modern world?

Sirry also reflects on the various definitions of apologetic or polemic as relevant sacred texts and analyzes reformist tafsirs with careful attention to argument, literary context, and rhetoric in order to illuminate the methods, positions, and horizons of the exegeses.Scriptural Polemics provides both a critical engagement with the tafsirs and a lucid and original examination of Qur’anic language, logic, and dilemmas, showing how the dynamic and varied reformist interpretations of these passages open the way for a less polemical approach to other religions.

The Return of the Dhimma?

First Things has run my essay on the return of the dhimma in Syria and its potential meaning for Mideast Christians:

Recently, an Islamist group in the Syrian opposition, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), captured the town of Raqqa and imposed on its Christian inhabitants the dhimma, the notional contract that governs relations with Christians in classical Islamic law. The dhimma allows Christian communities to reside in Muslim society in exchange for payment of a poll tax called the jizya and submission to social and legal restrictions. In Raqqa, for example, Christians have “agreed,” among other things, to pay ISIL a tax of $500 per person twice a year—poorer Christians can pay less—and to forgo public religious displays.

The dhimma has not been in operation in the Mideast for about 150 years. Even Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood did not reinstate it during the party’s brief period in power. Indeed, some progressive Islamic scholars argue that the dhimma is an anachronism that should no longer be part of Islamic law. So ISIL’s decision to impose it now has shocked Christians and many Muslims. The formal reestablishment of the dhimma in Raqqa reveals that some Islamists are prepared to cross a line many had thought inviolable.

You can read the whole thing here.