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.
Religious literature at its very best that satisfies both the spirit and the intellect. This book is infused with theology and history providing both meaning and purpose. It's one of those rare gems that you can read again and again and learn something new every time.I hope there are a lot more of these planned in this series.
re: The Cover I disagree with the previous commentator. I think it grows on you. Gritty on the outside however flooded with gems and jewels for those who dare venture into the inside. Kind-of sums up the state of the contemporary Muslim world especially Islam in Europe!
Just finished! Mindblowingly cool! Loved the overlap of; mystic wisdom, mystic accounts, history, modern day fallacies, problems with monoculture and much much more. This truly is the 21st century bearing book for the muslim generations to come. It should be weighed in gold and the author ought to be sent the gold. Any muslim or lone spiritual ranger needing a life jacket manual to protect the mind against modern day perversion should buy this! A modern day ihya
The choice of the book cover design may put off a lot of people - and rightly so in my opinion. The back cover has a beautiful colour and is adorned with sublime calligraphy and the layout is truer to the contents of this wonderful book.
'Do not judge a book by its cover' is very apt in this case. The contents of the book are truly inspirational and filled with immense insights. A gem of a book let down by the publishers choice of book cover.
One of the few books that should be referred to continuously as a sanity check on the imperious and contentious bombardment of the media on religion, beliefs and western hegemony. Religious knowledge is sacred, deep and relevant and is embodied in our humanness. Murad explores it from a 'helicopter view' and enlightens us appealing to our rationale, sense and being.
This work merely demonstrates the intellect and deep understanding that the author had in regards to Islam, theology (in general), philosophy, secularism, psychology and many more. Through a series of "contentions", the author effectively reconciles each discipline with the Islamic perspective.