This month, Oxford University Press releases “One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds: Spirituality, Identity, and Resistance across Islamic Lands,” by Raymond William Baker (Trinity College). The publisher’s description follows:
By all measures, the late twentieth century was a time of dramatic decline for the Islamic world, the Ummah, particularly its Arab heartland. Sober Muslim voices regularly describe their current state as the worst in the 1,400-year history of Islam. Yet, precisely at this time of unprecedented material vulnerability, Islam has emerged as a civilizational force strong enough to challenge the imposition of Western, particularly American, homogenizing power on Muslim peoples. This is the central paradox of Islam today: at a time of such unprecedented weakness in one sense, how has the Islamic Awakening, a broad and diverse movement of contemporary Islamic renewal, emerged as such a resilient and powerful transnational force and what implications does it have for the West? In One Islam, Many Muslims Worlds Raymond W. Baker addresses this question.
Two things are clear, Baker argues: Islam’s unexpected strength in recent decades does not originate from official political, economic, or religious institutions, nor can it be explained by focusing exclusively on the often-criminal assertions of violent, marginal groups. While extremists monopolize the international press and the scholarly journals, those who live and work in the Islamic world know that the vast majority of Muslims reject their reckless calls to violence and look elsewhere for guidance. Baker shows that extremists draw their energy and support not from contributions to the reinterpretation and revival of Islamic beliefs and practices, but from the hatreds engendered by misguided Western policies in Islamic lands. His persuasive analysis of the Islamic world identifies centrists as the revitalizing force of Islam, saying that they are responsible for constructing a modern, cohesive Islamic identity that is a force to be reckoned with.
In September, the University of California Press will release “Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate,” by Abdel Bari Atwan (editor of the Rai al-Youm news website). The publisher’s description follows:
Islamic State stunned the world when it overran an area the size of Great Britain on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border in a matter of weeks and proclaimed the birth of a new Caliphate. In this timely and important book, Abdel Bari Atwan draws on his unrivaled knowledge of the global jihadi movement and Middle Eastern geopolitics to reveal the origins and modus operandi of Islamic State.
Based on extensive field research and exclusive interviews with IS insiders, Islamic State outlines the group’s leadership structure, as well as its strategies, tactics, and diverse methods of recruitment. Atwan traces the Salafi-jihadi lineage of IS, its ideological differences with al Qaeda and the deadly rivalry that has emerged between their leaders. He also shows how the group’s rapid growth has been facilitated by its masterful command of social media platforms, the “dark web,” Hollywood blockbuster-style videos, and even jihadi computer games, producing a powerful paradox where the ambitions of the Middle Ages have reemerged in cyberspace.
As Islamic State continues to dominate the world’s media headlines with horrific acts of ruthless violence, Atwan considers the movement’s chances of survival and expansion and offers indispensable insights on potential government responses to contain the IS threat.
In September, the University of California Press will release “Understanding Jihad,” by David Cook (Rice University). The publisher’s description follows:
First published in 2005, Understanding Jihad unravels the tangled historical, intellectual, and political meanings of jihad within the context of Islamic life. In this revised and expanded second edition, author David Cook has included new material in light of pivotal developments such as the extraordinary events of the Arab Spring, the death of Usama b. Ladin, and the rise of new Islamic factions such as ISIS.
Jihad is one of the most loaded and misunderstood terms in the news today. Contrary to popular understanding, the term does not mean “holy war.” Nor does it simply refer to an inner spiritual struggle. This judiciously balanced, accessibly written, and highly relevant book looks closely at a range of sources from sacred Islamic texts to modern interpretations, opening a critically important perspective on the role of Islam in the contemporary world.
David Cook cites from scriptural, legal, and newly translated texts to give readers insight into the often ambiguous information that is used to construct Islamic doctrine. He sheds light on legal developments relevant to fighting and warfare and places the internal, spiritual jihad within the larger context of Islamic religion. He describes some of the conflicts that occur in radical groups and shows how the more mainstream supporters of these groups have come to understand and justify violence. He has also included a special appendix of relevant documents including materials related to the September 11 attacks and published manifestos issued by Usama b. Ladin and Palestinian suicide-martyrs.
The International Foundation for Art Research will host a panel next month at the Scandinavia House in Manhattan on ISIS’ destruction of art and monuments in Syria and Iraq:
We have seen the disturbing and often horrific images emanating from the battle-torn regions of Iraq and Syria and heard the news of damage to monuments and archaeological sites and the looting of cultural objects in this ancient and archaeologically important region. But the news is rapidly changing and often conflicting, and the timing and substance of some of the stories appear to have been manipulated by ISIS. What is happening to the art and monuments of the region? What has been safe-guarded? What has been destroyed? What is most at-risk, whether of destruction or looting? Where are the looted objects going? Are they coming into the United States?
Please join IFAR’s specialists, several of whom have on-site experience and knowledge, for a fascinating and topical discussion of these and other issues.
Note: Q& A and Informal Reception Follow the Talks
The event will take place in Manhattan on August 11. Details are here.
In June, Routledge released “Islamism and Globalisation in Jordan: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Quest for Hegemony” by Daniel Atzori (FC Business Intelligence). The publisher’s description follows:
This book explores the activities of the local Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. It examines how the Brotherhood, working to establish an alternative social, political and moral order through a network of Islamic institutions, made a huge contribution to the transformation of Jordanian society. It reveals, however, that the Brotherhood’s involvement in the economic realm, in Islamic financial activities, led it to engage with the neo-liberal approach to the economy, with the result that the Islamic social institutions created by the Brotherhood, such as charities, lost their importance in favour of profit-oriented activities owned by leading Islamist individuals. The book thereby demonstrates the “hybridisation” of Islamism, and argues that Islamism is not an abstract set of beliefs, but rather a collection of historically constructed practices. The book also illustrates how globalisation is profoundly influencing culture and society in the Arab world, though modified by the adoption of an Islamic framework.
In August, the Indiana University Press will release “Shi’i Cosmopolitanisms in Africa: Lebanese Migration and Religious Conversion in Senegal,” by Mara A. Leichtman (Michigan State University). The publisher’s description follows:
Mara A. Leichtman offers an in-depth study of Shi‘i Islam in two very different communities in Senegal: the well-established Lebanese diaspora and Senegalese “converts” from Sunni to Shi‘i Islam of recent decades. Sharing a minority religious status in a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, each group is cosmopolitan in its own way. Leichtman provides new insights into the everyday lives of Shi‘i Muslims in Africa and the dynamics of local and global Islam. She explores the influence of Hizbullah and Islamic reformist movements, and offers a corrective to prevailing views of Sunni-Shi‘i hostility, demonstrating that religious coexistence is possible in a context such as Senegal.
In July, the I.B. Tauris International Library of Iranian Studies will release “Political Islam in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Shi’i Ideologies in Islamist Discourse,” by Majid Mohammadi (Stony Brook University). The publisher’s description follows:
The relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Western World is fraught with challenges and tensions. In order to generate the capacity for greater engagement and dialogue, there is a need for the West to better understand the complex ideological developments that are central to Iran. Majid Mohammadi charts the central concepts and nuances of the ideological map of post-revolutionary Iran, and examines the rise and development of Shi’i Islamism. He recognizes that the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iranian political discourse are the outcome of contesting perspectives and ideologies: identity-oriented, socialist, nationalist, authoritarian, Shari’a, scripturalist, mystical, militarist and fascist. This is a comprehensive, comparative contribution to one of today’s most important topics: that of the relationship between Political Islam and the West.
In May, Oxford University Press released Terrains of Exchange: Religious Economies of Modern Islam by Nile Green (UCLA). The publisher’s description follows:
Terrains of Exchange offers a bold new paradigm for understanding the expansion of Islam in the modern world. Through the model of religious economy, it traces the competition between Muslim, Christian and Hindu religious entrepreneurs that transformed Islam into a proselytising global brand.
Drawing Indian, Arab, Iranian and Tatar Muslims together with Scottish missionaries and African-American converts, Nile Green brings to life the local sites of globalisation where Islam was repeatedly reinvented in modern times. Evoking terrains of exchange from Russia’s imperial borderlands to the factories of Detroit and the ports of Japan, he casts a microhistorian’s eye on the innovative new Islams that emerged from these sites of contact.
Drawing on a multilingual range of materials, the book challenges the idea that globalisation has given rise to a unified “global Islam.” Instead, it reveals the forces behind the fracturing of Islam in the hands of feuding and fissiparous “‘religious firms”.
Terrains of Exchange not only presents global history as Islamic history. It also reveals the forces of that history at work in the world today.
This month, Princeton University Press releases “Soft Force: Women in Egypt’s Islamic Awakening” by Ellen Anne McLarney (Duke University). This publisher’s description follows:
In the decades leading up to the Arab Spring in 2011, when Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was swept from power in Egypt, Muslim women took a leading role in developing a robust Islamist presence in the country’s public sphere. Soft Force examines the writings and activism of these women—including scholars, preachers, journalists, critics, actors, and public intellectuals—who envisioned an Islamic awakening in which women’s rights and the family, equality, and emancipation were at the center.
Challenging Western conceptions of Muslim women as being oppressed by Islam, Ellen McLarney shows how women used “soft force”—a women’s jihad characterized by nonviolent protest—to oppose secular dictatorship and articulate a public sphere that was both Islamic and democratic. McLarney draws on memoirs, political essays, sermons, newspaper articles, and other writings to explore how these women imagined the home and the family as sites of the free practice of religion in a climate where Islamists were under siege by the secular state. While they seem to reinforce women’s traditional roles in a male-dominated society, these Islamist writers also reoriented Islamist politics in domains coded as feminine, putting women at the very forefront in imagining an Islamic polity.
L-R: Kiely, Boghjalian, La Civita, Movsesian
For those who are interested, the Hudson Institute has posted the audio from last week’s panel (above), “Genocide and Crimes against Humanity.” I was one of the presenters, along with Sarkis Boghjalian (Aid to the Church in Need) and Michael La Civita (Catholic Near East Welfare Association). Fr. Benedict Kiely moderated. The audio link is available here (first link).
UPDATE: Video is now available at the Hudson website.