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What Is Islam?: The Importance of Being Islamic
What Is Islam?: The Importance of Being Islamic
by Shahab Ahmed
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Taking the Long View, 28 Jan. 2016
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This is a great book. Reading it will make you wiser, as well as much better informed. It provides an exemplary description of the range, depth and value generated within the Islamic World in the centuries since Muhammad revealed the Qur’an. It ranges across Law, Religion, Culture, Hermeneutics, Form and Modernity, as well as geography, philosophy, Sufism, transcendence, literature, figurative art, poetry, alcohol and love, with particular attention given to the five thousand year span of the Islamic Balkans-to-Bengal complex. But ‘What is Islam’ also attempts the impossible in attempting to impose an inapplicable coherence and unity on to the total span of human and historical Islamic experience.
The author aims to provide “a coherent conceptualisation of Islam ”, and rejects a description of Islam as “a plastic congeries of beliefs and practices“ on the grounds that such a description cannot possibly qualify as a Concept. He does not satisfactorily address the question: 'What is the conceptual problem with diversity and incoherence; when that is how most things are? Nor does he accept that the demand for coherence - as a constituent part of the requirement that that the universe makes sense - is most characteristically a religious, rather than a rational, demand.

The author notes that “when Muslims act and speak exploratively - as opposed to prescriptively - as they seem to have spent a very great deal of their historical time doing, they are somehow not seen to be acting and speaking in a manner and register that is representative, expressive and constitutive of Islam ” and he supplies some interesting examples across the range of that exploration, while confirming that contemporary Wahhabist Islam is an historical aberration. But this vast and sophisticated survey of theological and ethical and social contradiction, the consequential disputation and the resultant destruction and death are out-with any rational concept of coherent unity. The conceptualisation that is required is the recognition of a contradictory and incoherent reality. We need to accept that a single thing can, quite properly, comprise an enormity of incoherent differences.
The author asks: “What then is Islam? ... How does one pin down a phenomenon ... so diffuse and dispersed, so complex and multi-form, so various and contradictory?” [And accepts that:] “we are talking ... about conceptualising unity in the face of outright contradiction”; [while acknowledging that a] “meaningful conceptualisation of Islam as a theoretical object and analytical category must come to terms with - indeed be coherent with - the capaciousness, complexity and, often, outright contradiction that obtains within the historical phenomenon that has proceeded from human engagement with the idea and reality of Divine Communication to Muhammad, the Messenger of God ”. [He argues that] “when we are unable to conceptualise how the different things ... relate to each other, we are …quite unable to conceptualise Islam itself ”.
But this is not so. It is perfectly possible to conceptualise Islam as a manifold of incoherent and dis-united relations. Clearly, history can demonstrate that any such ‘different thing’ may well be a response to another such thing and that they do relate to one another in their opposition; but to argue that such a relationship, or the existence of so tense a link, renders their relationship coherent, or can configure a unity, is to distort the meaning of these terms.
‘What is Islam’ claims that “The key to conceptualising Islam is to identify the dynamic that renders things, despite their differences, mutually implicated in a shared process and relation of meaning” and proposes that “we conceptualise Islam … as hermeneutical engagement … by an actor … with a source … of (potential) meaning … that … produces meaning for the actor by way of the source.” This may well seem dauntingly over-schematic, but the claim that we conceptualise, and thereby re-make Islam through our own interpretations of it has formidable contemporary implications:
“ … [T]he source-object of the hermeneutical engagement … is not … the text of the Qur’an (and the Hadith) … it is not scripture alone …. Qur’anic exegesis is not quite the same thing as Islamic exegesis. … [T]he act of revelation to Muhammad, plus … [the] text of Revelation … does not encompass and is not co-extensive or con-substantial with the full … reality of Revelation. … Inherent in the ... structure of the Revelatory act is the ... Revelatory premise … of the Universal Reality of the Unseen God, whose Truth is ([only] in some measure) knowable and becomes ([only] in some measure) known. ... The Text … requires as its premise an Unseen Reality … that lies beyond and behind the Text … and upon which the act, Text and truth of Revelation are contingent ”.
Ahmed coins the neologism ‘The Pre-Text of Revelation’ for this Unseen Reality, “which is ontologically prior to and, [in terms of its truth-content, larger than] the textual product of … Revelation. [It] should not be misconstrued as ... chronologically prior to the Text, [but, rather as] “… continuously present … at all times and places, as the domain of higher Truth.” [He goes on to claim] “that the Qur’an/Text of the Revelation is true but does not encompass all the Truth of the Unseen Pre-Text of Revelation is accepted by all Muslims. ”
With both Text and Pre-Text in place, Ahmed proceeds to formulate the Con-Text of Revelation as “a further dimension to hermeneutical engagement with Revelation … an act carried out in a historical context … [it] is the body of meaning that is the product and outcome of [all] previous hermeneutical engagement with Revelation, … that whole … vocabulary of meanings … that have been produced in the course of human and historical … engagement with Revelation … and to which … Muslims, acting as Muslims, have … attached themselves. ... [It] does not only take the form of textual discourse, but includes [all] the various individual and collective practices … and ritual …that constitute action made meaningful to the actor in terms of Islam. … It obviously includes the discourse of every Muslim actor and meaning-maker … in all their variety and contradiction. … [It] is the entire accumulated lexicon of means [to] and meanings of Islam, historically generated and recorded up to any given moment. ”
Quite how this differs from: “Islam is what Muslims do and have done” is not clear, since Ahmed accepts that none of the Con-Text can be rejected; but he then produces an extended metaphor of such eloquence and power that there can’t be many readers who will not say, with a smile of recognition: “So that’s what he means”:
“It might be useful to think of Con-Text in terms of a built environment of meaning – built … out of hermeneutical engagement with Revelation – which Muslims inhabit. … Con-text is the centuries-old city of Islam, a great and sprawling city consisting of various edifices erected for the various purposes of living by Muslims of bygone and present times, made in different forms and out of different materials, in various states of preservation, renovation and disrepair, of wide ranging functions with different degrees of use and dis-use, with quarters and neighbourhoods inhabited by diverse peoples doing different things – all of which are nonetheless component elements ... of what is ultimately, for all its citizens the same shared environment and ecosystem of living and identification.”
This is writing that escapes the confines of academic discourse.
With regard to the present, Ahmed is careful not to claim too much: “In some historical instances, this space of contradiction might be very small indeed ”. … “I venture that most twenty-first century societies of Muslims are societies [where] the prescriptive and monovalent nature of the canonical texts and practices … [do] not allow for more than a narrow space for the entertainment of contradiction in terms of Islam. [However,] “in other historical instances - such as … the … Balkans-to-Bengal complex in the period 1350-1850, the space of exploratory contradiction was very large indeed and ... embraces a wide swath of society. ” And he is both realistic and regretful regarding the recent past and the immediate present: “The notion of the Balkans-to-Bengal complex as a paradigm of human and historical Islam plays next to no role anywhere. The overwhelming bulk of modern reformist discourse has largely stayed within the ... epistemology of Textual-legalism, rather than take up ... the difficult and perilous path of the Sufi-philosophical amalgam ... a language with fewer and fewer speakers and thus ... carrying less and less meaning for societies of Muslims ”. He disavows wistfulness: “Despite my efforts to elucidate the complexity and richness of pre-modern Islam, mine is not an agenda of nostalgia. This is certainly not to say that I reject nostalgia out of hand ... we should not dismiss outright the possibility that some things about 'the good old days' might indeed have been good.”
His defence of the book is clearly focussed: “What is Islam’ poses the question of: whether … in what degree and by what mechanism, the [Unseen Reality of the] Truth of the Pre-Text of Revelation may be accessed without the Text, or via the Text, or only in the Text?” … “[N]aming the primary sources of Revelation as ‘Pre-text’ and ‘Text’ … enables us to see and understand how commitment to … Revelation can be and is in good faith … conceived of as engagement with a source of Truth other than the Text of Revelation. This … enables us to … understand the prolific and various Muslim engagements with the [limitless Unseen Reality] of the Pre-Text of Revelation as Islam. … We become able … to conceptualise Muslim engagements with Revelation as explorations of Pre-Text in search of Truth and Meaning … to make further Con-Text, which is further Islam ” “This book has … focussed on the mutually constitutive relationship between Islam and Muslims: on how Islam makes Muslims as Muslims make Islam.” … “meaning - making for the self, by one-fifth of humanity is Islam. Let us understand, apprehend and benefit from the importance of being Islamic. ” …
‘What is Islam’ draws on the whole of Pre-Text, Text and Con-Text to cover all that has been thought, said, written, done and made within the historical and geographical boundaries of such people as bear witness to accepting the truth of God's Revelation to Muhammad. One is Islamic by virtue of having functioned within an Islamic society. Islam, like everything else that is human, is historical happenstance.
However, to have something - such as acknowledging The Revelation to Mohammed - in common, or even to have a number of such things in common, is not to cohere. The Umma does not, and never did, cohere, though various sects and ethnicities sometimes have. This does not mean that the Umma does not exist, or that the term ‘Islam’ means and is worth nothing; it simply asserts that there is no valid sense of coherence or unity in which Islam can be historicised or conceptualised as being a coherent unity. But as ‘What is Islam’ triumphantly demonstrates the call that Islam makes upon us is entitled to our attention, admiration and respect. As the book demonstrates: “Islam is a sufficiently distinct phenomenon … to be conceptualised and understood … on its own terms ” rather than on ours.
{Square brackets [] are my own interpolations}.


My Family and Other Disasters
My Family and Other Disasters
by Lucy Mangan
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Clever and funny and true., 24 Nov. 2015
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This is a life enhancing book, more women and many more men should be reading it.


The Reluctant Bride: One Woman's Journey (Kicking and Screaming) Down the Aisle
The Reluctant Bride: One Woman's Journey (Kicking and Screaming) Down the Aisle
by Lucy Mangan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Clever and funny and true., 24 Nov. 2015
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This is a life enhancing book, more women and many more men should be reading it.


Hopscotch & Handbags: The Truth about Being a Girl
Hopscotch & Handbags: The Truth about Being a Girl
by Lucy Mangan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Clever and funny and true., 24 Nov. 2015
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This is a life enhancing book, more women and many more men should be reading it.


Konig Traveller Camera Camcorder Tripod
Konig Traveller Camera Camcorder Tripod
Offered by NowView
Price: £9.65

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight and Durable, 9 Sept. 2015
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It's stronger than it looks


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Starter Camera on the Market, 9 Sept. 2015
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It is reliable and straightforward to use, the problems encountered are mostly to do with the animal subjects, it's best used with a good tripod.
The supplier's customers service / support is first class. The price makes it very good value for money
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2015 12:14 PM BST


Gut
Gut
by Giulia Enders
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Be Shy or Squeamish, 14 Aug. 2015
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This review is from: Gut (Paperback)
This is useful, scientifically respectable and written from an attractively different point of view.


THREE PACKS of Pitrok Ltd Natural Deodrant Spray 100ml
THREE PACKS of Pitrok Ltd Natural Deodrant Spray 100ml
Offered by Salveo Department Store
Price: £13.53

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Works, 9 Jan. 2015
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It works


Frozen [DVD]
Frozen [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chris Buck
Offered by Special Interests
Price: £9.99

2.0 out of 5 stars For those who don't mind - or even notice - being confused, 9 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Frozen [DVD] (DVD)
The majority can't be wrong


Andrew James Electric Knife Sharpener - Two Stage Sharpener- Grinds and Fine Hones Kitchen Knives
Andrew James Electric Knife Sharpener - Two Stage Sharpener- Grinds and Fine Hones Kitchen Knives
Offered by AJ GOODS LTD
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars It Helps, 9 Jan. 2015
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It helps


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