Islam remains a fertile field for study and for scholarly religion publishing. New titles from major university, academic, and trade presses meticulously deconstruct prevailing ideas of Islam as a monolithic faith, unpacking centuries of highly varied Islamic art, history, and cultural expressions to represent contemporary practices and believers.
What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic by Shahab Ahmed (Princeton Univ., Dec.) is a big book (624 pages) by necessity, since its argument ranges over the whole of Islam—an unusual approach in Islamic studies today, says executive editor Fred Appel. Ahmed was a specialist in Islamic legal studies at Harvard, and is conversant in the four major languages spoken in Islamic cultures. His book surveys nine centuries of history to reveal the contradictions beneath the idea of Islam as a monolithic religion defined by laws that require certain behaviors and forbid others. Ahmed unexpectedly died of an illness in September. “It is tragic that I must publish [Ahmed’s] field-altering book posthumously,” Appel says.
From the University of North Carolina Press’s well-established Islamic studies publishing program comes The Transnational Mosque: Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East by Kishwar Rizvi (Nov.), an architect and art historian at Yale. Rizvi uncovers the networks of money and influence that create contemporary mosques and reveals the national identities and ideologies the mosques represent. Elaine Maisner, senior executive editor at the press, says that considering Islam as a material religion with distinctive sacred spaces and objects is fruitful and necessary; a number of forthcoming books from the press will also examine religious arts and practices such as local pilgrimages. “We’re trying to focus on the millions and millions of Muslims who practice their religion every day within a humanistic context,” Maisner says.
Hospitality and Islam: Welcoming in God’s Name by Mona Siddiqui (Yale Univ., Nov.) examines the neglected topic of hospitality in religion. Siddiqui, who teaches at the University of Edinburgh and is also a media commentator in the U.K., looks theologically at what it means to welcome a stranger, drawing from both Islamic and Christian traditions. Executive editor Jennifer Banks says the press is continuing to build an interdisciplinary list in Islamic studies, with books in the works on the theological foundations of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), among other topics.
Oxford University Press adds to its deep list in Islamic studies with Islam and Democracy After the Arab Spring by John L. Esposito, Tamara Sonn, and John O. Voll (Oct.) and One Islam, Many Muslim Worlds by Raymond William Baker (Sept.). Theo Calderara, editor-in-chief of history and religion, says, “What these works share is that they are at the cutting edge of a trend in Islamic studies toward exploring in much greater depth the diversity of Islam in the contemporary world.”
Harvard University Press’s fall list includes the distinctly general-interest book Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz (Oct.). Executive-editor-at-large Sharmila Sen says there is not a need for more books arguing that Islam is a religion of peace or one of violence. Instead, she says, younger scholars should bear in mind that the debate about what is or is not Islamic has a definite history, and they need to produce books about a global religion for an international audience—books that shift how to think about religion and society. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone from the next generation of scholars can do that, instead of peddling xenophobia or offering apologia?” Sen asks.
New Qur’an Translation, 10 Years in the Making, Pubs in November
A new translation, with commentary, of the Qur’an, Islam’s sacred text, also debuts this fall. The Study Qur’an (HarperOne, Nov.) has been 10 years in the making, spearheaded by editor-in-chief Seyyed Hossein Nasr, working with a team of editors. The new translation is English text only, with the commentary provided in footnotes. Fifteen essays are written by Islamic scholars from around the globe. The supplemental materials show differing schools of interpretation of the sacred text.
General editor Caner K. Dagli was heavily involved in the design of the text. “The content of the book brings out a huge amount of the Islamic intellectual tradition, and I wanted the book to be a link to, and pale reflection of, the aesthetic tradition as well,” says Dagli, who teaches religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross. He developed an ornamental verse medallion that is aesthetically compatible with an English-language typeface. The cover draws on traditional Islamic art elements and colors. Dagli studied book design, Islamic geometry, and typography and had years to rework his ideas. “I wanted it to be a fruit of the Islamic artistic tradition, but cultivated in American soil, as it were,” says Dagli, who is himself a Muslim. “This is a special book,” he adds.