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In the Qur’an, Muslims are instructed that at least once in their lives they must take part in the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the spiritual center of the Islamic world . Over the centuries, artists, craftspeople, and others have found innumerable ways to articulate the experience, from calligraphy to decorative tiles and textiles, even scientific instruments, maps, and metalwork. These and other media of expression are captured in this profusely illustrated book by distinguished curator Venetia Porter.
From the late New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid comes a chronicle of his quixotic efforts to restore his family’s ancestral home in Lebanon. While House of Stone is a memorable tale of the ups and downs of house renovation, it is also a thoughtful meditation on the profound changes the Middle East has undergone in recent centuries. Shadid uses the history of his Christian family in Lebanon, the rise and decline of the Ottoman Empire, and accounts of life in Lebanon today to illustrate the diversity and difficulties of the region. Deeply personal, beautifully written, and intensively researched, House of Stone paints an unforgettable portrait of the people of Lebanon, their history, and their daily lives.
Highly symbolic and often misunderstood, Muslim women’s wearing of the veil sometimes evokes passionate responses, from other Muslims as well as from non-Muslims. In this insightful and often surprising analysis, Harvard University professor Leila Ahmed describes the adoption of hijab (the practice of wearing head coverings and other concealing garments in public) as a “quiet revolution” among Muslim women. Ahmed intertwines her observations as a scholar of feminism and Islam with her own history growing up in a mid-twentieth-century family in Egypt, adding nuance and complexity to Americans’ understanding of the recent resurgence of hijab. In A Quiet Revolution, Ahmed explores the meaning of concepts such as “secular,” “Islamist,” and “feminist” in thought-provoking ways that challenge the widely held misconception that all Muslim women are passive and oppressed.
The House of Wisdom in Baghdad stands as a symbol of the great synthesis of Greek science and philosophy, Indian mathematics, and Persian literature brought about by their translation into Arabic in the eighth century CE. Jim Al-Khalili details scientific advances within Islamic civilization that resulted from this burst of intellectual activity and experimentation. The story told in The House of Wisdom is not an isolated one, as the author ties scientists who worked in the medieval period in Muslim regions to their counterparts in other times and places, and traces the pathways this knowledge took across the Mediterranean world until it reached Europe’s growing universities in the twelfth century. Al-Khalili provides fascinating insights into the process through which Islamic civilization stimulated the European renaissance.
Farid ud-Din Attar
Composed in the twelfth century in northeastern Iran, Farid ud-Din Attar’s acclaimed Sufi poem is among the most significant works of Persian literature. A mystical, allegorical rendering of Sufi belief, The Conference of the Birds takes the reader on an epic journey as the birds of the world go in search of their perfect king. Thirty birds reach their goal, but only after traveling through seven arduous valleys and mastering their own personal faults. Attar guides his reader on a similar journey, marked by wit and wisdom, frustration and joy—a journey that, as the birds themselves find, turns out to be grander than its destination.
Jonathan A. C. Brown
To the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, the founder of their faith, the Prophet Muhammad, is history’s most significant figure. Born in 570 CE in the city of Mecca, on the Arabian Peninsula, Muhammad underwent a series of mystical experiences, believed by Muslims to be revelations from the archangel Gabriel. The holy book of Islam, the Qur’an, is a compilation of these revelations, and is thus regarded by Muslims as divinely inspired. In a “very short” study, Jonathan A. C. Brown analyzes the Prophet’s life and his place in Islamic scholarship (siras) and traditions (sunnah). Brown also explains some of the different interpretations of Muhammad’s life within Islamic and Western thought.
From Nobel Prize–winning author Orhan Pamuk, the novel Snow paints a fantastic picture of daily life in Kars, a dreamlike town in the mountains of far eastern Turkey. Following an exiled poet who becomes stranded in Kars during a weeklong blizzard, the deeply layered story is an attempt to untangle the town’s history, the importance of poetry, the vicissitudes of belief, and the limits of reason. Humorous and deeply sympathetic, Snow takes readers on a mesmerizing tour of the complex terrain of Turkish belief, politics, and personal expression.
In this memoir, Eboo Patel relates his journey to faith-based activism with American youth. Patel, a native of the Chicago area who was born of Indian immigrants and raised in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, recounts the challenges he faced straddling multiple worlds, making the case that religion can play a constructive role in young people’s lives. His struggle is not one of choosing a Muslim identity over assimilation, but of discovering how to embrace difference. Founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, which involves youth of different religions in service projects, Patel seeks to chart a course toward genuine pluralism. He presents the work as a high-stakes effort to guide young people toward constructive social engagement, noting that extremism is an appealing alternative that some will take in the absence of authentic leadership.
G. Willow Wilson
The Butterfly Mosque is the memoir of an American woman raised in a secular family who discovers the value of religion during her travels. Interested in history, art, and literature, G. Willow Wilson takes a teaching job in Cairo. She meets the sincere young friend of a friend assigned to show her the ropes in the city—a highly unconventional relationship that turns into love and marriage. The book follows her encounter with Egyptian society and with her own spirituality as she converts to Islam, and about her developing relationship with her husband's family. A highly observant and self-reflective person, Wilson captures the strengths and foibles of her own and her adoptive culture with an authentic voice. The book explores larger issues in both American and Egyptian Muslim society, and challenges the reader with observations about the way Americans and Muslims interact, examining the value of secular and religious perspectives, and about the complexity of living as a modern person. Her own work as an essayist is woven into the memoir, taking her observations to the level of the global cultural encounter, discussing issues of gender in Islam, poverty's impact on cultural relations, and the consequences of perceptions across cultural and religious divides. Wilson's story of her family, work, and travels, including a journey to Iran, grapples with the difficulty of confronting differences in social and moral codes, but finds common ground in respect for each other as complex individuals.
Edward E. Curtis (Ed.)
Edward E. Curtis IV places a treasure trove of information about Islam in the United States at the reader’s fingertips. The primary sources that make up this collection are arranged chronologically: from the early nineteenth century to World War I; from World War I to 1965; from 1965 to September 11, 2001; and from 9/11 to the present. More than fifty excerpts from personal accounts, books, songs, poems, and institutional documents by and about Muslims give the reader unparalleled access to the stories and views of Muslims in the United States and the larger society’s responses to their presence. Themes such as conversion, spirituality, gender, law, and politics are sampled, with a generous share given to the voices of Muslim women and leaders of the Muslim community. The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States is an invaluable resource for those who wish to hear the authentic voices of Muslims in America.
When Asia Was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors, and Monks Who Created the "Riches of the East"
Stewart Gordon uses the narratives of nine travelers to tell the story of Asia’s diverse economy and cultures between 500 and 1500 CE. During those thousand years, the world’s largest continent was the hub of global cultural and economic activity. Throughout Asia, and even to points elsewhere in the Eastern Hemisphere, goods and ideas moved along far-reaching trade routes traveled by religious figures, diplomats, merchants, mariners, and warriors. The travel narratives collected in When Asia Was the World portray the Asia first encountered by European explorers as a vibrant, ongoing enterprise, from which they both learned and profited.
“The truth couldn’t be kept away, it was cunning, sly-natured, seeping through at its own indifferent pace.” In Hisham Matar’s debut novel, a Libyan boy must come to terms with difficult truths about Libya, loyalty, and truth when his father disappears. On the surface a story of the violence and absurdity of life during the rule of Muammar al-Qaddafi, In the Country of Men describes the politics of childhood more than the politics of nations. Just as the plot brilliantly unfolds in unpredictable ways, we are catapulted forward to the next decade. We are left to reflect on the ties that bind us all—the universal embarrassments and frustrations of childhood, the challenge of constructing meaning from memory, and the presence of unavoidable truths.
The Story of the Qur’an begins with an accessible account of the origins of the Qur’an that places Muhammad, the Muslim holy book, and the first adherents to Islam in historical context. Ingrid Mattson, a professor of Islamic studies, uses translated passages from the Qur’an, as well as scholarly sources and stories from the time of Muhammad, to give readers a sense of the language, imagery, and rhythm of the Qur’an. Mattson also explains how the Qur’an has been transmitted both as recitation and scripture, “the voice and the pen,” from Islam’s formative days to the present. She describes the Qur’an’s role in Muslim culture and daily life, and provides a guide to its traditions and sources of interpretation, cautioning casual readers and others who might pull verses out of context to take care in trying to ascertain what all Muslims believe or are mandated to do.
This book tells the little-known story of Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima, a Fulbe Muslim of elite ancestry who was captured in an ambush, sold to English slavers, and enslaved in the United States in 1788. After forty years in America, most of them spent in slavery, Abd al-Rahman won his freedom and was able to return to Africa in 1828, thanks in large part to the efforts of Secretary of State Henry Clay and other concerned individuals. This thirtieth-anniversary edition of Prince Among Slaves includes material discovered since the original publication of the book in 1977. Gathered from historical documents on three continents, Abd al-Rahman’s remarkable story offers glimpses of a West African society in the era of the transatlantic slave trade, an American frontier plantation at the beginning of the cotton boom, and the early American republic. It also shows how Abd al-Rahman built a dignified life despite slavery, and even negotiated his family’s release from bondage.
Leila Aboulela’s novel Minaret follows the spiritual journey of a young woman exiled from her home in Sudan and forced to invent a new life in London, far from the comforts of her privileged childhood and secular education. She supports herself as a maid caring for the children of wealthy Arabs. Struggling to establish a new sense of identity, she finds herself drawn to a community of observant Muslim women at a neighborhood mosque, who provide spiritual and emotional support as she navigates a range of challenges. The young woman comes to express a newfound piety, embracing the traditions of veiling, prayer, and fasting.
Pakistan was created as an independent nation in 1947, carved from predominantly Muslim regions in the east and west of India after British colonial rule ended on the Indian subcontinent. Ever since, Pakistan has struggled to be Islamic yet secular, and to create a sense of nationhood in a population of great cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity. In Broken Verses, Kamila Shamsie beautifully captures the promise of Pakistan and the country’s divisive political reality. Told through the eyes of a young television journalist working in the flourishing seaport of Karachi, the novel traces one family’s incredible experience of Pakistan from the 1970s to the present. Part mystery, part romance, and part coming-of-age tale, Broken Verses combines a compelling story with a larger meditation on the meaning of poetry, politics, religion, and Pakistan itself.
F. E. Peters
In 2004, the noted scholar of comparative religion F. E. Peters produced a new edition of his well-regarded Children of Abraham. When initially published three decades ago, the book was one of the first scholarly works to place Islam alongside Judaism and Christianity to explain their commonalties and connections. In a concise volume of less than 300 pages, Peters reviews the Abrahamic tradition from the sixth century BCE to the thirteenth century CE, exploring the intertwined relationships among the three faiths’ holy scriptures, rituals, communities of believers, laws, theological systems, and traditions of mysticism, discussing, for example, the response of all three religions’ great thinkers to Greek philosophy.
Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's inventive, wry, and tragic memoir of growing up in Tehran in the 1980s—the tumultuous years when the Islamic Revolution took hold in Iran and the country fought off an invasion from neighboring Iraq. Using a striking black-and-white comic strip format, Satrapi chronicles daily life from the perspective of a middle-class schoolchild, as well as cataclysmic events such as the overthrow of the shah and the long, bloody war with Iraq. Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the personal costs of war and repression, convincingly related by a perceptive girl caught up in the raging currents of history who also has time to listen to Michael Jackson and dream of a better life. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring of 2011, Persepolis feels even more timely, insightful, and essential.
The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
María Rosa Menocal
The Islamic empire of al-Andalus was known in its time as “the ornament of the world.” In particular, its capital city, Córdoba, was widely noted for its cosmopolitan culture, diverse population, and artistic achievements. In this masterful and entertaining history, Yale University professor María Menocal explains the great successes and turbulent times of al-Andalus, which embraced much of the Iberian Peninsula from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries. To explore the varied culture of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians who lived together under imperial Andalusian rule, Menocal takes the reader to the vaults of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, onto battlefields outside Paris, and to King Ferdinand’s tomb, inscribed in Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Castilian. The Ornament of the World conveys the richness, complexity, and continuing influence of this culture in poetry, architecture, politics, and religion. The book also illustrates a strong correlation between the empire’s achievements in these areas and its tradition of religious tolerance.
Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood takes place in Fez, Morocco, in the 1940s and early 1950s. The harem of this memoir’s title is a large house with its own courtyard, shared by several generations of an extended family. Fatima Mernissi recounts her experiences and observations as a precocious young girl living in the harem, acutely aware of the many sacred frontiers she is forbidden to cross—the barriers between men and women and between Muslims and Christians, the threshold separating one room from another or the interior of the house from the street outside. She learns that all the women around her chafe at the limitations of harem life in one way or another, but she also comes to realize that she can transcend these limitations covertly—through imagination, creativity, learning, and even mischief.
Jalal al-Din Rūmī
Jalal al-Din Rūmī(1207–73), popularly known simply as Rūmī, was the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language, famous for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Masnavi-yi Maʿnavi [Spiritual couplets], which widely influenced mystical thought and literature throughout the Muslim world. Rūmī's poetry is widely popular with American readers, and collections of his poetry are available in a variety of editions. The complier of the poems in this edition, Reynold A. Nicholson, translated them directly from the Persian language. They are among the most authentic versions of these poems available to English-language readers.
Moving between past and present, anthropologist Amitav Ghosh presents a lyrical portrait of life in Egypt, as well as broad histories of that country, Tunisia, and India’s Malabar Coast. Ghosh weaves strands of his own life in rural Egypt into the story he is researching of a twelfth-century Jewish merchant and his slave. Exploiting an extraordinary cache of medieval documents in Cairo, Ghosh is able to piece together a fascinating story illuminating the reach of medieval Egyptian trade and cross-cultural interaction; he also tells of a form of slavery very different from the one familiar to most Americans. Especially for readers seeking an understanding of the complexity and interconnected nature of the lands and cultures on the periphery of the Indian Ocean, there are few better reads than In an Antique Land.
This 1986 novel, originally published in French as Léon, l’Africain, is the imagined autobiography of real-life geographer, adventurer, and scholar Hasan al-Wassan (ca. 1494–ca. 1554), whose far-reaching travels in the sixteenth century were a precursor to the cultural interconnections we associate with modern globalization. After fleeing with his family from Granada to Fez, Morocco, to escape the Inquisition, Hasan made many commercial and diplomatic journeys. These took him throughout the Islamic Mediterranean, from North Africa to Arabia, and across the Sahara. Captured by a Sicilian pirate, he was taken as a gift to Pope Leo X in Rome. There he acquired the Latin name by which he is best known in the West. The writings of Leo Africanus served for some 400 years as one of Europe’s principal sources of information about Africa and Islam.
The stories of The Arabian Nights—stories within stories, and stories within stories within stories—are told in the voice of a beautiful young woman, Shahrazad, who will lose her life if the king loses interest in her nightly narratives. Collected over several centuries from a variety of sources in India, Persia, and Arabia, and ranging from adventure fantasies, amorous encounters, and animal fables to pointed Sufi tales, these stories provided daily entertainment in the medieval Islamic world, and still exert their presence today in literature and art, as well as everyday life. Over centuries of telling and retelling, the stories were modified to reflect the general life and customs of the Arab society that adapted them—a distinctive synthesis that marks the cultural and artistic history of Islam.
This edition of The Arabian Nights is the complete text of Muhsin Mahdi’s critical edition, translated into English by Husain Haddawy.