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What is Islam? A Review

A significant new book by my late professor, Shahab Ahmed, was recently published by Princeton University Press.  The book is entitled What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic, and I have written a review and a profile of its remarkable author for The Nation. The first few paragraphs are below, followed by a link to the rest of the article. It will be available to read online for the next couple of weeks and then will likely disappear behind a paywall, so do have a look if the topic is of interest.

Wishing everyone a belated Mawlid al-Nabi Mubarak, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and all good wishes for a peaceful 2016.


Contradiction and Diversity

by Elias Muhanna | The Nation, January 11-18, 2016 issue

k10587The medieval English allegorical poem Piers Plowman described the birth of Islam as the result of a clever hoax. Muhammad, it asserted, was a former Christian who had made a failed attempt to become pope and then set off for Syria to mislead the innocents. He tamed a turtledove and taught it to eat grains of wheat placed in his ear. In a scene reminiscent of the enchantment of Melampus, the Greek oracle who was granted the ability to understand animal speech when his ears were licked by snakes, Piers’s Muhammad mesmerized audiences by having the bird fly down during the course of his preaching and appear to whisper in his ear. Staging a moment of revelation from God, the false prophet led men to misbelief by “wiles of his wit and a whit dowve.”

In the centuries following Muhammad’s death in 632, many Christians like William Langland, the author of Piers Plowman, sought to make sense of Islam in the terms and symbols of their own faith. Was it just another schismatic sect led by a great here­siarch, as Dante portrayed it in his Divine Comedy? Or was it an ancient form of chivalry, a Saracen code of ethics? Did Muhammad’s followers think him a god? The figure of the prophet-as-trickster found in Piers Plowman was not the most outlandish attempt to explain the origins of Islam. Medieval French chansons de gestes attributed a welter of fantastical qualities to the cult of “Mahom,” including a pantheon of minor deities superimposed from Roman mythology.

University chairs in Oriental studies began proliferating in Europe in the 17th century and were soon followed by the establishment of scholarly associations and academic journals. By the late 19th century, European knowledge of the languages, histories, and customs of Muslim societies had advanced significantly beyond the scope of medieval apologetics, but the interpretation of Islam through the lens of Christianity remained a central current of Orientalist scholarship. As Shahab Ahmed writes in a major new study, the consequences of this approach and its legacy have made it difficult for moderns—­scholars and laypeople, Muslims and non-Muslims alike—to grasp the “historical and human phenomenon that is Islam in its plenitude and complexity of meaning.” Coming to terms with Islam—“saying Islam meaningfully,” as he puts it—requires making ourselves sensitive to the “capaciousness, complexity, and, often, outright contradiction” that inheres within the broadest possible range of practices, beliefs, representational forms, metaphors, and objects associated with Islam.

Ahmed, a scholar of Islamic studies at Harvard, died this autumn at the tragically young age of 48. His book is a strange and brilliant work, encyclopedic in vision and tautly argued in the manner of a logical proof, yet pervaded by the urgency of a political manifesto. It is, in a way, all of these things. For those who knew him, the peculiar ambition of What Is Islam? will not come as a surprise, because Ahmed had been at work for years on a much-anticipated and controversial study about the formation of Islamic orthodoxy. The surprise is that What Is Islam? is not that book. (continue reading)


63 thoughts on “What is Islam? A Review

  1. I truly believe that the best person to answer the question posed by the new post is none but the Holy Prophet himself. He was asked the same specific question in addition to four others which He answered with utmost clarity and absolute zero ambiguity. So, instead of having latter day orientalists come up with all sorts of misrepresentations and ambiguities, as was the habit of their curious and vastly ignorant predecessors, we might as well go to the source and get the answer as to What Islam is. The incident is faithfully recorded and every Muslim is aware of it. It remains to have the curious non-Muslims to be instructed and have their instatiable curiousities satisfied. Here it is for the record:

    On the authority of Omar1 (may Allah be pleased with him), who said:*One day while we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (i.e. Prophet Muhammed, pbbuh), there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet (pbbuh). Resting his knees against his (the Prophet’s) and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs, he said:

    O Muhammed, tell me about Islam.

    The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah, to perform the prayers, to pay the Zakat 2 to fast in Ramadhan, and to make the pilgrimage to the House 3 if you are able to do so.

    He said: You have spoken rightly, and we were amazed at him asking him (the Prophet pbbuh) and saying that he had spoken rightly (told the truth).

    He said: Then, tell me about Iman.4

    He (the Prophet) said: It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in divine destiny, both the good and the evil thereof.

    He said: You have spoken rightly (told the truth).

    He said: Then, tell me about I’hsan.5

    He (the Prophet pbbuh) said: It is to worship Allah as if you are seeing him, and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you.

    He said: Then, tell me about the hour.6

    He (the Prophet pbbuh) said: The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.

    He said: Then, tell me about its signs.

    He (the Prophet pbbuh) said: That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress, and that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute herdsmen competing in constructing lofty buildings. 7

    Then, he took himself off and I stayed for some time. Then he (the Prophet bpuh) said: O Omer, do you know who the questioner was? I said: Allah and His Messenger know better. He said: It was Jibril (Gabriel), who came to you to teach you your religion.

    The Messenger of Allah (pbbuh) told the truth (This Hadith was related by Muslim).

    The Arabic text of the Hadith:

    عن عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله عنه قال : بينما نحن عند رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ذات يوم ، إذ طلع علينا رجل شديد بياض الثياب ، شديد سواد الشعر ، لا يُرى عليه أثر السفر ، ولا يعرفه منا أحد ، حتى جلس إلى النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ، فأسند ركبتيه إلى ركبتيه ، ووضع كفيه على فخذيه ، وقال:

    “يا محمد , أخبرني عن الإسلام؟

    فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “الإسلام أن تشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمداً رسول الله ، وتقيم الصلاة ، وتؤتي الزكاة ، وتصوم رمضان ، وتحج البيت إن استطعت إليه سبيلا.”

    قال: صدقتَ.

    قال: فعجبنا له يسأله ويصدقه.

    قال: فأخبرني عن الإيمان؟

    قال: “أن تؤمن بالله وملائكته وكتبه ورسله واليوم الآخر ، وتؤمن بالقدر خيره وشره.”

    قال: صدقت .

    قال: فأخبرني عن الإحسان؟

    قال: “أن تعبد الله كأنك تراه ، فإن لم تكن تراه فإنه يراك.”

    قال: فأخبرني عن الساعة؟

    قال: “ما المسئول عنها بأعلم من السائل.”

    قال: فأخبرني عن أمارتها؟

    قال: “أن تلد الأمة ربَّتها ، وأن ترى الحفاة العراة العالة رعاءَ الشاء يتطاولون في البنيان.”

    قال: ثم انطلق ، فلبثتُ ملِيَّا ، ثم قال لي:

    “يا عمر ، أتدري من السائل؟”

    قلت: الله ورسوله أعلم.

    قال: “فإنه جبريل ، أتاكم يعلمكم دينكم.” (رواه مسلم).



    This Hadith was translated by Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies (Abdul Wadoud), “An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.” 1976. Dar Al-Manar.

    1 Omar Bin Al-Khattab, the Second Caliph.

    2. Zakat is often referring to alms-tax or poor due, it is a tax levied on a man’s wealth and distributed among the poor.

    3. The House refers to the Ka’aba and the Holy Mosque in Makkah.

    4. Iman generally refers to religious belief or faith. However, being a fundamental term in Islam, the Arabic word has been retained.

    5. In this context, the word I’hsan has a special religious significance and any single rendering of it would be inadequate. Dictionary meaning for I’hasan includes right actions, goodness, charity, sincerity, and the like. The root also means to master or be proficient at, and it is to be found in this meaning in Nawawi’s Hadith Number 17.

    6. i.e. of the Day of Judgment.

    7. This phrase has more than one interpretation. Among those given by An-Nawawi in his commentary is that slave girls will give birth to sons and daughters who will become free and so be masters of those who bore them. Thus, it can be interpreted as a prophecy about an end to slavery.

    Posted by mustap | December 26, 2015, 1:44 pm
  2. If only Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn Taymiyya had been aware of this hadith, maybe they wouldn’t have written a few hundred volumes on the question of what Islam is.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 26, 2015, 2:06 pm
  3. I’m sure al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyya and most certainly Ibn Rushd were well aware of this hadith. I’m also sure Ibn Sina had no clue or even the time to be sober from drinking wine to learn about it.

    So why not spend some time with Ibn Taymiyya, al-Ghazali or even Ibn Rushd and learn about Islam instead of trying to define it in terms of the utterly ridiculous narrow prism of drinking vs. not drinking wine, for example? Who knows? You may become one of a kind orientalist of latter days.

    Posted by mustap | December 26, 2015, 2:22 pm
  4. Here’s another line of inquiry that you may find interesting. Why is it that Muslims never invented a science which may be called Occidentalism in a manner similar to the ever curious westerners who came up with the now discredited Orientalism?

    I find two possible answers: 1) Muslims are not curious or not interested 2) they knew before hand its futile.

    Which one you pick?

    Posted by mustap | December 26, 2015, 2:34 pm
  5. Awesome read, QN! Congratulations! 🙂


    I’m trying to follow your line of reasoning so please bear with me while I ask some perhaps ignorant questions in perfectly good faith:

    Your claim that trying to define Islam in terms of drinking versus not drinking wine is “utterly ridiculous[ly] narrow” comes across as more of an opinion than an argument because it really doesn’t address the validity of the premise.

    To begin with, the article was clear in that Islam is complex enough that the issue of drinking versus not drinking alcohol doesn’t exclusively constitute the be-all-end-all definition of what Islam is! The article was clear in that this issue only forms one aspect of many in the historical Islamic experience!

    For the sake of argument, let’s ignore alcohol for now and focus on an activity that you and I are both engaging in right now: Commenting on an Internet blog!

    Let me ask you a fundamental question: Is this Islamic?

    From the hadith that you cited, I find myself answering “no!” to this question. But alas, there are forces out there with powers of interpretation way more sophisticated than mine who might beg to differ…

    But let’s go with “no!” for now… So the follow-up question becomes: How does a Muslim reconcile engaging in an activity which is not necessarily Islamic? Is this permitted? If yes, then surely the doctrine must be updated to assert that such activities are Islamic! If not, then lax enforcement surely enables an environment of experimentation and improvisation that facilitates the assimilation and exploitation of contemporary cultural advancements for personal utility and advantage that if actualized at scale might end up permanently influencing the Islamic experience as a whole regardless?

    And finally, I’d argue that as a Muslim Internet user, the question of whether you are “curious” or “interested” in “Occidentalism” is moot because you are already engrossed in it whether you realize it or not! I agree with you that it would be “futile” for Muslims in their present state to embark on such an endeavor as “Occidentalism”, not because “Occidentals” are necessarily immune to persuasion but because Muslims simply do not possess the intellectual caliber to do so… To buttress this assertion, I merely have to cite the Hadith that you posted here as simply not up to the challenge of debating with the best that “Occidentals” have to offer in return!

    And no, pointing this out does not necessarily make one an “Orientalist”… And no, saying things like, “We gave you algebra and the alphabet” doesn’t entitle any contemporary culture of Middle Eastern descent to share credit for specific scientific and technological advancements any more than an American layman can tell an Asian, “We invented the solid state transistor” in an effort to share credit for whatever might come out of that innovative and dynamic continent in the future! Remember, patents are assigned to specific inventors in the present, not to amorphous masses of any given identity in the future! And yes, all patents eventually expire, rendering whatever they describe as generic “prior art” in the public domain!

    [sorry everyone, ran out of time to proof-read, edit and finesse, gonna just post as-is]

    Posted by Samer Nasser | December 26, 2015, 7:05 pm
  6. Samer,

    I find your argument uterly wanting in terms of intellectual depth as well as rigorous comprehension.

    My argument was not simply the definition of Islam in relation to drinking vs non-drinking. That was the ridicule I intended for the QN conclusion of comparing the relevance of Ibn Taymiyya vs Ibn Sina for nowadays. You failed to capture the ridicule and even QN’s conclusion, hence the lack of intelectual rigor on your part.

    The hadith which I cited is the most direct refutation of QN’s premises because it directly addresses the very question which he poses as a title for his post. It answers the question elegantly and eloquently and at the same time presents the various levels of Islam’s complexity and makes it available to the masses regardless of their levels of sophistications.

    Your ridiculous assertion as to the Muslims lacking in intellectual calibre simply points to your deep ignorance and pathetic stupidity. Suffice it to say that the author of the latest Grand Unified Theory is a Muslim from Pakistan.

    My hypothetical question about the lack of interest in so-called occidentalism is further meant to ridicule the westerners for their pathetic engagement in a now very much discredited tradition of orientalism. It is not meant to glorify it in any way, shape or form. Anyone who assumes as such needs to go and see a psychiatrist immediately.

    Posted by mustap | December 26, 2015, 8:08 pm
  7. One more thing Samer and QN as well.

    Do not ever assume the role of trying to define what some one else is. The same goes even more so for assuming to define some one else’s culture or religion. It is simply not possible not to mention derangeful.

    That’s why letting Muhammad define it for you trumps yours and everyone else’s attempt to do so.

    Perhaps you may think of the above as another reason why Muslims knew before hand it is futile to engage in somethng that may get to be known as occidentalism, and hence the lack of interest and curiosity.

    Posted by mustap | December 26, 2015, 10:48 pm
  8. Islam, I have a feeling God did not intend it to be what it is. Humans have a very long track record of misinterpretation of God’s messages.

    Prophet Muhamad’s definition of Islam was naturally very biased, it should never be taken seriously.

    Posted by Vulcan | December 27, 2015, 1:21 am
  9. People get/got out of a religion what they bring/brought into it.

    Posted by Badr | December 27, 2015, 3:24 am
  10. Mustap,

    You contradict yourself. You say you’re neither “interested” nor “curious” about “Occidentalism” yet this blog is littered with your scathing criticisms of American culture and politics, something which surely qualifies as somewhat “Occidentalist”… In defense of “Occidentals”, nobody here has challenged your remarks on the basis that the “Occident” fundamentally cannot be defined (only to subsequently contradict themselves by referring you to the writings and remarks of a prophet who lived over a millennium ago therefore could not have possibly foreseen the circumstances in question or addressed them in any depth, hence is of little use in resolving the current dispute) …

    Posted by Samer Nasser | December 27, 2015, 3:49 am
  11. Mustap, why don’t you read the book and then come back and comment? You are making little sense and would benefit from some basic knowledge before jumping to conclusions.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 27, 2015, 8:14 am
  12. OK, QN, I will read the book but that doesn’t mean I should not comment in the meantime, because I will be commenting on your commentary which should make sense; no? unless ypu want me to shut up for some reason. If so, say so but do not hide behind a ‘you are making a little sense…’ snippet.

    Vulcan, what Muhammad says is what Islam is. God told Muhammad to tell us about it. You wil benefit very much by listening to Muhammad (I’m quoting QN’s advice to me).

    Badr, you may not be aware yet. But the first written Quran ever may have been located and it is in England. I can assure you it is not what people brought into a religion.

    Samer, you continue to exhibit deep ignorance. Actually, you don’t even know what orientalism is. It’s not criticism of a culture as you put it. Besides, there’s no such thing as occidentalism. I made it up as a hypothetical question. So move on beyond the hypothetical and smarten up. Perhaps this is a subject for you which falls outside your sphere of knowledge. So, I’ll give you the same QN’s advice he gave to me. Go read the book and then come back and tell us about it.

    Posted by mustap | December 27, 2015, 10:05 am
  13. Read the book, and then we can talk. Until then, you are not in a position to evaluate its argument.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 27, 2015, 11:48 am
  14. I disagree. What you’re saying can only be true if you failed to make a sound commentary. It’s simple logic. I doubt you made unsound commentary. But if you say you did, then I’ll have to take your word for it. Nevertheless, I will not buy the book’s argument if it agrees with your commentary conclusion that somehow Ibn Sina will be relevant to today’s Islam.

    I mean, let’s be serious. The guy has no Islamc legacy or any Islamic credentials to be put forward as a viable candidate.

    Unless of course, if we want to make wine drinking a central issue for Muslims to deal with. In which case, we would put the ‘celebrated’ orientalists to shame for not having thought about it few centuries earlier.

    So you see? I have lots to say even without reading the book. That’s what you gain when you trust the original source of your subject of inquiry. The orginal has its own special attraction and allure which cannot be defeated by any amount of research and argumentation.

    So tell me, please, what makes more sense?

    Posted by mustap | December 27, 2015, 1:51 pm
  15. Ibn Sina has no Islamic legacy? Now you’re confirming your ignorance. Read a book.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 27, 2015, 3:31 pm
  16. Who followed Ibn Sina in the past or follows him nowadays among confessed Muslims?
    Prove your non-ignorance.

    So, let’s be clear on one thing.
    We all know you’re not a confessed Muslim. No one denies the right to comment on Islam.
    I am on the other hand a confessed Muslim. Surely, I have more rights than you to comment on the subject. In fact it is my duty to correct any errors or misrepresentations you may make knowingly or unknowingly.

    So, tell me honestly now. Why do you want me not to comment on a subject which I surely know more about than you since I live it while you only study it in books some of which may be suspect.

    Again. Prove your non-ignorance. And provide a convincing answer.

    Why are you trying to get under my skin by becoming annoying? Probably, you discovered you cannot admit you unsoundly commented on the book and hence you fell into a logical trap by your own making or should I say arrogance?

    I feel sorry for your students.

    How do you know whether I read or not read Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, or Ibn Taymiyya? I wonder who the ignorant is!

    Posted by mustap | December 27, 2015, 4:47 pm
  17. Second paragraph, third sentence should read,

    No on denies YOU the right….

    In case you’re confused…

    Posted by mustap | December 27, 2015, 5:13 pm
  18. Anyone who could say something as silly as “the guy has no Islamic legacy or any Islamic credentials to be put forward as a viable candidate” about Ibn Sina obviously knows very little about the history of Islamic thought. The entire Islamic philosophical and theological traditions are built upon the edifice that Ibn Sina established, to say nothing of the medical tradition. He is only one of the most widely-cited authorities in the all of pre-modern Islamic scholarly texts. Read a book. You’ll learn something.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 27, 2015, 6:59 pm
  19. Going back to the hadith that Mustap cited, I’m quite fascinated by Gabriel’s “exceedingly black” hair and “exceedingly white” clothes… Never mind opting for super-saturated hues as a stylistic choice, I want to know how the archangel achieved such a wide and accurate color gamut!

    Posted by Samer Nasser | December 27, 2015, 8:06 pm
  20. Reading a book would be a great idea. Certainly better than decapitating the offender or throwing him/her in prison.

    Thanks QN for that scholarly advice…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 27, 2015, 9:43 pm
  21. Hair doesn’t turn gray in the desert! Have you not seen the Wise jet-black goatees? The color is much more stable than the price of a barrel of crude.

    Posted by Vulcan | December 27, 2015, 9:51 pm
  22. OK Elias Muhanna. Confess your Islam and follow Ibn Sina if you wish and then start preaching as a devout Muslim to us Muslims what you claim to know better than us Muslims about our own religion and our own history.

    Otherwise, who cares?

    We know exactly who Ibn Sina is. We don’t need some latter day philosopher to teach us our history or our own religion or even tell us what it is.

    What an idiot and what and idiotic bunch!!

    Posted by mustap | December 28, 2015, 2:10 am
  23. Take a break, Mustap.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 28, 2015, 7:45 am
  24. I think a celebration is in order.

    Imagine, that little green icon will not be resting at the top of the “and the people say” column. Pinch me!

    Wishing the rest of the forum a Happy New Year and hopefully better days for Lebanon and the region.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 28, 2015, 9:33 am
  25. Thanks for the heads-up, QN. It’s a book that I will read.

    Posted by Jim Reilly | December 29, 2015, 11:57 pm
  26. Posted by ray | January 2, 2016, 12:08 pm
  27. Al-Nimr wanted free elections in Saudi Arabia.

    I wonder if he wanted free elections in Iran?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 2, 2016, 7:51 pm
  28. The Obama-Iran Love Affair (con’t)

    As if you guys didn’t already know, KSA is halting flights and trade with Iran.

    Why is Obama doing the opposite?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 4, 2016, 11:25 am
  29. I checked with some folks who are academician in US universities and it looks like Mr. Muhanna has gone on a hyperbole trying to pitch the late Shahab Ahmed in superlatives. He may have been a good scholar but to portray that he was the pre-eminent scholar of Islamic Studies in US of this generation is going a bit overboard. There is also a section of folks (who are in the know) who believe that he got a tenure at Harvard precisely because of the topic of his dissertation (‘The Satanic Verses’).

    – A moderating voice

    Posted by Moderating Voice | January 5, 2016, 6:02 pm
  30. I find it a bit strange/funny that a jewish person is writing an article on how to save Syria.

    OTOH, he’s probably right.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 6, 2016, 9:47 am
  31. The Ice-Is back!

    And so am I, after a long sojourn in far away lands.

    As always, loved the article. Not so much for the content (there isn’t really much in substance there), but what a way with words the author has!

    As for the article itself, and the lofty title of the book “What is Islam”, who the hell bloody cares. We should all stop treating the religion of perpetual peace, as though it is profound, or exceptional. We have academics combing through the past looking for some semblance of evidence that it is more than the abomination it has become today.

    Newsflash: There are liberals, and there are conservatives, there are Salafists and there Avicennists, they existed in the past as they do today. They existed amongst the civilisation of the Greeks, and amongst the Christians and amongst Buddhists and atheists alike.

    What’s the point of the article? That people are complex and read into religion (any religion), what they like? That they in turn write books, and tomes, and Philosophize. Fast forward a millennium and people here are arguing what is Quintessentially Islamic and what is not.

    Islam is whatever whoever wants to subscribe to it wants it to be. There will always be a new creative way at looking at it, a new Context to invent and rationalize it.

    And there will always be troglodytes amongst its adherents. One day it’s Ibn Taymiyah, another it’s a lowly Iceman.

    The Avicennists need to find a way to be more relevant.

    So far they are failing miserably.

    Posted by Gabriel | January 10, 2016, 1:02 pm
  32. Godspeed, Major Tom …

    Posted by ray | January 11, 2016, 1:06 pm
  33. Welcome back, Gabriel! 🙂

    Your funny comment reminded me of the first writing course I ever took in college in the United States, to satisfy a humanities elective requirement! I was fresh off the boat from the Middle East, in my first semester, and while I can’t remember what department the course was in exactly, I do remember that for our final paper, we had to watch a John Waters movie (I think it was ‘Polyester’) and write a paper on it! The John Waters selection was supposed to be a nod to Baltimore, the city where I went to school as an undergraduate, but I think the “professor” (the course was actually taught at the time by someone like a TA, or teaching assistant) was messing with us, because John Waters is weird and his movies are terrible! 🙂

    So I’m feeling homesick and a bit stressed due to finals rapidly approaching and I just watched perhaps the worst movie of my life, and I was completely stumped as to what exactly I should write about it! I couldn’t draw on my Middle Eastern background for assistance because nothing prepared me for this!

    So I just capitulated and wrote a piece making complete fun of the movie, dripping with sarcasm, and passive aggressively hinting to the instructor that I didn’t even want to be writing this stupid paper on this piece of sh*t movie!

    What did I get in response? A succinct comment, “If you don’t care there’s nothing I can do to help you!”, and a below-average grade! 🙂

    It was around this time that I decided that I would devote my career to science, technology and engineering, so the experience wasn’t completely for naught! And I’ll be honest, while I completely respect them and what they do, I don’t always fully understand the passions that motivate humanities people over the long term!

    Posted by Samer Nasser | January 11, 2016, 3:23 pm
  34. John Waters is weird and his movies are terrible


    As you know, John Waters created a rather large film cult based on his lower class Baltimore upbringing. Barry Levinson did the same but at a respectable level. To enjoy Water’s films you either need to be from Baltimore, or have a sense of humor. His movie “Hairspray” was pretty successful and made into a long-running Broadway play.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 11, 2016, 3:46 pm
  35. AP,

    Of course I realize that now, but I didn’t know it back then! Also keep in mind that back then there weren’t Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and all the other “become an expert on any worldly subject in 5 minutes, no problem” information technologies that we take for granted today!

    P.S.: I don’t want to possibly provoke you so I’ll spare you my opinions of “Hairspray” (yes the original and the remake, both of which I’ve actually seen despite life being oh-so-very short!) … 🙂

    Posted by Samer Nasser | January 11, 2016, 6:30 pm
  36. Samer,

    You won’t provoke me; I can certainly understand why someone wouldn’t care for Water’s raunchy style. Me? I think he’s funny. See liberals have their place in society!;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 12, 2016, 6:47 am
  37. Gabby,

    Ice has melted away into a slushy cheap oil…

    Welcome back from Kashmir Kush.

    Posted by Danny | January 14, 2016, 8:41 am
  38. I am glad I checked the site after a long absence; i enjoyed the article and found it very relevant to contemporary scholarship that considers social ontology as the domain of the study of discourses, practices, and affects that “form” and “transform” into what we call culture or social imaginaries. That is precisely the point of highlighting “Islamic” as an undeterminable and constantly changing “totality” composed of individual, social, cultural, economic, political, aesthetic, religious, etc., fields of events, relations and interpretations. Thus the focus on always approximating the “truth” (of that impossible totalization) instead of possessing it (as a property, an end, or a method) through adaptation and interpretation.

    This may appear convoluted to the non academic but I wonder (considering the uninformed and uncouth reactions on the Nation site and on this thread) whether we should accept the separation between those who study “social reality” using appropriate academic methods and those who do not possess authoritative methods of understanding or analyzing anything. Scholars and ulemah who delve into serious analyses and interpretations–and the hordes of ignorant but self righteous “believers.” We have never been modern, and the struggle for modernity in Islamic history has lasted longer than the struggle for modernity in Western European history. Happy new year!

    Posted by Parrhesia | January 18, 2016, 5:41 pm
  39. Many in the muslim world are up in arms about Donald Trump. To which I say, look to yourself first…,7340,L-4755188,00.html

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 19, 2016, 10:56 pm
  40. For all those here who are losing thousands in the stock market due to the oil glut, I offer the following speech made by one of our most esteemed presidents, live on TV. President Jimmy Carter.

    After you pick up your jaw from the floor, let’s discuss. Just for yuks!

    Posted by Akbar Palace | January 20, 2016, 1:27 pm
  41. How convenient is Arab hypocrisy?!

    One more step is left for their redemption, declare themselves also terrorists. #NotOnlyHezbollah.

    Posted by Vulcan | March 2, 2016, 8:43 pm
  42. I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime, but it does seem we are going to witness a very violent turn of events in the Arab Gulf soon as well. What we are seeing in lebanon is the tip of the iceberg.

    Posted by ray | March 4, 2016, 12:00 pm
  43. Ray,

    Hasn’t the Gulf already been torn apart by violence? I recall Saddam marching into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Violence has always been a Middle East main-stay. Nothing new. And the Kings will always pay for the best protection.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | March 4, 2016, 2:23 pm
  44. Russia freezing shipment of S-300 missiles to Iran?,7340,L-4774679,00.html

    Posted by Akbar Palace | March 6, 2016, 11:29 am
  45. Donald Trump!?

    Posted by Vulcan | April 1, 2016, 12:10 am
  46. What is happening

    Posted by Vulcan | April 1, 2016, 12:12 am
  47. The Arabs, what’s up with the Arabs, since we have to stay on subject here.

    Posted by Vulcan | April 1, 2016, 12:13 am
  48. The Muslims in particularly, what’s up with Islam? What’s happening. The hate levels are so ugly
    The only way for Peace in Islam is if both make Peace with Their Jewish Cousins. It’s the Only Bridge out of total decay.

    Posted by Vulcan | April 1, 2016, 12:18 am
  49. Make Peace now Arabs

    Posted by Vulcan | April 1, 2016, 12:19 am
  50. La Paz ya Almaz

    Posted by Vulcan | April 1, 2016, 12:22 am
  51. Vulcan for Prethident!

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 1, 2016, 9:34 pm
  52. Here you go Vulcan. Look what happens when you make contact with Jews and Israelis….,7340,L-4786769,00.html

    It’s a fate worse than death.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 4, 2016, 1:28 pm
  53. I know, it’s a lost case. They are now devouring each other, they widened the circle of HATE and racism.

    A primitive culture.

    Posted by Vulcan | April 5, 2016, 2:03 pm
  54. Vulcan,

    That is why we need Professors like Elias to help bridge the gulf between West and East. My feeling is that the Middle East governments are so monolithic, strong and anti-democratic, that voices of liberalism are drowned-out and any amount of opposition is silenced. Look at the press in Egypt and Turkey for example…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 5, 2016, 3:44 pm
  55. It’s not only the governments that are like that, social and cultural Middle East too. They are afflicted by their supremacist ideologies and racist imperialism and corruption and the bitter injustice of defeat..stuck in the old days.

    Posted by Vulcan | April 6, 2016, 1:30 pm
  56. They are afflicted by their supremacist ideologies and racist imperialism and corruption and the bitter injustice of defeat…

    I was hoping Bashar Assad was going to change things. I guess I was wrong. Well, maybe the Supreme Leader of Iran can do something positive…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 6, 2016, 3:20 pm
  57. Up in the Air

    Being Secretary of State has its perks. Namely, frequent flyer miles. Let’s give a big round of applause to John “Purple Heart” Kerry….–politics.html

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 6, 2016, 3:34 pm
  58. Mr. Turmoos

    I wonder if this guy is rotting in jail? Just a guess….

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 6, 2016, 3:47 pm
  59. Those “plucky” IDF soldiers caught in the act once again…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | April 7, 2016, 3:15 pm
  60. Where is the Muslim Sheikh Muftin to take some Syrian Christian refugees to Mecca? Like the Pope takes Syrian Muslim refugees to the Vatican

    Posted by Vulcan | April 16, 2016, 3:32 pm
  61. Posted by Vulcan | April 21, 2016, 9:24 pm
  62. Quote Of The Day

    ” For the good of Humanity —

    The GOP must be partitioned into Sunni, Shiite & Kurdish Zones.”


    Posted by Vulcan | May 7, 2016, 5:44 pm
  63. At least the GOP made a bold attempt in Iraq Mr. Vulcan.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 7, 2016, 8:25 pm

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