Although it has been seven years since the 9/11 attacks on America and almost 30 years since the Iranian Revolution, interest in Islam is keener than ever. Long after these watershed events, publishers are still dealing with a huge, complex and under-published subject. Even as books on politics multiply, more books about theology are emerging. Says Charles Van Hof, senior acquisitions editor at the University of Notre Dame Press: “Since most of what has been published has looked at Islam as a sociological or political phenomenon, there is particularly room for books that offer clarity about the religion itself, both its scripture and its theology.”

Comparative Approach Appeals

With a topic as broad and varied, and as potentially confusing, as Islam, the comparative approach is appealing. By lining up Islam alongside religious traditions their readers may be more familiar with, university presses educate on Islam in an accessible manner, leaving the door open to greater commercial sales. Richard Brown, director at Georgetown University Press, says that comparing how Muslims and Christians understand theological issues, among others, is “not simply a matter of trying to boil everything down into saying we are all the same. It's understanding a religion within the context of another religion.”

Some unexpected entries in this area are, from the University of Notre Dame Press, Opening the Qur'an: Introducing Islam's Holy Book by Walter Wagner, due this month, and the University of Minnesota Press's Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam, coming in spring 2009. Written originally in French by psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama, Psychoanalysis, according to editor Jason Weidemann, “puts the Qur'an on the couch” by applying the Western practice of psychoanalysis to the Qur'an.

Academic-oriented commercial publishers like Rowman & Littlefield are also seizing on the comparative trend. Associate editor Sarah Stanton says that authors and scholars themselves are including Islam in their otherwise typical studies of religion in America and the world. The recently published R&L book Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Searching for Oneness by Georgetown lecturer Ori Soltes, in comparing the mystic movements in the three major monotheistic religions, has a built-in comparative religion class audience. Similarly, Continuum is offering The Golden Rule: The Ethics of Reciprocity in World Religions, a comparison of the golden rule among religions, including an analysis of Islam's take on it, due out January 2009.

The 'John Esposito Effect'

Editors acknowledge the role that a single, talented scholar on Islam can play, not only with his or her own writings but also in introducing new scholars in the field. Oxford University Press has published preeminent Islam scholar John Esposito for years “Oxford really has its finger on the pulse, with author Esposito's help,” says Georgetown's Brown.

Cynthia Read, executive editor at Oxford, says that besides Esposito's own writings for Oxford, he introduced the press to Muslim author-scholar Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan's bold theological approach to Islam has not only spawned several books, strong sales and lucrative translation rights for Oxford (Ramadan's latest, Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation, coming out this month, has already had significant translation sales) but has inspired other university press writings. Notre Dame's The Theology of Tariq Ramadan by Gregory Baum, due in February 2009, connects Ramadan's ideas on Islamic theology back to similar theories in Catholic theology.

Columbia University professor and Islamic specialist Richard Bulliet's enthusiasm for his student Nerina Rustomji's monograph caught the attention of Columbia University Press senior executive editor Wendy Lochner, who is publishing the book in November. The Garden and the Fire describes the evolution of the understandings of heaven and hell in Islamic doctrine and in practice by Muslims.

Writing Locally to Understand Globally

A still popular approach in understanding Muslims continues to be the ethnography. By studying a specific ethnic community, authors shed light on one piece of the puzzle. American Muslims, in particular, with their racial diversity, are a ripe area for ethnic-based treatment. In December, New York University Press will publish American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender Within the Ummah by Spelman College assistant professor Jamillah Karim. Karim takes a contextual look at how American Muslim women in Chicago and Atlanta are negotiating race lines—largely African-American and South Asian women—to confront their common struggle in the Muslim gender divide. The University of North Carolina Press is developing a similar ethnography, American Muslim Women on Campus by Shabana Mir, to be published in 2010 as part of its Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks Series; Mir studies American Muslim female students and charts their growth and change during the college years.

Most ethnographies give university presses the chance to publish Muslim authors. Read, of Oxford, says, “I love the fact that we're publishing books that speak from within Islam.” One of those voices belongs to Sherman Jackson, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Michigan. His Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering, to be published in early 2009 by Oxford, will apply classical Islamic theology to the challenging question for Christian African-Americans of reconciling the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God with the suffering of Westerners of African descent.

Christian, Muslim Relationships

For author Anouar Majid, the expulsion of the Moors by a Christian Spanish regime symbolizes the modern tensions between Muslims and Westerners. His book, We Are All Moors, to be published by the University of Minnesota Press in spring 2009, explores the challenges the immigrant faces and the accompanying antiimmigrant attitude that Westerners have adapted. Majid's editor Weidemann says: “There's this notion in popular culture that Islam and the West just kind of ran into each other 10 years ago, and before that period we were completely separated.... There's a movement to contextualize the interactions between the West and Islam today by looking at the history of these interactions.”

In The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam, from Columbia, author Jonathan Riley-Smith presents a history of the Crusades, minus what he argues is the glorifying prism through which Christian Crusaders saw these wars. Lochner reports that the book has sold 2,000 copies before its official publication later this month.

Yale University Press's The Crisis of Islamic Civilization by Ali Allawi, to be published in spring 2009, measures the chaotic effect of colonialism on Muslim societies, yielding a fundamentalist Muslim response in some cases. From Princeton University Press, in December, is American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Global Terrorism. Author Thomas Kidd traces the attitude of evangelical American Christians from the colonial period through present day.

Islam Online

Two upcoming titles from university presses will take a close look at how Muslims use the Internet. Georgetown's Islamic Radicalization and Global Jihad by international relations theorists Devin R. Springer, James L. Regens and David N. Edger will look at, among other things, extremist Muslims' Internet postings in order to to better understand their movement. Georgetown director Brown believes that chain bookstores may carry the February 2009 title because of its hot topic.

Taking a deeper look at Muslims and the Internet is iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam by Gary Bunt, to be published in May 2009 by the University of North Carolina Press, also part of the Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks Series.

What's Next

Weidemann sees Minnesota's success with its September 2008 photography book The Somali Diaspora: A Journey Away by Abdi Roble and Doug Rutledge, focusing on the Somali-American Muslim community, as a harbinger: “I am tuned to this new generation of American Muslims. What books are they are going to want to read? I am interested in books that look at the experience of Muslim Americans in various communities in the U.S.”

Author Information
Hasan is the author of the upcoming Red, White, and Muslim: A Memoir in Belief, to be published by HarperOne in March 2009.