Notebooks

Islam

03 Oct 1994 12:01

I shan't try to explain Islam here.

Cultural influence in medieval Italy; in Renaissance Italy; in Sardinia.

One of the most interesting spectacles awaiting the observer of American politics and culture is the rise of Islam. There are somewhere between five and eight million Muslims in the country right now, depending on who is counting and how strictly "Muslim" is defined. Even by the more conservative estimates, therefore, there are already more Muslims than Presbyterians, Episcopalians or even Mormons, and sometime early in the 21st century (that is, the mid-15th) Islam will be the second-largest religion in the United States, surpassing Judaism. The contortions this will produce on the parts of politicians, pundits and colleges are delicious to contemplate, and will be even more amusing to watch. The struggle to find a replacement for "Judeo-Christian" alone will doubtless provide years of entertainment. ("Peoples of the Book" is a natural choice, but by no means assured.) What to teach about the Crusades will also be fun. Pundits and authors of textbooks for college freshmen will solemnly declaim that, since the Muslim world has a Semitic, monotheist religion and inherited Greek philosophy, it is of course a part of "Western Civilization" --- how could one think otherwise? And so on. --- I don't think this will be a bad thing, you understand; it will just be deeply hypocritical, and very funny. [Passage written c. 1998.]

See also: Afghanistan, the Berbers, Central Asia, Islamism, Mu'tazila and Mu'tazilites, Sufism.

<ul>Recommended:
<li>The Qu'ran, of course; the best English translations I've

encountered is A. J. Arberry's The Koran Interpreted, but Marmaduke Pickthall's The Meaning of the Glorious Koran is OK, and has curiosity-value, inasmuch as Pickthall became a Muslim in the course of making his translation.

  • Khaled Abou El Fadl, Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women
  • J. L. Berggren, Episodes in the Mathematics of Medieval Islam
  • Noel J. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law [The law occupies a place of paramount importance in Islam, much more so than in any of the other great religions.]
  • Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society
  • Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization [One of the best works of history I've ever encountered. There is nothing of comparable value about western civilization.]
  • Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality
  • Fatima Mernissi
  • Howard R. Turner, Science in Medieval Islam [Light, in places superficial --- I don't think Turner really understands algebra --- but excellently illustrated and it is, after all, a glorified exhibition catalogue]


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