Muslim Identities

Muslim Identities: An Introduction to Islam

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Muslim Identities
    Book Description:

    Rather than focus solely on theological concerns, this well-rounded introduction takes an expansive view of Islamic ideology, culture, and tradition, sourcing a range of historical, sociological, and literary perspectives. Neither overly critical nor apologetic, this book reflects the rich diversity of Muslim identities across the centuries and counters the unflattering, superficial portrayals of Islam that are shaping public discourse today.

    Aaron W. Hughes uniquely traces the development of Islam in relation to historical, intellectual, and cultural influences, enriching his narrative with the findings, debates, and methodologies of related disciplines, such as archaeology, history, and Near Eastern studies. Hughes's work challenges the dominance of traditional terms and concepts in religious studies, recasting religion as a set of social and cultural facts imagined, manipulated, and contested by various actors and groups over time. Making extensive use of contemporary identity theory, Hughes rethinks the teaching of Islam and religions in general and helps facilitate a more critical approach to Muslim sources. For readers seeking a non-theological, unbiased, and richly human portrait of Islam, as well as a strong grasp of Islamic study's major issues and debates, this textbook is a productive, progressive alternative to more classic surveys.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53192-4
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Religious Studies and the Academic Study of Islam
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book steers a middle path between theological introductions to Islam and works that seek to undermine the religion. Although the latter are rarely, if ever, used in the college classroom, they play a large role in shaping public discourses about what Islam is or, perhaps better, is supposed to be. Their unflattering portrayals conflate Islam and violence or Muslims and terrorists and, as a result, overlook centuries of diversity within the tradition in order to score a political point in the present. The results are both unfair and tremendously inaccurate.

    The theological approach is also problematic. Often used in...

    • 1 SETTING THE STAGE: Pre-Islamic Arabia
      (pp. 17-40)

      Putting any religion’s origins under the microscope is an endeavor fraught with numerous tensions. Are we supposed to believe as true the stories that religious people tell themselves? Or do we attempt to disprove such stories using categories drawn from the secular sciences? The discrepancy between these two approaches symbolizes the tensions inherent to the modern study of religion, representing another variation on the classic theme of the apparent incommensurability between faith and reason. Outsiders usually dismiss religious accounts of origins as “mythic” and of little historical value. Insiders, by contrast, read the exact same stories but regard them as...

      (pp. 41-66)

      Both insiders and outsiders agree that the Quran is inexplicably bound up with the personality of Muhammad. Where they differ, of course, is in what they consider to be the nature of the relationship. For many believing Muslims, Muhammad is the vehicle of divine revelation, the carnation of the perfect man, illiterate of other scriptures, and the individual whose life and actions embody the ideal response to the Quran’s challenge. Although Muslims do not worship Muhammad in the sense that Christians see Jesus as God incarnate, they nevertheless regard him as a sanctified individual, sinless, whom God chose to be...

    • 3 THE QURAN: The Base Narrative
      (pp. 67-92)

      There is a danger of falling into an overly Protestant assumption that each and every religion possesses a written scripture that, unmediated by tradition or interpretation, functions as the essence of that religion. The goal of the spiritual life, according to this Protestant model, is for the believer to read the scripture alone as a way to attain salvation. This model, however, fits neither Islam nor most of the world’s religions. Because many Muslims cannot read Arabic, and because the Quran can be a very difficult text to understand, it is received within various communities of believers mediated through centuries...

      (pp. 95-114)

      As we saw in part I, the first two hundred years of Islam are mired in obscurity, and although we possess a great deal of material documenting these centuries, the fact is that much of that material comes from a later period. In the years after Muhammad’s death in 632, the veil slowly begins to lift, and we eventually can see more clearly as Muhammad’s message gradually becomes the cornerstone of what will emerge as a major social movement from Morocco in the West to as far as India in the East (and gradually beyond that). Nevertheless, the problem of...

      (pp. 115-132)

      Based on the broad historical survey presented in chapter 4, we can now explore some of the major doctrinal developments that emerged from the spread of Islam beyond the Arabian Peninsula. This chapter and chapters 6 and 7 shift from a synthetic narration of political, cultural, and religious history to a more narrow focus on the emergence of theological, legal, and religious difference. They accordingly present the rise and development of the major sectarian movements in Islam: Shiʿism, Sunnism, and Sufism. It is a mistake to assume, as is frequently done, that Sunni Islam emerged as normative from the chaotic...

      (pp. 133-153)

      As Muhammad’s message spread into various areas, each in possession of its own set of local religious, legal, and cultural traditions, subsequent generations—unlike earlier generations, for whom “being Arab” went a long way to defining “Islam” and who relied largely on prevailing custom and human reason—needed some form of systematic law to deal with pressing issues such as expansion and conversion, and to define what exactly constituted Islamic belief and practice. As a result, courts and their legal rulings (fatwas), perhaps more than any other institution, began to shape various Muslim worldviews. This chapter focuses on the legal...

    • 7 SUFISM
      (pp. 154-180)

      Muslim identity is a potentially fluid concept that is contingent on the perceived correct or normative interpretation of Muhammad’s message. Such interpretations are based on various groups’ ability to marshal sources that they construct as authoritative to legitimate a particular perspective on diverse matters that include everything from the political to the religious. Previous chapters focused largely on the institutions that developed over the issue of prophetic succession and the various legal, political, and institutional developments that emerge from it; the present chapter again returns us to Muhammad and offers yet another window onto the manifold ways that both his...

    • 8 CONSTITUTING IDENTITIES: Beliefs and Schools
      (pp. 183-202)

      What do Muslims believe? It is as difficult to provide an answer to this question as it is to provide an answer to the question of what Jews, Christians, or Hindus believe. Even if we were to say, as many do, that Muslims are radical monotheists—believing in the complete transcendence and oneness of God—how do we fit the cult of saints discussed in chapter 7 into this framework? To claim that all Muslims from Tunisia to Bangladesh believe the same things and have the same encounter with their religion is, of course, ridiculous. For example, some Muslims believe...

      (pp. 203-222)

      As in the previous chapter, here we again run up against the thorny problem of what constitutes a particular practice or action as distinctly “Muslim.” Are the various actions that a Muslim performs during the course of his or her day considered religious actions? We may consider some Muslim activities religious simply because they are activities that the modern West has deemed “religious” (e.g., prayer, going to a mosque), but what do we do with all those other activities that we conceive of as secular or nonreligious (e.g., cooking or crossing the street)? More controversially, where do we place the...

      (pp. 225-253)

      In august 1797, the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte initiated a military expedition to take control of Egypt, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, in order to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain’s access to India. The subsequent campaign, although ultimately unsuccessful, would have a powerful impact on the Ottoman Empire in general and the Arab world in particular. Among other things, the invasion demonstrated the military, technological, and organizational superiority of the western European powers over the Middle East. The encounter between Europe and Islam, long a complex one, would in the ensuing centuries create a set of...

      (pp. 254-273)

      One of the most visible markers of Muslim identity in the modern world is the veil. In Europe, many see the veil as a sign that Islam is not compatible with liberal European values, and in specific countries, most noticeably France, some regard the veil as an infringement on secular society and consider it a risk to the traditional separation of church and state. In 2004, for instance, the French government banned head coverings and other overt symbols of religious faith from schools. On the other side of the debate, some Muslims argue that legislation against veiling is a form...

      (pp. 274-296)

      The events of September 11, 2001, still painfully etched in many people’s minds, have played a crucial role in contemporary perceptions of Islam among both Muslims and non-Muslims. How, it was asked, could “religious” individuals fly planes filled with innocent passengers into buildings, killing thousands more? This question gave way to several others: “Who are these people,” some asked, perhaps naively, “and why do they hate us?” With these questions, a public discourse on Islam—what its main teachings are, what its opinions on particular topics are, what it condones or does not—has been created. Contributions to this discourse...

    (pp. 297-300)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 301-310)