I've just created a new category of post on here; that's how excited I am about this piece of news that I wanted to share with you! To the news...
I wrote a paragraph here listing the many reasons I respect Shaykh Akram Nadwi, but I feel like that would be contrary to his (from what I see) ethos of humility and getting on with work without too much talk, ma sha Allah. Instead, I'll just say that of all the work he does, the two most relevant to this post are his particular focus on involving women in Muslim intellectual and social life and publishing his own books in multiple languages.
But the book I am referring to is is no simple book: it's a 43-volume biographical dictionary of female hadith scholars across history! Entitled الوفاء بأسماء النساء (Al-Wafa' Bi Asma' An-Nisa'), this collection is written in Arabic. However, for non-Arabic speakers or those who want a shorter read since this is more of a reference collection, an introductory book called Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam was published in English in 2007 and can be bought here. I read this book a few years ago and it really opened my eyes to the range and sheer number of women who have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of Islam through history in a major way.
As a side note, Safiya and I had a discussion about women's spirituality and individual, personal worship in the motherhood podcast episode recently and I feel like this type of publication can really help to refresh the understanding of Muslim women and men that being a woman (and indeed a mother, wife, daughter, etc.) is certainly not a reason to be any less ambitious in our study and contribution to the Islamic Sciences. I'm sure it could also give us something to think about in terms of how our social structures often fail to support women in these endeavours - another topic discussed in that episode. Of course, it's one thing to make airy statements about women's importance in Islam and another thing to have a 43-volume collection of books listing the lives and contributions of generations and generations of Muslim women.
May this work serve as a reference for many other scholars and academics to produce impactful, meaningful work. May Allah accept this huge work from Shaykh Akram and reward him and his family and all those involved in this work immensely. May Allah have mercy on all the women and men across history who have strived and dedicated their lives to Islamic scholarship, giving us the rich literature we can refer to today.
Source: Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi (Official) Facebook page
The ladies at The Qarawiyyin Project kindly invited me to suggest a book for one of their book list posts recently. I was excited to work with them since I really admire what they are doing and strongly recommend having a look at the articles on their site.
For my review, I picked a book that I haven't reviewed on this blog, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylviane A. Diouf. This book was a very educational experience for me, helping me to reframe a lot of what I had previously learnt about the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I include my review below; please also go to The Qarawiyyin Project's full post to see the reviews written by other excellent Muslim women book reviewers.
Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylviane A. Diouf
Servants of Allah is a striking work for several reasons. Starting with the social, economic and religious context of West Africa before the Transatlantic Slave Trade, its ambitious scope also covers the daily experiences of enslaved Muslim Africans in the Americas, their leading roles in uprisings and their legacy there today. In every chapter, the level of detail and scholarly rigour is apparent, leading to a deeply rewarding and eye-opening experience for the Muslim reader. The only area that felt occasionally imprecise was some descriptions of practices by Muslims that seem to be specific to the individual context rather than the strictly Islamic practices an unacquainted reader might interpret them as, such as the use of talismans.
This book complicates the dominant narrative and steps outside the definitions and confines imposed by some Western discourse on a range of key issues. In particular, it explores conceptions of slavery, Islam in West Africa, racial versus religious identity, the intellectual and social status of people taken as slaves and, of course, their religious beliefs. Many discussions around these topics often skim over such nuances, leading to misconceptions and gaps in knowledge which may then be filled by people with less honourable motivations. While this book is certainly not an authoritative religious text, it provides much needed context to allow the reader to ask deeper, more fruitful questions.
Although this is primarily an academic book, Diouf’s tone is one of curiosity, humility and respect for the people she describes. This makes reading it not only an intellectually stimulating experience, but also an intensely emotional one. A sense of the vastness, beauty and power of our history and Ummah is felt in the intimate and empathetic descriptions of individual lives. It portrays the efforts made to hold onto faith against sometimes targeted oppression, and the strength and dignity of Muslims who didn’t just go through the motions, but lived Islam as an all-encompassing way of life. Perhaps the most significant strength of this book is how it flips the passive discourse around these men and women known simply as “slaves” and creates a deeply impactful picture of Muslims who knew who they were, where they came from and their ultimate destination. While rose-tinted glasses benefit no one and Diouf’s accounts are rightly not all positive, such a personal and empowered representation of enslaved peoples and Muslims is important for everyone with sincere interest.
As this book covers many complex topics, it is a good starting point that can then give direction to further reading, supported by a substantial bibliography at the end.
Please go to The Qarawiyyin Project's post to see the full list and reviews!
I Refuse to Condemn is not the type of book I find easy to review; it's a complex interweaving of the personal and the structural rooted in the writers' difficult, painful experiences. Although I attempted to review it in this post, I considered that more a collection of thoughts. In such cases, I like to highlight particular lines or chapters that struck me, so I thought I would do so in this post.
Note: I was provided with an advanced review copy of this book by the publisher and editor with no conditions attached.
Remaking Rule #1: 'I -Utterly- Refuse to Condemn...' by Shenaz Bunglawala
What if communication isn't just about what is said by a speaker, but about the integrity of the content being communicated, the agency inherent in the act of speaking out? What happens with the dissolution of this agency when the speaker parrots not their own words but words chosen to mollify an audience, is it possible for a Muslim to be ambivalent about something like this?
After the powerful and personal introduction by editor Asim Qureshi, I felt that this chapter was a strong start to the collection. It broke down the discussion around the book's topic, the expectation for Muslims to explicitly condemn violent acts by Muslims, in a way that was clearly developed and rooted in a tangible reality. Of course, I'm not suggesting that only numbers and tangible measures are of value in such a discussion, but I found it insightful and took a different approach to other pieces in the collection.
The Four Stages of Moral Panic by Adam Elliott-Cooper
News items exploring questions relating to racism which have little tangible effect on people's lives, perhaps only distantly connected to the realities of racism (affecting housing, employment, immigration status, criminal justice or health), can create the impression that anti-racism is a somewhat petty culture war.
Reading this was a moment of realisation for me.
Hearing young Black people recount stories of violence and drug distribution is met with wide eyes and open mouths. And while we should always be shocked at stories from our streets in which harm is caused or risk is taken in the possession and sale of criminalised drugs, can we really be surprised?
Navigating Refusal Within the Academy by Shereen Fernandez and Azeezat Johnson
Something which I had to grapple with alone in my own fieldwork was the feeling of familiarity; the fact that I could see myself in my participants' experiences and narrations. This became a source of being both protective and defensive when it came to my research and more importantly, my participants. Rather than see it as a limitation, I argue that such a connection elevates our research to higher standards of accountability which so often is ignored in academia.
Working in these spaces is predicated on the suppression of emotional responses to the violence we and our loved ones face: we are asked to cut out parts of who we are to fit within the confines of academic debate.
Secular academia and Prevent is not a combination any Muslim is excited to engage with. This piece brought some difficult feelings to the surface for me. May Allah give us courage when we need it, wisdom in our silence and forgiveness for our shortcomings.
The (Im)Possible Muslim by Yassir Morsi
The part of us as humans that exists on 'land' presents no problem for me to conceptualise. I am Egyptian, British, Australian, I am a psychologist, I am academic. I am the sum of my lived experiences; my everydayness, my lineage and heritage. However, the second part of us, the half of the boat in the 'water', our extra-natural part, is ready to set sail, ready to grow upwards, to search and seek, ready to strive for the pleasure of God, ready to submit. [...] Condemnation is a regressive initiation act for Muslims [...] that denies one half of our being.
This piece was one of the most touching and profound for me; not only did it address a crucial element that is rarely present in secular discussions around this topic - the impact of existing in such an environment on a Muslim's faith and Islam - but it was also written in a beautiful, sensitive, poetic style.
It is Allah Who Condemns by Cyrus McGoldrick
We are not minorities, but members of the ummah of Muhammad. We are a body, wherever we go. Wherever we were born, wherever we die, even if we have no leader or state, we are a nation. Our allegiance to each other is a divine obligation.
Another chapter that gave me a feeling of recognition, I felt that this one said out loud some ideas that many Muslims might sense but not know how to or want to voice publicly. It was also written honestly and openly, carrying the reader along on McGoldrick's emotional and intellectual journey as he navigated trying to live his faith with integrity.
I think these quotes summarise the combination of approaches in this book that helped me to think about this topic. The first three highlight the structural injustices that need to be understood and addressed by us as Muslims who aspire to a just world for all. While we are trying to do this, we need to protect our understanding of who we are and our ultimate purpose. The last two quotes soothed my heart in addressing this, whether directly or otherwise. Contrary to some messaging from mainstream and other media, we need protect our hearts to ensure we don't internalise their narrative to the point where we become "the Other" in our own lives. May Allah guide us to understand our value in the way He has taught us: in our relationship with Him.
For some related reviews, resources and pertinent questions, read the review of this book here.
I've been thinking about this book for a while after finishing it and I've come to the conclusion that it has real potential as a new Muslim-specific personality type test. It would work something like this: for each chapter, you choose how much it resonated with you on a spectrum and then at the end you get an overall score about how you deal with the pressure to hate yourself (aka condemn the world's Muslim population).
I joke, but this demonstrates what I feel is the strength of this book: the variety of perspectives and wide-ranging responses offered by the different contributors as well as the fact that they all have intimate experience of the topic through their professional life, social work and/or research. For context, this book provides insight into the workings and impact of racism in national security policies and discourse with specific focus on Muslims from the Western world in the context of the "War on Terror". It is divided into four broad sections focusing on the history of these policies and attitudes, and three different areas of impact and resistance: structural, personal and performative. Within these sections, some writers choose to focus more on the detailed workings of the system, others on its psychological and emotional effects and others on the spiritual impacts and response.
I mentioned in a previous post about this book, before I had read it, that one of my expectations was that it would help me to break down my own feelings and experiences around the topic. There were a few chapters that certainly did this for me, but for the most part, it wasn't the cathartic experience that other reviewers have mentioned, but more of an exploration of how others perceive and deal with these challenges in their own contexts, where they have largely faced much more direct, aggressive examples of this than I have. May Allah protect them, their families and everyone in similar situations. Having said that, I suspect that this is one of those books that will keep rolling around in my mind, shining a brighter light on relevant experiences and ideas that pop up every now and then as I go through daily life.
I had hoped that since it was by Muslims for Muslims (in my understanding but maybe I'm mistaken), it might go a bit further in terms of questioning how we can move forward using frameworks rooted more explicitly in a Muslim consciousness and with reference to Islamic thought and history. I do realise that this may be influenced by my own perspective and expectations and perhaps there are elements that I have overlooked.
However, I don't want this to suggest that this book is anything less than a valuable contribution to discussion around the topic at hand: a rigorous and sincere work by the editor Asim Qureshi and the contributors. It is also quite ground-breaking in its particular focus on the Muslim experience of national security policies, which particularly in academic circles is often written about by non-Muslim scholars.
I don't want this to be too long, so I think I will write another post to highlight a few particular quotes and chapters that struck me, in sha Allah. In the meantime, here are a few questions that came to mind as I was reading:
Note: I was provided with an advanced review copy of this book by the publisher with no conditions attached.
Alhamdu Lillah, I started this book about five months ago and today I finished it! It's not a long book nor is it written in a complicated, heavy style, but the ideas in it are deep and I wanted to take it slowly to give myself time to understand them properly (I was also extremely busy for several of those months, so that didn't help).
This isn't a review post; I don't expect to write a review of this book because that is beyond my ability, but I might write a different type of post, in sha Allah. For now, I'm just excited about this moment and thought I'd celebrate it by sharing a striking few lines from the conclusion. Bennabi is certainly not one for superficial, feel good statements; although a lot of this book focuses on the numerous complex problems facing the Muslim world, there is always a sense of optimism based in complete confidence in Islam as the ultimate guidance for all mankind and I think this confidence comes through in these final words. May Allah have mercy on him and accept all his work as a source of ongoing charity for him and his family.
I hope you and your families are in good health and faith, in sha Allah. I have been quiet on here in the last couple of months. This wasn't planned, but there were some logistic challenges and somehow running a podcast seems to be becoming more, not less, demanding as it progresses! Perhaps this is a reflection of my own higher aspirations and expectations for it and from involving more very welcome voices onto the podcast.
I'm taking an intentional break from recording for a couple of months now. Part of the reason is because this podcast has totally consumed my reading life and it has been quite a long time since I have just chosen a book to read at random without worrying about what I'm going to discuss on the next episode, so I'm looking forward to having some time to do that, in sha Allah (and maybe write a couple of reviews)! The other part of the reason is because I want to take some time to think about whether I can/want to continue to run the podcast as it is and, if not, what changes I can implement to make it more sustainable. I'm also considering the possibility of bringing it to an end, which is a saddening thought, though not likely at the moment but possible; let's see, in sha Allah.
On this note, I'd like to ask you for a few minutes of your time to help me with my decision-making process by telling me what you think of the podcast in the form below (make sure you click "Submit" at the end). Even if you don't have a lot of ideas, I'd appreciate any comments you have. It's anonymous and you don't have to answer all the questions.
Thank you for your support and see you in the blog comments section, in sha Allah!
On this journey, I'm joined by Safiya as we discuss
Safiya on Instagram: @safiyareads
Safiya's blog: www.safiyareads.wordpress.com
Find out more about Safiya in her guest profile here.
Other books mentioned
Related reading/listening (not endorsements)
Click below for the transcript with time markers.
I don't often accept advance reading copies of books because I already have so many books I haven't read and I don't like to take a book if I'm not fully committed to reading it, especially for free. However, when I was offered I Refuse to Condemn, I had to think twice. I Refuse to Condemn is a collection of chapters by writers from a range of disciplines and experiences centred around the racialisation of national security discourse and practice.
This is a topic that I am deeply concerned about at a theoretical and macro level. As a Muslim living in the UK, I have inevitably been affected by some of the problems and situations explored in this book. I have only read the editor Asim Qureshi's introduction so far; yet, in those few pages, I have already found familiarity in the scenes described. However, in terms of personal experience, I think it's something I try not to think about. My general approach is to focus on my own actions, on trying to be a positive member of society and not dwelling on how the antagonism of state policies and attitudes might be trying to pull me back.
When I read the description of this book, though, I decided maybe it was time for me to open that box of avoided feelings and look directly at the psychological and emotional effects of this antagonism. It was my hope that by exploring the thoughts of those who have taken a different approach to this experience, I can understand myself, the experiences of others and the construction of such systems better. I was surprised to read in the introduction that I was not alone in this aspiration, as Asim Qureshi echoes it in his introduction: "Perhaps one of the most surprising things about this volume is the way in which the contributors helped to complicate my own understanding of this deeply difficult subject".
I hope that by reading this book, I will be able to understand my own psychological and emotional responses better, so that I can be more empathetic, constructive and nuanced in the way I deal with this subtle (for me) yet unavoidable aspect of my and many others' present lives.
I Refuse to Condemn is available to purchase in the UK from today, 15th November 2020, and is set to be released on 12th January 2021 in the US, in sha Allah.
Book Thoughts: Are we Getting Caught in Our Own Net(Work)s? (Focus: China: Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan)
Reading time: about 7 minutes.
Waste Tide (荒潮) by Chen Qiufan (陈楸帆), a Chinese sci-fi novel, led me into a genre and a world region that I am not very familiar with in literary terms, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I had already read a short story by Chen Qiufan and really enjoyed it: The Year of the Rat in the contemporary Chinese sci-fi anthology, Invisible Planets, edited and translated by Ken Liu (who also translated Waste Tide). I thought that story had strong characters and took the reader on an emotional journey while critiquing the role of the state and media in dehumanising individuals in war situations. In Waste Tide, Chen Qiufan again explores social issues and power dynamics and, although I didn’t feel such a strong connection to the characters, I thought he raised some interesting questions. Chen Qiufan, also known as Stanley Chen, is a writer from SE China who has also worked in tech and maintains relationships with both worlds. He has published a number of novels and short stories, several of which have been translated into multiple languages.
Waste Tide takes place almost entirely on Silicon Isle, a fictional island off China’s south east coast, where electronic waste from around the world is sent to be sorted and recycled. The Mandarin name for Silicon Isle, Gui Yu (硅屿), is a quasi-homophone of the name of a real town near Chen Qiufan’s hometown (贵屿) that was once known as the biggest e-waste site in the world and suffered from extreme pollution and environmental damage. The story follows three main characters: Scott, an American recycling company representative with motives that turn out to be more about American politics and economics; Silicon Isle-born emigrant Chen Kaizong whose emigrant saviour complex transforms into a deeper understanding and sympathy with the people he meets; and Mimi, one of the “waste people”, migrant workers from other parts of China who manually sort through toxic electronic waste every day, hoping to save enough money to go back home and set their families up comfortably.
Chen explores a range of themes in this novel, some more familiar to me than others: social inequality, language as a soclal identifier, emigrant experiences, spirituality, traditions and customs, corruption in government and others. Given my limited understanding of the social and historical context, I know that there were elements of this novel that I didn’t fully grasp. This is not a review, therefore, but an exploration of some of the themes that caught my attention, namely globalisation and consumerism and the human impacts of technological developments.
I am sort of thinking of this as a new year reflections post. It's not really the new year anymore since we're already halfway through Safar, but since I didn't write one at the beginning of the year, I thought I would call it that anyway. This post is more directly the result of a combination of a question asked by Assia (@shereadsox on Instagram) - "what is Bookstagram* to you?" - and a lot of thinking I've been doing recently about Instagram and the way social media influences the conversations I have with people and the podcast itself.
What is Bookstagram to you? This is a question that is a recurring part of my "social media thought cycle", but I have been asking it increasingly frequently recently. I joined Instagram with my podcast account primarily to have somewhere to share new episodes and perhaps have a few interesting discussions. At the time, I had not long started my 2018 Reading the World project and it occurred to me that Instagram might be a great place to find book recommendations by people in different parts of the world that are not limited to the promotions of mainstream UK publishers, bookshops and reviewers.
I have indeed discovered some great books. I have also come across many sincere, passionate, intelligent people on this platform who have shared their thoughts and experiences of reading in many ways and in open, thoughtful discussions. Some of them have also become the most common guests on the podcast and have helped to transform this podcast into an ongoing learning experience for me as well as the listeners, I hope.
Reader. Occasional writer. Muslim.
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