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Mr Tea-Mole (Lancashire, England)

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Poetic Slimline Portfolio Case for Amazon Fire HD 7 4th Generation (2014)
Poetic Slimline Portfolio Case for Amazon Fire HD 7 4th Generation (2014)
Offered by Smart Shop Online

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, sleek cover, 13 Aug. 2015
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Fits the Kindle Fire 7 inch (4th gen) perfectly with just the right size cutouts for all the ports including speakers. A good quality, durable product that also looks very sleek and is not bulky in the least (some of the other cases add another inch onto the tablet). Mine arrived within 10 days and with a 3 year warranty, at this price you simply can't go wrong. It also automatically puts the tablet on standby when you close the case and switches the screen on when you open it which is an added bonus. All-in a great purchase and I'm happy.


Asus X200MA 11.6-Inch Notebook (Red) - (Intel Celeron N2840 2.16 GHz, 2 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD, Integrated Graphics, Windows 8.1)
Asus X200MA 11.6-Inch Notebook (Red) - (Intel Celeron N2840 2.16 GHz, 2 GB RAM, 500 GB HDD, Integrated Graphics, Windows 8.1)

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars TOUCHSCREEN DOES NOT WORK, 31 July 2015
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I have 3 of these laptops - the touchscreen works on none of them. Out of the box it simply does not respond and, having trouble-shooted it, Windows does not even recognise it as a touchscreen model! This led me to think it had been mis-advertised as a touchscreen, but having contacted ASUS and given them the serial number they confirmed it is indeed a touchscreen model. Also if you go on the ASUS website and find this model, you will see it is a touchscreen. Therefore a) either there is a whole batch of faulty laptops that are not touchscreen OR b) the touchscreen functionality is not compatible with the Windows 8.1 this comes pre-installed with. Windows 10 has just come out and this laptop qualifies for a free update - so I'm going to wait and see if this solves the issue. Otherwise I can either return to Amazon for a refund or send to ASUS for repair (ASUS actually advised me to simply return it for a refund). Apart from the touchscreen issue it's a nifty little laptop that looks sleek and seems to pack a punch. Not really used it much so can't comment on the slowness issues others have mentioned. But disappointed that Amazon would include a sub-par product as one of their flash sale (15 July) features...

UPDATE: This definitely is NOT a touchscreen model. I sent it to ASUS for repair and they sent it back with a message saying it is NOT a touchscreen model. It is therefore misadvertised.


COFFEY: THE ETHNOGRAPHIC (P) SELF; FIELDWORK AND THE REPRE-SENTATION OF IDENTITY: Fieldwork and the Representation of Identity
COFFEY: THE ETHNOGRAPHIC (P) SELF; FIELDWORK AND THE REPRE-SENTATION OF IDENTITY: Fieldwork and the Representation of Identity
by Amanda Coffey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £39.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A considered insight into how ethnography affects YOU, 27 Aug. 2013
In an incisive and pithy 160 pages, Coffey elaborates her basic premise that ethnographic fieldwork is an essentially human activity which cannot be divorced from the selfhood of the ethnographer. We inhabit the field we study, building relationships, developing rapports and intimately binding our personal narratives to that of our social participants. Ethnography simultaneously informs and is informed by our sense of self. Employing the metaphor of a romantic love affair (Chapter 6), Coffey explores the deep emotional attachments which often develop between an ethnographer and their field, driving home the multiply experienced reality that ethnographic fieldwork does not occur in a vacuum, nor does the ethnographer occupy a realm of autonomous reality insulated from the effects of the field. Rather, in seeking to understand the social world of our participants we are implicitly involved in recasting our understandings of ourselves: "In researching, constructing and writing the lives of others we are engaged in negotiating and writing ourselves" (pg. 47).

Drawing upon a comprehensive array of extant field studies, The Ethnographic Self consists of nine relatively self-contained chapters structured loosely around two themes: the ethnographic experience in the field (chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5) and the later recalling, interpretation and representation of that experience by the ethnographer (chapters 6, 7 and 8). Coffey thus seeks to capture the totality of the ethnographic endeavour demonstrating how aspects of self permeate each stage of the ethnographic process.

Whilst acknowledging the utility of well-known methods textbooks outlining how to 'do' qualitative research, Coffey makes clear that her focus is on unpacking "how fieldwork research and textual practice construct, reproduce and implicate selves, relationships and personal identities" (pg. 1). She goes on (Chapter 2) to challenge simplistic dichotomies of researcher-as-stranger versus over-immersion in the field, arguing instead for a nuanced middle way in which "The ethnographer cultivates strangeness and distance in order to gain insight and understanding of the cultural setting while experiencing personal growth, based upon a view of the self as a product of and subject to its own agency and will" (pg. 22).

Coffey's third chapter examines the implications of the fact that fieldwork is conducted with social actors in a peopled field. The cultivation of interpersonal relationships is key to successful ethnography yet these are subject to the same emotive, personal elements which pervade all human interaction: "The narratives of ethnographic friendship are indicative of social actors sharing lives and biographies in the field. They serve to remind us that we are part of what we study" (pg.47). Similarly, in using ourselves as the "ultimate in research instruments" (pg. 161), we physically thrust our bodies (Chapter 4) into the social and cultural settings from which we elicit our data. In particular, ethnographers often engage in `self-conscious impression management' (pg. 64) to facilitate access and maintain an acceptable persona during fieldwork.

Sometimes, the personal and physical intensity of fieldwork coalesce into sexually intimate encounters - especially if the fieldwork is undertaken in erotic settings (Chapter 5). Although "issues of ethics, safety and power" (pg. 77) are involved here, the lived reality of field-based intimacy debunks the "myth of the neutral, semi-detached, `scientific' and `objective' ethnographer in operation" (pg. 96). This substantiates Coffey's key assertion that ethnographic fieldwork is a highly-charged personal and emotional undertaking.

Chapters 7 and 8 deal with the remembering, analysing and retelling of our experiences of fieldwork, whether through the time-honoured conventions of literary genre or more recent postmodernist experimentations with "scripts, poetry, performance texts and diaries" (pg.150). From our recording of fieldnotes, the site "where we, at least privately, acknowledge our presence and conscience" (pg. 120), to the "passionate analysis" (pg. 136) of our data and its eventual crafting into a comprehensible communicative form, Coffey's point is that the ethnographic self is never absent: we inhabit our text and the cognitive processes which lead to its production just as we inhabited the field which generated the data from which our text was born. Neither are devoid of emotion and neither can be divorced from the biography and identity of the ethnographer.

While some would argue that, taken to their extreme, Coffey's contentions can transmogrify the ethnographic enterprise into a narcissistic and egotistical exercise in self-indulgence, I feel a reflexive awareness of the role the self plays in shaping our ethnographic experience only enriches the quality of our work. Coffey succinctly summarises: "It is totally necessary and desirable to recognize that we are part of what we study, affected by the cultural context and shaped by our fieldwork experience. It is epistemologically productive to do so, and at best naïve to deny the self an active, and situated place in the field. However, it is not necessary to make the self the key focus of fieldwork, and to do so would render much ethnographic work meaningless" (pg. 37).


Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions
Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions
by Abdal Hakim Murad
Edition: Paperback

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Edifying erudition..., 19 July 2013
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One of the quirks of recent British history has been the steady though unobtrusive chain of quintessential Englishmen who have found their spiritual home in Islam. Marmaduke Pickthall, Abdullah Quilliam, Hasan Gai Eaton and Martin Lings represent some of the better known names and the author of this book, Abdal Hakim Murad (aka Dr Timothy Winter), continues this trend into the modern age. Winter holds a double-first in Arabic and lectures in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University's Faculty of Divinity where he has held post for many years. In addition, he is founder and dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, an innovative enterprise seeking to augment the pastoral and intellectual skills of British-born imams to more effectively apply their theological training in a modern context.

Murad's Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions is a rare and profound book. It consists of 100 pithy aphorisms - termed "contentions" - on a diverse array of topics ranging through ethics, cosmology, metaphysics, theology, law and history. Each contention is a terse distillation of Murad's often exquisitely crafted ruminations on a given matter followed by his own compressed elucidation (the commentary). Though sometimes abstruse and esoteric, the book weaves itself into a dense, multi-faceted tapestry of insights into a range of contemporary issues that concern the religious mind.

It seems two themes bind together an otherwise disparate collection. First, Murad evinces a consistent and deep repugnance for the godlessness of modern Western civilisation - termed "the monoculture" - which homogenises its constituents into a febrile dystopia of spiritual ennui. Yet unlike the rage-filled response of some co-religionists who seek to destroy the symbols of Western dominance, Murad casts the Muslim into the role of humble healer: "The challenge of modern Muslimness is to combine a confident dissent from the global culture with a sense of service and humility" (p. 68) / "The monoculture multiplies matter, and cannot discern spirit; and Islam, the great global dissident, is called upon to heal the consequence" (p. 172). Second, Murad is firmly rooted in the Sufi tradition of Islamic mysticism and his contentions are redolent with stirring gems of spiritual wisdom. In both these respects - as also with his literary finesse - Murad perpetuates the legacy of recent Anglo-Muslim writers such as Gai Eaton and Martin Lings, though importantly - unlike them - he is not an advocate of the Perennial Philosophy. Nevertheless, there are unmistakable resonances between their respective oeuvres indicating that the intersection of Islam with Britain's more educated classes yields a perspective with its own distinctive ambience.

Perhaps a corollary of Murad's Sufi ethos is the disdain he pours upon those he terms "the False Salafis" whom he sees as fundamentally unchained from the juristic methodologies of classical Islam and thus natural bedfellows of an intolerant extremism fit only to unleash calamities upon the world (see pp. 33-34, pp. 98-99). This may be overly harsh for some and his stark indictment will no doubt serve to stoke the fires of controversy simmering around what has become a festering dialectic of modern Muslim discourse. Murad also provides us with rich insights into the comparative theologies of Judaism and Christianity, as well as several Far Eastern cosmologies, demonstrating his grasp of the overall religious dynamic and ensuring a wider readership among anyone concerned with the question of faith in the modern world.

It is Murad's razor-sharp erudition coupled with the sheer breadth of cultural references that inform his scholarship which strike the reader as he makes his way through the contentions. And it is here that one discerns the fundamental value of this work. Modern secular humanism has brazenly dismissed religion as the sentimental throwback of a pre-scientific age. Yet Murad, while intensely aware of the naysayers' cries, remains unwavering in his commitment to the theology of classical Islam further seeing in its spiritual efficacy the balm of a decadent modernity. While other Muslims may share his perspective, it is Murad's mastery of the modern condition and the intellectual forces which shape it that set him apart. This produces an intelligent and rare critique of modern sensibility rooted in the wellsprings of an experientially lived faith; and those who insist that religious believers cannot subscribe to anything other than superstitious hogwash would do well to take a look. In addition, Murad's work will find a welcome audience amongst increasing numbers of second and third generation Western-born diaspora Muslims attempting to navigate the ostensibly conflicting epistemologies of their faith and society. In a contemporary climate often characterised by an abrasive criticism of all religious belief, Murad's work offers us a compelling insight into how a vibrant and intelligent spirituality, forged in the crucible of modern circumstances, can look and feel in the twenty-first century.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 24, 2016 1:23 AM BST


Muhammad, Messenger of Allah: Ash-Shifa of Qadi'Iyad
Muhammad, Messenger of Allah: Ash-Shifa of Qadi'Iyad
by Qadi Iyad
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 3 April 2011
Aisha Bewley has rendered a great service to the English speaking world with her masterful translation of this book - masha'allah. I have only recently begun to read it having come across references to it several times by well-respected Muslim scholars. It is one of the great books of classical Islamic orthodoxy having gained widespread acceptance throughout the Muslim world for centuries. It basically delineates the status, characteristics and rights of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him), in a comprehensive and scholarly manner. Bewley's translation is brilliant - lucid, succinct and natural, a real pleasure to read. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to come closer to our Messenger in knowledge and love - I am now taking out time to read through it every evening with my family. Thank you for making this treasure available to English-speaking Muslims.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 28, 2013 6:08 PM GMT


The Islamist: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left
The Islamist: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left
by Ed Husain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oversimplifications but useful, 19 Aug. 2010
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An autobiographical treatise from an "ex -Islamist", recounting his life through his youth and progressive involvement in different Islamist movements culminating in his active following of the radical and controversial Hizb ut Tahrir (HT) organisation for several years. Eventually he becomes disillusioned and has a spiritual crisis before embracing the more benign Sufi strand of Islam.

As a British Muslim, I can attest to the accuracy of many of Husain's descriptions - particularly the attitudes and practises of the HT. The nature and presence of the various Sufi orders in the UK is also presented quite accurately. The book is useful in the historical background it gives on the different brands of the ideological Islamist movements: Maududi and the Jamat - Islami, Sayd Qutb's book "Milestones" and his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and Nabhani's HT. Husain, towards the end, also makes some observations about life in Syria, and a damning indictment of Saudi Arabia's regime of enforced religious hypocrisy.

My problem with the book, though, is Husain's essentially simplistic analysis (Sufism = good / Islamism = bad) which fails to recognise the on-the-ground reality of a more nuanced continuum between different modes of Islamic understanding and practise. In fact - especially in his attitude towards fellow Muslims at the end of the book - his approach is aggravating and would stoke the fires of misunderstanding rather than extinguish them. His definition of "Islamism" as distinct from "Islam" remains ambiguous. As a result he goes too far in branding too many individuals and groups with the Islamist label; at times it seems as if he's pandering to a pre-conceived agenda. Wearing hijab, to cite another example, is not an expression of political dissidence against the powers that be, but essentially a private and spiritual choice for many women. Husain's analysis is counter-productive in that it fuels the confusion surrounding many aspects of Islam and blurs the distinction between a practising Muslim and a radical Islamist (no wonder Melanie Phillips gave him a rave review). Respecting legitimate difference of opinion has always been an integral part of Islam's rich scholastic heritage; but Husain prefers to berate those he disagrees with, casting the haze of "Islamism" over otherwise practising and committed Muslims.

Overall, there's some useful information in here but I felt it could definitely have been written better and had a more sophisticated examination of the underlying issues.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 1, 2014 12:40 PM BST


The Satanic Verses: A Novel
The Satanic Verses: A Novel
by Salman Rushdie
Edition: Paperback

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Convoluted mish-mash of post-modernist drivel, 19 Aug. 2010
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This is a big, sprawling mess of a novel splayed across eras, genres, cultures, continents and just about anything else you could care to throw in the mix. The central themes revolve around "identity" and "metamorphosis" and Rushdie's hyperactive imagination crafts a colourful, multi-layered narrative in which the worlds of illusion and reality dizzyingly coalesce. The faintly discernible main plot centres on the cavorts of two curious characters - Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha - who plummet from an exploding plane to experience an astonishing range of - quite frankly - bizarre transformations.

Rushdie is rooted firmly in the destabilised genre of postmodernist literature - characterised, amongst other things, by parody, dissolution and the blurring of boundaries - and evokes the rhetorical device of "magical realism" to present a jumbled and confusing phantasmagoria. The book itself reads like a LSD hallucination - a jazzed-up version of Alice's wacky "trip" to Wonderland where angels, demons, beasts, halos and London buses are all transmogrified into a skewered disarray of reality. There's several stories all mixed up and unfolding at once here so be prepared to roll your sleeves up and wade through the thick slush of imagery on offer.

Rushdie is an exuberant wordsmith spinning out words endlessly into reams of dense, textured descriptions yet this, counter-productively, stifles the narrative of its readability value. In fact, some of his sentences are longer than whole paragraphs in other, "more normal" books and, like a microcosm of the text as a whole, the reader is forced to persevere with a plethora of sub-clauses (sub-plots) and go down needless linguistic cul-de-sacs before scratching his head at the end and thinking "what was the point of that?!" Don't get me wrong: this is a rich feast of language, but our poor chef has thrown in way too many ingredients to leave the reader with any kind of taste worth savouring.

So what of the Ayatollah and his fatwa and Rushdie's overt and perverse digs at Islam? Of course, this is the reason I (and probably most others) picked up the book in the first place: to see for myself what all the fuss was about. So was it worth the effort? In a word: no. Extricating two chapters from the whole, messy splurge is a tiresome and frustrating exercise. As with so many other things, Muslims in this case ended up being their own worst enemies with reactionary emotional diatribes and miscalculated responses. Was it not for this, I have no doubt that - based upon literary merit alone - this book would have sunk, largely, without trace.

To conclude, let me quote the late and great British scholar Charles Le Gai Eaton:

"Modern Western art, particularly in the form of the novel, has become an instrument of self-exposure and, in most cases, what is exposed is inner sickness. The novelist works out his 'complexes' in writing. He exteriorises his despair and parades before the public all the elements of ugliness and disease present in his soul...This freedom of artistic expression appears, from the [traditional] perspective, no more than a license to vomit in public."


A Bad Beginning and the Path to Islam
A Bad Beginning and the Path to Islam
by Gai Eaton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.49

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read ... but disappointing., 6 Aug. 2010
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This is a detailed - and characteristically well-written - autobiography (although written, funnily enough, in the third person) of one of British Islam's more well-known luminaries. Born in 1921, Eaton went on to embrace Islam aged thirty through intellectual conviction and spiritual aspiration. This book charters, in meticulous detail, the highs and lows, emotional relationships and evolving thought patterns which led to his eventual commitment to the spiritual path - marking the end of his "bad beginning" and the inauguration of a new, better phase in his life.

I have been a big fan of Gai Eaton for several years having read his previous works, and his magnum opus "Islam and the Destiny of Man" had a big impact on me. Quite simply, it is one of the most beautiful articulations of Islam in the English language. With eager anticipation, then, I awaited the publication of this, his autobiography, and devoured it upon release. I expected no less than a beautifully written modern-day sequel to another European convert's classic tale: Muhammad Asad's "The Road to Mecca".

In all honesty, I was disappointed though. To be fair to him, Eaton was in his eighties when writing this book and had suffered the effects of two strokes - although this doesn't detract from his literary capabilities at all. He relies heavily upon astonishingly detailed diary notes he kept meticulously from the age of 11 up to his recent death, which eventually grew into heavy volumes totalling no less than eighteen million words! To paraphrase him, Eaton says his diary writing became a type of cathartic addiction in which he would pour out his feelings through his pen at the end of each day.

What we get, then, is a very detailed picture of Gai's early life through his childhood, coming of age and eventual migration to Jamaica. The many romantic relationships he embarks upon have been chronicled in his diary, and we are presented with all their intimate details. Throughout, though, the quest of the intellectual seeking answers and probing questions of ultimate concern is apparent and through the tangle of a messy emotional life we see an intellectual clarity beginning to emerge. Experiencing the calm, spiritual serenity of a British Muslim saint, Martin Lings, whom he lives and works with during a stint in Egypt gives his soul a taste of the celestial and his profound scepticism finds satiation in the teachings of leading Perennialist thinkers such as Rene Guenon and Frithjof Schuon. Intellectually convinced and spiritually thirsty he decides to take the plunge and converts to Islam at the hands of Abu Bakr Siraj Deen (Martin Lings) before leaving Egypt (although it will be a number of years before he begins the disciplined work of incorporating the spiritual ideals of Islam into his life).

The main part of the book actually finishes at this point which is, again, disappointing. Many readers of this work will have looked forward to surveying the entire lifespan of this great personage, observing the subsequent changes wrought in his life and perspectives through his spiritual commitment. The detail of the early part of his life, though, makes this impossible although - as a type of postscript - Eaton does append a 40 page synopsis at the end. This outlines, in broad summary, what happened after his conversion up to the debilitating old age in which he wrote the present work. Given the level of detail, I feel this book would best have been supplemented by a second volume in which the story - relying just as heavily upon the detailed diary notes - would have been completed. Unfortunately, the author's old age made this impossible and the post-script we are presented with at the end needs must suffice. Eaton does point out in the introduction, though, that his 2000 publication "Remembering God: Reflections on Islam" has been called his spiritual autobiography - in which case, the present work constitutes his "profane autobiography". To complete the picture then, it would probably be useful to supplement the reading of this book with that.

The final passages of the book are both moving and prescient as Eaton contemplates - with some detachment - the inevitability of his own death. This was especially more so for me as I received the sad news of his demise in February earlier this year whilst still reading the book.

All-in-all this is a good read, wittily written and interesting with a variety of old photographs to supplement the text. Readers of his previous works, though - like me - will have come to expect nothing less than a superlative masterpiece from the pen of such a gifted and sagacious writer. I expected Eaton to capitalise upon his experiences as a Western convert to probe some of the deeper issues plaguing the relationship of Islam with the modern world today. His agenda was different though, and what we get is a very personal and faithful rendering of his individual life. Extrapolating the significance of this into a global context is left to us.


Infidel
Infidel
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

76 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Review by a practising Muslim: Moving and damning but with caveats..., 4 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: Infidel (Paperback)
This is a well-written, personal account of one woman's journey through her own mind and the world around her. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born into a traditional Muslim family in Somalia and lived in Kenya and Saudi Arabia in her youth. Absorbing her beliefs from the societies around her, she became a "pious" Muslim, praying regularly and covering herself, so she believed, for the pleasure of God. However a lingering rancour towards what she often perceived as the myopic and misogynistic practises of the various Muslim societies she lived in festered within her, provoking an internal tension. Fleeing to Holland as a refugee was the epiphanic catalyst she needed to "free her mind" from the shackles of the dogma she had been brought up in. What she saw, felt and experienced in this "enlightened, civilised, tolerant and progressive" society was in sharp contrast to the lands she had left. Europe and the West, she concluded, were infinitely more advanced than their Eastern counterparts; their societies far more civilised and humane. Enrolling at university, she began to study social science in a bid to understand the principles which underpinned these liberated, progressive societies. Her conclusion? The societies of the East were rooted in stagnant and moribund principles derived in large part from religion: the subjugation of reason to dogma, patriarchal social structures which inhibited the empowerment and participation of women and a fearful demonisation of the "other"; a fertile breeding ground for intolerance and a rigid, binary view of the world which contributes, in no small way, to the modern phenomenon of terrorism. The West, on the other hand, had undergone a Renaissance, a Reformation (in religion) and most importantly an Enlightenment all of which had helped it evolve to a higher plane of understanding. The different experiences of lived reality she encountered first-hand in the two societies (Islamic and Western) were a logical concomitant of the principles upon which those societies were based. The result? Ali jettisons what she now perceives as the superstitious fiction of her religion, becomes an atheist and embraces liberal humanism as the most advanced generator of social values.

A captivating tale from start to finish, this is an important book in the way it raises so many key questions about the relationship of Islam (and the Muslim world - as a distinct phenomenon) with the West, the nature of faith in the modern world, and the presence, dynamics and future of growing Muslim communities in Europe. Ali became a single issue politician specialising in immigration, specifically Muslim immigration to Europe, and suggested a number of reforms to facilitate the integration process. She also became an outspoken and vociferous critic of Islam per se, arguing that its core tenets intrinsically inhibit Muslim development in the modern world. Although not expecting everybody to become an atheist like her, she wants Muslims to examine their faith and enact a reform which will allow a more amenable marriage with modernity. A powerful and often damning critique, Ali's book should force Muslims (or at least those of them with the fortitude to read it) to look more deeply at these issues and work towards alleviating some of the problems which very clearly do affect Muslims and their communities.

That said, in the interest of balance and objectivity, I do feel the following points need to be made. Firstly, Ali seems to have had an exceptionally abusive childhood being raised by a mother and grandmother who displayed signs of pathological neuroses. I would never dream of attacking my child for climbing upon me during prayer. In fact, my 3 year old views prayer time as a game, regularly clambering upon my back whilst I prostrate. Following in the recorded example of the Prophet Muhammad (s), I gently lower him to the floor before continuing on. Ali, on the other hand, was screamed at, spat upon and beaten for simply playing around as a child; a horribly ruthless response which, no doubt, seared itself into her memory and bound itself up with her experience of her faith. Unfortunately this type of vicious treatment recurs frequently in her encounters with figures of religious authority; take, for example, the Quran teacher who cracked her skull. She was also traumatised by the pre-Islamic African cultural traditions of female circumcision and genital mutilation - customs which are not practised in the majority of the Muslim world nor sanctioned by the mainstream Islamic legal tradition. Inevitably, this catalogue of horribly warped experiences tightly bound themselves up with her lived experience of the faith and in rejecting Islam later on in life, I would contend that she, no doubt, would also have been renouncing the unhappy corollary of misery brought upon her by her abusive experience of the religion. Whilst this, in no way, is intended to detract from or negate the validity of her decision, I think a broader psychological context is useful when attempting to understand, at a deeper level, the events of her life.

Another point of contention, for me, is that Ali, after her rejection of Islam, comes across as a provocateur par excellence. She seems to thrive off fomenting furore; directing attention to herself through shocking and provoking her audiences - particularly her Western, non-Muslim audiences who would baulk at making the same assertions at the risk of being labelled xenophobic or "Islamophobic". Yet, as an "insider", somebody who has lived and breathed Islam, she has the freedom to criticise without inhibition. This results in two responses. On the one hand, she is reviled and despised by reactionary Muslims who see her as a despicable traitor. On the other she is proudly proclaimed as a poster-girl of the Western "emancipation movement" - a symbolic figurehead who confirms the negative stereotypes many Westerners hold about the Islamic faith whilst simultaneously reinforcing the superiority of the Western, secular way of life. Given Ali's avowed assertions of wanting to work towards alleviating problems in Muslim societies, the success of this approach - based upon vitriolic denigration and insensitive provocation and which polarises opinions so harshly - is surely questionable.

Lastly, Ali is, in my opinion, a little too naïve and simplistic in her Manichean embrace of the West and rejection of Islam. Setting them up as essentially contradictory monoliths, her book is a strong advocate of the Clash of Civilisations thesis. For me, though, her dichotomous black-and-white scenario bypasses the many shades of gray which quite clearly do exist.

On the one hand, Ali's central issue is with the PRACTICE of Islam as she has experienced it in several societies, whilst the silent majority of moderate Muslims, equally abhorred and disgusted by the acts done in the name of their religion, see them as clear perversions and aberrations of the original teachings (although Ali argues that Islam's core teachings spawn a milieu conducive to the horrors committed in its name). From this perspective, her assertion that - for example - Bin Laden in orchestrating the attack on the Twin Towers (which, incidentally, was the catalyst for her own apostasy) was doing nothing other than following the guidance of the Quran is clearly disingenuous (as is her seemingly wilful oblivion to the moderate viewpoint of the majority of Muslims). Poor Westerners who seek to learn about Islam from Ali and her kind would do well to be a little less gullible; an alternative perspective is always enriching and, in this case, the tales of European converts to Islam add an interesting nuance to the whole scenario. Those so disposed may enjoy Muhammad Asad's (formerly Leopold Weiss) classic autobiography The Road to Mecca or Charles Le Gai Eaton's magisterial Islam and the Destiny of Man as primers.

On the other hand, the West is not the rarefied haven of utopia she makes it out to be. In spite of material advances there are real social ills afflicting Western societies. Not least amongst these is the sense of anomie or existential nihilism brought about, according to some, by the absence of the sacred. This has led to what Sarte has called a "God-shaped hole in our human consciousness" and modernity has been described as a collection of forces, of growing momentum, to shovel matter - as a substitute - into this hole. Religions traditionally anchored us into a metaphysical understanding of existence which breathed life and meaning into the most perfunctory of acts; the modern outlook has denuded us of this. As opposed to the Manichean demarcation presented by Ali and others, maybe the body of contemporary material civilisation could benefit from the soul of spiritually enlightened, traditional religion.

In conclusion, this is a very interesting read which is well-written and engaging from start to finish. Ali raises some very important points which, quite simply, Muslims need to come to terms with. We are no longer living in the comfortable faith age of medieval times. Religious faith, in general, and Islam, in particular, have come under powerful and sustained intellectual attack: Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris are busy digging religion's grave, whilst Ali, Rushdie and Spencer want to push Islam inside. Muslims who bury their heads in the sand and choose to ignore the exigencies of their age are committing intellectual suicide (with - by the way - no merry virgins awaiting them at the end). Ali's book is a powerful wake-up call to Muslims to tackle head-on the warped practices perpetrated in the name of their faith and, in a more general sense, to come to terms with the broader challenges of modernity.

Whether this happens, though, or whether the increasingly volatile spiral of reactionary violence, insensitive provocation and mutual resentment spins out of control is anybody's guess.

*******

REVIEW UPDATE MARCH 2014 - I would recommend Kristiane Backer's recently published autobiography From MTV to Mecca as a detailed and accessible counter-narrative which juxtaposes interestingly with this book. In fact I would go so far as to say that anybody who has read this book should take out the time to read that book also as it provides another very personal take on the civilisational encounter between Islam and the West as played out in the wholly different life experiences of a European woman journeying to Islam.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2016 1:28 PM GMT


Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim
Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim
by Ziauddin Sardar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern day Ibn Battuta, 11 April 2010
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Ziauddin Sardar is an interesting character. Born in rural Pakistan, he moves to England as a young boy and attempts to reconcile his birth identity with his acquired one. This book is an auto-biographical account of his journey as he sets out to seek the most cherished of all goals: Paradise itself.

A witty, engaging and entertaining wordsmith, Sardar is exhilarating to read. His wry and critical sense of humour permeates the text leading to moments of real hilarity. Yet this isn't simply a tale of travel and discovery - it's an erudite survey of the Muslim world, a close look at various periods of Muslim history (sometimes vis-a-vis the West), and an attempt to reconcile the traditional values of Islam with aspects of modernity. Sardar's method of choice is to place a particular piece of theory, or some nuance of historical significance into the mouth of his interlocutor - usually a professor, a friend or an educated acquaintance of some sort. His chance meetings thus turn out to be educative lessons, and as the story unfolds the mysteries of mysticism, the history of the Iranian revolution or the furore of the "Rushdie affair" - to name some of the topics covered - are stitched seamlessly into the racy narrative. Throw in some critical analysis from Sardar too, and the reader is left with considerable food for thought - as well as an entertaining and funny travel story.

So from the pietist yet simplistic Tabligh Jama'at, to the intimacies of China's rural Hui Muslim community; from meeting Pakistan's president Zia-ul-Haque, to Sardar's close relationship with Malaysia's deputy Anwar Ibrahim; or from meeting a young and passionate Osama bin Laden to spending an evening with semi-naked tribal elders in an equatorial rainforest; it's a veritable tour de force which leaves the reader gasping for breath. Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia (where the author spends 5 years), Syria and Iraq are some of the other lands visited in this gargantuan quest to translate celestial ideals into terrestrial realities.

Criticisms? Well, I can relate to what some of the other reviewers have said about Sardar's attitude; he does come across as pompous or chauvinistic at times, perhaps lacking the essential quality of humility which should be a key ingredient of his search. Also his constant references to himself as a "Muslim intellectual" betray a lurking insecurity perhaps and border on the tedious; he seems to need to drive the point home again and again to ensure the reader is left in no doubt. He makes a lot of references to the depression the state of the Ummat (global Muslim community) inspires in him, yet - self-proclaimed intellectual status aside - some of the strategies he adopts to assuage this condition seem un-intellectual to say the least. Thinking thoughts in a vacuum, along with his small band of like-minded friends - the Ijmalis - surely cannot lead to any lasting and constructive change in the world-wide Muslim condition. Especially when some of these thoughts betray the very basis upon which that community defines itself (although Sardar's "intellectual status" gives him license, of course, to cut off the branch on which he's sitting).

All-in-all an enjoyable read though, and a rare and competent expression of some of the issues facing British (or Western) Muslims as they grapple to find their place in the modern intellectual landscape. Much more nuanced, infinitely better-written and strikingly more erudite than, for example, Ed Husain's The Islamist. Oh - and another thing: Sardar has an unhealthy obsession with facial hair. Almost everybody he meets is described in terms of his beard - or lack of it: wisps of wiry whiskers, moustaches, goatees, bursts of uncontrolled hirsuteness or straggling stubble - in fact all manner of bushy benevolence are anatomised in excruciating detail. Maybe Sardar's follicular fixation feeds upon the carefully projected self-image mentioned above: he revels in the fact he is clean-shaven, wearing this proudly as a badge of his "intellectual status". Unlike the dull-witted, bearded Mullahs of course.


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