What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic

Shahab Ahmed. Princeton Univ., $39.50 (620p) ISBN 978-0-6911-6418-2
The recently deceased scholar Ahmed (Ibn Tamiyya and His Times) offers a bold notion of what Islam is, one that stands in stark contrast to popular, traditionalist, and radical notions. Taking a cosmopolitan, far-reaching approach to millennia of Muslim history, poetry, music, science, philosophy, theology, and practice Ahmed reconceptualizes Islam as a hermeneutical engagement comfortable with the contradiction of its own diversity and immense variety. The book is as imposing as it is inspiring. It dives deep into heady discussions of philology, religious studies, aesthetics, poetry, epistemology, and fiqh—Islamic jurisprudence. A book that aims to present such an audacious hypothesis is likely to be long, but one senses Ahmed could have been less repetitive and protracted. However, his deft organization and outline are helpful for the fatigued reader. The big danger is that Ahmed’s reconceptualization marginalizes voices from other geographies, perspectives, and theologies. Nonetheless, this is an enduring and timely work well worth the effort for those interested in discerning the essence of Islam beyond the seeming paradoxes of its own representations. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/12/2015
Release date: 11/01/2015
Genre: Religion
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-0-691-17831-8
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